Halo Infinite’s multiplayer preview offers glimpse of series’ triumphant return

Is Halo finally back? It looks like it

It’s still very early given that this is the first technical preview 343 Industries has released so far, but Halo Infinite‘s multiplayer is shaping up to be one of the best arena shooters of the last few years.

That said, there were several reasons for me to be apprehensive about diving into the first new Halo multiplayer experience in over five years. Infinite has been delayed multiple times, its multiplayer is going entirely free-to-play, and at one point, rumours pointed to the game’s campaign releasing long before its deathmatch mode.

Thankfully, at least so far, long-time fans of the Halo series and those relatively new to the franchise don’t have anything to worry about.

My first reaction to the two-month-old build is that the game looks stunning running on the Xbox Series X at a solid 60 frames per second (fps) with a dynamic, mostly 4K resolution (I don’t own a 120fps monitor). Infinite, thankfully, looks like a Halo game, complete with the greenery, metallic boxes and the space marine aesthetic the series is known for, while still managing to feature the stripped-back art style many people took issue with when the title was first revealed.

Regarding core combat, I’ve come off the brief technical preview with a few main takeaways. The game’s bots are smart and very difficult to kill in some situations. They’ll lob grenades at you with pinpoint accuracy and even throw them just before you’re about to take them out, just like an experienced Halo player would. For context, my time with the build was spent playing against bots given that I, unfortunately, missed the narrow window for player-vs-player multiplayer.

Regarding actual moment-to-moment gameplay, the first thing to note is the new way your Spartan controls. You can still jump, slide and climb, but compared to earlier Halo titles and even Halo 5, your character feels like it has far more weight to it.

This took a little getting used to after spending the last few years immersed in Apex Legends’ momentum-filled gameplay, but by the end of my time with the technical preview, I found myself constantly thinking, “this controls perfectly.” Overall, traversal and combat feel grounded in a way that hasn’t been present in the series since arguably Halo 3.

Speaking of combat, the new ‘Smart Scope” aim-down sights (ADS) system that works with any weapon takes a little getting used to. For example, with guns like the Sniper Rifle, it almost feels like you’re zooming in too much compared to past Halo titles. I also felt similarly about the new take on the Pistol. This means positioning and strafing are just as important to success as accuracy, which I really enjoyed as a long-time Halo series multiplayer fan. There’s definitely a throwback feel to the way combat works in Infinite.

As expected, familiar weapons like the ‘Needler’ and ‘Plasma Pistol’ (the noob combo returns!) are back and feel expertly balanced. There are also slight tweaks to franchise mainstays like the ‘MA40 Assault Rifle’ and Sidekick Pistol that sometimes really made me feel like I was playing a modern version of Halo: Combat Evolved.

I’m not sold on the new ‘VK78’ and find the ‘bloom’ jarring, but I might get used to it. I also have similar feelings about the ‘Skewer’s’ one-shot kill given that I haven’t quite nailed down the feel of the game’s aiming system yet. Of course, sticking with the retro theme, grenades and melee combat play a significant role in close-quarters combat, yet another move that harkens back to Halo‘s Bungie era.

We also see the re-introduction of equipment to the series, a first for the franchise since Halo 3. While I was a little worried equipment would shake up Infinite‘s otherwise grounded direction too much, it adds a much-needed dose of variety to gameplay and, surprisingly, isn’t as useful in most situations as I expected.

For example, timing is key for the shield-like ‘Drop Wall’ to actually make sense (this isn’t Halo 3′s ‘Bubble Shield’), and the ‘Threat Sensor,’ which tells you where enemies are, isn’t really that useful in deathmatch mode. However, the ‘Grappleshot’ feels great.

Halo Infinite’s hookshot allows you to jump forward, pulling you towards a platform or enemy. In some ways, it feels like a highly stripped-back version of Apex character Pathfinder’s ‘Grappling Hook.’ The Grappleshot, much like Infinite‘s other equipment, really only works in certain situations and takes some getting used to.

One thing I’m not fond of is the new way the radar works. In past Halo titles, if you walk or run, you show up on radar, but if you’re crouching, your Spartan remains invisible. In Infinite, only players who are running appear on the radar. This makes the game’s radar not quite as useful as it has been in previous titles and I found myself easily getting overwhelmed by an army of bots. I’m hoping this is something 343 Industries reworks before Infinite‘s final release.

And finally, there are the multiplayer maps included in the technical test. ‘Live Fire’ is an asymmetrical arena with outdoor spaces that seem suited to free-for-all matches. ‘Recharge’ offers more platforms, variety and cleverly-placed power weapons for players to battle over, but wasn’t very memorable. ‘Bazaar,’ on the other hand, is a true throwback to classic arenas like ‘Lockout’ and ‘Hang ‘Em High,’ giving players a tight, well-designed play space to blast away in. I’m hoping the rest of Infinite‘s multiplayer map selection is more like Bazaar.

Overall, I was impressed with the several hours I spent taking down bots this weekend in Halo Infinite‘s multiplayer mode and I’m excited to see what the next technical flight includes. Based on this admittedly tiny slice of gameplay, Infinite’s multiplayer is poised to feature the throwback, return to basics gameplay the Halo franchise is in desperate need of.