I'm Happy To Report Halo Infinite Is Good (Based On The Beta So Far)
Despite approaching it with some concern, the multiplayer preview won me over--and the grappleshot is a big reason why.
As a Halo fan from the beginning, I've approached every post-Bungie entry with some degree of trepidation. With Halo Infinite, that feels especially natural after our first look at the game left many feeling underwhelmed--at least concerning its visuals--but I'm pleased to say my time spent with Infinite so far has me enthusiastic about playing more. Or at least, as enthusiastic as one can be after spending several hours doing nothing but killing bots.
The first of Halo Infinite's betas (or technical tests/multiplayer previews, as 343 Industries calls them) is now over, and I played a bunch of what was generally available: 4v4 Slayer matches against a team of AI. Without the chance to try other modes or PvP matches (which were only playable for a brief period of time), there's only so much to glean from the test, but I walked away feeling quite positive about the experience.
The bots, for their part, were generally competent. Their difficulty setting ramped up throughout the test, and while they were pushovers in every match--it was Steaktacular after Steaktacular--they at least served as decent fodder to let me get a feel for the game. They wouldn't be my preferred means of playing Infinite unless they could pose a more meaningful threat, but it looks as if fighting bots will serve as a good training ground for newcomers or a fun diversion for those interested in a low-stakes, relaxing multiplayer experience.
Bots occasionally exhibited some unnatural behavior; the way they'd sometimes group up (making themselves an easy target for grenades) or perform the same actions almost in unison screamed, "I'm a bot," as did moments where an enemy would seem to almost be stuck in place, as if paralyzed by decision. We know this is a months-old build of Halo Infinite's multiplayer, so I didn't find this too troubling, especially since there were other moments where I wondered if a 343 developer had snuck themselves onto the opposing team.
The ability to aim down sights in a Halo game will always feel wrong to me at first blush, but I quickly grew accustomed to it here, even when using the Sidekick, your default pistol and the closest thing here to the classic M6D. Another potentially contentious aspect, the return of sprinting, also felt like a natural inclusion, perhaps due in part to the fact that you just don't run that much faster while sprinting. The modest increase in speed is useful for rushing to a power weapon or equipment when there are no enemies around, but given the size of the three maps that have been made available so far, it felt just handy enough to warrant its inclusion.
Matches during the beta, and the accompanying Academy mode, offered a chance to try out some new additions to the Halo arsenal, including the Commando, a sort of assault rifle/battle rifle hybrid, and Skewer, a sniper-style weapon that fires a single metal spike which annihilates anything it hits, but can only fire once before being reloaded. It'll take time to come to grips with all of the new weapons available, but these newcomers all felt like worthwhile additions, with the Skewer being a favorite of mine thanks to its punchy sound effects and the accompanying satisfaction of taking out an enemy in such devastating fashion.
But easily my favorite addition is one of the new pieces of equipment: the grappleshot. As shown off in previous looks at the game, the grappleshot is a grappling hook that you can use to either pull yourself around the environment or, by attaching it to an enemy, pull yourself directly to a foe. The latter scenario puts you at risk of being killed, though a well-orchestrated use can send you flying into your opponent's back, making for an easy melee kill.
The ability to navigate levels with the grappleshot is what's most thrilling about the item, though, and my limited time doing so suggests that 343 hasn't made a big enough deal about just how major an addition it is. Swinging around a map, launching yourself down corridors or up into the air, can leave you exposed, but it also allows you to catch an enemy off-guard or move around far quicker than the modest sprint permits. Beyond that, it's just fun as hell to use, as any Titanfall 2 player can attest.
With a grappleshot in hand, the on-foot movement in Halo Infinite feels the best it ever has in a Halo game, and it feels like it could have a much more meaningful impact on a fight than the dashes in Halo 5. The major difference between this and Halo 5's dash is that the grappleshot is a limited-use piece of equipment that you'll need to find after spawning, and it's only available on certain maps. That's for the best, as widespread, constant use of the grappleshot might quickly turn Halo into something more closely resembling Tribes (without levels sufficiently large to accommodate that sort of thing). I nonetheless look forward to some special game modes or custom games where they're available by default to everyone.
It's early days yet, but this promising look has eased virtually all of my concerns about Infinite (including whether its soundtrack would rise to the bar set by Bungie; so far, so good). If this test is indicative of the wider experience, it's easy to imagine Halo recapturing its former glory and, combined with the decision to make the multiplayer free-to-play, becoming more popular than ever.
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