Let’s talk about that Halo gameplay.
Even if you think the graphics are unpolished, or that the hairless Brute designs make them look more like skinned chickens than warmongering warriors, you can’t deny that what has been shown of Halo Infinite feels leagues more in line with what you’d expect from the Halo franchise than its last two main installments.
It got a lot right. Like the one sang by viral choirs filmed out of boy’s bathrooms, a score in line with the traditional Halo theme rings triumphantly over the ring’s landscape. It evokes the same sense of wonder those playing Combat Evolve first felt when walking out onto an alien world. Generations of Halo players can agree that it’s hard to put into words what chords the soundtrack strikes within your consciousness. 343 has taken it back to Bungie’s roots, and it’s already paying off in only around nine minutes of gameplay.
If there’s a physical embodiment of that deep-rooted resonance, it’s John-117, and Infinite’s Master Chief strikes that visual representation perfectly. Chief himself dons an amalgam of some of his suits’ best features over the years and looks the part of a world-saving one-man army. With that sleek design comes a few new toys.
Chief has hopped onto the grappling hook train in full force. Granting him the ability to sling pieces of the environment around and propel himself toward enemies, the tool blends surprisingly well with the gameplay. Any change to the original Halo formula — the walk-and-shoot nade fest that normalized the switch to thumbsticks for virtually every console FPS after it — is naturally always met with some controversy. But you can’t help but respect 343 for trying to push the franchise forward and take risks, as opposed to re-releasing the same game every few years. The grappling hook looks like an interesting and dynamic way to continue that push (or pull).
The weapon selection has also evolved. Weapons like the new VK78 Commando assault rifle and the three-round burst, energy-based Ravager look like they’ll offer variety to every engagement. There’s nothing too dissimilar from what we’ve seen in past games. When it comes to Halo’s notoriously clean gunplay, that’s not such a bad thing.
The same holds true for the environment. As Chief skirts around on a conveniently placed Warthog — which looks as much a thrill to drive as ever — there’s plenty of space. For a game set at least in part on a sprawling ring floating through space, this shouldn’t be a huge deal. But when Prometheans and rival Spartan squads were introduced in Halo 4 and Guardians, missions seemed to become more…linear. The awe-inspiring expanse when first stumbling onto a Halo ring in Combat Evolved vanished. It’s back with the Banished. Each skirmish in the gameplay looked to have more than one way to be approached, from the stealthy to the splattery. Infinite also features a much more open world than previous installments, teased at with a tactical map that will allow players to choose which objectives to strike first, adding yet more user control. Infinite adds new elements where it needs to while sticking to its guns where the original Halo trilogy got it right.
That innovative attitude has yielded some missteps since Halo 4. Some might call them quality of life improvements, some might call them crimes against the Forerunners, but features like hit markers and sprint (separate from the armor ability in Reach — we don’t talk about anything related to armor lock) have undoubtedly received backlash through the past couple of games. At least in Infinite’s campaign, they’re back — for better or for worse. The HUD itself is easy on the eyes and includes a shield regeneration sound satisfying enough to make you want to take damage, more than making up for hit markers. As the game leans more toward being open world, sprint can probably be looked past as well
The same can’t be said for the game’s graphics.
They’ve drawn comparisons to Mega Bloks and the like, with guns and armor looking a bit too smooth to the point of feeling more like plastic than military-grade, futuristic weaponry. This comes with some questionable redesigns, including a Phantom that would look more at home in a Power Rangers special, and chunks of the map that load shoddy textures right before your eyes. It’s gotten to the point where a screenshot of a particularly appalling Brute went viral. He was endearingly named Craig and has been recognized as Xbox’s new official mascot by Xbox head Phil Spencer on Twitter.
Many in Halo‘s community are keeping a similarly lighthearted attitude, but they generally aren’t happy about the lackluster visuals. After all, this is supposed to be the premier launch title of the Xbox Series X, the alleged most powerful console on the planet, right? It’s true that the game has a few months until release, but players have a right to be worried. They’ve been left in the dark on this game for years and were hoping to be blown away with the first pieces of gameplay. Instead, many are being Flooded with mixed emotions.
There’s definitely work to do until Infinite hits shelves this Holiday season. So much of what has been shown looks great — we can only hope it was worth the wait.