HomeGamingHalo Infinite preview: The more things change…

Halo Infinite preview: The more things change…

The Halo series has seen plenty of changes over the years, but the core gameplay loop of the single-player campaigns has remained largely the same. You march (or drive or fly) through corridors, chambers, and open-air compounds, gunning down waves of bad guys to get to the next goal and the next cutscene. Then you go somewhere else and march from point A to point B again, maybe with a few small detours for hidden secrets along the way.

Halo Infinite starts out the same way, with two broad tutorial missions set in broken, collapsing space stations that good ol’ Master Chief does his best to help break, at points. After that quick introduction, though, you take an elevator up to the lush outdoor environments of Zeta Halo, where you’re greeted with a much more open-ended gameplay experience than you might expect from the franchise.

I’ve only just scratched the surface of that open-world design while playing with a limited preview build of the game this week, ahead of its launch December 8. Thus far, though, the more things change, the more they stay the same. Halo Infinite is still very much a Halo game, even if the path you take from point A to point B winds a little more than usual.

Open the gates

Looking strictly at the map screen, it would be easy to confuse Halo Infinite with Assassin’s Creed or other open-world Ubisoft games. Like those games, Infinite operates on a kind of hub-and-spoke design, where you “activate” a central tower (in this case, a Forward Operating Base) to reveal and unlock more missions and information about its immediate surroundings. These Forward Operating Bases also serve as fast-travel hubs (avoiding a lot of tedious backtracking) and a central place to access unlocked weapons or vehicles at will. That last bit is especially nice once you unlock your favorite weapon and can start any future encounter with a fully loaded version in hand.

Wait a second, that's not Cortana...
Enlarge / Wait a second, that’s not Cortana…

Those instant-access items are gated behind “Valor,” a points system that rewards you for completing random tasks throughout the open-world map. These can be as simple as blowing up an unguarded communications tower sitting alongside a path or as complicated as invading a heavily guarded outpost, raising and destroying its lowered power cells and sabotaging two vehicle destruction bays as you fight off waves of reinforcements. You can also earn Valor by answering distress calls from your fellow UNSC soldiers, who’ll helpfully join you as temporary AI companions after their rescue.

Yes, all of these missions essentially boil down to minor variations on “run in and shoot everything that moves.” And a few feel like compartmentalized versions of the “get from point A to point B” corridors you’re used to. Still, it’s nice just having the ability to pick and choose those missions on your own schedule. Or perhaps you’ll simply wander the spaces between missions and stumble on a random band of banished soldiers, finding a rare weapon variation for your trouble. The new structure helps you feel more in control of the pacing and flow than ever before, rather than on a simple conveyor belt of destruction.

But this isn’t like Breath of the Wild, where you can literally run to the final boss right from the start if you’re bold and foolhardy enough. Major missions and sections of the map will still be gated off behind key story moments and boss fights that feature alongside newly unlocked equipment. Those bosses provide an interesting change of pace, too, featuring visible health bars, strong shields, and aggressive attack patterns. Learning those patterns, and how to use the environment and your equipment to avoid them, could take a few attempts even for seasoned Halo players used to blasting through enemy hordes mainly via muscle memory.

More grappleshot, please

Speaking of equipment, the other major change apparent early in Halo Infinite is the grappleshot. With a tap of the right bumper you send out a grappling hook that can drag you to higher ledges or simply zip you to a point on the ground farther along your path (quick tip: give a jump at the end of this pull to extend your temporary speed boost). The added mobility enabled by this one change is so satisfying that you may start to wonder how you did without it in other Halo games.

After a bit of practice, the grappleshot becomes like a superpower in firefights, letting you quickly dodge to cover or flank behind enemies to expose their weak sides. The real fun, though, comes when you grapple directly onto an enemy, pulling yourself toward them and unleashing a hefty melee attack when you arrive. After an upgrade (enabled by one of the not-very-hidden Spartan Cores that dot the mission areas), the grappleshot can temporarily stun enemies as you zip toward them, transforming it into a useful secondary weapon in its own right.

In the preview build I was also able to try out a Threat Sensor, another new piece of equipment that puts a temporary, easy-to-spot red outline around enemies within a certain radius, even when they duck behind walls or other cover. That provides some marginal use in basic fights with grunts, but the game practically forces you to use it to reveal the many enemies that can disappear seemingly at will. In these cases, it was more than a little annoying needing to use multiple presses on the d-pad to switch between the Threat Sensor and Grappleshot to maximize the use of both in a heavy firefight.

While I did see the same basic enemy types over and over again in my few hours with the preview (this is a Halo game after all), I was encouraged by how the game was already mixing in stronger and more aggressive enemies with the basic grunts, even early on. Those enemies also react pretty authentically to you based on your aggressiveness and their relative power level; strong ones will charge or launch salvos from behind cover, where weak ones will run hilariously in a blind panic as you get close.

Those kinds of touches are what make Halo Infinite feel instantly familiar, even with the trappings of its new design. The jumping is still as endearingly floaty as ever. Butting an enemy in the face with a melee attack feels as wonderfully crunchy as it always has. The weapon selection (and the need to switch weapons frequently as ammo runs out) won’t be a surprise if you’ve played previous Halo titles.

Despite the new design touches, Halo Infinite is already proving to be a nice, well-paced update that doesn’t throw out the series’ most beloved bits.

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