I adored Halo 3 and Halo Reach's multiplayer. So much so, I never want to play them again. In my mind, I view them through a next-gen lens, coloured by nostalgia and post-homework energy. I know that if I jump into the Halo: The Master Chief Collection, I simply won't be able to recapture those heady times. I'm genuinely afraid of tarnishing those memories.
Halo 4 didn't do it for me, and I skipped Halo 5 altogether. They just felt off, you know? But having spent some time with Halo Infinite's tech preview this weekend, though, I'm hopeful that this is the Halo that recaptures those former glory days. It's a step backwards in the best possible way.
Aside from an after school buzz, what made early Halo multiplayer great? Simplicity, I think. In a time when soldiers had jetpacks and wall-runs and lots of aiming down sights, Halo kept things clean and clunky. In a strange sort of way, it felt like a wonderful marriage of Counter:Strike and Unreal Tournament. Careful, considered shooting, coupled with this arcadey edge. Neither side going overboard, but instead working in harmony to achieve this controlled chaos.
When Halo 4 and 5 arrived, though, things went south for me. 343 Industries took over from Bungie and shooters were 'doing a Titanfall'. A multiplayer shooter without rocket legs? Pfft, no chance. Halo lost its clunk and opted for those smooth moves. Armour felt weightless as a result. Suddenly, Spartans had loads of abilities like overshields and holographic decoys and automated protection drones, where before there had just been a few powerful, yet basic pickups. Modernising Halo meant overcomplicating things, and as a result, it had lost its identity.
But having given Halo Infinite a whirl this weekend, I'm super excited to see 343 have turned back the clock. It looks and plays like those grand memories of Halo 3 and Reach, with a few small additions that add to the fun without muddying that Halo identity.
Part of this return to form are Infinite's visuals, which seem spot-on so far. Armour and surfaces give off that classic sheen, which should mean Craig the brute's dour expression won't haunt my nightmares quite as much when I settle down for the night.
And let me tell you, the guns in this game are so damn, WEIGHTY. The sniper produces this thunderous crack and even the pistol allows for some crispy kills. No matter what you use, it will either kick like a mule, or it will generate a big grin on your face. You'll be pleased to hear many iconic weapons have stuck around, like my old favourites, the Battle Rifle and the Needler. There's this new one called the Heatwave that fires off either a horizontal or vertical line of plasma balls depending on which firing mode you stick it on, and it's just lovely to use. I didn't get to test out all of the new arrivals in multiplayer, but I sampled many of them in the new training environment (which is fantastic, too) and none of them struck me as out of place at all. I'm itching to try them out when the game launches for real on December 8th.
Sprinting, clambering up ledges, and sliding all return from Halo 4 and 5, but again, they don't disrupt the flow of combat. Spartans are lithe, but not too lithe; a pleasing balance has been struck here. And this extends to the Spartan abilities, which return as pickups as opposed to in-built powers. All hail the grappling hook and the repulsor. Both fire out of your wrist, but one lets you swing around maps like a ten tonne Spiderman, while the other lets off this blast that shunts back anything within its range.
The best thing about these abilities? They don't force you to use them as intended. Instead, they exist to enhance the Halo Infinite sandbox and let players break the rules. For instance, you can use the repulsor to repel enemy grenades, but you can also use it to send players tumbling off cliff edges. As for the grappling hook, well, you can use it to fly about the gaff, but you can also hook yourself onto enemies for a quick gap-closer, or even reel in weapon pick-ups like Robson Green. Some of the stuff I've seen online is outrageous, I mean, see below.
My time with Halo Infinite's tech preview may have been brief, but it certainly feels like a Halo that's shaken off the bloat of its last two outings for the better. You can tell 343 have zeroed in on what makes Halo tick, as beneath its simpler facade there's a wealth of intricate tricks waiting to be discovered.
I'm excited for Halo Infinite's encore this coming weekend, where the bombastic 12 vs 12 Big Team Battle will stride onto the test servers. Make sure you're signed up with Halo Insider if you want to be in with a chance of testing out the Halo Infinite multiplayer before it releases on December 8th.