On Wednesday morning I received an email informing me of my selection for the Halo Infinite flight test running from Thursday to Monday. This was of course very exciting as Halo Infinite’s release has been delayed to autumn 2021 (September-December) and, while we’ve been given the occasional blog post or screenshot, this was the first chance the community has actually had to play the game and see how it feels. Thousands of Halo Insiders (sign up here – https://www.halowaypoint.com/en-us/community/halo-insider) were chosen to participate based on their hardware, favourite game modes and in part by chance… I just happened to be one of the lucky few. Some background on myself: I started gaming in November 2020 using my old Macbook Pro, since then I’ve upgraded to a mid-tier gaming PC. I favour using a controller (reviewed here – https://patrickyak.blog/2020/12/28/nacon-revolution-unlimited-pro/) over mouse and keyboard. My favourite games are Halo MCC, The Witcher 3 and CSGO with which I’ve racked up a combined playtime of 674 hours. In this blog post I am going to be reviewing my 12 hour experience of Halo Infinite starting with what I expected from the game, then going into what I liked about it with some constructive criticism mixed in…

343 Industries released an introductory video just before the flight test launched explaining their goals for the weekend, what players were going to have access to and providing us with a list of bugs before we started playing. The purpose of the flight was to test Infinite on a range of hardware to find any new glitches (of which there were plenty), as well as to try out the new bots (a first for Halo) to see if they were up to scratch and whether their difficulty needed to be changed; it also provided 343 with an opportunity for outsider feedback on the game mechanics and balance. We were given the opportunity to try 4v4 matches against bots, the firing range (allowing you to test individual weapons) and the customization/battle pass system. The build we were given was roughly 2 months behind the current version and so the list of bugs was fairly comprehensive including frame rate drops during certain actions, audio issues, textures not loading in and failed hit registration. Bearing all of this in mind, I was very happy with how the weekend turned out and I can see that Halo Infinite has a lot of potential.

Let’s start off with the graphics. The first thing I noticed was how good Infinite looked. Yes, some textures didn’t load in, some surfaces were shinier than they should’ve been and I’m not entirely sure the resolution was actually 1080p when moving… but the lighting, the detail and the quality of the design-work was stunning. It was shame that I only really managed 45fps throughout the flight, and while I found that more than playable, other people did not (and changing the settings from ultra to low seemed to make no difference either visually or performance-wise). We were given 3 maps in total – Live Fire, Recharge and Bazaar. On Live Fire the mountain backdrop and glare from the sun provided a stark contrast to the harsh lines of the damp LED-lit corridors, Recharge had more of a power station feel with swirling generators brimming with glowing plasma and dark pipe-filled corridors meanwhile Bazaar was reminiscent of Halo 2’s New Mombasa, centred around a market square with palm trees, boxes of fruit and a distinctive reddish tint to the scenery. In terms of balance and how the maps felt to play, Recharge was far-and-away my favourite of the 3 – it felt how a Halo map should feel. There were multiple levels to the map (perfect for the grapple shot) and interesting nooks and crannies to explore. There was a central area for pitched battles but also tighter corridors for one-on-one firefights and the gravity hammer was perfectly situated for start-of-the-match squabbles. Live Fire was definitely the least ‘interesting’ of the maps visually, but it was good fun to play. I liked having the overshield out in the open and the grass field to the right of spawn allowed for long-distance engagement. Bazaar was (disappointingly) the least enjoyable of the maps although it looked really nice – I think some of the underground sections were difficult to find and not that usable strategically while the main battles were going on in the square.

Bots are a new and much wanted addition to Halo, subsequently they were the main focus of the flight. The game mode we got to preview pitched 4 real players against 4 bots, starting out on the easier (Marine) difficulty and progressing onto hard (ODST) and expert (Spartan) difficulties as the weekend went on. My initial expectations having played against bots in CSGO were not high, but having played quite a few matches since then I’ve re-evaluated. The bots did sometimes do very odd things: they didn’t always seem to be able to pick up power weapons, they sometime stood still or looked into the sky for no apparent reason and they almost always went to the same places at the start of Live Fire and Recharge matches. That being said, I think everyone who participated in the flight got no-scoped or ninja’d by a bot at least once. They definitely have the potential to be terrifying, but they’re being held back slightly by little glitches. Once 343 have sorted these out I’m sure the bots will be more than up to scratch. In my opinion the Marine bots should really be switched to Recruit, ODST switched to Marine and Spartan switched to ODST. I’d like to call myself a fairly good player, but by no means better than average. Maybe I should be able to beat ODST bots 50% of the time, on a good day, but the Spartan bots should crush me, and at the moment we were still beating them 100% of the time (admittedly with a few close calls).

The flight included a range of the weapons that will be available in the final release including old classics like the plasma pistol, needler and battle rifle but also some new introductions like the ravager, skewer and sidekick pistol. I won’t talk about all of them, but 343 have already got some of them spot on. I love the new needler, it’s pretty much a guaranteed kill with each magazine’s worth of ammo; the needles track well, it sounds great and the explosion effect when you get a super-combine is beautiful. The AR is finally usable, both in short bursts at medium-long range and also on full auto close-up. The BR is perfect, the hit registration is good and its overall handling was really nice. The sidekick pistol is also pretty decent, it has enough ammo to take down an opponent without reloading, but you have to hit every shot so it’s quite difficult. One of the most interesting additions to Infinite is the heatwave… at the moment I think it’s a tad underpowered, but the way the shots bounce off walls (with the option to change between vertical and horizontal shooting) is innovative and has a lot of potential. I was quite disappointed with the plasma pistol, sniper rifle and ravager. The plasma pistol simply didn’t track your opponents well enough to be usable (for most people) at anything other than close range, it certainly didn’t track as well as the pulse carbine (which was already a rather pointless addition given the existence of the plasma pistol). The sniper rifle looked gorgeous but was ridden with bugs, even if you managed to scope properly your shots didn’t always register and sometimes you couldn’t unscope. As regards to the ravager, I love the idea of charging it to create an area which deals damage to opponents… except that (and I know it was included in the ‘known bugs’) most of the bots were unaffected by it, making it pretty useless in bot slayer. I really hope they sort that out before launch because the ravager could be deadly when used to hold down doorways or deal with bunched up players.

Being used to Halo MCC the drop shield was a bit of a surprise. I think I prefer a dome-shaped shield, it’s more aesthetic and provides better protection. That being said, the drop shield in Infinite is quite wide and you can shoot through it from behind (plus the way each panel can blow out is quite cool). I do think it needs to be given more health as a single melee or a couple of bursts with the AR will destroy a panel while just one shot to the base will destroy the whole shield. The grappleshot is another new addition to Halo, I thought the limit of 3 charges (and shortish range) balanced it well but there was still a lot of fun to be had using it; needless to say, if you check out people’s YouTube you’ll see power weapons being stolen and plenty of grapple-sprees. Finally, instead of the overshield and active camo activating instantly, you have the option to carry them around to use whenever you want and to balance this mechanic it takes a few seconds to activate then during which you are unable to use your weapons. The activation animation looks really cool and I much prefer this idea, but at the moment you can short-circuit the animation by clambering which unbalances the gameplay.

Moving on to customisation, Halo Infinite’s multiplayer will be free-to-play and therefore operate using a Battle Pass system. I believe the idea is that you can play the game for free with limited customization options, or you can pay for the Battle Pass which will allow you to unlock different armours and colour combinations by completing certain challenges (like “win 5 multiplayer games”). For the flight we were given free credits to buy the Battle Pass and test the different features, this was mostly painless and I liked a lot of the customisation options (although I had a bug where my challenges were not replaced, limiting the amount that I could unlock). One thing I definitely didn’t like was that you can’t earn XP just by playing the game (like you can in Halo MCC), you have to complete challenges to earn XP and to complete challenges you have to buy the Battle Pass. I understand why 343 would do this but I think that players should be able to unlock new content simply by playing matches and not necessarily by completing challenges (or paying money). That being said, all customisation options are purely cosmetic so they won’t make any real difference in the game; it’s also possible that the Battle Pass will be quite affordable.

To finish with, let’s talk about Infinite’s settings. 343 have definitely tried to introduce more options in the settings menu – certainly more than Halo MCC – but the menu was still a bit clunky. You have a lot more sensitivity settings and so forth, but this is actually quite confusing. I’m used to a sensitivity setting of 5 on Halo MCC, but I wasn’t sure what the scope setting is so my only option was to play around until I found something I liked (which took ages). You also have the ability to change weapon offset, essentially to adjust where different weapons sit on the screen (left, right, up, down, forwards, backwards). This is a cool idea, except that you have no idea what you’ve done until you load into a game. It would be a much better idea to put a little display in the menu to give you some idea of what you’re doing. I mentioned it earlier, but while there were plenty of graphics settings, they didn’t seem to really do anything. I’m assuming – certainly in the case of the graphics – that these issues will be sorted before launch, after all, that’s why 343 had the flight… it was just mildly annoying to see things which hadn’t properly been thought out. I hope that’s only the case with the menu and not the campaign…

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