We’re republishing this article in light of Halo Infinite’s multiplayer launching today, November 15. It was originally published on October 4.
Despite plenty of reason to believe otherwise, I’m cautiously optimistic about Halo Infinite. The game’s technical tests so far have revealed a tight, satisfying arena shooter that harkens back to Bungie’s best, even as Infinite itself seems to be screaming for another delay.
But for as much as I’ve had fun with 4v4 arenas, I’ve always maintained that I wouldn’t know if Infinite was for me until the full sandbox opened up with the game’s 24-player Big Team Battles—that I wouldn’t truly know if this was the Halo for me until I reigned terror from upon high in a Banshee. This past weekend, 343 opened that door to everyone, and readers, I’m relieved to announce it’s an absolute beaut.
Despite everything, it’s still Halo CTF pic.twitter.com/UQDd2SklCtOctober 1, 2021
For as much as I adore Halo 3’s big, daft sandboxes, they can feel a little too unstructured at times. With powerful vehicles available from the off and maps featuring extremely open layouts, it’s often easy to feel at the mercy of whichever team has the sniper or Scorpion tank. Games start at full throttle and stay there throughout—and while that leads to fun, chaotic nonsense, it doesn’t lend itself to close competition.
And yet, despite throwing even more people into the carnage, Infinite has smartly managed to bring a sense of pacing and escalation to Big Team Battle. Everything from map layout to vehicles and objectives are considered, often dynamically-changing elements aimed at keeping games closely-fought. Where my regular Halo buds chafe at the idea of jumping into Big Team matchmaking in Halo 3, we relished each new round during Infinite’s test.
Take something as simple as Capture the Flag. An FPS staple, CTF is notoriously prone to stalemates, the first team to score going hard on defence for the rest of the match. To help avoid this, Infinite changes Flag spawns depending on which team is currently ahead. You may find the enemy flag deep inside the opposing team’s base when you’re a point or two ahead, while yours sits out in the courtyard. Stalemates still happen, but Infinite wants to give you a chance to pull things around.
Nevertheless, CTF pales in comparison to Total Control, a kind of control point variant that sees teams fight to control three territories at once. After one team acquires all three, there’s a short breather to reassemble your team or crack open that loot cave before three new points generate in new locations. It offers a soft reset, and the right point spawns can help you turn a seemingly-inevitable loss into a hard-fought win.
the right warthog in the wrong place can make all the difference in the world(edit, driving by @Mcdoogleh ) pic.twitter.com/DUAo0eQYuYOctober 2, 2021
Vehicles also play a pivotal role in pacing. While there’ll always be a Warthog or a Mongoose around, more powerful vehicles are airdropped in over the course of a game . The heaviest hitters are reserved for the closing minutes but, if a team is lagging behind, they might receive an early Banshee or Scorpion drop to even the score. That said, vehicles also aren’t as quite dominant as they were in past Halos—and thanks to denser map design, power weapons and grapple hooks, they’re almost more trouble than they’re worth.
The real star of the show, however, has to be the test’s sole map. A spiritual successor to Halo 3’s Valhalla, Fragmentation takes the open field of its predecessor and packs it full of chasms, tunnels and secret caves. Players on foot are granted cover from vehicular tyranny, and there are plenty of cheeky flanking opportunities.
Fragmentation also places an emphasis on verticality that earlier Halos never quite considered—and with grappling hooks and repulsors scattered around the map (and with more charges in BTB), Infinite really does become Titanfall 3 at key moments. Our group’s sole complaint was that it’s a little visually flat, making it hard to call out specific locations in the heat of the moment. But if it’s any indicator of the quality of Infinite’s larger maps, I’m extremely excited to see what’s coming.
titanfall 2’s EPG is great pic.twitter.com/puxgm0i3w5October 4, 2021
Halo Infinite has already proven itself a competent arena shooter. But this weekend’s BTB test reassured me that not only could 343 bring that competence to massive 24-player skirmishes, but that it could do so without sacrificing the emergent nonsense that makes Halo, well, Halo. Spartans are yeeting themselves across the map with grappling hooks, while Wasps plummet out of the sky after a well-tossed EMP grenade. There are explosive barrels littered around the map that you can pick up and hurl, and it’s a shockingly viable strategy.
That said, the test was also a reminder that, just two months from release, Infinite is still in a real shaky spot. Getting a party of eight people into a game without crashes was a nightmare, and we experienced a frequent stuttering issue that increased the more matches we played in a row. And while series veteran Joseph Staten might say the team is in full “shutdown mode”, it’s unnerving to have still seen so little of the game’s campaign this close to release.
It’s painful to know that there’s a strong chance we’ll be caveating our Halo Infinite review by saying it needed a bit more time in the oven. Because after two weekends straight of binging pre-release builds, I’m convinced that Infinite has the potential to be the best Halo since 3.
Hell, as far as Big Team Battle is concerned, I might even love it more.