It’s mad to think that it’s already two decades since the original Xbox console came out.
I hadn’t even heard of Halo before I played it for myself and, in all honesty, I left it sitting in its box for most of Christmas Day that year because I had only asked Santa for an Xbox in order to play Splinter Cell. Having unwrapped the big, black behemoth and got things all set up, I dove headlong into the shadows with Sam Fisher and then spent a bit of time on both Blinx: The Timesweeping Cat and Midtown Madness 3 that came bundled on one disc with the first run of consoles. Eventually, after a few too many mince pies and more stuffing than any human should really be willing to stuff themselves with (as it were) I decided to have a go on Halo, just to see what it was like. Little did I know at that moment, but things would never be the same again.
Back then there were very few shooters that broke the mould and while other games followed a more traditional approach to the first-person genre, Halo broke free and delivered something truly memorable. From the crash-landing and the resulting sense of scale as the first enemy craft drifted overhead and unleashed platoons of grunts, elites and jackals onto the sprawling landscape it quickly became apparent that this was a new breed of shooter. It was so responsive that it just immediately felt right and the way that the enemies used cover was far more intelligent than anything else I had played (where everything and everyone was nothing more than cannon fodder). Add in the monumental size of the maps, a hugely atmospheric orchestral score underpinned by some chugging rock guitars and a fantastic level of pacing and I have to admit that I came away from my first few hours itching to get back on it.
Over the two decades since there have been a few ups-and-downs for the series, but it has never really fallen from grace. Sure, some people might argue about some of the titles being ‘less authentic’ than others but each game has still managed to deliver what you would expect from a Halo game without becoming generic and stale. The narrative is deep and complex, with huge amounts of lore for you to unearth as you progress, and the continuing evolution of the Spartan at the heart of the adventure has brought a real sense of humanity to what could easily have been just another game about big guys with guns blasting the hell out of everything that moves. I remember back when I first started playing it and it was all about the single player (internet gaming was nowhere near the standard it is today), but I soon came to realise that this would be the new king of couch gaming for both co-op and multiplayer.
Following in the hallowed footsteps of games like Goldeneye and Timesplitters, Halo delivered a brilliant range of game modes and non-stop action like nothing else at the time. The level design was often ingenious and players had to learn to combine up-close and personal combat in tight corridors with expansive open spaces with vantage points, sniper rifles and more than a few rocket launchers thrown in for good measure. I honestly have no idea how many hours I poured into causing chaos with a few close friends, but it was definitely time well wasted. It wasn’t really until Halo 3 that I really started getting into playing online, but we had a plenty of LAN matches and split-screen games in the years prior to that which helped to hone my very particular set of skills. In the years that followed I became a huge fan of online shooters, yet it was always coming back to the classic idea of Red Vs. Blue (4 V 4) in the Halo series that I enjoyed the most.
In celebration of the 20th Anniversary of the original Xbox (and with it the first Halo game), Microsoft recently surprise-released the multiplayer aspect of the next instalment of the franchise to unsuspecting fans across the world. While the new campaign is certainly something to look forward to, a free-to-play multiplayer helps to ensure that new and old players can come together to enjoy the fast-paced action that has made this iconic series such an important part of FPS history. Having spent the past week chucking plasma grenades at people’s heads, I thought I would share my initial impressions with you
The first thing that strikes you about Halo: Infinite is just how solid it all looks. You can tell that this is an entirely new in-game engine and while it all feels very familiar it has been brought right up to scratch for the next-gen consoles. Weapons, vehicles and character models are brilliantly detailed and there’s a great range of special effects and lighting tricks that add a whole extra dimension to the proceedings. Characters feel weighty and the run speed is just the right level of sluggish to give the impression of lugging around a big suit of armor, while the crouch/slide combo gives a nice edge to the movement and can get you out of close calls when coming around a blind corner. I also like how the jumps are suitably high and feel slightly boosted, meaning that you can often get to higher levels than you might initially think by holding the jump button down to activate climbing/mantling up on to ledges and walkways (a good way to get to the power weapons and pick-ups dotted around the maps). Learning to traverse each map in order to make the most of the advantages offered by specific routes or rooms with a good line of sight over key areas of the map is key and there are plenty of little cut-throughs and side-routes to discover in the midst of the battle.
The majority of games still start off with all players having the two basic marine weapons (pistol/assault rifle) with a number of other weapons being available around the various maps. You can still only carry two guns at a time, so finding weapons which suit your play style is paramount and this can lead to some pitched battles if someone else wants the same gun as you. Personally, I’ve always liked the Battle Rifle because of its zoom function and general accuracy at any range but the standard pistol is still a hugely underrated weapon by most players. Quick swapping of weapons in the midst of a firefight is still an integral part of the game and regular reloading is a must if you want to hold your own (my advice is never run around a corner with a half-empty clip, if you can help it) but maintaining a solid stock of grenades throughout a match can be a real game-changer. There’s a great range of weapons on the roster and a handy firing range for you to figure out how to use some of the newer models, meaning that anyone can spend some time honing their skills without the constant threat of getting annihilated. Throughout matches you can pick guns up from caches around the map that recharge regularly but there are also power weapons that spawn intermittently and can change the course of a game (especially if you get hold of the M41 SPNKR and fancy clearing out a crowded room superfast – remember to always aim low!). Halo has always been a game about balance and it’s a huge positive that there is always a chance of success in a skirmish, regardless of what heat you’re packing.
As you hunt down your foes or race to an objective it’s also well worth keeping an eye out for any of the myriad boosts and pick-ups dotted around the place. Once collected these can be carried around and deployed at will (unless you die) meaning that any situation can change rapidly: dropping a barrier to stem the hail of bullets flying in your general direction can buy your team precious seconds to reload or recharge your shields; overcharging your personal defences with an over-shield can turn temporarily turn you into a juggernaut if you want to rush the opposing forces; active-camo turns you practically invisible, allowing you to get the drop on unsuspecting foes or to hold a zone without being easily spotted. While these are all very effective ways of turning the tide of a battle, having a combination of these available across your team can turn you into an unstoppable force (unless the other team gets hold of them first, of course).
Alongside the traditional ‘deathmatch’ mode in the form of Slayer and Team Slayer, there’s a nice range of match types to shuffle through which suit varying levels of player numbers. If you opt for the quickplay mode then you’ll be thrown into the fray with other players on a cycling playlist of game modes and objectives across all of the available maps (depending on the number of players you may find yourself on specific maps but you get through a decent selection in all game modes). There are some classic game modes which are familiar across other games of this type, such as Capture the Flag and Stronghold (which requires you to hold particular points on the map for dominance), along with a few variations (One Flag) and some modes that are unique to the franchise. I particularly enjoy playing Oddball which sees players fighting for control of a glowing skull – when you pick up the skull you can’t use your weapons and rely on your team for protection (unless you want to smash people in the head with it, because that works pretty well) and every second it is in your possession brings another point to your team’s tally. This can lead to some thrilling, tense and turbulent moments as every lost possession eats into your chances of outscoring your foes in the race to be the first to 100 points. If you prefer a bit more chaos then there are some brilliant Big Team Battle options that triple the number of players on the field and take place in the larger maps. For those of you who like games like Battlefield this is a really good option and it all helps to extend the variety and, ultimately, the longevity of this kind of game.
In the first few days after launch, one of the only real criticisms of the game came in relation to the progression system for unlocking in-game cosmetics. While most games chuck stacks of XP at players for winning rounds, getting kills or completing challenges, Halo: Infinite only gives out XP for completing very specific challenges. What this means is that you might be the top player on the winning team and still find yourself with no sense of reward or something which seems pitiful (50 XP does not feel like a big level of recognition for turning the tide of the battle). As with many games, there is a Battle Pass system which provides tiers of unlocks so that you can customise various aspects of your character model but with the incredibly slow pace of unlocking it makes it harder to part with your cash (although it has been suggested that these Battle Passes won’t run out over time, which is at least some kind of silver lining). In response to the gripes of fans around the world, we’ve already seen an update rolled out which added in a bonus 50 XP each time you complete a match and some bonus cosmetic unlocks as a way of recognising the previously pointless grind. I’m sure we’ll see further tweaks in the future, but it’s worth noting if you’re the kind of person who lives to level up and get all the fancy bits to adorn your suit of armor).
All in all, this is an awesome package which takes all the things which make Halo great and amp it up to the extreme. If you’re a fan then you probably don’t need any convincing but I would assume that this could be the game that pulls people away from some of the more traditional annual FPS franchises and shows them how it all began. Add in the fact that it’s totally free and it’s even harder to turn down such a tremendous offering.
Now we just have to wait another month or so until we can see if the campaign lives up to the hype. Let’s hope Craig’s glow-up is just the start of something truly special. Once more unto the breach, my friends.