I’m an uncompromising, loud-mouthed Halo apologist, but even I fell off of Halo Infinite. Despite 343 Industries’ latest game feeling just as good as a Halo game should, its strange, staccato launch and lack of new maps surrounded it with an air of perpetual stagnation for nearly two years. As such, I played it on and off from its November 2021 launch until the end of last year, and then just sort of forgot about it.
Then, in February of this year, 343 cleverly called on its incredible community to help spice things up, offering several new maps in official playlists that players could easily find and enjoy (rather than having to use the custom game browser to find Forge-made maps). But it wasn’t until last month’s offering, a new playlist called Squad Battle that mimics the Big Team Battle of yesteryear with maps that old Halo heads will know, that Infinite truly started to sing.
You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make them drink. Similarly, you can tell me that I should get back into Halo Infinite, but you can’t make me do it when Overwatch 2 and the new Nicki Minaj Call of Duty operator are right there. But if you’re my fiance and you’re dogged enough, you can at least get me to boot up Halo Infinite again out of curiosity—especially if you tell me there’s “more old maps.”
The Squad Battle playlist debuted in July 2023 and offers a happy medium between the chaotic 12v12 Big Team Battle matches and the much-less-forgiving 4v4 face-offs. The 8v8 games are a mix of traditional Slayer matches and some objective-based modes, and they’re all set on maps made by the Halo community. More importantly, all of the maps are from old Halo games. Yes, that means Valhalla is back. Rejoice, Spartans.
I don’t even realize the legendary Halo 3 map is part of the rotation until I queue up for a game and see shots of its evergreen trees, its ankle-deep water, and its hulking, futuristic structures as the match loads up. Dazed, I walk out onto the angled ramp on one end of the massive, sunlit valley and am hit with a violent wave of nostalgia, followed immediately by the cockpit of a Banshee. Boom, splattered.
What follows is a match that’s the best Halo Infinite has ever felt thanks to a mix of its rock-solid gunplay and the near-faultless layout of a classic Halo 3 map. New weapons like the Commando are perfect for the size and scope of Valhalla, allowing me to pick off players camping in a faraway Forerunner structure while still serving a purpose when one of them drops out of the sky and onto my head.
I spam grenades into the cave running along the side of the valley wall, just like I did back in 2007. I jump a Warthog through the gravity cannon and flip end-over-end toward the hill in the center of the map, just like I did back in 2007. I snag a sniper rifle and creep along the edge of a rocky outcropping, popping heads with a maniacal giggle, just like I did back in 2007. The Halo Gregorian chants are ringing in my ears, the bass drum is beating in my chest.
The next match is on Exile, a Halo 4 map set at the site of a downed UNSC ship. Once again, there are vehicles galore, and nooks and crannies for enemies to hide in, rifles in hand. I jump in a Banshee and streak straight up to the sky, careening down toward a lone enemy Spartan like a peregrine falcon, swooping up and away from the ground at the last possible second. I am grinning ear-to-ear throughout the match, unaware of the score, unbothered by death. Why does this feel so much better than anything else in Halo Infinite?
Sure, there have been sprawling open maps with enclosed spaces dotting the terrain and vehicles just waiting to be ridden since the game launched. And sure, the weapons and movement mechanics, which expertly balance older Halo physics with more modern FPS expectations, have always been great. Maybe this is all one big exercise in the power of nostalgia, and I’m only this gassed about Halo Infinite because it gave me a little Rat’s Nest as a treat.
But maybe, just maybe, Halo Infinite has always been this good. It just needed a familiar conduit, a recognizable face, to remind you of that.