Within my first two deaths I was certain Halo Infinite was doing something right. In that short span of time I identified the nearest power weapon, the skewer (which is also the best gun ever put in a video game), and ran for it. I jumped into one of Halo’s signature man-cannons, which launched me across the map toward two other people also going for the weapon. I threw two grenades, popping their shields before I landed, taking one out while the other focused fire on me. It was not, however, their many bullets which ended my life. Instead, it was my friend’s ghost, also fired through the man-cannon, which shattered my poor Spartan bones.
Upon respawning, I returned to the power weapon spot to see my friend had grabbed the weapon for himself. I arrived just in time to watch the two-foot long spear of the enemy’s skewer embed itself in his body. And so I, a fool, approached his body to pick up the now-free skewer, not realizing that the bolts retained collision for a moment after impact. His lifeless body, spear and all, then landed on me, killing me instantly. This is all to say that Halo Infinite is doing what Halo does best: providing moments of incredibly dumb emergent comedy.
Halo Infinite is due to hit this December after a series of delays on account of the global pandemic and general production woes. This weekend marked one of the game’s final test flights before that official launch. The test, all in all, felt great to play, but terrible to actually get running. The build I played was from about two and a half months ago and came with a suite of nigh-unbearable known bugs, including memory leaks, multiple crashes, a broken party system, graphics card-specific performance issues, and more dropped games than I could count among my eight-person party. At any given time at least two of us were experiencing some game-breaking issue.
In spite of this, it was some of the most dumb fun I’ve had playing a video game in months. Halo Infinite’s sandbox, which refers to both the level design and collection of tools you have to play with in-game, is one of the best I’ve ever seen. The interplay between grenades, power weapons, and vehicles is what has defined the series for years. The addition of a grappling hook, a concussive energy blast that sends players and vehicles flying, and brand-new physics interactions has totally revitalized the series. There are new ways for Halo to be funny. Rebounded grenades, grapple hook mishaps, and accidentally throwing a fusion coil into the back of your friend’s head are just some of the new and terrible ways to make dumb shit happen.
All of this is underpinned by how seriously the game takes itself at first blush, sarcastic AI aside. Each game opens with a slow pan over your team as all of your Spartans do cool action poses. The pre-game shots of the map are loving, serious, and way too long. The music is stoic and the vistas gorgeous. The actual action is anything but, which is what makes it all work so well. The self seriousness becomes the setup for the game’s ridiculous physical comedy. “Look at these hardened military members, ready for the fight ahead,” the game says, before showing those same hardened soldiers accidentally dropping cars onto their own skulls.
Hell, the emergent comedy extends all the way to the game’s nightmarish bugs. I have never seen a video game crash with better timing than when my friend Steven joined a game after we waited for several minutes for their computer to restart. The, “alright, finally we ca-” being cut off by a full crash to the desktop was one of the funniest things I’ve ever heard. It was even funnier the third time around too. It’s good to see that the whims of fate, and god of game crashes, respect the rule of threes.
This is apt for a game that is so invested in the legacy of Halo 3. From its level design, to its focus on equipment in place of abilities, and its shifted focus back to the Covenant, Halo Infinite is a game modeled more after Halo 3 than any other game in the series. Halo 3 introduced Forge, Halo’s signature map-building tool, and is for many the quintessential Halo game. It was a playful, messy sandbox, yet deeply invested in being a serious conclusion to its series, despite adding a lot of the wackiest shit ever seen in Halo. All of this energy is carried into Infinite, and as a response to Halo 3, it’s a resounding success.
The same cannot be said for the torch left behind by the unfairly maligned Halo 5. Many of Halo 5’s most exciting and ambitious choices have been abandoned. Sure, you can climb on top of objects Halo 5-style, but it totally lacks fluidity. That game’s movement system was impeccable and almost totally unique. Using your boosters to strafe-dash past corners was not only cool as hell, but added so much to the feel of the game without compromising the idea that you’re wearing a massive suit of armor.
For as much as I like what I’ve played of Infinite, I cannot help but feel like it still has a chip on its shoulder from the world’s initial, negative response to 343’s previous effort. A new generation of Halo needs to be confident, hungry, and at least a little ambitious. I am excited about a 343 that is willing to look forward, and I think the team is doing that. But I cannot help but worry that their love for the past could hold them back.
In the meantime, at least, the comedy is sublime, and I’m loving all the terrible things that Halo Infinite is allowing me to do to my friends.