After my first few matches of Bot Slayer in the Halo Infinite Technical Preview, it’s fair to say I had my concerns. There were plenty of reasons to be cheerful as a series veteran, but the shooter landscape has changed dramatically since the days of Halo 3, and not all of the game’s modernisations were that easy to stomach.
Jeff Steitzer is back and the Battle Rifle feels great, but the addition of aim-down-sights (ADS), crouch-sliding and more made Halo Infinite feel less traditional and more like Apex Legends or Call of Duty.
For series newcomers, this probably isn’t a big deal. A big franchise has to mature and meet the standards of modern shooter design, as well as the expectations of a new generation of gamers weaned on Warzone. We’re seeing this happen all over. Turtle Rock’s Back 4 Blood took a similar route, buffing out all of the Source Engine sharp edges that have kept Left 4 Dead 2’s gameplay airtight for years after its release. As they say, if it ain’t broke, but I can understand why focus groups of new players might balk at the way shooters felt in the 2000s.
With that in mind, fans of old-school haptic Halo multiplayer had to accept that this early build of Halo Infinite is a bit of a different beast. The maps are super small and chaotic, and there aren’t any vehicles to play with just yet. Halo Infinite hasn’t showcased its own spin on Blood Gulch or Valhalla just yet, and I think that’s when we’ll know how authentic it’s really trying to be.
But even so, as 343 trickled new content into the build, I actually started to come around to this new paradigm. The first map offered was simply a training ground where you could crunch through the bots with relative ease, and I came away feeling a little burned by how new it felt, but still hopeful for the holidays.
But then they added ODST bots. I don’t know what kind of AI they’re working with at 343, but this step up was seriously impressive. Excuse my French, but the bots are bastards. They team up and track you, and force you to put the environment between you and their accurate fire. The way they used a variety of weapons, grenades and abilities really wowed me, and I’d be up for a few Bot Slayer playlists when the game launches later this year.
Sure, there were some situations where the bots would stand still or glitch but for the most part, they felt like real players. I certainly couldn’t find a tactic that they wouldn’t riposte, and as a result, matches became proper dogfights, forcing you to learn the new ropes quickly. You were never really at risk of actually losing a game, but if you didn’t maintain a level of ability you would easily get shown up by these binary beasts.
All of a sudden I was picking up killing sprees with the Gravity Hammer in an exciting new map like Recharge, which has a number of cool environmental traps and battle boxes. Actually getting into a melee battle up close and feeling the vibration in the Xbox controller was a serious blast from the past, and the crunchy pistol became my favourite tool. Taking down a bot with the last bullet in your clip is an exquisite feeling, only augmented by the attached medal, and the sound of your Personal AI gibbering about your skills.
I found the new abilities to be a lot of fun too. When it comes to pacing a multiplayer game, it must be tricky to choose between pure pickup power-ups and skills that you can activate, as when there’s low time to kill, it’s easy to forget that you’ve got them. So inevitably, you feel like an idiot when you die with excess abilities that you could have won a battle with.
Naturally, that feeling resides in Halo Infinite, but it can be mitigated when the designers make the abilities feel really important, and so far they have achieved that here. There’s a brilliant radar pulse that illuminates enemies and can lead to an easy squad wipe, but my favourite addition has to be the grappleshot. As evidenced by the clip below, it can be revolutionary in the right hands.
— Taquin (@TheReachWay) August 1, 2021
I’ve not quite managed to pull off anything as steaktacular as that, but the ability to latch on to enemies and pull yourself in for a deadly melee blow is one of the most impressive bits of shooter design flair I’ve seen in years. Couple that with the fact that you can use it to pick up weapons from afar and escape a 2v1 blowout and you’ve got a banger of an ability. Halo is a shooter with purposefully low mobility — you’re in a huge suit of armour — so it makes sense to keep it somewhat grounded, but this is a really smart way to adapt to the faster pace of modern shooters without hurting the whole package.
As the preview wrapped up, Spartan-difficulty bots created a new challenge, as did another map, Bazaar. This abandoned desert town is full of interesting details that will be made more evident with human players, like tiny vent escapes and eclectic pickups. This one kept me locked in for hours over the weekend. Honestly, the main thing I was struck by looking back on my time with Bot Slayer is how moreish it felt. I wasn’t really earning anything tangible from bashing it — there are no ranks to earn and the cosmetics aren’t permanent — but I kept wanting to try out new control configurations and weapons on the small maps, which really speaks for itself. That’s coming from a Big Team Battle player too, I usually prefer the chaos of massive maps and vehicles…
The most important thing I’ve gleaned from playing Halo Infinite’s Technical Preview is that 343 is trying to achieve a sense of balance between old-school Bungie design and new-school shooter design. It may be tough to adapt to at first for series veterans, but if you’re willing to open up to it, I think they’ve got something special here, and I’m extremely excited to dig into the next technical previews, particularly the vehicles and large-scale battles they may bring.
Halo Infinite is out later this year