How ‘Halo Infinite”s grapple-shot makes it the best sandbox shooter in the series

Push me, pull you

System Shack is NME’s new column that explores the mechanics behind the industry’s most successful games. This week, Rick Lane grapples with Halo Infinite’s transformative grapple-shot.

On the face of it, it seems ridiculous to add a grappling hook into Halo. Master Chief is many things, strong, stalwart, green. But one adjective I wouldn’t use to describe him is “lithe”. As a fighter, Master Chief is essentially a walking tank, seven feet of dinted Mjolnir armour who plods relentlessly forward in combat, able to turn a Covenant’s insides into jelly with a single elbow strike. He is not Spider-Man, leaping about the battlefield with acrobatic grace, uttering cocky-one liners as he dispatches his foes.

More broadly, Halo is not a game that appears to need a grappling hook. Before Infinite launched, if any shooter seemed like a natural fit for going open-world, it’s Halo. It already had the vehicles, the expansive outdoor battlefields, the sandbox-like combat scenarios driven by dynamic AI rather than scripted sequences. It has everything an open-world game apparently needs. Adding a grappling hook seems needlessly gimmicky, like pouring a packet of popping candy over a wedding cake.

Yet far from feeling superfluous or kitsch, Halo Infinite’s grapple-shot proves crucial to making the game work at all. As it turns out, Halo didn’t have all the ingredients needed to make an enjoyable open-world, and like a newly fledged FPS protagonist picking up their first shotgun, sometimes you don’t know what you’ve been missing until you have it in your hands.

Halo Infinite
Halo Infinite. Credit: 343 Industries.

While Halo already has a wide array of vehicles that can be used to traverse an open world, they’re only useful until they inevitably get blown up by a fuel rod cannon or a rogue plasma grenade. Even in the earlier games, being stuck on foot in one of the larger combat sandboxes was always frustrating (and usually fatal). This problem is compounded by a large, contiguous open world where you could be stranded miles from the nearest FOB.

Hence, for Halo Infinite Master Chief needed a way to get out of dodge fast. But this couldn’t be something that rendered the series’ existing vehicles redundant, like a jetpack or a teleportation device. A grappling hook, therefore, is the logical choice to solve this design problem. It lets Master Chief move quickly over short distances, and can be utilised for longer journeys. But it doesn’t directly convey you from A to B like a vehicle does, and also requires a greater level of player-skill to use effectively.

Logical, perhaps. But is a grappling hook fitting? At a fundamental level, Master Chief does not seem like a character who should be zipping nimbly through the air. However, 343 massages this ‘no’ into a ‘yes’ through how it implements the grapple-shot. It’s true that Master Chief shouldn’t move like Spider-Man, so 343 ensure he doesn’t. Instead, in Halo Infinite, Master Chief moves like a cruise missile, with his substantial bulk negated by the sheer power of his momentum.

Halo Infinite
Halo Infinite Credit: Microsoft

343’s approach to designing the grapple-shot ensures you always feel this weight and momentum. When you fire the grapple, you hear the metallic ‘thunk’ as it embeds itself into a surface, and the intense whine as it reels Master Chief forward with sufficient force to propel him through the air. As he travels, his momentum builds to the point where he can land with concussive force, able to devastate enemies with a powerful melee attack.

In essence, 343 build the grapple-shot so that it suits Master Chief’s combat style, making it direct, efficient, and brutally effective. But the grapple-shot is more than just a useful move-and-attack device, it’s also designed as an extension of Master Chief’s versatility. Master Chief’s approach to combat is highly improvisational, able to turn his hand to any weapon or vehicle and use it to his advantage. 343 designed the grapple shot to literally extend Master Chief’s reach relative to the larger play-space. He can use it to pluck discarded weapons from the ground, or grab explosive fusion coils that litter the environment before tossing them at foes like a grenades. In this way, the grapple-shot increases the dynamism of Halo’s combat sandbox, meaning there’s nearly always a solution to any problem at-hand.

In this way, 343 transforms what seems like an inappropriate gadget for Master Chief into arguably the best part of Halo Infinite. Indeed, one could argue that the grapple-shot rescues what is otherwise a fairly standard and rather scattershot attempt at open-world design.

xCloud
Halo Infinite will be one of many games to utilise the service. Credit: Xbox Game Studios

Although Halo Infinite’s open world works, it doesn’t do much that we haven’t seen before. And despite being the largest Halo game yet, its combat never reaches the scale and spectacle of, say, Halo 3’s twin Scarab fight, and often reverts into being a linear corridor shooter where Halo has always been weakest.

Ultimately though, the smaller-scale combat is so satisfying that these issues are forgivable. And this is largely down to how much the grapple-shot adds to Master Chief’s fighting prowess. It’s so successful as an iteration that 343 Industries can’t really go back on it, which will make development of the inevitable *next* Halo game very interesting indeed.

You can read the rest of System Shack here

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