Season 4 of Halo Infinite delivers a host of new features and content, among them the fan-favorite Infection mode that’s been a part of the multiplayer suite since the days of Halo 2. We sat down with the development team to get the scoop on what’s coming and why fans should be excited to slip back into their (potentially contaminated) armor.
Infection has been around almost as long as Halo, first appearing as a custom game in Halo 2 before joining official playlists in Halo 3. It’s been a staple of every mainline Halo game since, even getting a Flood (the parasitic enemies who threaten to wipe out all sentient life in the galaxy)-flavored version in Halo 4. But what exactly is Infection? 343 Industries Modes Product Owner Joe McDonagh lays it out as, “A classic Zombies-versus-survivors set up. Everyone starts on one side, as a survivor. Everyone but the single Alpha Infected, that is. If you get killed by the Alpha Infected, you switch sides and become an Infected. It boils down to this: can the survivors survive until the end of the round, as they get whittled down by the Infected? It leads to some awesome, last man standing ‘Get to the chopper’ style moments.”
The gameplay of Infection is designed for in-your-face, up-close-and-personal skirmishing, as the Alpha Infected is armed with energy swords that allow for one-hit kills, alongside Season 3’s Shroud Screen, which creates opportunities for traps and ambushes. Others who are Infected along the way get energy swords and the new Quantum Translocator equipment, letting them run in for a quick slay, then teleport away before enemies arrive. Survivors tote Bulldog Shotguns and Commando Rifles, but they’ll have to get uncomfortably close to the Infected to take them down. The net result is a lot of frantic running and yelling as survivors try to locate and kill the Infected while the other side isolates and hunts Survivors. It’s mayhem in all the best ways.
Honoring a Legacy
McDonagh and the team knew that it was important to do right by the community when creating the Halo Infinite iteration of Infection, given it is held in incredibly high regard both inside and outside the studio.
“A lot of folks here at 343 cut their teeth on this mode when they were part of the community, before they got into the industry,” says McDonagh. “Some of them, like Zach (Boyce – designer) got into the industry becauseof Infection. So it’s their origin story as Halo fans. We might be working on the franchise, but we’re conscious of the fact that we’re lucky enough to be its guardians, not its owners. And Infection is where a lot of that began.
“But back to crushing your enemies. Infection gives something you don’t get elsewhere in Halo Infinite. It’s a social experience, like Fiesta. It offers a more forgiving and casual experience than the occasionally Darwinian battles of Arena. Also, because the sides are dynamic, you get to backstab your friends, which, in my experience, always deepens gaming bonds.”
A New Strain of Infection
In this iteration of Infection there’s a narrative reason why the Spartans are turning on each other. The Season 3 story left off with the Banished AI Iratus infiltrating the Spartan training simulation and exerting his will to take control. This will be reflected in the appearance of Infected players, as well as new VO reflecting the altered reality.
There are new gameplay touches as well, McDonagh tells us that weapons spawn on the bodies of dead Spartans around the map, so thematically players are looting the unfortunate souls who have fallen in battle in the hopes of staying alive a bit longer. These weapon spawns are randomized each match though, so Survivors can’t map out a route to the best gear, and Infected players can’t lie in wait in ambush. Scoring in the mode is also tied to how long you survive, so the longer you stave off the inevitable end the more points you’ll rack up.
Lastly, the maps all have unique touches and themes to fit the Infection narrative. Level Designer Cliff Schuldt shares some details: “We made special versions of 9 maps to support the theme and the gameplay for the mode, and make it feel like something unique to Infection: Aquarius, Bazaar, Behemoth, Chasm, Cliffhanger, Forest, Launch Site, Recharge and Streets have all been reworked to fit the theme. We created barricades to change the gameplay flow to familiar maps. We also added new sections, for example Behemoth has new tunnels underneath and you can access the back alleys in Streets.”
“We made special versions of 9 maps to support the theme and the gameplay for the mode, and make it feel like something unique to Infection.”
Tips for Surviving the Zombie Apocalypse (Or Not)
So what are you to do when the odds are stacked against you and zombified Spartans with energy swords lurk around every corner? UI Designer Branden League has some tips. “As a Spartan, stay close to your team. Staying alive is not just a priority, it’s a responsibility. A responsibility to your teammates. That being said, using a fallen buddy for more ammo doesn’t make you a lesser Spartan.” A slightly harsh opinion, but fair in the context of a zombie Armageddon, I suppose.
And what if you’re the one hunting? How do you get your fill of Spartan snacks? “As the Alpha Infected, go slow to take full advantage of your camouflage. Use the Shroud screen to protect your brother zombies by blocking off sight lines. Master the Quantum Translocator, because once you understand it, you can use it to sprint slingshot yourself into a room which, by anyone’s standard, is a pretty special way to make an entrance.”
Sprinting, slingshotting zombies, what’s not to love?
Building for the Future
With Infection growing from a player-made mod to a fully-fledged feature mode we can’t help but wonder, what might be next? Could another created mode make the leap to official status? Forge Lead Designer Michael Schorr thinks there are tons of opportunities, some of which are already on the way.
“Repul Soccer has always been a strong contender to follow in the footsteps of Grifball, another legacy mode (like Infection) that has community origins,” said Schorr. “Phase Shift, a Slayer mode where players can ‘phase’ between two slightly different versions of the same map, is quite good and has been a favorite for many 343 devs. Players will see Husky Raid, another community favorite, make its debut in a Halo Infinite playlist this summer. Further down the line we’ll be introducing the Forge AI Toolkit, which allows players to spawn and manage campaign AI in Forge. I think a lot of interesting experiences are going to spring out of that functionality – all with the potential to become a staple mode in Halo Infinite.”
A Vision of Things to Come
The biggest struggle Halo Infinite faced in its first year as a live service game was offering a consistent pipeline of new content for players. Lengthy seasons were the norm, but since the launch of the Winter Update last December the cadence of content has demonstrably improved, a trend which Head of Live Service Sean Baron believes will become the norm going forward.
“Season 4 is very exciting for me because it’ll mark the third straight on-time release for the Halo Infinite Live Service team,” says Baron. “You know the saying — ‘Once is chance. Twice is coincidence. Three times is a pattern.’ I think that’s where we are now — we’re seeing the outcome of the focus on consistency. And I couldn’t be more excited for the team getting there. We still have plenty of room to improve — we’ll always be working to find new ways of improving and ensuring the predictability of the service. But I’m very happy with the progress we’ve made there and looking forward to making it four in a row with Season 5 later this year.”
But Baron and team know that it’s not just about the volume of content, quality plays a key role as well. He sees that as one of the key pillars to continuing to push the game forward. “When I think generally about the trajectory of Halo Infinite, it all comes back to our Player Experience Goals of Consistency, Satisfaction, and Quality. We’ll maintain that focus on Consistency. Like I said, I think there is clear evidence of improvement there. Same with Satisfaction—we’ll continue layering on the features and experiences players want.
With Infection growing from a player-made mod to a fully-fledged feature mode we can’t help but wonder, what might be next? Could another created mode make the leap to official status?
“Where we need to start showing more noteworthy improvements is with Quality. Both technical and experiential Quality. My hope is that over the next few releases and updates we’ll start seeing Quality make the same types of jumps that we’ve seen with Consistency and Satisfaction.”
Season 4 delivers not just the launch of Infection but includes the introduction of a new Career Rank system, new maps, new equipment and more. All that, coupled with the additions to the game over the past six months and the exciting future content, improvements and experiences in the pipeline all go to show that now is the perfect time to jump back into Halo Infinite if you’ve been away. And if you get to stab your friends with an energy sword and turn them into a zombie well, that’s just a bonus.
Find out more about Infection and Halo Infinite Season 4 on Halo Waypoint.
Xbox Game Studios