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Halo Infinite figured out how to make the assault rifle good

Two halo soldiers fight in a cave
(Image credit: 343 Industries)

I don't think I'm ruffling too many feathers when I say the Halo assault rifle is a bit naff. Master Chief's trusty bullet hose has featured in nearly every entry so far, and it's always the first to go when our man needs to upgrade his arsenal. 

Likewise, Halo's multiplayer has long been defined by a scramble to offload the AR as quickly as possible, with popular competitive modes ditching it entirely for the more precise battle rifle on spawn. But Halo Infinite might just have bucked that trend, with a spray-and-pray starting weapon that isn't just viable but might, dare I say, be good.

Despite the name, Halo's assault rifle has never functioned like a traditional, real-world AR. It's not a precision weapon—it's a big metal firehose that barfs out bullets in the vague direction of where you point it. 

But in the Halo sandbox, a big bullet hose is rarely what you need. Spartans are tough to crack, and combat in Halo consists of trying to strip an opponent's shields (which resist bullets more effectively than plasma rounds) as quickly as possible before landing a precision headshot. The AR excels at neither.

Nevertheless, Halo 1's assault rifle was a beaut—a sleek number with a deep, bassy rumble that made firing it a delight. But why would you ever pick it (or, frankly, any other weapon in the game) when Combat Evolved's infamous pistol was a 3-tap at all ranges? At best, it was a beast at killing swarms of Flood spores in later campaign levels, but that was it.

Halo 2 omitted the AR entirely, replaced with an SMG that more cleanly filled the role of close-range shredder (especially when dual-wielded). The AR would return in 3, but by then it was all but irrelevant. Every Halo since has treated it as a serviceable-at-best starting weapon whose short effective range means most early fights consist of running at each other, ARs blazing, before punching each other and dying simultaneously. 

My regular custom game buds call that "pulling a Halo", so frequently it happens with AR starts.

Assault vector

But I'm rarely pulling a Halo in Infinite because, shockingly, the assault rifle actually feels great to use?

There are probably hard numbers to explain why, in terms of damage per shot, damage falloff, weapon spread and such. But on a pure gut level, it just feels like the AR is an all-around more versatile weapon—able to poke a little further, and deal damage a little more consistently. 

Halo Infinite's smart-link (a loose kind of aim-down-sights that lets you squint at distant foes without increasing accuracy or really zooming in at all) lets you punish a little harder with it. Plus, with the increased move speed of Halo Infinite, there's a lot more value in a weapon that can reliably track foes that are sprinting, sliding and slinging themselves across the map.

But what helps most of all is that, in Infinite, there's no real "best" weapon. The battle rifle, a precision burst-fire weapon that's come to define how Halo plays, isn't the head-bursting machine it used to be. The Commando chips from a distance but doesn't have the rate of fire to devastate up close, and while a competent sidearm, the Sidekick isn't Halo 1's god-tier Magnum. 

Even the Bulldog shotgun isn't the instant-win boomstick shotgun of Halos past. If you find yourself in a tense, short-range tussle, the assault rifle isn't just viable—it's probably one of your best options. Plus, while not the chainsaw rev of Halo 1's AR, Infinite's starting rifle has some real heft to its audio—a bassy rat-tat-tat that makes it feel a tad more powerful than it probably deserves.

Two spartans fight each other with assault rifles

(Image credit: 343 Industries)

The assault rifle being good, actually, isn't just important for the game's balance—it helps Infinite prove its worth right out the gate. I love Halo 3, but you really do have to put up with playing with guns that just don't feel great until you find one of the good'uns, every respawn leaving you at an immediate disadvantage.

But in Infinite, I don't need to scavenge to feel like I'm having a satisfying experience. Halo Infinite has finally given us an assault rifle that feels great straight from the jump, letting you feel like a powerful supersoldier from the moment you step into a match. It just took the series 20 years to figure out how to make its most iconic weapon not feel like a wet sponge.

Natalie Clayton

20 years ago, Nat played Jet Set Radio Future for the first time—and she's not stopped thinking about games since. Joining PC Gamer in 2020, she comes from three years of freelance reporting at Rock Paper Shotgun, Waypoint, VG247 and more. Embedded in the European indie scene and having herself developed critically acclaimed small games like Can Androids Pray, Nat is always looking for a new curiosity to scream about—whether it's the next best indie darling, or simply someone modding a Scotmid into Black Mesa. She's also played for a competitive Splatoon team, and unofficially appears in Apex Legends under the pseudonym Horizon.