Halo Infinite’s Reveal Was a Mess, but There Is Still hope
I’ve heard that writing about a loved one lost to circumstance helps deal with the pain. I didn’t have a reason to test that theory. Until today.
Halo Infinite. The game that Xbox fans have been waiting for. The flagbearer of an era of graphical fidelity hitherto unheard of. 4K. 60 frames per second. Running on the most powerful console to date.
All the bells and whistles that you’d expect, and plenty you didn’t expect. A promising open-world, filled to the brim with opportunity. Knockout gorgeous textures that run like a dream. Weaponry that fits like a glove and gameplay mechanics you know and love from the Halo games of old. A reboot that treads on new ground.
The reveal showed little to none of the above.
I’ve been patient. I’ve seen what Bungie was capable of. And how 343 Industries nailed multiplayer while botching the narrative of Halo Infinite’s predecessor. I’ve immersed myself in dozens of Halo novels to know that the games barely scratch the surface of the happenings of the Halo universe. But I also know that 343 Industries can do better than this.
Graphics that leave much to be desired
The image on the right is from Halo Infinite running on the PC equivalent of a 12 TFlops (floating-point operations per second) machine with 16 gigabytes of RAM and an NVMe SSD that ought to eat pixels for breakfast. The image on the left, however, is neither from the 6 TFlops Xbox One X nor the 1.3 TFlops Xbox One.
It’s from Halo Reach, running on the 0.24 TFlops Xbox 360, a console released in 2005.
I respect developers who undertake an immense amount of pressure and stress while working on ambitious projects like these and do not wish to rebuke them, but a franchise that pioneered countless innovative mechanics that drastically altered the FPS shooter landscape deserves better. They’ve had five years, and as a next-gen showcase, the detail and polish on this demo seem to be off-course from what was promised, save for the stirring soundtrack. You can tell me that the Halo Infinite isn’t finished or that it will get better with a graphics update. 343 Industries has said as much, promising a post-launch patch that is set to improve graphical fidelity and add ray-tracing capabilities.
But none of the other games in that conference, or in any conference in recent memory, have had to use the same excuse, with four months to launch.
343 Industries could have labeled the showcase as alpha gameplay or mentioned that things will look better at launch. Perhaps they leaned on the Halo: Combat Evolved aesthetic a little too much. But fans have no choice but to derive meaning from the absence of such statements.
Polarizing art direction
Among the critique that 343 Industries has faced for its new reveal, I believe this is something that is both intentional and is something that can be tinkered with. Truth be told, I love that Halo Infinite is going back to its roots. The concept of a massive world filled with hidden items and places to explore is alluring. Halo Infinite also promises wildlife and ecosystems that work in tandem with a day/night cycle. But I can’t help but notice that not all is well in this world.
While the art is certainly heading in the right direction, it seems to have traded detail for a look that wouldn’t look out of place in a retro shooter, for better or worse. Texture pop-in in the distance is eerily reminiscent of Minecraft. Some of Halo Infinite’s animations are downright cartoonish, plasma grenades look like splashes of bright blue ink while blood is nowhere to be found for a game that supposedly takes place after “we have lost.” While one can assume that these are merely the lower ranks of the Banished forces, the clean character models wouldn’t look out of place in the Xbox 360 era. Or the Fortnite era.
While Halo 5: Guardians leaned too far into the other end with highly detailed models for environments, characters, and weapons, the predecessor to Halo Infinite looked glorious. And it ran at 60 frames per second, albeit on sandbox-esque missions that are a far cry from a true open-world experience. A blend of these styles would impress most fans, if not all of them.
Held back by the Xbox One
While the sprawling open-world nature of the latest entry in Microsoft’s futuristic space-shooter franchise must have forced developers to dial down the textures and the visuals, Microsoft’s stubborn insistence in ensuring that Xbox One players receive the game too has clearly played a role as well. True, two different sets of assets can remedy most of the issue, but it is no secret that a world that is over twice as large as the last two Halo games will take a toll on a 7-year-old console that ought to be laid to rest.
This would have to be tackled with loading areas and other sacrifices, some of which will show up in the Xbox Series X version as well. Maybe the elevator that loads the next area will be zippier on the XSX, but it will still exist. While it is commendable that Xbox treats its consoles as an ecosystem rather than individual parts, holding back on the vision that developers have for their games isn’t the best way to go about it. Adding insult to injury is the fact that Microsoft is ceasing production of all its Xbox One X and Xbox One S consoles, a move that Sony hasn’t made, knowing full well that its sales success isn’t over just yet.
It’s almost as though 343 are hiding the best bits
While most people online aren’t very impressed by what was shown, I’m curious about what hasn’t been revealed as of yet. The game’s world is certain to have its fair share of unique environments and an assortment of foes and weaponry. The cutscene at the start of Xbox’s conference was stunning, one that was likely pre-rendered. It shows the birth of armaments that could be used to augment the MJOLNIR Powered Assault Armor System worn by Master Chief.
Whether that is heresy or merely a sign of the times is up to you to decide.
We only got to see the grappling hook in action, but I’m pretty sure there’s more where that came from. 343 Industries has also revealed that there won’t be any experience bar of sorts to get these upgrades. One has to find them amidst the massive Halo installation to deck their armor out with new kits. Unfortunately, this system wasn’t shown in all its glory either. The new weapons are a breath of fresh air, with some sounding and feeling just right while others could use a bit of tightening up.
But 343 has yet to disclose information on the other weapons in its arsenal, specifically those of the Forerunner variety. Fortunately, its fluid gunplay remains on point.
Despite mentioning a day/night cycle in press releases, it wasn’t shown off at all at the conference. Perhaps it wasn’t ready, but it would have set many fears to rest. Glowing energy swords in the dark is always a welcome treat. The biggest misstep in my eyes was that 343 Industries didn’t reveal any vehicle other than the Warthog. Vehicles could very well be Halo Infinite’s secret weapon.
Anyone can tell you that flying a Banished Banshee or a UNSC Hornet across vistas would be breathtaking. Space battles with UNSC Sabres duking it out with alien fleets à la Halo Reach are more than welcome. Scarabs vs Mammoths is a dream any Halo fan would die for. Halo Wars 2 has enough vehicles to last a couple generations, so I’m pretty sure 343 Industries will let you wreak havoc with some of them at the very least.
The power of the Xbox Series X would be more than a match for the demands that vehicles of all kinds could place on it. Seamless switching from a terrain-treading buggy to a space-faring vessel could very well be the trick up 343 Industries’ sleeve. One that they would need to put doubts to rest.
Imagine using a grappling hook at an incoming Banished Phantom and seizing control of it. Sheer madness.
With only 4 months to go, what we know as of now is little. Multiplayer details are especially scarce, in stark contrast to how 343 Industries handled Halo 5: Guardian’s arena modes. But what I know for certain is that there’s certainly a great deal more happening under the hood than we think.
Mechanics that may still enchant and appeal both to hardcore audiences and new fans are still under wraps. Halo’s innovative Forge mode is here to stay. And split-screen is back with a bang. The post-launch graphics and ray-tracing patch may be the start of frequent updates that constantly improve the world with novel story and gameplay elements. Perhaps a reveal closer to launch can alleviate fears and stir fans up with hype once more.
Until then, I head into a cold-storage freezer and await that fateful day. Albeit with tempered expectations.