Who'd have ever thought that the Master Chief's most challenging assignment, across 20 years of active service, wouldn't be finishing a fight but starting one. 343 Industries had walked a treacherous path to get here, to be in a position where it could finally announce a Halo Infinite release date. Sadly, the Xbox Gamescom 2021 showcase came and went without one – without even a passing mention of what is ostensibly the biggest Xbox game slated for 'Holiday 2021'. The thing is, a release date has been a long time coming, with Halo Infinite already missing the Xbox Series X launch and coming perilously close to another delay as Xbox Game Studios announced that Forge mode and campaign co-op wouldn't be there on day one.
That came as a shock to many long-time fans of the series. The capacity to play through Halo campaigns cooperatively has been a feature since Combat Evolved landed in 2001 and 343 had already garnered some goodwill when it confirmed that split-screen co-op would return after its surprise absence from Halo 5: Guardians. The idea that we won't be able to explore the open world of Installation 07 with a couple of friends this November is disappointing, to say the least.
Halo Infinite campaign is MIA
Disappointing enough that Halo Infinite deserved to be delayed into 2022? I don't think so. Say what you will about that contentious campaign footage from last year, but there's clearly ambition at 343 to take Chief on his biggest adventure yet – one that can span the entire Xbox Series X generation cycle, hence the 'Infinite' branding. There's the campaign itself, reportedly set across a lush open world, something many of us had hoped to experience ever since The Silent Cartographer dared us to dream it from behind the wheel of a Warthog so many years ago. There's the return of equipment, MIA since Halo 3: ODST and expanded here with items like the Grappleshot and Repulsor, which can give Master Chief new ways to traverse and interact with the sandbox. Speaking of that sandbox, it'll supposedly be populated with weapons, enemies, and opportunities that are all-new to the series. All of this will be rendered out in the Slipstream Engine, proprietary tech purpose-built by 343 to propel Halo through this new generation. I say "supposedly" and "reportedly" because we're yet to play it, and haven't seen it in action for 13 months.
There were always going to be teething issues with Halo Infinite. It's been six years since the release of Halo 5, but spines like Slipstream can take that kind of time to engineer, and games at the scale of Halo Infinite can take that sort of time to develop, optimise, and polish. This is before we factor in the free-to-play multiplayer side to the experience, with Halo Infinite arriving with cross-platform support across Xbox One, PC, and Xbox Series X. As we noted in our hands-on with the recent technical test, Halo Infinite's multiplayer makes one hell of a first impression with a return to the style of arena play popularised by Halo's 2 and 3.
While the multiplayer is being viewed favorably by many fans of the series for making smart alterations to sprinting, map design, and weapon handling over its predecessor, 343 desperately needs to show what a year-plus of additional development has brought to the campaign. We've seen little more than a handful of (albeit impressive looking) screenshots and off-screen snippets from development diaries since the gameplay reveal last July – difficult to believe, given Infinite's profile. With autumn beginning September 22, we anticipated that the Xbox Gamescom 2021 showcase would be the perfect venue to host the return of Halo Infinite's campaign. Sadly, it was not meant to be.
The problem for Xbox Game Studios here is that announcing a delay to fan-favourite modes, staples of the series, paints further brushstrokes onto a picture depicting a game in disarray – something many in the community believe to be true, largely because they have yet to be shown otherwise. Personally, I'm happy for Halo Infinite to launch without co-op if the campaign is able to deliver what 343 promised last summer – "the most ambitious Halo game ever made". I can deal with exploring Zeta Halo on my lonesome for a couple of months, so long as the studio can deliver a Halo campaign that celebrates 20 years of Master Chief adventures and effectively set the series up for future expansion.
Co-op and Forge mode weren't enough to justify a delay of the entire package or even to just the campaign – as some fans have long speculated may happen, leaving multiplayer to launch this year as a separate experience. But what we really need to see is direct-feed gameplay, highlighting improvements to the fidelity of the open world, the scale of the action, and the real potential of Halo Infinite to showcase the Xbox Series X as a platform. We need a release date to make Halo Infinite feel real, to solidify that it'll be something we'll actually be playing in just a few months time. The story trailer at E3 2021 did little to move the needle.
It's the 20th anniversary of Xbox, and its legendary launch game, Halo: Combat Evolved, on November 15, 2001. It isn't out of the realm of possibility to expect Halo Infinite to launch on Tuesday, November 16, 2021, in celebration of that. What we need now is Xbox Game Studios to just come out and say it. 343 has every right to delay as much or as little of Halo Infinite as it needs to launch a game that it can be proud of. But with the Halo Infinite campaign missing yet another global stage to showcase itself, it's difficult to view this Gamecom event as little more than a missed opportunity – for both developer and publisher.
Who knows, maybe tomorrow's Gamescom Opening Night Live from Geoff Keighley will give us the answers we've all been waiting for. All we can do now is wait and see.
The highlight of the Xbox Gamescom showcase was undoubtedly the latest Forza instalment from Playground Games. Learn more about the 2021 release in our feature exploring how Forza Horizon 5 is trying to amp up authenticity without sacrificing its arcade sensibilities.