The cancellation of Halo Infinite’s split-screen

The cancellation of Halo Infinite’s split-screen

In 2017, the Halo development team, which is owned by Microsoft, started playing catch-up because the series was getting its worst reviews and reactions in years. Halo 5: Guardians came out with a bang, and one of its biggest problems was that it didn’t have any split-screen multiplayer modes. This was especially bad since the linear campaign was based on four-player fire teams. If you couldn’t play that mode online, you had to play with three boring squadmates controlled by the computer.

Halo Infinite’s split-screen

The backlash from critics and fans was bad enough that the series’ creators at 343 Industries had to take a big step to fix things. Bonnie Ross, the head of 343, made a promise at the annual DICE gaming summit, an event for developers. She told the crowd that Halo first-person games will always have split-screen support in the future.

Today, after months of delays and hopeful talk, Microsoft and 343 Industries have gone back on their promise. There is no longer a split-screen mode for friends to play together on the same couch for the game’s campaign.

“Taking the money” somewhere else 

The news came out during a 30-minute presentation on Thursday about upcoming updates for Halo Infinite. The presentation also confirmed that the online campaign co-op will now come out on November 8, along with the much-requested “Forge” editing suite (used by fans to create and share new maps, custom gameplay modes, and other community content). This week, 343 Industries hasn’t sent out any emails with text about split-screen. 

Ship split-screen campaign

“We had to make the hard decision not to ship split-screen campaign co-op,” Staten says. He then confirms that this was done on purpose so that “the resources we would use on that” can be put toward other development goals. Worse, the studio has put off “season three” of multiplayer content, which will now come out in March 2023. This is to make room for the launches of Forge and online co-op.

When the long-awaited sequel, Halo Infinite, finally came out in 2021, it didn’t have any kind of co-op campaign mode. Staten told fans about the bad news months in advance, promising that online and split-screen versions of the mode would come in a “season two” update in 2022.

In a March 2022 update, Staten gave fans more bad news. He said that all co-op had been pushed back even further, but that his team was working hard on both modes. At the time, he said that local co-op would be limited to two players, while the online version could have up to four players. Staten said at the time, “The non-linear, wide-open parts of the campaign pose some big problems for split-screen that have taken us longer to solve.” 

Today’s quote about allocating resources makes me think of at least one problem with Halo Infinite’s free-to-play online versus modes: “melee desync,” which makes players see and feel different collisions and impacts than what the game’s servers record. After players clearly explained the problem, a 343 Industries employee replied to a Reddit thread in June to say that the problem would not be fixed because “devs that would work on these fixes have been assigned to other Infinite work.”

A change to my December 2021 review and how I’ll think about Xbox from now on.

Reviewed Halo Infinite

When I reviewed Halo Infinite in December 2021, I didn’t go out of my way to explain why split-screen offline co-op was important. 343 Industries had made a promise, and I thought it was true. “Co-op” would come out, and it would work either by putting people together online or by letting a friend or family member share your screen. It’s cool with me either way.

I deeply regret doing this now, so I’ll use today’s announcement as a chance to explain how I feel about it. I said the following at the time:

I couldn’t stop thinking about co-op when I was playing Infinite by myself. The best missions and battles in the game give you more reasons to invite squadmates and give battlefield orders than any other Halo game, and 343 acknowledges this by giving you AI squadmates as a perk you can unlock through the campaign. If the lack of co-operation is a deal-breaker for you, you should wait. The fact that the last seven campaigns came in co-op makes this more likely. Don’t put the campaign in place.

I still want to play Halo:

Infinite’s campaign with more than one friend. If its net code can handle four-player squads well, I think that will be fun. But I no longer trust any part of the Halo Infinite team to keep its promises, and I won’t judge the studio until I see how it handles the networking challenge of four players in one campaign instance, especially in a campaign that Staten has said more than once is “challenging” to add co-op to. So far, at least, two-player tests of the online co-op beta show that latency and other online-specific issues don’t seem to be too bad.

Ross’s promise, though, was about what people could expect: one copy of the game, one living room box, and one account. Now, if you want to play Halo Infinite with a friend or family member, you’ll have to go through the trouble of carrying around extra hardware, buying a second copy of the game, and linking it to a different online account. That may be the norm for many online games, but Ross and Staten both sold Halo Infinite on the idea that fans wouldn’t have to deal with all of that. This is especially true if fans want to include younger players.

Playing Halo with kids

I’m sure I’m not the only one who likes playing Halo with kids because it’s easy to learn and has colorful fights (in my case, with my nephews). Anyone who has been a gaming role model knows that Halo games are a better middle ground than the more violent Call of Duty games to share with younger players who are interested in games. This kind of gaming is also better when everyone is in the same room. With younger players, whose minds are still growing, presence is important. When a game gets hard or frustrating, it’s easier to stop and be there for a child who might get angry, sad, or do something even worse.

This may not be what you expect from a Halo game, but many Ars Technica readers have said in comments that they also buy Halo games with the intention of playing them together in the same room. I, for one, won’t do it anymore. I’m glad I bought the Halo Master Chief Collection, which Microsoft admittedly spent a lot of time and money on to make much-needed fixes. I still play it with my nephews to play classic split-screen firefights made by Bungie.

The developers at 343 Industries

And I do feel bad for the developers at 343 Industries, who have tried to make split-screen co-op work in this game despite all the other problems that have been plaguing what seems to be an endless development period of adding content to a product that won’t be done until December 2021. But from now on, I won’t be able to expect a certain amount of fun from the series, and as a journalist, I’ll have to question some of the trust I had in the Xbox Division’s pre-release promises.


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