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Xbox's leading first-party franchise Halo is set to make a return later this year with its upcoming sixth main-series entry, Halo Infinite. But after multiple attempts at creating a new instalment of the series that truly lives up to its reputation, Infinite could either make or break 343 Industries.
Ever since Bungie departed from Microsoft and handed over the reins of the Halo franchise to 343 Industries, it's had a bit of a rocky reception from longtime Halo fans, myself included. While the Metacritic Metascores for both Halo 4 and Halo 5: Guardians sit above 80, the Halo community has been pretty vocal about its dislike to some of the changes introduced in those games. Things such as the art style, the structure of multiplayer as a whole, and advanced movement mechanics. All of these seemed to actually detract from what made Halo such a big franchise in the first place.
When 343 Industries took up the mantle as the new studio behind Microsoft's leading franchise, they wanted to make Halo their own. Unfortunately, that led to some decisions that altered the core concept that drew fans to the shooter series in in the first place. Rather than building on what had worked for Bungie and then adding their own interpretations, the studio changed some of the more classic elements of the game. While it ushered in a new generation of Halo players with one hand, it pushed away some of the original fans with the other.
But this is why there's been a lot of anticipation for Halo Infinite. In the game's first reveal, where we saw the Master Chief wearing some very classic-looking armour, it was clear that 343 Industries had taken the criticisms on board and were trying to reintroduce that familiar Halo feel, while still being something for newer fans, too.
343 creative director Chris Lee spoke to several outlets during a closed-door Q&A session, explaining what the studio is attempting. "This really speaks to the spiritual reboot concept that we started this project with," he said. "Where we really wanted to take the learnings from Halo 4 and Halo 5 and [...] look across the entire history of the Halo franchise and embrace the most iconic elements and bring those forward for gamers today."
The fact that 343 Industries considers Halo Infinite as a spiritual reboot highlights the fact that the studio is aware something drastic needs to happen for the franchise. But despite the early excitement of a more classic Halo, the first gameplay demo reignited concerns for it. While crashing on a ring-shaped Halo array with nothing but an assault rifle was reminiscent of Combat Evolved, the demo was criticised for having "bad graphics". Not something you want to hear for a game that's meant to be the flagship title for the next-gen Xbox Series X.
That little bit of excitement was quickly lost, and the concern that 343 Industries might not be able to pull this off was ringing in fans' ears. In an attempt to recreate some of that Bungie-era Halo magic, it led the studio into creating something that looked flat and cartoony, to say the least. And it was clear to even 343 that there was still a lot of work that needed to be done. Not too long after the demo, the studio announced that it would be delaying Halo Infinite, pushing it back by a year and missing out on the window for it to be a launch title for the Series X.
This left the next-gen Xbox without a first-party launch title, which was not only a huge blow for 343 Industries but also, obviously, Microsoft too. But the Xbox brand would've suffered an even bigger blow if the new Halo, yet again, didn't deliver the experience that fans want from such a game. A delay is rarely a bad thing when it comes to game development, and it looks as though 343 has already made a lot of promising changes. Over the last few months, fans have been getting little glimpses of Halo Infinite, and I feel there is something to be excited about.
December 2020's blog post from 343 Industries gave fans an insight into what the studio has done to improve its visuals. While screenshots don't accurately reflect how the gameplay will look when it's all in motion, they do highlight the steps taken to make the game look more grounded and less cartoony.
If 343 Industries manage to truly recreate that classic Halo feel - especially with its multiplayer - then this spiritual reboot could pave the way for the studio to continue the franchise, from a powerful foundation. But, if they don't manage to stick the landing, Infinite could be the final nail in the coffin for them. A poor performance at this crucial stage could push Microsoft to shut down the studio and give the franchise a complete reboot with one of its many other studios.
And now the ZeniMax/Bethesda acquisition has given Xbox even more options. Perhaps Arkane could take on Halo Infinite's goal of creating an open-world ring that players can explore; or maybe id Software could bring some of that DOOM magic to create a fast-paced multiplayer shooter. Microsoft has a lot of options, basically, so they no longer need to worry about relying on 343 Industries to continue the Halo franchise. Which should be all the motivation the studio needs to make the new Halo one to remember, exclusively for the right reasons.
Featured Image Credit: 343 Industries
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