I've been following the trials and tribulations of Halo Infinite, which is currently scheduled for a "holiday 2021" release, for years now with a sort of grim fascination.
That's because in Halo Infinite, at least from my perspective, we all seemed to be seeing the slow decline of one of gaming's most famous series before our very eyes, with each month or so heralding in another calamity.
Just look at how last year unfolded for the game. After whispers of development issues in the months leading up to a grand unveiling, Halo Infinite was then shown off running on Xbox Series X, the flagship Microsoft console no less, and it looked horribly dated. It was orders of magnitude away from the flagship title that was supposed to sell gamers on the awesome power of next-gen Xbox gaming experiences.
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Indeed, it looked so bad that the Halo Infinite development team itself came out and admitted "we have work to do".
Then in August last year a megaton bomb landed in the heart of Xbox headquarters, as Halo Infinite developer 343 Industries confirmed that it had "made the difficult decision to shift our release to 2021 for the well-being of our team and the overall success of the game".
This then caused Xbox gamers to slam the Halo Infinite delay en masse and proceed to dig out the developers and the direction that the franchise had been going for years, with Halo 5 described as having an "awful story, characters and campaign."
Another leak then sprang out from a rumored Microsoft insider known by the alias 'sponger' on the Resetera forum, that said that things had got "pretty messy up there with decisions" and that at one point even the decision to postpone Halo Infinite into 2022 had been on the table.
It was clear, from the collected empirical evidence, that Halo Infinite had been in development hell and the franchise was far from in a healthy state because of it.
It wasn't just me who saw this, too. In August last year respected US news site Forbes penned a piece entitled "Here's What Went Wrong With Halo Infinite's Development", and while some of the reasons are understandable, the fact of the matter was that Halo looked in all sorts of trouble – and especially so considering the previous game hadn't set the world on fire, either.
Fast forward to the present and head of Xbox Phil Spencer has come out and stated to IGN that he doesn't think Halo Infinite is a "make or break" moment for the series. Before continuing to state that "Halo will be here 10 years from now".
The thing is, though, while I'm sure Halo the franchise will exist in 10 years time, I'm not convinced at all that Halo Infinite isn't make or break for it as a AAA gaming series. The last Halo game had a bit of mixed reception and I fear that unless Infinite can really pull out all the stops, it's going to guide Halo into a pattern where gamers don't really see it in the same AAA, insta-buy light anymore.
No franchise, no matter how loved, is immune from the damage of badly received releases, and specifically releases that have been hyped massively for years. Just look at how Mass Effect: Andromeda absolutely tanked that franchise almost overnight. Yes, they're bringing Mass Effect back again, but its going to have been years by the time it releases and, even then, how many gamers are going to prefer to put their money down elsewhere after being burnt last time?
I'm not sure Mass Effect as a series comes back as a AAA must-buy at all, and I fear that a poor Halo Infinite could lead to the exact same apathy from Xbox gamers toward the Halo series, even if they once considered themselves die-hard Halo fans. After all, thanks to Microsoft's acquisition of Bethesda, Xbox gamers are going to be spoiled for choice for other exclusive titles and that's just from Microsoft's own portfolio of game series, let alone any from third-party developers.
I do, then, think it could be a lot more make or break than Spencer has stated. As a guy who played the original Halo and absolutely loved it, I hope that 343 Industries deliver the game that Xbox Series X and Xbox Series S gamers deserve. Images from earlier this year taken from the game looked more promising, but at this stage I'm now at a I'll believe it when I play it position. Here's last year's Halo Infinite gameplay trailer to give us all hope.