Halo: Infinite will run at 4K 60FPS on the Xbox Series X and PC, but will gamers play it if the shadows still look bad?
Right now Halo: Infinite has an issue with visuals, and everyone's noticed. The culprit is the game's new dynamic lighting that blankets the open-world setting. Things look great in the light, but in shadows, we see models lose their definition. The result is textures and models of guns, buildings, and characters look very last-gen.
343 Industries can fix it with global illumination techniques like hardware- or software-based ray tracing, which the Xbox Series X conveniently supports. But this fix comes at a performance hit. Halo: Infinite may not run at the advertised 4K 60FPS with ray tracing enabled; in its present state, with the dynamic lighting and shadows obfuscating details, it could hit a dynamic (or possibly even native) 3840 x 2160 with a steady 60FPS. With ray tracing turned on, it could drop to 1080p 60FPS.
"That's just the start though, as Xbox Velocity Architecture brings near instant loading, Smart Delivery will pull the optimal version for your device, and we will be running campaign at 60FPS with up to 4K resolution," 343 Industries studio head Chris Lee said.
"We are also designing Halo Infinite to grow and evolve over time so we can continue to deliver experiences to our players well beyond launch. This is the most technically advanced Halo game ever created, paired with the most powerful console on the planet, allowing us to create the most vivid and immersive way to experience our universe."
This Elite loses all of his definition because he's stuck in the shadows.
So why does this matter? It's an important perspective point to 343i's promised 4K 60FPS perf target with Halo: Infinite.
Right now the options seem to be 4K 60FPS with funky shadows, or lower resolution with ray tracing enabled. 343i confirms a ray tracing update is coming to Infinite after launch, but we don't know exactly when. The studio also promises Halo: Infinite will be a next-gen spectacle when it launches, hinting that it'll look a lot better than it did in the recent gameplay demo.
Remember that Infinite (and the Slipspace Engine that powers it) was built to run on all Xbox consoles, from the original 2013 Xbox One, the Xbox One S, the beefier Xbox One X, and the mighty next-gen Xbox Series X. Halo: Infinite has been built to be flexible by necessity. Infinite will be playable on the Xbox One family, but ray tracing and/or 4K 60FPS won't be available on these older platforms as a result.
This kind of variability has lead to multiple perf and resolution points. So far we know Infinite will run at a rock-solid 60FPS on current- and next-gen systems, but 4K 60FPS is exclusive to Xbox Series X and PC. And rightly so, because that's pretty demanding. What's more nebulous is any details on ray traced performance. Based on other games with RT enabled, we know what to expect (resolution drops, primarily), but 343i hasn't discussed the kinds of perf tax that will burden Infinite just yet.
Until we know that, the assurances of 4K 60FPS seem like buzz-words and PR speak in order to tout the Series X's powerful capabilities. But sometimes power isn't everything; if Infinite is to be a true next-gen showcase with dazzling visuals, something has to be done about the shadows. And that something should somewhat invalidate the 4K 60FPS marketing point around Xbox Series X optimized games.
Halo Infinite is due out November 2020 alongside the next-gen Xbox Series X.