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Halo Infinite's cancelled split-screen campaign co-op tested - and it's excellent

Technical issues are minor - it's a brilliant way to play the game.

The news of the cancellation of Halo Infinite's campaign co-op split-screen option has been frustrating - not least because I was looking forward to playing it with my son, just as I have with all prior Halo titles supporting the feature. The fact that 343 Industries isn't supporting it is all the more confusing because right now at least, it's possible to glitch your way into split-screen campaign co-op for up to four players. It's true that the feature is not without its bugs, but in my experience, these are relatively minor and it's possible to play through the entire campaign in split-screen mode. Adding to the sense of disappointment is how close 343 has got to finalising this feature - and it plays brilliantly.

To fully understand the story, we need to go back to 2017 when then-343 Industries head Bonnie Ross addressed the lack of split-screen campaign co-op in Halo 5, making this comment during the 2017 DICE summit: "When we didn't put split-screen in with Halo 5, I think it's incredibly painful for the community - and for us. It erodes trust with the community, as the community is part of our world building... I would say for any FPS going forward, we will always have split-screen."

The situation changed a couple of weeks ago when 343's head of creative, Joseph Staten announced the cancellation of the feature, suggesting that - to put it bluntly - finite resources were better deployed elsewhere: "We had to make the difficult decision not to ship campaign split-screen co-op and take the resources we would use on that and go after this list and all these other things."

Halo Infinite's campaign split-screen co-op tested - via a 'workaround' - in all three modes on XBox Series X, along with analysis of the base Xbox One experience.

The feature may never receive official support but there is a workaround that allows campaign co-op split-screen to work on any Xbox console - even the vintage 2013 Xbox One 'VCR'. You'll see how I got this to work in the video above, but essentially it's all about creating an online fireteam, leaving the fireteam, selecting offline in the lobby, then adding other local profiles. It's a convoluted and occasionally frustrating way to get campaign working in split-screen but it is effective, with gameplay that operates in much the same way as the online campaign co-op mode test-flighted last month. If one player triggers a cutscene, the game switches back to a single view, before moving back to split-screen directly afterwards, resetting player positions. If players do drift too far apart, a warning countdown appears that encourages players to get back together. If they do not, one of them is killed and respawned near to the other.

Player progress - including Achievement support - is unique to that player and even accessing the in-game map and upgrade systems can be done independently within each mini-screen. However, this can cause a corruption issue if the other player in standard gameplay. Other issues I encountered included spawning under geometry, time of day drifting between the two players (one can be playing at night, the other in the daytime) and there's no character collision for the players, who can literally walk through each other. Some players have noted game save corruption (which would be entirely understandable), but that wasn't an issue in my play.

In terms of basic logistics then, split-screen just works then - give or take the occasional glitch. The sense is that the feature is very close to completion and that a lot of work was poured into it, making its omission very puzzling. On Xbox Series X at least, there are no performance issues either. It's really smooth in the 60fps mode with the console set to output 60Hz. You can see the dynamic resolution scaler working hard and that pixel counts are significantly below 4K, but that's OK when performance is very smooth at 60fps with just minor one frame drops.

We tested out 'official' online-based campaign co-op last month during its preview period for Xbox insiders, played here on PC and Steam Deck.

Additionally, level of detail is pulled in a touch, but it still looks good. If you want to increase resolution, the 30fps mode does the trick, but 343 still hasn't addressed the game's inconsistent frame-pacing (which bizarrely also kicks in running the game in 60fps mode if your console is set to 120Hz output). Even the 120Hz offering works, though it suffers from the same issues as it does in single-player mode: performance is usually under 100fps and as VRR still does not function correctly in Halo Infinite, it's still jerky. Still, play at 60fps with the console set to a 60Hz output and you're golden. It's an excellent experience.

There have also been suggestions that the mode was cancelled because getting it working on Xbox One may have been too challenging for the under-powered console, especially the OG 'VCR' model from 2013. However, despite understandable graphical drawbacks, it's perfectly serviceable and a solid way to play. The visual compromises are legion, however: dynamic resolution seems to top out at 720p but can drop as low as 540p, making the game look very blurry. Draw distance is compromised to the point where low poly imposters for enemies are drawn in at a very close range, while the range of Halo Infinite's real-time shadows is also savagely pulled in. Performance is also wobbly - in part thanks to the game's inconsistent frame-pacing at 30fps but also through genuine frame-rate drops into the mid-20s in the open world.

If the campaign split-screen mode works so well and feels so close to completion, we can only speculate as to why 343 Industries decided to can it. Bearing in mind that the mode is accessible and works well, the decision seems incongruous, so we asked Microsoft to comment on why it was cancelled when the mode has been demonstrated to work. Hearing back from the development team, we were told that they were 'politely declining to provide comment on this occasion'. However, I think we have to take 343 at its word and put it simply, the developer feels that resources are better spent elsewhere.

That's a shame because campaign co-op via split-screen is a key part of the Halo DNA and its omission in Halo 5 was disappointing. It's important to stress that online campaign co-op is still happening, but for the local experience to work, you're going to need dual screens and a secondary console. It's hardly ideal - especially when it's been demonstrably proven that the feature works - and works well.

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About the Author

John Linneman avatar

John Linneman

Senior Staff Writer, Digital Foundry

An American living in Germany, John has been gaming and collecting games since the late 80s. His keen eye for and obsession with high frame-rates have earned him the nickname "The Human FRAPS" in some circles. He’s also responsible for the creation of DF Retro.

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