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Microsoft seems to be holding Halo Infinite back until the last possible second

Master Chief lying in cryosleep
(Image credit: Microsoft)

It's starting to look like a year's delay wasn't enough. After months of playing coy, Microsoft has finally given Halo Infinite a release date of December 8, 13 months after it was originally meant to ship in November 2020. I thought a full extra year of development time, even with the challenges of Covid, would give 343 Industries the chance to polish Infinite to a sheen. But after Halo Infinite's showing at Gamescom on Wednesday, I'm worried that its campaign is in a race to the finish.

December is not the month you choose to release your star game. December is the "break glass in case of emergency month"—the month you delay to if, come hell or high water, you aren't going to flip the calendar to a new year.

Microsoft has never released a new Halo game in December. The mainline Halo games have mostly released in September or November, priming them for the holiday shopping season and surely selling a whole lot of Xbox consoles in their day. (Halo 5 is the odd Spartan out: It released in October). But even the Anniversary remaster of Halo: Combat Evolved and the Master Chief Collection came out in November.

With a December release, Microsoft misses Black Friday and pushes Halo Infinite so late in the year that it may well be overlooked in Game of the Year award deliberations that are already in full swing.

Maybe neither of those matter. It's true Microsoft's games business has changed a lot since it put out Halo 5 back in 2015. With Game Pass, maybe the company doesn't really care about selling loads of copies in November. Maybe it's trying to give Battlefield 2042 and Call of Duty: Vanguard a lot of space. But I'm confident that if Halo Infinite weren't in desperate need of that extra time, we'd be playing it in November.

The first worrying sign was last week's announcement that neither campaign co-op or the mapmaking Forge mode would be available at launch; they'll be 3-6 months behind. Co-op being missing really stings, considering it's been a core feature since the very first game. Infinite's appearance at Gamescom Wednesday was another. We haven't seen a second of Infinite campaign footage since last summer's poorly received unveiling, and instead of showing it off at Gamescom, 343 Industries' Joseph Staten showed up to reveal… an ugly green controller.

Halo Infinite's green elite series 2 controller

(Image credit: Microsoft)

Here's what most convinced me Infinite's campaign is coming in for a meteor-hot landing: the 20th anniversary of Combat Evolved is on November 15th, 2021. Infinite's entire aesthetic is built around recapturing the look of that first game; its multiplayer plays more like classic Halo than even Bungie's Halo: Reach did. Surely celebrating their biggest franchise's 20 year milestone with a $200 controller and a limited edition console was not Plan A.

It's unfathomable that Microsoft passed up the opportunity to release this game 20 years to the day after Halo: Combat Evolved unless it absolutely, positively wouldn't be ready.

Looking back at the games released in December the last few years only makes me more worried. Last year, Empire of Sin and Cyberpunk 2077 landed in December, both promising but ultimately cripplingly buggy. Cyberpunk feels like the definitive December game: After multiple delays, CD Projekt Red's leadership clearly decided it had to make it out in 2020, even though it clearly wasn't anywhere close to finished. It came out on December 10, just two days later than Infinite.

There really weren't any major games released in December 2019, though ironically it was the month The Master Chief Collection was ported to PC (cool, but still a re-release of a re-release). MechWarrior 5: Mercenaries did come out in December 2019, and we liked it! Last year's Immortals Fenyx Rising launched in December, too, and it wasn't bad—but it also made a lot of sense for Ubisoft to give the the game in its established open world action series, Assassin's Creed: Valhalla, a month's lead time on open world action game newcomer Immortals. December seems to be a relatively popular month for indie games, and I'm going to take a guess that that's precisely because blockbuster games so rarely target it.

Big December games certainly don't have to be bad, and I don't think Halo Infinite is going to be a Cyberpunk-shaped disaster. We played the multiplayer tech test, and it feels great already. Infinite's multiplayer could still use some improvements, but I expect to be playing it on day one and having a good time.

And there are plenty of explanations for why Halo Infinite's campaign might wind up being just fine. 343 could still be trying to preserve some mystery by holding back campaign footage; maybe it starts showing it off like crazy a month before launch. Maybe releasing three weeks after Halo: Combat Evolved's anniversary will make all the difference. Last week I thought delaying co-op and Forge were sensible sacrifices to ensure the core game is as polished as it can be and thought fans calling for another delay to launch with those features were overreacting. With this December release date, I think I've changed my mind. Last week's practicality now looks more like desperation.

It's hard to fathom now that Infinite could've ever come out in 2020—released a year ago, it surely would have been a Cyberpunk-shaped disaster. I'm rooting for Infinite's campaign to be great, but everything seems to point to it needing more time. If there just happened to be a 13th month in the year, I'm pretty sure that's when we'd be playing it.

Wes Fenlon

Wes has been covering games and hardware for more than 10 years, first at tech sites like The Wirecutter and Tested before joining the PC Gamer team in 2014. Wes plays a little bit of everything, but he'll always jump at the chance to cover emulation and Japanese games. When he's not obsessively optimizing and re-optimizing a tangle of conveyor belts in Satisfactory (it's really becoming a problem), he's probably playing a 20-year-old RPG or some opaque ASCII roguelike. With a focus on writing and editing features, he seeks out personal stories and in-depth histories from the corners of PC gaming and its niche communities. 50% pizza by volume (deep dish, to be specific).