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Why one renowned games analyst isn’t playing Halo Infinite on PC for now

Halo Infinite‘s upcoming PC version.”>
Enlarge / Get ready for choppy frame rates on this bad guy’s animations, even on your most powerful PC, thanks to certain missing optimizations on Halo Infinite‘s upcoming PC version.
Xbox Game Studios / 343 Industries

Ars Technica will eventually go hands-on with Halo Infinite‘s campaign on PC, but as I noted in my feature-length review, our repeated requests to test the game on PC were declined.

So ahead of the version’s Wednesday launch, we’re left sifting through reports from the few outlets that were deemed worthy of getting a PC-specific look at the Infinite campaign. The most comprehensive analysis thus far, delivered by Digital Foundry PC gaming legend Alex Battaglia, ends with a pretty strong judgment.

“I will not be playing to beat the campaign to completion until a number of issues I mentioned are sorted out, as I really want to have a super-smooth Halo experience that the current game does not always offer,” Battaglia says.

See for yourself (kind of)

Head to Steam or the Windows Store right now, and you can download the free-to-play competitive multiplayer version of Halo Infinite. If you do, you’ll find a pretty robust settings menu that includes the all-important toggles for visual settings, along with sliders for both your field of view and your monitor’s aspect ratio.

The best news ahead of the campaign’s launch is that the PC ultrawide monitor ratios—which can reach extremes like 32:9, compared to the HDTV standard of 16:9—seem to be working well in the versus modes, which focus primarily on first-person combat, along with brief cinematic camera pulls before and after a match.

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The Infinite campaign will arguably put more of an emphasis on arbitrary monitor ratios, as it includes a lot of cut scenes. These scenes also play with Master Chief’s perspective in clever ways, as they move from his in-helmet view to third-person perspectives at a moment’s notice. Previous promotional footage for Infinite confirmed that the game’s PC development team has focused on making sure those cut scenes work with ultrawide monitor ratios. So far, though, we haven’t seen anyone test these perspective-shifting cut scenes, nor Infinite‘s ambitious open-world environment, on screens beyond the 16:9 standard.

Not feeling so dynamic

Infinite‘s PC version? According to Digital Foundry, perhaps quite a bit.”>Exactly how much will this scene stutter in <em>Infinite</em>‘s PC version? According to Digital Foundry, perhaps quite a bit.” src=”×551.png” width=”980″ height=”551″></a><figcaption class=
Enlarge / Exactly how much will this scene stutter in Infinite‘s PC version? According to Digital Foundry, perhaps quite a bit.
Xbox Game Studios

Battaglia also says there are a few curious issues with the PC build’s performance that aren’t found in the console versions. The biggest problem is a constant “frame time” bump when the game’s dynamic resolution scaling (DRS) system is enabled.

Infinite can strain an average gaming PC’s CPU, even when the game is running at a 720p resolution and low visual settings. The problem occurs on both Intel and AMD CPUs. Because of this, Battaglia recommends enabling Infinite‘s built-in dynamic resolution setting so that pixel counts can rise and fall to help stabilize performance during frantic, open-world encounters.

But something about this DRS system is triggering a constant, predictable freeze in the game’s frame time steadiness. Worse, the freeze is triggered by some form of rendering measurement inside the engine. So if you crank your frame rates higher, the freeze happens more often—like every four seconds when running at 120 fps. Yikes.

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Settings suggestions: Stay “high”

Battaglia notes that Infinite‘s PC build doesn’t currently support any form of variable rate shading (VRS), which works in the game’s Xbox Series X/S version to smartly reduce in-game detail in ways that improve performance across the board. Weirdly, Microsoft once boasted about VRS making its way to PCs via DirectX 12 Ultimate, the latest version of the company’s cross-platform API designed to boost development parity between PC and Xbox software. Yet the company’s landmark 3D software of 2021 doesn’t include the feature. And as Battaglia’s CPU testing numbers attest, the game could use it.

The rest of Battaglia’s video includes clear comparisons for each of the game’s visual toggles, along with his estimate for how to tweak settings to get Infinite looking identical to the game’s Series X “quality” preset. This mostly involves choosing “high” for each of the game’s settings options (which typically range between “low,” “medium,” “high,” and “ultra”). Battaglia’s video demonstrates that ultra settings provide little visual boost over high presets.

The game still has apparently inherent issues, as seen in my review of the game’s campaign on Xbox. No settings tweaks seem to rectify noticeably unrealistic shadows beneath objects, awkward foliage animations, sudden level-of-detail changes in the distance, or unnaturally glowing enemies in both interior and exterior battles. Battaglia also confirms that one of the worst issues of Infinite‘s campaign remains in the PC version: a 30 fps lock for certain animations, including weapon reloads and cut-scene animations.

Bumps before rays, please

In October, Xbox Game Studios teased that some form of ray tracing would come exclusively to Infinite‘s PC version via a collaboration with AMD. As we’ve seen since the rollout of Nvidia’s consumer-grade RTX GPU line, however, some developers have opted to add not-so-dramatic ray tracing boosts to simpler in-game elements. Sometimes, games only support an additional pass of ambient occlusion or shadows—which makes sense because a full ray tracing system can break pre-baked lighting systems and other engine elements. (If you want to see what happens to performance when a total ray tracing pipeline is triggered, look at Quake II RTX or Minecraft RTX, which both require lower resolutions to get their gorgeous lighting overhauls working at playable frame rates.)

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Such a meager ray tracing upgrade could do wonders for the floaty, ungrounded lighting elements I saw in Infinite‘s campaign. But based on Battaglia’s findings, the Infinite PC team has its work cut out for it before getting anywhere near that AMD collaboration. Everything you’d hope for in a smooth PC shooter experience seems to be missing thus far.

Without any formal response from Xbox Game Studios or 343 Industries in Digital Foundry’s Tuesday video, we’re left hoping that the devs’ regular cadence of Halo: Master Chief Collection updates is a harbinger of good patch-related news for Infinite‘s pre-launch issues. But with the MCC launch disaster in mind, we’ll remain skeptical about Infinite‘s PC campaign until further notice.