I knew the Halo Infinite campaign could be an emotional journey; I just didn’t expect the emotion in question to be rage. But a mere half an hour after the disc dropped through my letterbox, I was leaking boiled piss from every pore. Why? Because Microsoft has chosen to make the physical Halo Infinite Xbox disc all but worthless.
I’ll back up a little. Given the choice between purchasing a game digitally or physically, I’ll often choose the latter. Granted, if a game grabs me enough that I’ll be playing it on a regular basis, I’ll wait for a digital price drop and snap it up then. But buying a game on disc gives me the freedom to lend it out, trade it in if it’s absolutely dire, and, if my internet’s on a go-slow, install it without having to wait for a lengthy download.
So I popped the disc in and got ready to step into Master Chief’s big green wee-recycling armor. A grin spread across my face because, one 16 GB install later, I was going to be able to dive into Halo Infinite a full 10 hours before the game unlocked online. Take that, Digital Dave – you can shove your cartoon monkey pictures where the sun doesn’t shine.
Except none of that happened, because when you purchase the physical edition of Halo Infinite, you’re not getting a game. You’re getting half a game that is unplayable unless you go online and download an additional 25 GB or so of data. Fail to comply and you’re left gawping at an “Installation Incomplete” message.
Because despite all the talk of Halo Infinite’s multiplayer being a separate mode, it’s entirely integral to the campaign. So, despite having deleted that component a couple of days earlier, I found myself looking at the newly reinstalled Halo Infinite multiplayer menu. When I tried to play the campaign I couldn’t because it hadn’t unlocked online. I was in the same stinky boat as Digital Dave and his monkey-loving mates.
Day zero patches have, disappointingly, become the norm, but with some extreme exceptions (I’m looking at you, Cyberpunk 2077.) you can assume games will be in a reasonably playable state. Yes, your Assassin’s Creed Unity target might have their eyeballs floating six feet in front of them, but at least you can still stab them in their stupid, skinless face.
Not so with the Halo Infinite physical edition. At best it’s misleading, and at worst it’s downright deceptive. There’s absolutely nothing on the front of the case to indicate that you need to be online to play the campaign. A tiny, tiny line on the back advises that it “requires download,” but Microsoft seems to have made the bare minimum of effort to alert would-be purchasers to this situation. An issue of this magnitude warrants a big, DayGlo circular sticker and an ear-demolishing Inception-style bwah whenever you pick up the box.
That’s assuming, of course, you walk into a brick-and-mortar store to pick up Halo Infinite. Given there’s a new coronavirus variant doing the rounds, you might choose to purchase it online and have it delivered. If that’s the case, you’re reliant on the online retailer alerting you, and so far, none of the retailers I’ve looked at have flagged this up.
Take GameStop, for example. Its listing for the Halo Infinite physical edition doesn’t feature the back of the Infinite box and makes no mention of the additional required download. Is GameStop at fault for not informing the consumer of Halo Infinite’s failings? Maybe, but why would you even expect one of the year’s biggest releases, from Microsoft of all companies, to require a massive download before you can play it?
At the risk of repeating myself, this isn’t some day-zero patch we’re talking about; you literally cannot take the disc-based version of Halo Infinite, pop it into your Xbox One or Xbox Series X | S, and play it without an additional hefty download. That’s a download that, if you suffer from slow internet speeds, could take a full day. And if you have a broadband cap, it could cost you an arm and a leg.
There’s also a digital preservation issue here. If, in the space year 2055, someone yanks a disc-based copy out of the galactic archives and dusts off an Xbox One, they’ll be unable to play the game. The appropriate download will long since have been wiped from Microsoft’s servers, if they still exist. And yet, with an install size of just under 50 GB, a complete, offline-accessible version of Halo Infinite could have been shoehorned onto the disc.
As I write this, it’s been several hours since I was told I couldn’t play the game I’d gotten in my hands. My rage has subsided and been replaced by a sense of disappointment and disbelief, almost to the point where, now that Microsoft has decided I have the right, I feel like diving into Halo Infinite’s campaign. But I’ll always resent that Microsoft thought it was acceptable to release a physical edition that’s little more than an Official Halo Infinite Mug Mat and has made an absolutely minimal effort to advertise this fact. Microsoft is a major console manufacturer and games publisher, for crying out loud, not some eBay trader selling pictures of an Xbox Series X.
I’m not qualified to confirm the legality (or otherwise) of this; presumably Microsoft consulted its vast team of lawyers before rendering the Halo Infinite physical edition virtually useless. But it makes me a little nervous that, just maybe, we’re getting a glimpse of what Microsoft has in store going forward, that this is a trial run to see if delivering half a game halves its sales. For a company who had to backtrack on DRM due to public “feedback,” that would be one hell of a shady game plan, and given how many studios Microsoft has in its stables, I sincerely hope I’m wrong.