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Removing split-screen play from Halo is a crime

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Split-screen play is something of a holy thing among many Halo fans, a group in which I consider myself a part. We have memories of inviting friends over to play, sharing a single screen to co-op our way through the campaign or to play against each other. If you had two televisions and two systems, you could play with four players.

Playing the game in this way took up years of my gaming life, and I look back on those memories fondly.

Players growing up with Halo now won't be able to say the same thing. Halo 5 has killed the split-screen option.

What the hell?

"The decision to remove split-screen support from Halo 5: Guardians was one of the most difficult ones we've ever had to make as a studio," Josh Holmes, studio head at developer 343 Industries, wrote on an official blog post.

"We know that for many of our fans, Halo has meant playing together with friends in the same room. We all have great memories of past Halo split-screen multiplayer matches. To move Halo's gameplay forward and deliver a true next-gen experience, tough choices had to be made."

Wait, really?

"Our decision was driven by a desire for scale, fidelity and focus to ensure that we would deliver the best quality experience possible," he continued.

"With Halo 5 we are delivering massive scale environments, improved AI behavior, increased visual and gameplay fidelity … something that truly takes advantage of a new platform. Many of our ambitious goals for Halo 5 would be compromised in a split-screen setting and the time spent optimizing and addressing split-screen-specific issues would take focus from building other parts of the game. Game development is a balancing act of resources, time and technology, and in this case we made the tough decision to sacrifice something that’s been near and dear to us all."

This is a major step backward

I've been playing the past Halo games with my son, and we play in split-screen. It's amazing to see what Bungie and 343 were able to do with the Xbox 360 hardware; Halo 4 in particular looks amazing and plays so well in split-screen that it feels like a magic trick.

I'm not sure what Halo 5 is going to deliver that's worth giving up such an important part of the franchise, but it's hard to look at what's been done in the past on less powerful systems and understand that split-screen is now impossible with the sort of game 343 is creating, even on the more powerful hardware.

How in the hell did we get to the point in the industry where we're playing on more powerful hardware and we're losing features that brought in so many players? How can a team owned by Microsoft, developing for a Microsoft system, creating a flagship game, not find a good mixture of graphical performance and visuals that would allow me to play with my kid on the same television?

I'm going to go out on a limb here: It's not worth it. I'd rather have split-screen with a lower frame rate. I don't mind if we lose a bit of graphical fidelity. I'm not going to count the pixels and get mad if you have to lower the resolution a bit in split-screen. I don't particularly care if it would take time away from other aspects of the game.

This is a pillar of Halo, and it's something that has been designed around since the first game. Losing it when the series first takes a jump to a console so much more powerful than the hardware that has been doing it for years doesn't make me glad I upgraded to an Xbox One; it makes me miss my previous Xbox systems.

My oldest son and I have played through almost all the Halos together, and now that the new one is coming up I have to tell him that they removed the feature that allowed us to enjoy the story as a team. I'm angry at a decision to remove what used to be a near-mandatory social feature from the game on, once again, a more powerful system.

It would have been possible to have made the decision to offer split-screen support and then design the game around it. Someone in the early stages of the game's development would have needed to make that call, and then stood by it. Instead we're left with a hobbled, incomplete version of Halo that's going to feel a bit more lonely.

This headline is meant as a bit of hyperbole. Ben doesn't actually think the developers of this game need to be charged with anything.