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Halo 5: Guardians sacrifices graphical fidelity for 60fps gameplay

Halo 5: Guardians has arrived, and it seems to deliver well on the promise of a current generation Halo game. Mobility has been improved, the game plays faster than previous entries, and the reviews are mostly positive. Months back, 343 Industries made it clear that a 60fps target frame rate was more important than anything else — even beloved features like split-screen multiplayer. As it turns out, that wasn’t the only thing that had to be sacrificed in the name of frame rate this time around. But was it all worth it in the end? Let’s take a look.

Based on 45 reviews, Halo 5 currently has an 85/100 rating on Metacritic. Our sister site IGN is waiting to see how well the multiplayer holds up before a score is assigned, but the review in progress is unambiguously positive. From the gameplay end, there’s a lot to like here, but the technical side of this game is a bit more complicated.

In nearly all circumstances, Halo 5 stays locked at 60fps. There are occasionally tiny hiccups at checkpoints, but those are so minor, it’s safe the say that 343 Industries achieved its goal of offering a 60fps Halo experience. To accomplish that feat on the Xbox One, dynamic resolution scaling is used throughout the entire game. Over at the Digital Foundry, the lowest detected resolution was 1152×810 (11,520 more pixels than a 720p image), but numerous oddball resolutions have been observed as well. While this scaling works seamlessly, it does negatively impact the overall image quality.

Unfortunately, the resolution isn’t the only compromise here. When the action starts getting hectic, the number of animation frames of some enemies are cut in half. Even when the game is serving up a new frame every 60th of a second, select enemies will only be animating at 30fps. It’s not a big deal in and of itself, but it is a bit jarring once you notice it.

Some environmental textures are glaringly blurry, and alpha effects are often rendered at a low resolution to minimize load on the Xbox One’s underpowered GPU. But worst of all, the sheer amount of pop-in is more than a little distressing. Textures, geometry, and dynamic lighting effects are reduced in quality as you move away from those in-game elements, and the distance needed before this effect kicks in is laughably small.

With all of that said, I’m very pleased with the undying dedication to 60fps. Of course, I’d be happier if it didn’t come at the expense of graphical fidelity, but we don’t live in a perfect world. The hardware inside the Xbox One limits what kind of games can be made, so compromises were inevitable. Let’s just hope that the powers that be at Microsoft allow for a high-quality PC port to happen in the near future.

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