Halo Infinite graphics comparison: 2020 vs. 2021

Halo Infinite
Halo Infinite (Image credit: Windows Central)

While the reveal of Halo Infinite's multiplayer gameplay at the Xbox E3 2021 show was very impressive, the game's significantly better visuals compared to its Xbox Games Showcase 2020 debut was perhaps even more so. Halo Infinite received widespread criticism for looking "flat" last year, but it's clear that 343 Industries set out to address that feedback in the last year of the game's development based on how excellent the game looked at E3.

To get an idea of just how much better the game looks now compared to how it did then, I gathered some stills from both the original Halo Infinite 2020 gameplay debut as well as the new 2021 campaign and multiplayer trailers to compare. And what better way to start than with the Halo series' iconic assault rifle?

What impresses me the most about this comparison is how much more depth and detail the assault rifle has in the 2021 image. There are several new markings on it that give it more pop, and the light realistically bounces off the metallic body of the weapon onto some of its moving parts. The shadows are noticeably softer, too. The ammo counter has also changed to a lighter shade of blue, which was probably done to increase visibility. Compared to the 2020 version of the that had very little detail, this new rendition looks fantastic.

A new weapon coming to Halo Infinite, the VK78 Commando, got an even bigger upgrade between 2020 and 2021. There's a ton of new scratches and scuffs visible on the weapon that it didn't have in 2020, and like the assault rifle, it's also affected by environmental lighting much more realistically. It's most noticeable on the ammo counter and the weapon's attachment rail.

Next, let's take a look at the scenery of Zeta Halo. The biggest thing that stands out is how much more the distant trees "pop" against the terrain, giving the image more depth than what was shown in 2020. The terrain and structures also have much more visible detail from afar, complete with crisper textures and cleaner shadows. Notably, the clouds also look more realistic and less like giant puffs of smoke. It's also worth pointing out that unlike the 2020 gameplay debut, there's no visible texture pop-in that occurs during this sequence in the 2021 trailer.

Let's check out a comparison between the floor of a Banished platform from the 2020 showcase and the floor of a Forerunner base from the 2021 multiplayer reveal. There's a crazy amount of detail and depth present on the Forerunner floor, and I love that the entire thing reflects both sunlight and light emitted from sandbox items like the flag objective. The detail looks a bit muddy due to the imperfections of capturing an image from an action-packed gameplay sequence, but in motion, it looks superb. The Banished base floor seen in the 2020 gameplay demo, meanwhile, looks very matte and flat despite supposedly being made out of metal.

Something else I noticed when watching all of the footage back is that in the 2021 campaign trailer, there's a lot of dense grass and other types of foliage in the environment compared to the campaign gameplay from 2020. This is sure to make the game's environments feel more alive and vibrant, which is something fans have wanted from Halo for a long time. The foliage also looks very detailed and varied despite how much of it there is on the screen at once, which is in stark contrast to the basic look it had in 2020.

Source: 343 Industries 2020 (left) vs. 2021 (right). (Image credit: Source: 343 Industries)

Let's end with a closer look at the franchise's protagonist himself, Master Chief. Compared to the fresh and clean look Chief had in 2020, his armor in 2021 is absolutely rich in detail, featuring scorch marks, scratches, smudges, and more that give him a battle-weary appearance. His armor is also much more light-reflective, with both the chestpiece and the visor standing out as notable examples. Interestingly, Chief also sports a darker shade of green now. It's not clear why 343 Industries decided to change his armor's color, but it was most likely an artistic reason.

Your thoughts

What do you think of Halo Infinite's improved visuals that were shown off during E3 2021? Hit me with your thoughts in the comments.

You can now preorder Halo Infinite now for $60, but if you're only interested in the multiplayer, it will be completely free. There's also a Halo Infinite beta coming in summer 2021 you can sign up to be a part of (check our guide on how to sign up for Halo Infinite's beta for more information).

With any luck, Halo infinite will prove to be one of the best Xbox games ever when it hits shelves during the holiday season this year, and I'm absolutely looking forward to playing it when it comes to Xbox Series X, Xbox Series S, Xbox One consoles, and Windows 10 (and Windows 11) PCs. For more on Halo Infinite, don't miss my piece on how Halo Infinite is exploring a new side of Master Chief as well as my theory about who Halo Infinite's Cortana-like AI companion is.

Brendan Lowry

Brendan Lowry is a Windows Central writer and Oakland University graduate with a burning passion for video games, of which he's been an avid fan since childhood. You'll find him doing reviews, editorials, and general coverage on everything Xbox and PC. Follow him on Twitter.