HALO 5 Review
My Fireteam pushes forward against the seemingly endless Covenant hordes. Their plasma fire seems to explode all around me. Spartan Buck charges ahead, shotgun under his arm, drawing attention. “Tanaka, help Vale!” I command. She sprints over to Vale, who has been incapacitated by enemy fire. I spot a crack in the wall next to me and, using the Spartan Charge ability, I blast through the rocks and find a tunnel leading right behind the enemy lines. With a fully loaded Plasma Caster, the horde of aliens don’t stand a chance. “Nice work, Osiris.”
With the release of HALO 4 in 2012, 343 Industries took the reins of the HALO franchise after Bungie left to explore a new franchise. In their first attempt they brought the massive HALO story to a personal level, focusing on the primary relationship between the protagonist, Spartan Master Chief, and his AI companion, Cortana. At the same time, the game attempted to alter the paradigm of HALO’s multiplayer with tweaks and additions that angered many longtime fans. With a massive legacy and a need to prove their worth in regards to the HALO license, 343 Industries is placing all of its chips on the newest game in the series, HALO 5: GUARDIANS.
In many ways, HALO 5: GUARDIANS is the greatest HALO game of the franchise. The series has never looked, sounded, or been presented in such magnificent fashion. The beauty of the game cannot be understated. As energy bolts accent the gorgeous architecture of the game’s varied level design, the color really has to be seen to be believed. The emphasis of frantic sixty frames-per-second gunplay, along with a host of new Spartan abilities, have allowed the tried and true HALO gameplay formula to evolve and become an absolute blast to play. There really are few things more satisfying than Spartan Charging a grunt at full speed off the side of a cliff.
Always leave time to admire the view
HALO 5’s campaign tasks newcomers Agent Locke and Fireteam Osiris with hunting Master Chief and his Blue Team after they go AWOL and, much like HALO 2, offers players two simultaneous storylines as they play as both fireteams, each with their own personalities and objectives. It’s a really compelling set up, though I couldn’t help but be underwhelmed by the lack of focus on Master Chief and Blue Team. Agent Locke is the main character of this game, despite the presence of one of gaming’s most iconic characters. This might be a serious problem for long time fans of the series, but Master Chief does get a few moments to shine during the campaign.
Unfortunately, the campaign stands as one of HALO 5’s weak points. Its short six hour storyline is complicated and draws on many aspects of the expanded HALO universe that exists in comic books and novels. Without any real means to explain settings, characters, and concepts to people unfamiliar with the universe, many players, veterans and new, will no doubt be left with lingering questions of “who” and “what” the entire story truly involves. The combat scenarios and level design are fun and exhilarating, but the narrative tying them together can feel jarring, with character growth feeling incredibly forced. To put it plainly, the ad campaign sold “the greatest hunt in video game history” and the game’s plot did little to deliver on that. Character motivations seem to change in seconds, and the occasional boss battles play out against such similar enemy types that sequences begin to feel repetitive before the brief campaign is even over.
However, not everything is bad in regards to the campaign. With HALO 5, 343 Industries tried to incorporate cooperative gameplay into its story through the use of four person squads for each storyline. With this in mind, the campaign offers a new revive mechanic (something that is necessary on the harder difficulties) should any squad member go down. I played through the campaign both solo and with friends. While playing solo offers a command ability so that players can try and control their AI squad mates, I can definitively say that cooperative HALO really is something special, and with the emphasis on divergent paths through each combat encounter, you can really mix up each battle. For example, two squad mates can lay down cover fire while the other two blast holes into the side of a cliff to flank the side of enemy groups. Coordination is more important than ever.
Chief, did you lose track of where your story went?
Thankfully, no problems from the campaign extend to the multiplayer aspect of the game. HALO 5: GUARDIANS offers a robust multiplayer experience with two forms: Arena and Warzone. Arena is the traditional 4v4 competitive-style game modes that HALO has perfected over the course of its long history, with modes like Capture the Flag and Slayer. A new mode called Breakout had me hooked immediately, with its single-life elimination style gameplay. Because each match is divided into rounds, with the victor being the team that remains alive, every match becomes tense – a single wrong move could mean the end of a round. The new gun balance and emphasis on the powerful arsenal of the game makes the combat move across the map, firefights springing up anywhere. The Promethean weapons introduced in HALO 4 make a return, but tweaks differentiate them from the HALO staples. For example, the new Boltshot now fires a burst of homing bullets of light to seek out targets. These tiny changes shake up the arsenal and players have many new options for different combat scenarios. Of the new weapons, the Hydra Launcher is a favorite, with its heat seeking missiles offering some phenomenal kill shots.
The newest draw in this iteration of multiplayer is the Warzone mode. This massive mode features twenty-four players duking it out on huge, sprawling maps, with players spawning power weapons and vehicles via the use of requisition (abbreviated REQ) packs. In addition to earning them through gameplay, this portion of the game offers microtransactions (oh God no!) as means to obtain the REQ cards used for these drops. I didn’t find them intrusive, and with Warzone being a less competitive mode, I hardly see any harm in them being there. Without question, Warzone can be described as chaotic and unpredictable. With objectives constantly changing and a third AI faction to deal with, these matches stretch to about twenty-five minutes a piece and the scale is unprecedented for a HALO game.
HALO 5: GUARDIANS is a phenomenal game. It is a game that succeeds on so many technical and gameplay levels, and ups the ante in regards to its astonishing presentation. The gameplay is smoother and fulfills the power fantasy of what it is to be a Spartan with the introduction of new powers and movement abilities. The sound design is top notch and the score beautifully invites players on their journey. Though the campaign falters in a few areas and seems to veer far from the advertised narrative, the fun and thrill of the HALO universe is ever-present. Furthermore, the multiplayer suite is just pure entertainment. Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m heading back into the Warzone.
Reviewed on Xbox One.