Halo, is it MC you’re looking for?
Almost three years ago, I sat here reviewing Halo 4, singing its praises and (more specifically) impressed by what 343 Industries had achieved. The developer kept the core of what made Halo so popular in the first place and threw in just enough elements to keep things fresh. Way to put the change of developer concerns to bed! Now, with expectations heightened, it’s time for Halo 5. The Master Chief’s first proper outing on the Xbox One, does 343 Industries deliver? Even with online yet to be fully sampled, it seems like the answer is yes.
Game: Halo 5: Guardians
Developer: 343 Industries
Publisher: Microsoft Studios
(Review copy purchased by reviewer)
After spending two days with Halo 5 online, playing both competitive multiplayer and co-op campaign, I can very confidently add the score you see at the bottom of this review. None of the issues that plagued The Master Chief Collection are present here, with 343 Industries offering a smooth online experience no matter what mode you’re playing.
Starting with the co-op campaign, it plays just as well as the single player, so everything I stated originally applies and more. Yes, more, because playing with three humans on heroic or legendary is so much damn fun. The AI in single player is very good, but nothing can replace that experience of playing with your friends on one of the higher difficulties and working to complete a mission. You’ll have no doubt have some epic moments, including (if you’re like me) falling down a ledge as you try to save a friend. Yes, that really happened. I’d recommend playing through the campaign on your own first, mainly to experience the story, but co-op with friends (go for legendary) is a must play after. Fun, so much fun!
It’s great then that the competitive multiplayer is just as much fun, if not more. If you’ve been away from Halo for a while you might struggle to keep up with the pace and feel of it all to begin (I did), but spend a few hours with it and you’ll be back into the groove. Arena offers up what you’d usually expect from a Halo game, including the likes of Slayer, Free-For-All and SWAT. You also have a new addition called Breakout, where you have just the one life and either have to kill the opposing team or capture a flag that spawns in the middle. It’s an interesting inclusion and fun enough, but misses the point or type of experience it’s trying to deliver. This is mainly because, more often than not, it just ends up being five rounds Slayer with one life. Capturing the flag means very little, unless you’re playing with seven like-minded, strategic people, but even then it descends into a game of Slayer that is over very quickly. I could be wrong, but I can’t imagine fans favouring Breakout over the usual modes like Slayer and SWAT – I certainly didn’t.
The same can’t be said about Halo 5’s biggest addition to multiplayer – Warzone. It’s fantastic. Accommodating up to 24 players, the mode has two objectives. The first team to score 1000 points or destroy the other team’s base wins. Simple enough, but it’s the stuff that happens before you win or lose that is a whole of fun. To gain points you can not only kill the opposing team, but capture bases and kill AI enemies that spawn periodically. The latter introduces the most interesting dynamic. Do you go try to go after/keep a base or venture out and try to take out a group of tough enemies? That’s the million dollar question, and it’s totally up to you. Well, you and your team. Yes, you have to work as a team to win in Warzone. If you don’t, you’ll get humiliated. It’s key, so I’d recommend playing with friends, but I’ve had some decent matches with random players too. Matches usually go on for about 25-30 minutes, so it’s gruelling and energy sapping at times, yet so satisfying when you emerge victorious.
Staying with Warzone, another vital aspect of the mode is something 343 Industries are calling Requisitions. These are FIFA Ultimate Team style cards you get in packs that reward you with weapons, vehicles and power ups. Some will be single-use whereas as others unlimited. You want the latter, obviously. Either way, all of them can be used in the Warzone, but there is a catch. You need to have a high enough Req Level to use the card before you can access it via a station or before you spawn. Also, when you die, you don’t come back into the match with whatever item you had before. It’s an interesting addition to an already good mode, and one I really like. Mainly because it gives pretty much all players a chance (unless you’re awful) to get some decent weapons and vehicles, not just the top ones. It’s just a case of getting a few kills and capturing/gaining bases then choosing when to use a card. Do you splurge out for a level two item or wait and unleash a level five one? Much like the rest of the mode, the choice is yours. You can purchase some Req Packs with real money, but if you play Arena and Warzone regularly you shouldn’t need to spend a penny. I haven’t and I have plenty of decent Req Cards.
The usual Halo customisation options are all present too, from being able to change your helmet to you choosing your own ‘service tag’. Keep a look out for NGB1, that’s me. Got to represent. You know how it is. Well, 343 Industries certainly does as the multiplayer offering in Halo 5 is simply brilliant. If it’s kept updated with new maps and content, this a game you could easily keep playing until the next game in the series is out. Not that the maps present aren’t good, because they are! Most of them are really well designed, showing 343 Industries get the essence of this series’ multiplayer. The studio has done a great job. It’s the Halo multiplayer so many know and love, but rejuvenated thanks to new modes and tweaks to the gameplay. Since the servers went live on 26th October, I haven’t stopped playing. That says it all.
Note: This is a review in progress based on having played and completed the campaign. Due to Microsoft not providing us with a review code, unlike other reviewers that have been whitelisted, we are unable to access the online features of Halo 5. That, of course, means multiplayer – a huge part of the game. Once I have played the game online, this review will be updated with my thoughts, an overall verdict and score out of ten. Also, this review will contain some minor spoilers.
Master Chief going rogue. Spartan Locke hunting him down. That’s the angle Microsoft and 343 Industries have been pushing with Halo 5’s pre-release trailers, but a few missions in that notion is well and truly put to bed. The man in the green suit has not gone rogue. There is a very good reason why he’s doing his own thing with Blue Team, disobeying direct orders and travelling across the galaxy. On the other side of the coin, Spartan Locke and Fireteam Osiris are just following orders, but this is the Chief we’re talking about. I do have some minor issues with it (a bit out there and confusing), but it grows on you and by the end of the game actually has some weight. Still, it’s sure to divide fan opinion. There’ll be no sitting on the fence here.
There’s an interesting dynamic at play though, almost bearing resemblance to the happenings in Metal Gear Solid 2. Not quite as dramatic in its execution, but yes you don’t play as the Master Chief for the majority of the campaign. Instead, you’re placed in the boots of Spartan Locke and his Osiris comrades for 12 out of the 15 missions. It’s a bold move from 343 Industries, brave even, but it works. Much like Solid Snake in Metal Gear Solid 2, you see and appreciate Master Chief from a different point of view. Elsewhere, the story is steeped in Halo lore, meaning you’ll either enjoy it or you won’t. Having played all the games in the series, I fall more in the former camp, but there were times I found myself somewhat baffled by what was going on. If you’re a newcomer to the series, you’ll be completely lost. However, it’s fifth game in a long-running series, so it’s a little naive to go in expecting a complete rundown of previous games.
On the gameplay front, things are slightly different. It’s still Halo at its core (guns, grenades and melee still key), but feels more modern, fresh and up to date. Unlike the story, the gameplay is now a far more enticing prospect if you haven’t managed to get into a Halo game before. It’s something that you could see the beginnings of in Halo 4, but is now fully realised in Halo 5. For example, you can now aim down the sights (albeit in different ways) of every single weapon in the game. It’s a common feature in almost all first-person shooters these days, and it’s about time Halo followed suit. It makes battles less frustrating than previous outings, giving you the ability to zoom in with your trusty assault rifle and take down distant enemies. I can’t fathom how I played a Halo game with it now! It’s something you’ll need too as the enemy AI is fantastic. Having played the campaign on normal and heroic, I witnessed packs of enemies rushing me and ducking or slipping behind cover when they were vulnerable. It’s really impressive and transitions across to your AI teammates as well. They’ll rarely stand around doing nothing, choosing to get involved in the action and be useful instead. Plus, they’ll revive you and you can tell them to focus fire on specific enemies, introducing a surprising (but welcome) element of strategy to the gameplay.
Keeping up with the modern theme, the Spartan suit is now equipped with a booster. It’s not unlimited, but is very handy if you want to quickly dodge attacks or boost across to slightly out of reach platforms. The latter ties in nicely with the Halo 5’s much improved level design, with the majority of missions being set in fairly wide open areas. Noticeably more spacious than Halo 4, 343 Industries has filled the levels with different routes and paths you can take. Not only that, there is an added layer of verticality to areas. This compliments the already improved jumping from Halo 4 and addition of the boost mechanic really well; meaning traversing the levels is a whole lot of fun. The verticality also means you can assess shootouts from above then shift to the ground and proceed to kick some alien ass.
Oh and how much fun it is to do exactly that. Usually a Halo game has an annoying section or two, but Halo 5 bucks that trend. I genuinely can’t remember being frustrated or annoyed at any part of the game. Yes, there is one particular high level enemy (not sure if you can call it a boss battle) that pops up a few times, but even that isn’t an annoyance. No, it’s challenging, intense and (importantly) fun. The moment to moment gameplay is great; you’re never too far away from the next story beat or pulsating enemy encounter. There are some truly excellent and enjoyable set pieces as well, plenty in fact. You’ll go from blowing up everything in sight in a vehicle (ground and air) to fighting alongside a familiar character in an epic battle. There are so many, but I don’t want to spoil any others so I’ll stop. Thinking about it, I can’t remember being this enthralled by a Halo campaign, enjoying it so much that I finished it in ten hours over just two days.
It all looks and sounds great too. The first proper outing for the series on the Xbox One is an impressive one. From what I gather 1080p is a bit of rarity as the 343 Industries adjust the resolution on the fly to maintain 60fps around 99% of the time. This results in the most fluid Halo gameplay experience to date, even with many enemies, effects and explosions taking place on the screen. I did notice something weird though. Occasionally, it seemed like enemies in the distance were moving at a slower framerate that the games itself. Given the impressive nature of the solid 60fps, it’s a slight negative, but nothing that impacted my enjoyment of Halo 5 in a huge way. That said, even with 1080p being a rare thing, Halo 5 is a looker and a half. The wide open areas and the sky boxes that surround them look absolutely gorgeous. I even like the way the HUD is displayed (probably the only one that does), mimicking the Spartan helmet’s visor and field of view well. Then you have the audio, complimenting the visuals and the gameplay beautifully. As you’d expect the iconic theme is present, joined by some epic orchestral pieces.
Given my praise of 2012’s Halo 4, it’s fair to say I’m a fan of the direction 343 Industries has and is taking the Halo series. After playing through Halo 5’s campaign, that opinion hasn’t changed. At its core, it’s still got that familiar Halo feel, but freshened up to match what you’d expect from a modern first-person shooter. It’s so much fun. The higher difficulty settings, excellent AI (both enemy and teammate), collectables and level design mean it’s just begging to be played multiple times too. I have a few minor issues with the story, but in terms of gameplay and the way it flows Halo 5 is the best campaign of the series.
Freshened up and finely tweaked, Halo has never felt better to play. It’s just so much fun. The gunplay is simply fantastic. It’s the best campaign in the series and the multiplayer offering is truly astounding. There’s so much to do! The story makes a few minor missteps here and there, but apart from that Halo 5 delivers. Finally, a reason to own an Xbox One.