Halo 5: Guardians Review: A Game Of Two Halves
Halo 5: Guardians is, if the promotional material is anything to go by, the beginning of another trilogy for the Master Chief.
That means that by the time it’ll have run its course the iconic video game superhero will have been adorning our screens for well over 15 years.
15 years is an awfully long time, and while video games are given some breathing space, there is always a battle to prevent a storyline or universe from becoming ‘stale’.
For Bioshock, it only took three games before its creative director left to work on other projects. Others have lasted much longer, just look at Grand Theft Auto.
So can the Master Chief and the Halo universe inspire another generation of kids to pick up their controllers and deface their Christmas lists with one simple request?
The answer is not as simple as it seems.
Halo has always been nothing without its campaign. While Call of Duty was able to shift its focus from single to multiplayer with little or no teething problems, the Halo series has had to provide both a class-leading multiplayer experience and a campaign that actually makes sense.
Halo 5’s campaign is where we’ll start. It’s split into two major storylines, one following the exploits of Master Chief and his team and the other through the eyes of Spartan Locke and his own team who are hot on the heels of the Chief.
Thanks to the sheer scope and ambition of Halo’s new story arc Guardians will immediately feel familiar to fans of the series. It has never shied away from telling a story that’ll span millions of light years, and while previous incarnations have managed to balance the scale with what is still at its core a linear level, this new game can sometimes feel too big.
Simply put we’re not talking about the level designs but the story arc itself. It knows more than we do, and while we’re all for having faith in resolution, the truth is if you’ve already planned out a trilogy you need to make sure people get enough of a story to play the rest.
Guardians could annoy some by asking more questions than it answers. It’s as simple as that.
The gameplay itself is rock solid as always while the production value has now skyrocketed into the realms of Hollywood. Each level seemingly requires a sheer cliff drop that overlooks the planet giving 343 the chance to fill it with eye-watering vistas and huge set-pieces that could give even CoD a run for its money.
We’re not complaining of course, Halo 5 is a stunning game to look at. Much in the same way that Halo 4 married a blinding orchestral soundtrack with the visuals, Guardians has created an audiovisual treat.
Where the game falters, is with its supporting cast. In much the same way that Halo: Reach tried to coax gamers into the idea of there being more than one Spartan, Guardians wants you to stop getting all weepy when Master Chief isn’t on the screen and get on board with the idea that he’s actually not the only one.
This need is so great they even took a fan favourite character (ODST’s Buck) and turned him into a Spartan as well.
While we love Buck and think he’s a great addition, his ability as a soldier has somewhat fallen down the wayside since we last saw him.
Buck, much like his colleagues are all great characters but in a combat situation they’re about as useful as a herd of pissed wolves. They’ll deal the damage but ultimately if you get caught in a tricky situation and go down, they’re almost all going to end up dying trying to save you.
If we’re honest, we think it’s more the way in which you die that we find the most infuriating. Once your health runs out you essentially ‘bleed out’, giving your team mates a chances to revive you. Great if your team are being controlled by a human group, infuriating and time-consuming if not.
Therein lies the problem, Guardians’ campaign is best played with friends. While the storyline will carry it through just fine without, the game only really shines when you whack up the difficulty and get enough people to fill up your fireteam with actual people.
Now for the second half, multiplayer.
It’s good, and we mean really really good. Halo 5 allows for a perfect balance of gameplay between brutal and subtle. If you fancy going in hard there’s the ability to lethally shoulder-barge someone in the face. If subtlety is more your thing then there’s a frankly humiliating silent takedown that’ll have your opponents rage-quitting.
All of this is perfectly balanced with a new and integral set of features focused around the suit’s jetpack system. Ledge-climbing keeps the pace high while being able to hover in mid-air when you aim down the sights lets you hit the brakes.
This contradictory styles give you so much range of movement and have been inevitably built around the premise that elite players will be able to chain them into epic 5 minute YouTube videos that’ll have gamers hooked.
Halo’s multiplayer has always been some of the most watchable and as Microsoft starts to make its big play for eSpots, Halo 5 takes it one step further with increased mobility within the same classic level design that has made the series so easy to pick up and yet so difficult to master.
While the footballing catchphrase is overused in real life, it’s relevant here. Halo 5 does falter – its team-based AI is infuriating and the storyline is so clearly set up for a trilogy that there’s likely to be some that’ll find the way it is told to be more than annoying.
What it lacks though it makes up for in spades thanks to stunning landscapes, excellent level design and a multiplayer that reminds you why Red vs Blue is something you’ll want to search for on YouTube.