Before sitting an exam, a buddy of mine would utter these immortal words: “Pressure creates diamonds.” And it’s a phrase that I find oddly applicable to Halo 5: Guardians.
You see, my friend would often skip lectures and forgo revision for more recreational activities, like zombies mode in Call of Duty: World at War. Inevitably, when results day rolled around, he’d be left sullen-faced, wondering where it all went wrong. This would never happen to me, of course, as I was far more studious. (And if you believe that, you’ll believe anything.)
The similarity with Halo 5: Guardians, then, is that developer 343 Industries placed unnecessary pressure on themselves by ballsing up the launch of Halo: The Master Chief Collection. Simply put, there was no room for error this time around – they had to get it right.
Thankfully, Halo 5: Guardians, particularly its multiplayer component, is worthy of comparison with the glistening, coveted jewel. It’s the most ambitious game in the series to date, and by some margin, too. From the lavish opening cinematic to the excellent addition of Warzone, 343 Industries has successfully picked up the mantle from ex-developer Bungie after a rather shaky start. It’s just a shame that the game’s campaign fires a blank.
Love Locke Down
Let’s get the biggest point of contention out of the way: you won’t be playing as the Master Chief for the majority of Halo 5: Guardians’ campaign. Instead, the story focuses on Spartan Locke and Team Osiris’ pursuit of the iconic seven-foot Spartan, who, along with his trio of companions, has disobeyed orders and gone rogue. Funnily enough, the few missions that do involve Master Chief are by far the strongest, which makes the situation all the more frustrating.
The story is painfully slow to begin with and frightfully confusing unless you’re already knowledgeable about Halo’s extensive and often convoluted lore. The plot does eventually build towards a fulfilling, dramatic conclusion, so it’s worth sticking with until the end. Whether you like the direction 343 Industries has taken regarding the plot, however, is another question entirely. I’m not sure everyone will.
The new characters themselves, specifically Spartan Locke, leave a lot to be desired. Locke is clearly a powerful and highly-skilled individual, but he has as much charisma as you’d expect from a stoic soldier: none whatsoever. Light relief is offered in the form of the returning Buck, one of the best characters in Halo: ODST, but the two female Spartans, Tanaka and Vale, fade into the background. The same can be said of Master Chief’s Blue Team. Fred, Kelly and Linda feel like mere bystanders coming along for the ride, especially as we’re used to going it alone with Chief.
So, as you’ve probably guessed, the entire campaign is centered around co-op play. Four players can team up over Xbox Live and it’s the optimal way to play through Halo 5: Guardians’ campaign. Being able to hop into a Warthog and rip through waves of enemies with your brothers in arms is immensely satisfying, and I enjoyed it more than I initially thought. But there’s a flipside to this. What if you don’t have any friends to play with?
Being able to hop into a Warthog and rip through waves of enemies with your brothers in arms is immensely satisfying.
Well, you’ll have to suffer the extreme incompetence of the computer-controlled teammates as they frequently fail to revive you, or carelessly dive headfirst into oncoming danger. It’s like being surrounded by three versions of Sheva from Resident Evil 5 (yeah, just let that sink in for a second). You can issue simple commands using the D-Pad, such as ‘go over there’ and ‘focus fire on a single enemy’. But when the game fundamentally relies on teammates reviving each other, particularly on Legendary difficulty, you best prepare yourself for some bafflingly poor decisions by the computer-controlled AI.
The missions holding it all together are also somewhat forgetful, sadly. Some are as brief as literally chatting to an NPC – which I hope never to see again – and almost every section involves one of your teammates shouting, “area clear.” It feels clinical and disappointingly routine. There’s also clear influences from Destiny to be found throughout, which didn’t sit well with me. Also, I genuinely hope that the next Halo game refocuses its attention on battling the Covenant. You can say what you like about the pizazz and style of the Promethean enemies, but they’re simply not as fun to fight against.
You Got The Moves
Halo 5 doesn’t represent a dramatic departure from the formula Bungie mastered all those years ago, but there’s a definite evolution when it comes to player movement and weapon usability.
While previous Halo games were guilty of forcing players to rely on a small selection of weapons due to the sheer ineffectiveness of others, Halo 5: Guardians has a varied arsenal for players to master. No matter what weapon you pick up, whether it’s the redesigned Suppressor or the trusty Battle Rifle, you can be sure that each weapon is capable of taking down an enemy or online opponent.
Spartan abilities, which come into their own online, are a marvelous addition. You can now boost, clamber, charge and ground pound, and it’s surprising how natural these all feel. Don’t worry, they’re not shoehorned into the campaign, but you’ll need to rely on each ability to cope with the onslaught of enemies. It adds a much-needed sense of verticality to Halo’s sandbox gameplay and allows for a more expansive approach to seemingly straightforward situations.
Can’t Stop, Won’t Stop
One area where 343 Industries has delivered emphatically is the game’s online multiplayer. I was practically addicted to the multiplayer beta at the start of the year, and I’m delighted (not to mention seriously worried), that it’s even better than before. Every element has been rigorously fine-tuned by pro players, and it shows. I’ve already sunk countless hours into Arena mode, Halo’s classic 4v4 game type, coordinating offensive and defensive strategies with friends as we aim to overcome the opposition. Once you get your first perfect kill or defeat an entire squad with a moment of brilliance, I promise you’ll be hooked.
And then there’s Warzone, a PvP and PvE game type that is more than a worthy successor to Big Team Battle (although that is on the way). Warzone pits 12v12 and sprinkles in a helping of enemy AIs into the mix. The aim is to rack up as many points as possible by killing enemies, human opponents and capturing locations. But you must also defend your base’s main core, which can be destroyed at any time.
The twist comes in the form of requisition packs, which can be earned by playing the game or purchased via microtransactions. The better you play, the higher level REQ packs you gain access to, which keeps the fight interesting until the end. One team may be dominating, but it’s common for a player on the losing side to call in a vehicle or power weapon in a desperate attempt to turn the tables. It’s surprisingly well balanced and a hell of a lot of fun; I honestly didn’t expect to enjoy Warzone as much as I did.
343 Industries were determined to hit a solid 60 frames-per-second framerate for Halo 5: Guardians’ campaign and multiplayer. And although the game is wonderfully responsive and noticeably fluid, concessions have been made. Enemy animations, particularly in the campaign, seem to be at odds with the rest of the game. They appear fuzzy, jerky and are rather jarring on the eyes. It’s hard to unsee once you notice it, believe me.
Pop-in is also frequent throughout, something which is forgivable and commonplace in an open-world game, but strange to see in a first-person shooter. Anti-aliasing, the smoothing of jagged edges, is also non-existent, and the game’s resolution fluctuates dynamically depending on the intensity of particular scenes, meaning a locked 1080p presentation is rare. With all these visual discrepancies, Halo 5: Guardians isn’t the graphical showcase some Xbox One owners may have been expecting.
A review code of Halo 5: Guardians was provided courtesy of Xbox.
One More Round
A forgettable campaign isn’t enough to derail one of the finest multiplayer experiences to date. Whether you’re stepping into the glorious new Warzone mode, or honing your skills in Arena, this is a game that will you keep you preoccupied for many months to come. Suit up, Spartan. The light is green.