GamingReview - Halo 5: Guardians

Review – Halo 5: Guardians

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I love Halo. You can read more about that in my review of Halo: The Master Chief Collection to find out my love for the series, perhaps my favourite, or a very close second to the Mass Effect franchise. These are the games that resonate with me; games that allow me to explore outer space as a marine, or a Spectre – both offering different experiences, but the same kind of escapism we dream about as children.

Halo, though, is defined by so many things. It’s unique graphical style, its 30 seconds of craziness, followed by a much needed lull, where the story shines through, and its rousing theme, crafted for game into a new score. Familiar, yet new, these soundtracks offer gaming’s answer to John Williams’ work on Star Wars. There’s so much more that pulls you into the Halo universe, but with a limited word count, suffice it to say, there’s a rich lore that underpins some of the most addictive and enjoyable experience in gameplay, let alone videogames.

Halo 5: Guardians pulls the world of Halo onto a new generation of consoles, which allows 343 Industries to explore, expand and impress in its role as custodians of the Halo franchise, and fans will be pleased to learn that there’s plenty for the studio to be proud of, and more to be praised for as it strikes out on its own without the steering hand of Bungie.

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Guardians sees you play two parts through the main campaign, as Spartan Locke, and Master Chief. The story flows well throughout in traditional Halo style between the two chracters, This itself is an interesting choice, because I want to be Master Chief – I don’t care about Spartan Locke. While this changes as you progress towards the end of the campaign, ultimately, this is the first disappointment; I still didn’t care about Locke by the culmination of the story. It’s a bold move to steer the player away from a Master Chief only story, and one we’re hoping will pay off with Halo 6, which is no doubt two years away. For now, though, it feels like it falls a little flat, but whether that would be the case with a campaign where you only control the Master Chief is another matter.

The game itself receives the expected next-gen upgrade, running at a smooth 60fps at all times, but at a cost, dynamic resolution. While it all looks crisp and sharp, you’ll notice when playing offline that the screen appears to increase and decrease in quality depending on the size of the environment or the action on-screen. The action itself is pure Halo fan service. Melee’s feel solid, weapons familiar, and enemy AI is as usual, top notch. It’s a boon for the studio to consistently hits the high points of shooter gameplay with a traditional pomp, managing the 30 seconds of chaos design ideal well. When you consider the original Halo was ported to the original Xbox in less than a year, the gameplay mechanics become even more praiseworthy, and with Halo 5, the design of levels, moments of gunplay and the seamless, yet constant feel of progression can’t be denied.

Online is where Halo shows its pedigree, and Halo 5: Guardians is no slouch, offering more game modes than ever before, including new fan favourites, Arena and Warzone. Arena effectively emulates the thrills you would have experienced if you ever held a Lan party and had four payers playing split screen. I did, and having to lug a 32” CRT television into another room so there was less opportunity to cheat is not idea. However, with Arena, you’re able to do this all online in a 4 Vs. 4 game, with breakout, slayer, strongholds and capture the flag all showcasing the fun to be had. With Warzone, 343 have done something truly special, mimicking the epic scale often seen in live-action launch trailers with 24 players battling for supremacy in huge maps.

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Two teams of twelve aim to score 1000 points for victory by either killing opponents or taking out AI targets, and ultimately destroying your opponents core. It all seems simple enough, but yet again, 343 doesn’t shirk its lofty responsibilities, and Warzone delivers something truly brilliant. Battles last anywhere from ten to 30 minutes, and the reward at the end of a longer match Is a great feeling. There’s other MOBA style elements, such as the REQ system, which allows you to equip or buy new REQ packs, and it’s standard fare for today’s online world. You don’t need to spend real money, because although a bit of a grind, earning those REQs is a worthy cause where the best in battle are reward – it drives you to being more tactical, and in so doing, become a better player.

There’s even more to come in December, with the release of an upgraded Forge, allowing the community to show its map editing prowess, with Forge often unearthing some real gems. I can’t wait to see what people dream up.

So that’s all great then, right?

The short answer is pretty much, however, there’s a few niggles that play on the mind. Halo hasn’t really aged well when compared to some of the latest PS4 exclusives, including Killzone, or the upcoming Uncharted 4. While instantly recognisable, Halo’s blues, yellows, reds, greys and browns offer little in the way of originality, or indeed anything of much beauty when standing side-by-side with this generations visual benchmarks. It’s all familiar enough, but much like Street Fighter took nearly 20 years to give itself a lick of paint, you can’t help but think Halo could do with some softer edges, more of the unfamiliar, and perhaps a colour palate update which would allow its designers to really push the limits of their imagination.

There’s that feeling the back of the mind again, as we remember that I have no shits left to give about Spartan Locke. Like any game, nothing is perfect, but what Halo 5: Guardians delivers is a Halo for a new generation; immediately familiar, and new enough to invite fresh players to the franchise. While it does everything we would expect from a Halo game, ultimately, I don’t think the campaign does enough differently to really push the score into the upper end of the scale. It’s saved by the sublime online elements, which will only get better with new maps, and the Forge editor’s release before Christmas.

Right now, though, it’s a really, really food game, and one which should improve with age. While there’s an obvious setup for the next instalment, the whole package of Halo 5 is solid, dependable, and offers enough new toys to keep the player interested, and the REQ system and Warzone deserve special praise.

If you’re after the best shooter, the best sci-fi game, or the best story, then Halo 5 isn’t it. What it is, though, is probably the closest one game has come to offering all of these elements in one place; and it’s a place I’ll be spending plenty of time in over the coming months. I love Halo, and I’m pretty sure you will too.

SUMMARY

Halo 5: Guardians is available now on Xbox One.

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Halo 5: Guardians is available now on Xbox One.Review - Halo 5: Guardians