Published on October 27th, 2015 | by Philip Bethel0
REVIEW: Halo 5: Guardians
After the technical disaster that was The Master Chief Collection, 343 Industries really had a lot of ground to catch up on. It made a lot of people angry that a game that relied so much on multiplayer just didn’t work. So there has been a lot of cautious anticipation for Halo 5: Guardians. Vague teaser trailers and some live action short films never really gave too much away about the story other than Team Osiris, led by Spartan Locke, are hunting down The Master Chief who is leading Blue Team. And that’s the premise of the campaign but there is so much more. From the opening scene of the campaign so much is revealed. It begins a story that takes place on three planets and delivers the rich and compelling universe of Halo like every other game has done before it. Chief is the hunted and the enemy of The UNSC. It is his turn to survive.
There is a major emphasis on team in Halo 5. Unlike any other Halo you are always part of a four man squad. Up on the d-pad will give orders to the squad to move to a particular area. It works best in the larger open areas and particularly on harder difficulty settings when the battlefield is a lot more tactical and placement is key. Another new feature is the ability to be revived and to revive. It does give you a bit more of a sense of security and it does make the game slightly easier. But it is not a given, if your squad mate is too far away or falls in battle there will be nobody to revive you and it’s game over. But unlike Halo 3 on the Xbox 360, which a lot of fans called Halo 2.5, this is a true next gen game with a lot of big differences in gameplay and graphics when compared to Halo 4. It may be the secret to Halo‘s success that every game pushes the bar and adds new features, a new story and keeps that unique Halo feel to the combat.
But all those questions that you had in your head since finishing Halo 4 will be answered – Is Cortana still alive? Is The Didact really dead and if you never read any of the books you will be introduced to Blue Team who fought alongside The Master Chief multiple times. And if The Chief goes down Blue Team follows. Stylistically, the game really shines and is familiar but still inspires with its vast open vistas with forerunner architecture and the tight shining corridors of the Covenant structures. Now it looks so much more impressive with the capabilities of the Xbox One. The armour of The Spartan 4’s and even the battered Mjolnir armour of the Master Chief have so much detail that, at times, you could be fooled into thinking parts of the game are a live action reel. The combat itself is as fast paced as always with the familiar weaponry like the battle rifle, the DMR and Covenant and Promethean weapons like the carbine and light rifle. Some new weapons have been added as well and it’s a nice touch which mixes up the gameplay and keeps things fresh.
What really impressed me though is that sense that you are in the ultimate science fiction universe and small things that make a major difference to how the game plays, like scopes on the guns, can really immerse you. Now every gun can be scoped from needlers to the assault rifle. It just makes combat better and can turn the tide of a fight for you with a well placed head shot. Your Spartan has new abilities too, like the ground pound and Spartan charge that turns you into a human battering ram – nice for taking someone out in a hurry if your health is about to hit zero. You will also get to pilot The Scorpion, The Banshee and The Warthog. This is to be expected but the game is missing a good open skies aerial fighting sequence that previous Halo games had.
When 343 took over the franchise they started off a new trilogy with a new race of enemies and, for the first time, a proper villain. That’s what made Halo 4 great. Yes, there is a main villain in Guardians but a lack of a diversity in the enemies. You will spend a lot of time popping the heads of grunts and promethean crawlers and not enough time tackling something new. The addition of The Guardians, which are an ancient Forerunner enemy are cool but don’t quite make up for the lack of a different race.
Saying that, the narrative is excellent as always. Locke and team Osiris are very well realised and have solid reasons to carry out their mission. You will see a more human and sentimental side to Master Chief and Blue Team who are far more ethical in their approach to space warfare. Breaking the familiarity of the combat and the enemies is the unravelling of the actual story. It throws things at you that you will not expect and leaves some things to the imagination like the true intentions of key characters. If you played the entire series of Spartan Ops in Halo 4 you will have a far greater knowledge of people like Doctor Halsey and The Elite Leader Jul Mdama, who both feature heavily in this game. I would highly recommend playing each title in The Master Chief Collection before playing Guardians, as the story isn’t really comprehensible if you have no knowledge of the previous games. You may still enjoy it but at its core Halo is a story-driven game and has one of the biggest science fiction universes and backstory of any video game series. It will satisfy Halo veterans in a gameplay sense but may leave some of you feeling a bit disappointed with the lack of epicness that we have come so accustomed to. The Didact in Halo 4 was an all powerful and ancient evil that brought Halo to new heights. Now though, things have been made more mundane with no new real villains to face or evils to vanquish. The Chief also seems a bit of a relic now with the continued upgrading of the Spartan program and Spartan Locke can be viewed as a tad one dimensional.
But gameplay, frenetic as it is, is the mantle of Guardians. Whether you’re firing from the chain gun on the top of a Warthog or sniping with the newly stylised rocket launcher or sniper rifle, things always feel satisfying. It’s the pop and the explosions of the enemies when they perish to gunfire that never gets old. The diversity of the game thanks to the amazing level design, the switching of main characters and just the sheer amount of different ways you can kill never makes for a dull moment. Sure, there are times when you will encounter a bridge or a mountain top and are apprehensive of what’s around the corner but before you can take a breath you are thrown right back into that perilous situation of alien war where survival is paramount. The fact that The Chief is being hunted by the people he used to protect with his life really makes the player empathise with him like never before. It’s a bit like watching a Rocky movie, always rooting for John when all the odds are stacked against him.
343 made a mark with Halo 4, let us down with The Master Chief Collection and have delivered a the second game in a trilogy that I don’t think could of ever lived up to the heights in storytelling that its predecessor did. They have outdone themselves in terms of gameplay and graphics and just making a next gen Halo game that will usher in a new era of the franchise. Without giving away any of the story a third game is set up and again they have deliberately left us with loads of unanswered questions, which is good but now the trilogy as a whole feels a bit disjointed when compared to the original three games. It feels like the studio didn’t sit down before the first game and chronicle a cohesive tale spanning all three titles. The human–Covenant war is over, the Chief is no longer part of the survival of the human race and, like the state of the social structure in the Halo universe, the story is unconnected.
In essence, long term Halo fans could be slightly disappointed with the direction 343 have taken with Master Chief’s fate. Those that play first person shooters for the visceral feel of the games couldn’t really ask for more but Halo 5: Guardians is still the best FPS on the Xbox One to date as a single player game. It continues to evolve and maintains its standing as one of the best FPS franchises ever. It is still one of the best reasons to own an Xbox One and for Xbox as a whole it is still its jewel in the crown for nerds like me and casual gamers alike. Halo 5: Guardians adds to the long list of great Halo games and continues to push the genre to new heights.
Halo 5: Guardians is available exclusively on Xbox One. This review is based on a review copy of the game provided by Microsoft Ireland.