Review: Halo 5: Guardians – Squad Up
Let’s kick things things off the right way. Halo 5 is the best reason to own an Xbox One. Period. It’s a work of refinement and polish you can only get from a first party development studio.
Now that 343 industries (343i) is comfortable as the house of all things Halo, it’s taking some chances with Halo 5 and most of it works. Some parts, not so much.
When Halo 4 launched three years ago, it was uncharted territory for 343i, as the team was just picking up the pieces left from developer and series creator BUNGiE.
But they took the Halo baton and ran with it, even better than the original series’ creators, because they delivered something Halo players hadn’t seen before: a story — but more importantly characters — to care about.
It’s not that we’re missing any important characters in this installment, it’s just that the same amount of time isn’t spent building on them. It’s unfortunate because the game’s cutscenes would indicate otherwise, as the title provides some of the best cutscenes I’ve seen this generation, on any platform (it’s not even close).
Actors (in both voice and facial capture) Mike Colter and Nathan Fillion put on a great buddy space-cop film performance through their portrayals of Spartan Locke and Spartan Buck but because the game’s story bounces between two fireteams of four, one featuring Master Chief and company, there’s too much going on for you to care about anyone.
The games over-arching story is a continuation from what we saw in Halo 4 as it builds upon the forerunners and where they place on the galaxy’s food chain.
The return of a particular character (which I won’t spoil, but it isn’t too hard to figure out), during of the game’s opening missions gets Master Chief all hot and bothered and off track from the mission he and his team were initially on.
This momentary AWOL status sets off a chain of events that has the UNSC on a mission to track him and his team down.
As I mentioned earlier, the game’s narrative is seen from multiple angles as you’re bouncing between the Spartan Locke-lead Fireteam Osiris, which is on the hunt for Master Chief’s, and his crew otherwise known as Blue Team.
When Halo 5‘s story finally decides to unravel itself towards the end of the game, players are hit with an Empire Strikes Back meets Terminator 2 kind of moment.
Everything you though you knew is put on its head and you realize you’ve just spent 10 or so hours playing the setup for what will most certainly be an awesome conclusion to this current trilogy. It’s a shame because once you finally reach the meat of the story, it’s basically over. What a tease.
Just like the title before it, Halo 5 is the title to show off what your Xbox One is capable of. The game visuals glide along at 60 FPS, utilizing a system that scales resolution and resources as needed.
During the game’s campaign I seldomly saw any pop-in and maybe a handful of rough textures during the more intense outdoor firefights, but nothing that was an eyesore by any means. Sure enough the 60 FPS promise made by 343i over the summer was delivered here.
The same praise is due for the audio. Again, every modern video game incorporates a 5.1 mix these days but there’s an exceptional level of detail here and it shines through as you make your way through the game’s campaign and hear your fireteam’s banter in all areas of the battlefield.
The game’s composer this time around is Kazuma Jinnouchi, and he brings the oomph at the right moments during the game’s campaign, especially when it’s time to kick Covenant and/or Promethean ass.
If you’re read this far, you’re here for what many would consider the main course: multiplayer. I’m ecstatic to report that Halo 5, when you remove its flashy layers added to your Spartans’ maneuverability, is the closest the series has returned to the hay days of Halo 3.
For the past few years the franchise has tried its hardest to incorporate what has been working for other prominent first person shooters like Call of Duty or Battlefield (respectively) and in the process lost what made Halo, well… Halo.
It’s weird at first but once you realize you can shoot from the hip more and look down the sights less, it all comes back to you. Just to touch on the new maneuverability, it’s easily the biggest difference maker when it comes to gameplay in this year’s multiplayer.
A quick tap on the “B” button and your Spartan is quickly strafing in the direction you choose through the use a fuel propelled boost. But don’t worry, it’s not turning multiplayer into an online strafe-fest as there’s a five second cool down in between motions. This quick evasion method becomes especially useful for up-close encounters.
Another cool movement-based addition is when you’re airborne. Once you’ve reached the apex of your jump, simply zoom in holding the left trigger, and your Spartan basically floats all the back down to earth letting you get some nice clean shots on your opponents.
Again, just as with the power strafing, this can’t be abused like some kind of unlimited slow motion. The game counters it by popping you out of zoom if you’re shot by an enemy, in which case you’ll have to re-zoom again (if you already haven’t descended).
In addition to the quick moves players can now climb ledges. It sounds simple enough and tons of other shooters have done it before, but it’s new to Halo and definitely added a new level of versatility to the game’s multiplayer.
I think the most important thing about the multiplayer is actually what’s no longer present. You see over the years the Halo franchise — like video games often do — borrow from other titles in its respective genre, and in the process become something altogether different.
It’s hard to describe how it’s been pulled off, but Halo 5‘s multiplayer just feels like Halo. And more like the Halo you grew up with and less of the twitch shooter it tried to become over the last few years.
When 343i took over the franchise, it was a breath of fresh air as they challenged the status quo of what was expected from a Halo title. With that new found confidence, Halo 5 takes chances, and in the process the game’s campaign narrative falls just short of the expectations that were set by the previous title.
On the flip side, the team takes the approach of “less is more” in the game’s multiplayer as it goes, for the most part, back to basics and it quickly transports you to the franchise of old.
If this is the title you’ve been waiting for before making the jump to Xbox One, you won’t be disappointed, as it stands, in my opinion, as the best reason to own Microsoft’s console.