Spare a thought for 343 Industries, the studio that took on development duties on the Halo series after Bungie parted company with Microsoft.
Not only is it responsible for one of the Xbox platform’s flagship franchises boasting a fanbase numbering in the millions, it’s now expected to improve on one of the most influential series in gaming.
That latter task is made all the more challenging given that the FPS genre is both overcrowded and has seen myriad innovations since Master Chief first took on the Covenant and Flood.
This was the daunting situation 343 found itself in ahead of the release of Halo 4 back in 2012, and it probably explains why that entry could be best described as ‘competent’. That’s not to say 343 produced an underwhelming game – Halo 4 was beautiful, smooth and it ticked all the requisite boxes for the faithful – but it was more a circling of the wagons than a bold drive into new territory.
Halo 5: Guardians – Campaign
In light of the pressure facing the developer, its reticence to push the envelope is understandable… for one game. But for the future of the Halo series to truly feel secure, 343 needed to take ownership of it and this is probably why Halo 5: Guardians comes out of the corner swinging.
Halo 5: Guardians is a bold, swaggering, ambitious package; it’s not guaranteed to win over every fan of the series – already the lack of local co-op and networking options have raised a couple of hackles. But it contains a very decent campaign that pushes the lore forward and a thick, meaty multiplayer mode that could easily be called one of the best this series has seen in a while.
The campaign may rub a couple of veterans up the wrong way slightly, as players only spend about a third of their time in it controlling Master Chief. The remaining time is spent with the members of Fireteam Osiris in the boots of their leader, Locke.
The plot essentially sees Master Chief pick up the trail of Cortana, who, it turns out, didn’t actually die in Halo 4. Master Chief and his Blue Team Spartans disobey orders to return to UNSC HQ and set off in search of Master Chief’s AI companion, and Fireteam Osiris is then dispatched to hunt down the AWOL Spartans. As the story unfolds, both teams come across plenty of Covenant and Promethean forces to burn to ash.
Halo 5: Guardians – Mechanics
Halo fans will likely enjoy Master Chief’s new adventure (even if they spend most of it with Osiris) and everyone else won’t care. To be honest, unless they know a ton of backstory and lore, players will likely not know what the heck is going on for most of the campaign. Mind you, the plots that underpin the action in every Halo game have always been disposable space opera and Halo 5: Guardians is no different in this regard.
Where it does excel is in four-player co-op. Playing solo isn’t a chore as the AI is better than most; if the player’s Spartan is downed they’ll usually be revived by their bot team mates and they can issue battle commands with the D-Pad. However, playing the campaign with human allies is infinitely more rewarding, since everyone is able to shoulder their share of the load and the action comes thick and fast. Boss battles, however, are still a bit of a letdown.
Mechanically, Halo 5: Guardians boasts a couple of new welcome features and tweaks. Top among them (especially for sometime fans of the series) is the fact that ironsights is now mapped to LT on the control pad. Finally, FINALLY, those used to every other shooter layout in existence won’t be accidentally lobbing grenades when they try to draw an accurate bead on a target.
Halo 5: Guardians – Multiplayer
That having been said, there aren’t too many new weapons or vehicles in this instalment, but 343 compensates for this by adding a couple of new nifty features. Players are able to execute a few new attacks such as ground slams and charges, and the new thruster pack grants them extra hang time in the air and the ability to boost/dodge in any direction. Best of all, these new Spartan powers pop up in the multiplayer too, which is really the best of what Halo 5: Guardians has to offer.
The multiplayer is split across Arena and Warzone modes. The former is your basic close-quarters online multiplayer that has all of the match-types you’d expect – Capture The Flag, Deathmatch (here called Slayer), Free-For-All, SWAT (no shields and no tracker) and Breakout (no respawns) – and a decent variety of maps. Warzone, however, is the mode likely to entice players the most.
Warzone matches are fought out between two 12-player teams on massive maps with a third force controlled by the AI in play, which attacks both teams. Players advance their efforts by taking over structures in the map and picking up different items contained in them. The first team to score 1,000 points wins the match but really, players may find themselves embroiled in so many firefights they stop keeping score. Warzone plays out like a cross between Domination and a mini-RPG Halo adventure. It’s easily the most interesting and fun addition the series has seen in a while.
Halo 5: Guardians – Conclusion
Halo 5: Guardians, then, is the step forward that the series needed. Longtime fans will likely take to it instantly and even those that remain unconvinced by this franchise will find plenty to occupy them in the online multiplayer and action packed campaign, even if the story makes no sense to them.
343 Industries can feel justifiably proud of its efforts. The developer is no longer the Halo franchise’s caretaker – it’s now the landlord.