There’s a lot of pressure on Halo 5 and its developer, 343 Industries, to do the business as it were, to create a game worthy of flagship status, that not only impresses with 1080p/60fps visuals, but in the gameplay and narrative departments too. Have the overseers of the Halo franchise managed to achieve this lofty goal though? Well, that’s actually a rather tricky question to answer because in places Guardians is outstanding, but it does struggle in others, leaving the overall package emerging as something that, personally, I find somewhat disappointing to be honest.
A great deal of the marketing in the lead up to the game has been focused on the duel between the series’ longstanding hero, Master Chief, and newcomer, Jameson Locke, except there’s not actually much in the final game that alludes to this. In fact, the story that guides the overall narrative in Guardians is about as non-existent as the plot to Ridley Scott’s Prometheus, it really does play such a pitiful role in the campaign mode. Whilst it is rather obvious that Halo 5: Guardians is simply a vehicle to attempt to further expand a gaming universe already warped out of shape, it’s not particularly successful at doing this either. Personally, the new Spartan team, Osiris, are an inane and characterless bunch of nobodies, Locke in particular is little more than a cardboard cut-out of a character, and there has been little work to flesh out anyone’s motivations, and not just theirs either. Why does the Chief simply disobey orders and venture off on his own simply because the Lazarus-like Cortana comes calling? Why did they bring her back, and how? Why did the rest of the Chief’s team decide to go AWOL with him? Why are Lock, Tanaka and co all roughly seven feet tall without having been bred for the Spartan program? And why does Buck still have ODST emblazoned across his Mjolnir armour? There are more questions in Halo 5 than answers, but then, perhaps that’s deliberate.
On the bright side, the cut-scenes do look very nice indeed, but visually, they remain the highlight, as for me, Guardians just doesn’t cut the mustard from an aesthetic sense either. I would hazard a guess that it runs on either the same engine as Halo 4 (or a retooled version), the texture resolution could have been better for one, and like its predecessor, interior environments seem to look consistently better that the game’s exterior environs where shoddy foliage and samey environments blight the bulk of the game. Particle effects are disappointing on the whole, though the lighting certainly isn’t too bad but it’s just all a bit basic, so it’s no wonder that the team managed to hit a rock solid 1080p/60fps throughout the campaign. Sound design, as expected, is pretty much top notch and composer, Kazuma Jinnouchi - famous for his work on the Metal Gear Solid series – has done a sterling job filling in on soundtrack duties, though heaven knows why Microsoft didn’t aggressively recruit the legendary Marty O’Donnell instead.
Halo 5: Guardians sees 343 take the series back to basics, ensuring that the combat remains as suitably smooth and satisfying as always, yet beyond this, the single player aspect of the game feels antiquated, despite the team’s desire to bring the series bang up to date. To some extent, they certainly achieve this though, with both Locke and Master Chief feeling more agile as any Spartan ever has before, thanks to refined controls and the ditching of the preposterous Spartan abilities that made a simple ‘run’ feature remain a rather elusive one. Kudos, therefore, must go to the developer for evolving the series in the right direction, despite some strong resistance from numerous long-time fans.
In our post-Halo 2 world, the importance of the multiplayer component has been pivotal to the commercial success of the series, and once again, Halo proves itself to be a strong contender, even if it is a tad long in the tooth. Compared to the blistering speed of Respawn’s Titanfall, Halo 5 feels rather slow and cumbersome, though certainly robust. Mainstay game modes Team Deathmatch and Free-For-All return along with the extremely satisfying and frenetic SWAT, which sees players compete without shields, with solitary headshots scoring instant kills. There have obviously been a couple of major new additions to this iteration though that tie-in together, REQ Bundles and the co-operative, objective based Warzone.
Warzone is a massive twenty-four player game mode that sees gamers thrust into a Battlefield-like struggle to gain control of a series of enemy bases, followed by an all-out rush against their power core, the destruction of which grants ultimate victory. Upon entering the game, every player is given the exact same load-out, which is where the new card system springs into play. These REQ packs grant bonuses, vehicles and new weapons to help give a boost in combat effectiveness, these can be purchased outside of the action using both real and in-game currencies, though by completing actions and garnering energy, single-use cards can also be picked up and utilised mid-game. Cards are divided up by their REQ level, so the more efficaciously that a player competes, the better the equipment they will have at their disposal. Warzone is further boosted by the implementation of AI allies/enemies and the appearance of additional AI bosses, besting these will give a team a suitable boost to their victory point rating and help usher them along towards a final triumph to bring the game to a conclusion.
Despite the inclusion of the brilliant Warzone, Halo 5: Guardians still manages to feel more than a tad flat to me, there just doesn’t feel as though there has been enough of an improvement over its predecessor, and this will, perhaps rightly too, leave many still wondering if 343 Industries are the right development team to act as custodians of Microsoft’s flagship series. It’s visually underwhelming, the campaign is bitterly disappointing and the package as a whole is still behind the times, but thanks to a robust multiplayer and some excellent new online features, Halo 5: Guardians will probably still delight a plethora of existing fans, it just remains to be seen if it will have enough about it to attract any newcomers.