October 26, 2015

Halo 5: Guardians - Review

When Halo 3 wrapped up with is finishing the fight, I thought I was done with Halo, or at least the main series, then Halo 4 happened, while it was not perfect it did start a new story off with a lot of potential and now that Halo 5 is here, we finally get more of the story of Master Chief, well sort of.

It is important to note right off the bat that the majority of the single player campaign will be spent in the boots of Osiris Squad and Spartan Locke, with the Master Chief and his squad playable for only around 40% of the time. The game starts off with Locke and his team completing the mission that was setup in the trailer from a few weeks ago, attempting extract Dr. Elizabeth Halsey, the introduction meeting does give you a chance to get to know the rest of Osiris squad including Buck, a long time Halo character who has been around since Halo 2. The mission ends with Halsey stating that something is going to happen, here we cut to the Master Chief and his Blue Team, which is comprised of characters you won’t know, but have apparently been around since Master Chiefs boot camp days and by the end of their introductory mission, the Master Chief has a new objective, to find Cortana and he won’t let anyone stop him.

At this point the story bounces back and forth between Locke and the Master Chief as they both go about different ways of playing catch up, with Locke and Osiris Squad sent to bring the Chief back and Blue Team doing whatever they need to do in order to locate Cortana. The story moves along pretty fast, with the bulk of the character exposition expected to be common knowledge by the player, so if you are not up to date with your Halo lore, expect to be at a loss here. Osiris Squad catches up pretty fast and encounters the Chief and Blue Team just as they are about to step into a portal and a hand to hand fight breaks out, which seems pretty even until it’s not and then Osiris team needs to get out of there in a hurry. It is at this point that they determine what the real threat is and what is going to happen if that threat remains unchecked, even as Blue Team continues their search for Cortana, the threats just keep coming and it just keeps building and building until the end.

There is a lot more to the story than what I have detailed here, but as there are a few scenes very early on that contain quite a number significant plot points, I am trying to be vague as possible, which is resulting in things sounding strange, but the story is. There are times when you get clarification on things that help fill you in and other times it’s just one blind jump after another and when you finally get to the end of the tale, it just ends, think Halo 2 style ending or better yet Pirates 2 into Pirates 3, they knew the larger story was going to continue from here into the next game, which is fine, but a proper ending to the story being told right here would have been nice. Even with the original games, until Halo Reach, story never seemed to be such a critical element as it was all down to how the game played, which thankfully here it plays very well.

If you have been playing The Master Chief Collection since last year, then you should be familiar with the default controls, because with Halo 4 they introduced mods to the Spartan armor and they play an even more important role here. You can equip jetpacks, boost packs, shields and more to help you conquer the harder enemies and difficult environments. The characters are now able to pull themselves up ledges as well, which allows for them to get to higher ground more easily, something that usually required some fancy jumping in the past and even now you can flank enemies by bashing through certain walls to gain some tactical ground. In Halo 5 Guardians, movement is the most critical of elements that you will need to take advantage of, the levels are multilayered, which will have you climbing and descending quite a lot in order to achieve victory.

Perhaps the biggest addition to the combat is the boost move, if you sprint for a few seconds, you will get enough speed that if you melee, walls or enemies, you can destroy them. With walls, its weakened sections or rocks that you can break through, allowing you to discover secret areas and as mentioned before flanking options in combat. When you apply the same move to enemies, even most elites will fall with one well place bash move, allowing you to gain the upper hand in combat with relative ease, of course should you miss, it does leave open from attacks behind you, in single player it’s frustrating, but not the worst thing, in multiplayer it’s a sure way to die. When you are playing solo, should you fall in combat, you won’t immediately die, there is a window of time for one of your AI companions to come to your rescue, when playing with friends, that job falls to them. There are times when you will die instantly, falling to high, large explosions and such, but for the most part the game is far more forgiving than in Halo’s past.

The multiplayer is quite a bit different this time around, while at its core it is still Halo multiplayer, the changes made throughout have made it feel fresher than it has been in sometime. In arena, you will be tasked with a range of game modes, from deathmatch to capture the flag, all with their own Halo names of course. The maps that I played on were fun and sized in a way that you can feel alone or swamped depending on the situation, as I died a lot, I will go with swamped more. Warzones are so different from anything else you will have seen in multiplayer that, they are a little hard to describe here, think mission based team matches in open scale conflict and you are on the right track. Two teams of 12 human players are paired up with their own group of AI controlled teams and told to fight each other, in large open world style spaces, while also avoiding/fighting the completely AI driven Prometheans.

These matches can be chaotic as heck, in the best possible way, teams of 12 can easily break off into smaller groups, take control of a vehicle or two and power towards an enemy and let the bullets fly. While Arena is your standard style of multiplayer we have come to know over the years, Warzones is something so different, it will be interesting to see how it evolves and of course with the right community behind it, it might become a standard that other games attempt to mimic. What changes the multiplayer up this time are the REQ packs, cards you can earn that will grant you new gear, weapons or buffs to your character. These can be small things like more ammo for a set gun, or XP boosts to help you level and while I had a few of these to play with, I never felt the need to use them, the currency I earned though was another story, that allowed me to get some serious gear, which in turn prompted me to actually use the cards to boost them up. Whether or not you use them in game is going to come down to a matter of choice, I am sure some people will do all they can to earn REQ cards and points, others will play pure, but in either case some serious fun is to be had.

Prior to the games release, there was a lot of debate over how nice the game would look, due to its adaptive resolution, well after many hours with the game I can say it looks incredible, the game never failed to impress me with its visuals. There were times when I was stopped dead in my tracks, just because I saw something that looked so good, I needed to check it out more. The cutscenes are also gorgeous, with some very nice facial capture going on, when the humans are sighing, smirking or making other faces, you can tell what the expression is. The locations and maps you can explore are varied enough that you won’t feel like you’re running through the same spaces over and over again and the enemies are all wonderfully detailed and responsive, some enemies will flee when there fellows soldiers fall in battle and when they do, you actually hear them wail in terror as well.

The audio for Halo is as iconic as the look of the Master Chief himself, hearing that seminal piece when you ride into battle is enough to evoke fond memories for most players, but with Halo 5 Guardians they seem to have kicked it up a notch past that. Some of the music just works effortlessly and can really heighten the mood of battle, but sometimes the music comes through as too over whelming, which resulted in me having to turn on subtitles to hear what the characters were saying. Over the years, players have adapted to the sounds of the Covenant soliders, weapons and ships but with Halo 4 we got an all new species to fight and in Halo 5, they are bringing even more creatures, weapons and ships to the battles. The Knights are especially fun to take on, not only with they provide a challenge to you, they sound great, with different variants having different tactics, you will be able to know which one it is, based on the sounds they make, which is something.

Alongside the awesome new effects are wonderful performances from almost all of the voice cast, the Master Chief still sounds as he should, though from time to time, he shows slightly more emotion than you might expect. The rest of Blue Team is also well rounded, Travis Willingham does a wonderful job of questioning but supporting Chief in what he does, the flip side is Osiris team, which is ancored by Locke, played by Ike Amadi, he has a roughness to the voice which helps play up the history of the character. Laura Bailey and Cynthia McWillians also play their roles in Osiris really well, but the star of the squad has to be Nathan Fillion as Buck, a character that started out as a bit player in Halo 2 has really evolved, in part as he is now a Spartan, but also in that we have learnt more about him then anyone outside of Master Chief and Cortana over the years. Jen Taylor is back portraying Dr. Halsey, who is the model for Cortana, but she does not quite deliver a voice of advanced years, but there are moments when Cortana’s voice comes through, which does help connect the two.

Halo 5 Guardians is a wonderful game; it delivers the Halo experience that fans wanted with Halo 4. Not only does it provide a decent single player campaign, some weakness in the end notwithstanding, it also refines its existing multiplayer and adds a whole new beast to the mix, with Warzones. If you have ever played a Halo game before, you are in for a treat as Halo 5 Guardians kicks things up to 11.

Thanks to Xbox Australia for supplying the game for review

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