343 Industries has taken a lot of flack over the years. I mean, the team practically took over where Bungie left off with Halo, working alongside Microsoft to give the popular sci-fi series a new direction. And I’d like to think that it succeeded, despite a few hiccups.
Take Halo 4. It did a great job shuffling the series forward, despite the fact that some people said enough was enough. Last year’s Halo: The Master Chief Collection was also noteworthy, even though some people lambasted the studio because the game never got to 100 percent performance with online play. Again, though, for what it produced, it still knows what to do when the cards are down – and in Bungie’s shadow, that certainly isn’t easy. (ESPECIALLY when you consider it’s competing with the studio with its own The Taken King on the Destiny front.)
Now we have Halo 5: Guardians, and the reviews I took a look at are already mixed. The vibes are positive in general, which is good, but the little things are worth noting, mainly revolving around Spartan Locke, the newest addition of the series. Locke is brought in when main hero Master Chief runs AWOL, forcing him to team up with Fireteam Osiris (and better yet, the return of Nathan Fillion’s Buck) to try and figure out what’s going on.
But fret not, Halo skeptics. Despite what some critics may say about how the story goes, or what Locke’s actions are in comparison to Chief’s, it’s still a Halo product through and through – and that’s where you’re going to benefit the most. The single player experience definitely has its twists and turns, but you’re in for a hell of a ride, whether you’re running down the side of a Guardian or finding yourself facing off with the Eternal Warden, a creature so stubborn in his ways that the only way to convince him otherwise is with a bullet to the head (or several, in this case). Plus, the multiplayer is optimized to the point that it actually seems more free-flowing this time around, while keeping the Halo basics in mind.
The first thing you’ll have to accept with Halo 5 is that the controls have changed, namely with aiming. It’s more Call of Duty now, which may throw off a lot of veterans who have gotten used to the series style. However, it took me all of three minutes to adjust, and I found myself performing better within both single player and multiplayer. Again, some people will be sticklers, but as a whole, 343 made an adjustment that makes the game feel a little bit more comfortable.
Plus, the little nuances are fascinating. Being able to ram through walls and charge enemies with a running attack is fantastic, as it gives you an edge while you’re storming through a hail of gunfire. Grabbing onto ledges is also a great mobility, as you can get to higher ground much quicker, instead of helplessly just floating to the ground per usual.
As for the general combat, it’s a lot of fun, whether you’re facing off against Prometheans, Covenant, or your own fellow soldiers. I didn’t run into any lapses when it came to getting used to the gameplay, save for my own mistakes that lead to me getting fragged. (“Sure, Robert, let’s run towards a sniper in the wide open, he won’t hit you, right?”) And, yes, the game continues to be a bitch on legendary, but you wouldn’t have it any other way, right? Bring on the challenge.
The co-op factor plays a superb part in Halo 5’s story as well, as up to four players can jump into a mission as Fireteam Osiris or Master Chief’s Blue Team. It’s a great free-flowing component that works very well, and will involve players through the 15 missions of the story. It’s an ideal journey to take together, and it’s bound to give the one in Call of Duty: Black Ops III a run for its money.
But the story is just one part of the game, as there’s also a terrific multiplayer component. Now, I can’t speak for public servers, as the game is likely to get a TON of traffic this week and really put 343’s reputation to the test. But from what I’ve seen, the number of small but significant changes made to the multiplayer part of the game is stupendous, and really makes it feel heavier than it’s ever been.
Case in point – Warzone. Here’s a mode where you fight to take over objectives from the other team however you can, while at the same time dealing with secondary events that can help put points on the board, whether it’s by cleaning up Prometheans on the beach or letting loose on a Covenant general flying around in a flying vehicle. These can help turn the tide in any given multiplayer battle, and mix things up beautifully. Of course, you can still get fragged easier than ever – welcome to Halo multiplayer.
For that matter, the new card system and customization also play a big part, as you can pick advantages and hit the battlefield with a fresh new advantage almost every time. Sure, you can sell off most cards with ease, but for the most part, it’s a splendid way to put together a killer hand. (Fortunately, purchases are optional, so don’t think the game is trying to gouge you out of cash.)
There’s also a fun Arena mode as well, along with other small options to tweak throughout multiplayer. Again, I can’t speak for the public experience because who knows how the servers will hold up, but if 343 and Microsoft learned its lessons from last year’s Master Chief Collection, you’re in for a hell of a time.
343 also deserves kudos for the game’s polish. In both multiplayer and single player, it runs at a gorgeous 60 frames per second, with nary any glitches or hitches to speak of. The animations are stunning (especially when Prometheans warp from place to place), and the set pieces are literally out of this world, whether you’re running through a Sinion battle station or going into battle with Guardians looming in the background. There is one particular mission that can drone on forever as you ride on elevators to get to another objective, but that’s just one small part of the game.
As for the audio, the music continues to be spot-on with this series, playing during particular parts of the game to give it dramatic heft. Of course, Marty O’Donnell’s theme is still wonderful after all these years, too. Gotta give him credit where it’s due. The voice acting is top notch as well, as Locke holds his own just as well as Chief, even if he seems to dominate the game a little bit. At least he’s got great presence, along with his own reasoning for hunting down the truth. Plus, major points for Fillion’s return, as he adds a fun dynamic to the game as Buck.
Oh, and Jen Taylor is Cortana is a revelation, as you’ll discover while barreling through the thunderous single-player campaign.
There is still some question as to whether fans will accept Locke as much as they’ve accepted Master Chief, as well as how significantly the game will hold up in multiplayer once the public servers go live. But for what I’ve seen and played for so many hours over the weekend, Halo 5: Guardians has indicated that 343 has not only picked up Bungie’s ball, but scored with it on multiple occasions. It’s truly made the series its own, turning a corner in terms of story, gameplay and multiplayer features to make it one of the most definitive games in the series to date. And, yes, that’s including Bungie’s classics.
Where Halo goes from here is kind of obvious – Halo 6 is no doubt waiting in the wings to “finish the fight” as it were – but at least Halo 5: Guardians continues to make the journey satisfying.