Halo has meant a great many things to people over the years. Some find it an enjoyable and challenging multiplayer experience, others love the sprawling battles and the large scale vehicle warfare. For me, it has always been about the co-op gameplay. Sitting with a mate and blasting Covenant, Flood and Promethean scum was the highlight of my Halo Career. Halo 5: Guardians has changed. It has evolved, and while it is still recognisable as a Halo game, it is now an entirely different beast.
The very first thing that anyone will notice is the “tank” controls of old, are gone. Replaced with responsive, fast paced movement the long, dangling Halo jump is no more and I for one am happy about that. With the inclusion of a boost and your ever so aptly named “Spartan Charge”, you can close distance with enemies much easier in Halo 5: Guardians and dodging incoming fire becomes a more realistic goal when you can boost out of its way. This upgrade in mobility doesn’t just affect the Spartans, oh no, almost every enemy will be able to hop, hover and jump their way to pretty much any location. It means that the old Halo tactic of standing at the side of an obstacle and waiting for your foe to come wandering around the corner is no more. Enemies will just as likely hop over the top and attack you from above. It helps to build vigilance and never lets you get too comfortable in your surroundings. To make the mid-range combat a bit more interesting we can now use the Smartlink, this is basically an iron sights crosshair that can be used with any weapon. It makes the frustrating moments from previous games, moments where I had Needler and had to cross a large open battleground, much more versatile. Even the Assault Rifle, which was never great at range, can now be used effectively at distance to take out a number of enemies. It opens up a new range of options to the player and makes for a more tactical experience all round.
The maps have also had a revitalising helping hand. The levels are still fairly linear but open up in some battles that allow flanking maneuvers and other tactics. It is a nice change from the borderline shooting galleries of Halo 4. These moments are most noticeable when you command your Fireteam (Osiris or Blue Team). You can place a waypoint for your AI companions to hold, whether this is to draw fire to them while I was flanking or to get them to do the leg work while I covered from afar, it took a lot of the weight off my shoulders and allowed me to come at the game from what might be the most tactical angle of the series to date. Commanding your squad doesn’t stop there. I was able to get my team to use heavy weapon emplacements, get in specific vehicles, focus fire on a specific enemy and even swap out their weapons. 343i have really made an effort to make Halo 5: Guardians the most tactical installment in the franchise that we have ever seen.
I have to hand it to Microsoft and 343i, Halo 5: Guardians looks fantastic with detailed enemy models and some pretty smooth animations, but in some cases, the scenery can look a little bland close-up. Many of the skyboxes don’t quite cut the mustard though. There are a few exceptions to this but by and large it misses the essence of scale, the grandeur that Bungie painstakingly built with the original trilogy.
And that’s another problem with Halo 5: Guardians. 343i have captured the look of Halo (mostly) but they have failed to capture its sense of scale. There are no real moments in Halo 5: Guardians that stand alongside Assault on The Control Room, Metropolis, The Covenant or the last stand in Halo Reach. Don’t get me wrong, there are certainly some pitched battles and vehicle combat still exists in a reasonably meaningful way, but it just doesn’t capture the large scale warfare that I had hoped for. I was pleased with the new additions to the Prometheans, unlike Halo 4, Guardians has bulked out the roster, adding Promethean Soldiers (comparable to elites) and have made the Knights like Hunters (with designated weak spots). It made the Prometheans feel more like an actual race and less like a place holder. So well done on that 343i!
I’m sure most people reading this will already know that the gameplay is split into two separate fireteams. You begin the game as Spartan Locke, leader of Fireteam Osiris. You will also play as the Master Chief and Blue Team, think of it like playing as the Chief and The Arbiter in Halo 2, only this time there are no differences in loadouts or abilities. It was strange playing a large section of the game as someone other than The Chief but it arguably makes not real difference to the underlying gameplay.
It should be public knowledge by now but Halo 5: Guardians has no local or split screen facilities at all. For the first time in 7 games, you will not be able to sit and play Halo as a couch co-op. 343i gave plenty of reasons why they were doing an online only co-op mode but the removal of a series staple still stings me. There is also no matchmaking for finding a campaign game online, so the drop in/out online facility will only really work if your friends are online. I’m not one for playing with random people online, but unless you have three friends who own the game, you won’t ever get to play with a full strength fire team. In many regards this feels like a step back, this is just my personal opinion but I fear the move to “online” is one of the worst decisions that could have been made in the series. It may even be worth flying your UNSC flag at half-mast this week.
As the plot has been one of the most focused upon aspects of Halo 5: Guardians, I won’t be going into spoiler territory but there are some issues that I had with it. I am a fairly big Halo fan; I have played all of the games (including Halo Wars and Spartan Assault) and have even read a fair number of the books in the expanded universe. When I started playing Halo 5: Guardians, I was lost. It felt as if I had missed an entire game. I had no context, very little backstory and (as it turns out) an unfounded gripe about the Spartan Program. All of this was because Halo 5: Guardians doesn’t give a damn about the last few games and seems to rely heavily on the books. It wasn’t too much of a problem after I spent a few hours researching the gaps in my own knowledge, but as a reviewer that is kind of what I do, I can’t see the average gamer going to that much trouble. It feels like a real shame as a five minute cut scene or a little bit of narration could have easily cleared this up. Instead the onus is on the gamer, and while I appreciate 343 Industries and Microsoft making an effort at a more narratively driven game, it shouldn’t be done at the expense of the overall cohesion.
If you are wondering why everything is going to hell in each level, you will need to go hunting for Intel Files. These little datapads became the bane of life as it is the only way to get background exposition on what is going on. These are dotted around each level, you will inevitably stumble into a few of these but to find them all, you will have to go hunting. I think I spent more time exploring each level looking for these Intel Files than I spent fighting the enemy, and that’s just not cool 343i.
Much of the in-game dialogue happens during combat meaning I missed great chunks of what was being said behind the sound of gunfire, cries for help and explosions. I ended up turning the subtitles on just so I wasn’t missing out. There was definitely an issue of balance between storytelling and gameplay that 343i haven’t quite gotten right.
In another big change to the gameplay, if you die, your team has the chance to revive you. It takes much of the danger out of the gameplay, in most cases my team would come to my aid if I got a little gung-ho. It makes the game flow more easily by removing constant respawns but it loses a lot of the risk/reward factor.
My time with Halo 5: Guardians was spent prior to the game’s launch, as a result many of the multiplayer facilities weren’t quite running at full capacity. I was unable to find a co-op game in the few days prior to launch but I think this may be where the true measure of Halo 5: Guardians is shown. I have high hopes in this regard. The two PvP game modes that I had access to (there will be more after the official release date), were Arena and Warzone. Due to the limited number of review copies, multiplayer matches were scheduled over three days. Sadly I was unable to play a full game of Warzone as there were never enough players online when I tried. I did play Warzone at EGX in September and have to say I enjoyed the large scale warfare on offer. Two teams of 20 battle it out with vehicles and AI, it really was great fun and embodied much of what the campaign was missing. I managed to get a few games of Arena, your standard team deathmatch. If you played the Beta then you will be largely at home here. The combat is much faster paced and frantic than precious Halo games and it is clear that games such as Titanfall have had an impact on the mobility elements. I did have some balance issues and latency in some matches but this may be down to my own terrible internet connection or the fact that the servers were still being fine-tuned.
Halo 5: Guardians takes a bold step away from Bungie’s formula, the formula that has made Halo one of the biggest franchises in gaming. It is a step away from the old ways of gameplay over plot, of grand battles you don’t fully understand why you are fighting. It is a brave move from 343i, a move that could have paid off, cementing their place as the new owners of the Halo IP. Sadly it hasn’t worked out that way, in changing the layout, the formula, the very lifeblood of Halo, they have made an above average, even a great First Person Shooter, but it lacks the Halo essence, it lacks soul. It is not the case that Halo 5: Guardians is a bad game, it’s just a different kind of game, a more streamlined game, a more engaging game in some regards, but it just doesn’t feel like Halo.
Halo 5: Guardians is a very worthy effort by 343i, there are issues with the plot and backstory but the fundamental gameplay is fun and engaging. Combat is much more versatile than it has ever been before and the freedom of movement is something to be applauded. Halo 5: Guardians lacks the sense of scale and grandeur that we have come to expect from the franchise and the lack of a “stand-out” level is a disappointment. But by far the biggest mistake is the removal of local co-op. A series staple for over a decade has been removed, and its loss is keenly felt.
• Graphics – 90/100
• Audio— 89/100
• Gameplay— 85/100
• Value For Money—86/100
Overall – 84.5