Believe again. That is how Halo 5: Guardians should be summed up. Right from the beginning.
For nearly 14 years, the Halo series has been the paramount franchise of first person shooters. Created by Bungie, Halo defined the extent of what shooters could do and brought it all together in an epic sized story: worlds constructed on massive halo rings. Covenant, alien forces vying for control. Weapons of mass destruction threatening Earth. All of that tied together through the bravery of Master Chief (aka John-117) and his trusty, A.I. sidekick Cortana.
When Bungie departed Microsoft appointed 343 Industries as the lead Halo development team moving forward. Their first game within the franchise, Halo 4, proved a commercial and critical success. However, when it came to remastering the original Halo trilogy for Xbox One, the task seemed more than they could handle. Many fans lost faith in 343 Industries, making long time enthusiasts of the beloved franchise worried for Halo 5: Guardians.
Rest assured. Halo is back. In all its glory.
Guardians sets the standard for FPS style games going into this new generation of gaming. 343i have conjured up a fantastic story built up through a strong voice cast, perfectly relaying a heavily detailed story filled through mystique and blurred lines.
"Guardians sets the standard for FPS style games going into this new generation of gaming."
Guardians is told through the eyes of two, heavy hitting character: James Locke of Fireteam Osiris and Master Chief of Blue Team.
We witness for the first time rising emotion emerging from a broken Master Chief, seeping through that famous armored shell. Blue Team worries for Chief’s mental well being as he copes with Cortana’s death-by-rampancy by accepting an unhealthy amount of missions to ease his mind — one after the other. During a mission aboard a lost ship, things go wrong. Having fallen down into the dark, foggy bowels of the ship was much like a parallel to Chief’s state of mind– nothing is clear anymore. His partnership with the A.I. mounted heavily, even in duty. But then Cortana appears giving Chief a short, yet foreboding message. Not sure if what he saw was real, Blue Team questions Chief and his new, personal hunt to track down Cortana and bring her back. This leaves Chief A.W.O.L. forcing U.N.S.C. to send in Fireteam Osiris to hunt down Blue Team.
Starting out as Locke of Osiris, in a smashing display of team dynamic gave off a fresh style to what would normally be a run-in-and-kill approach for a Halo game. A true action sequence with large set pieces right from the beginning opened my eyes wider than they already were when ready to play. Fireteam Osiris was an excellent choice for an opening approach. It’s something we haven’t seen before in Halo’s main collection.
Taking over every other mission is Master Chief and Blue Team. Though Blue Team’s opening sequence mirrored that of Osiris, it wasn’t nearly as large of scale and not as grand or action packed. But it’s Master Chief. Do we need much more than him?
Locke is voiced by Ike Amadi who proved a worthy role leading only second to Chief. Amadi embodied a militaristic leader on the hunt for a legend – compared to Master Chief’s commanding leadership in action and when he speaks, however, Locke is completely overshadowed — as it should be being as though Halo is Chief’s story. Nathan Fillion (best known for his work on the TV show Firefly), in another standout performance, playing Edward Buck on Locke’s team. And with Fillion comes his quirky, dry wit, humorous attitude helping to cool off some heavier, more serious situations. Each member of Team Osiris embodied a tight friendship dynamic that worked well with one another. Like a comfortable group of friends just hanging out together.
"A true action sequence with large set pieces right from the beginning opened my eyes wider than they already were when ready to play."
Again, mirroring Osiris (or the other way around) are Blue Team. Where Osiris showed a friendship, Blue Team had worked together for much longer. Their devotion towards each other — “brothers (and sisters) to the end!” — emoted a much stronger family cohesion.
Halo has always been a series based on massive scale. Guardians went beyond that. Every path is much more open, even in ships and buildings. The new Spartan Charge allows Locke and Chief to not only smash through enemies, but break through thin walls as well. Discovery behind walls through Spartan Charge is often rewarded with hidden, better weapons, intel, and vantage points to take on enemies in different ways.
Worlds feel well designed, ample and otherworldly, as they should… since they are alien planets. Familiar atmospheres such as snowy mountains, humid jungles, and high tech towers still thrive in Guardians as they did in past games.
What’s amazing is the clarity it has over past entries. Even Halo 4. Though not always outputting 1080p in lieu of consistent 60 frames per second, Guardians is gorgeous. Just going back to Halo 4 on the Master Chief collection, Guardians shows a considerable resolution boosts above Halo 4 and a true sense of realism even in such unreal worlds. Flora bounced off screen with texture and vibrant colors, light bridges shot out radical, electric blues. Guardians shares a mixed, aesthetic and poetic beauty of technology and nature united. A feat not accomplished since way back in Metroid Prime. Facial expressions showed emotion like never before. Wrinkles, moles, human flaws shined through as though they stood right where I could touch them. Guardians proves a monument of outstanding beauty and design.
"Guardians shares a mixed, aesthetic and poetic beauty of technology and nature united. A feat not accomplished since way back in Metroid Prime."
There’s nothing little to expect from combat and weapons, solidifying that Halo is a game based around its evolved weapon types. Combat is strong. Each weapon carries its own precision and weight. 343i did justice to what Bungie set in motion. Carrying on the torch for a great feeling experience. As for a favorite new weapon, I’d go with the Promethean Splinter Turret. Like other turret weapons, the character goes into third-person view while the turret is attached. It may fire a bit slower than other turrets but it gives off a devastating blast much like a massive grenade. Too close to what’s getting shot and it effects the player as well. It just felt so much safer in overwhelming odds when that was at my side. As for other new editions, there are a few but not many. Most come in the form of Promethean-type weaponry. But they all appear and shoot so similar there really aren’t many to note.
A nice, simple addition to Guardians is the ability of down sight on nearly every (but not all) weapon. Hitting [LT] quickly brings up the crosshair/scope in replacement of past Halos where hitting [LT] would simply chuck a grenade. And believe me, I’d be out of grenades within the first few minutes of any Halo game from accidentally thinking trigger was down sight.
When wielding any of the several different and varied rifles and weapons around, there is never a moment when it gets out of hand. Each moment I felt in control of whatever I held. I was telling the weapon what to do and how to do it rather than it controlling me, bouncing me around through recoil or over powerfulness.
Besides Spartan Charge, a new, fun combat allows the character to jump, charge his boosters with [RB] and crash down onto enemies below. Though it becomes a bit tricky to land a hit as enemies like to constantly move around. Additionally, a nifty ledge grab move that allows the character to jump towards a ledge and crawl up if he doesn’t quite make it is a welcomed edition. I found this move handy in sticky situations where Covenant or Promethean forces overran areas. Jumping and ledge grabbing while keeping momentum was almost as good as parkour-escape strategizing when in heavy combat.
A team isn’t a team without a lead. This means Fireteam Osiris and Blue Team can each be controlled by their respective leader in simple fashion. Pressing up on the D-pad toward any given ground location will inform the team to move to said location. Pressing up while focused on an enemy will push the team to take action upon that enemy. A.I. partners work. Need assistance in taking out an enemy? Point and click and they’re there to assist. The teams are useful by themselves as well, calling out enemy locations, where they got shot from, or assisting in revival of other teammates or even when the main character has been downed himself is a nice touch. This makes running out of shield and health no longer a “do over” moment starting from the last checkpoint. Team members that are alive will be able to assist in player revival. And that’s right, making a comeback is the health bar. Though it does little when the shield of the player depletes, it goes down almost immediately.
"Fireteam Osiris and Blue Team can each be controlled by their respective leader in simple fashion."
A welcomed addition is the nav-point known as Artemis Tracking. Pressing down on the D pad gives the location of where to go next. This is no small edition, especially for myself (I’m terrible with direction in game!). Past Halo games thrived on massive level design as does Guardians — knowing where to head to next could sometimes be a challenge on its own.
Let’s get real. Halo is all about its multiplayer. 343i took a “if it isn’t broke, don’t fix it,” approach to Halo online. An approach that is both good and a bit lazy.
New maps and strategy abound, Halo Arena holds true to form. Well sized maps brilliantly designed with ins-and-outs aplenty are in store. Classic modes like “King of the Hill” and “Slayer” return as well. Again, holding a consistent 60fps, Halo Arena mode flowed smoothly through heavy combat explosions, weapons use and even with several players on screen at once. Timed weapon appearances, vehicles, and tea bagging all return in excellent, preserved condition. Character customization also returns with a nice collection to customize your online Spartan in any style preferred.
"343i took a “if it isn’t broke, don’t fix it,” approach to Halo online. An approach that is both good and a bit lazy."
Maps hold their textures, with lighting and physics based attacks. My favorite new map is for sure Fathom. An underwater facility lined with numerous windows peering out into a deep, black ocean brimming with under sea life. Crawling with creeks and lurching noises like a submarine, being under the deep sea never looked this good.
Warzone is the newest entry in Halo multiplayer. It consists of a MOBA-style map where many online players join in two teams to take control of the entire board. For me, this mode was a bit lackluster. Sure, it’s big, and there are enemy A.I. and mini-bosses to take down besides online players, but it was too similar to Arena modes — just on a larger scale. However, it is maidenly fun. There are no shortages of what can be done within such a large map. Controlling points to keep enemies out of bases can be taken over and used as respawn quarters until one team successfully conquers the whole map. It’s massive, it’s entertaining, and it works well for Halo online in general. There just wasn’t enough to make it feel fresh and new. However, I can see hundreds of hours being sunk into this game mode just by the size of it. Almost like Battlefield in Halo.
"Sure, it’s big, and there are enemy A.I. and mini-bosses to take down besides online players, but it was too similar to Arena modes — just on a larger scale."
343 Industries have proven that they know what Halo is all about. In their hands its believable that Halo can continue to be the world builder it was designed to be. But it is more than that. By the end of the game Halo feels more than a simple world builder — Halo is a universe builder. Designed with a legacy far outreaching many other games, Halo is that rare game that can be confidently called a “system seller.” Guardians will hopefully ensure that. 343 Industries must uphold that legacy, always keeping Halo’s grandeur in mind as they have with Guardians. I believe in 343 Industries. I believe they were the right team for this job and any future Halo. It’s time to believe again.
This game was reviewed on the Xbox One.
Chief's mission researches out further than any distance could. It flows through an emotional level we've not yet seen in any Halo game. Combat is solid, beautiful, and smooth. New, smaller editions such as Artemis Tracking really help.
Lacking in originality and freshness online. Arena online doesn't seem to implement any new approach. Warzone is little more than Arena matches on a much bigger scale.