Halo 5: Guardians takes Master Chief and his pursuer down a very strange path

26 Oct 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

Halo 5: Guardians review.

Halo 4, 343’s first full title after assuming control of the franchise, took some awkward, tentative steps into altering the series’ trademark brand of action without ever convincing. Putting a crosshair over an enemy and pulling the trigger is one thing, but the most interesting games in the genre of late, like Titanfall and Destiny, are all about how you get to that point in the first place. But in the story of Halo 5, Master Chief goes absent without leave (AWOL), and his United Nations Space Command superiors accuse him of outright treason.

The level design is as good as it’s ever been, with huge, sprawling maps that rely on verticality more than prior games; the new abilities are all designed to make you move around them. That’s a shame, as Halo 5 is the biggest game that Microsoft has coming this fall and it’s part of a series that has sold more than 65 million copies and generated $4.6 billion in revenue. This exclusive Microsoft game is going to be the main reason why gamers will choose the Xbox One over the Sony PlayStation 4 (see our interview with Xbox chief Phil Spencer about that). 343 Industries has been a very good custodian of the Halo series since it took over from series creator Bungie, which went on to create Destiny.

Halo has always had powerful close-range moves that can be accessed at any time — it more or less invented the concept — and Halo 5 adds new abilities like a rush attack and a ground pound that are hugely satisfying to pull off. Again, these additions are all in service of moving you around the expansive stages, since they require you either to propel yourself into the air or charge at enemies head-on. One boss fight saw me bouncing between jump pads and propelling myself into the ground like a guided missile, before boosting past the sword-wielding enemy to target a weak point on his back. Another change that may prove controversial is the addition of iron sights for every weapon, or in other words the ability to boost your aiming by looking down the barrel of your gun.

This is a standard feature of games like Call of Duty, where it’s essential to success, but Halo has long adopted a more old-school control style that sees you shoot from the hip most of the time. In Halo 5, however, the feature is largely cosmetic; you won’t get any kind of statistical bonus, gaining only a meager amount of magnification on your target. Since that story, Locke (formerly an agent in the Office of Naval Intelligence) has become a Spartan IV supersoldier with the accompanying strength augmentations.

I don’t usually go too deep into the technical aspects of games when reviewing them, but 343’s deliberate approach to developing Halo 5 has had such an impact on the experience that it’s impossible to avoid. In two of the final pre-launch TV commercials, 343 revealed that humanity’s leaders would rather allow the masses to believe that Master Chief has died rather than reveal his treachery. Although Halo’s worlds are as sweeping and colorful as ever, the environments aren’t particularly complex or detailed — if you’re expecting Far Cry levels of foliage, for instance, you’ll be disappointed. It’s the first game I’ve played in a while where the glossy cutscenes look leagues better than the actual action, since most developers are comfortable creating their cinematics with in-game assets these days.

The opening cinematic is quite spectacular, though the gameplay that it leads to is a fairly routine mission, only with four Spartans instead of just the usual one. Encounters often include dozens of enemies at once in huge arenas with full-scale battles kicking off in the background, and the game doesn’t skip a beat. You’re unlikely to notice the occasional blurry texture when you’re causing enemies to explode in showers of gorgeous particle effects every few seconds. Each team can consist of four human players in co-op mode, or with one human player and three artificial intelligence (A.I.) characters who help you out in each mission. Perhaps more jarring is the way that enemies themselves sometimes don’t run at 60fps, giving them a jerky, glitchy appearance in an otherwise liquid-smooth world.

While some of the visual niggles are annoying, 343 should be commended overall for its decision to pursue large-scale 60fps with Halo 5, because it’s a huge part of why the game feels like nothing else. The challenge for the storytellers is that they really have to convince you that this betrayal is real and that somebody that you have really liked in the past has become evil or misguided. But I still often found myself without a clue what any of the sci-fi decoration meant, or who the characters I was supposed to care about were, or why I couldn’t, say, just download an AI from the future internet instead of needing to find it in physical space. Writing in a universe this convoluted can’t be easy, and even if Halo 5 isn’t altogether successful, I do feel like 343 is moving in the right direction. It usually has a compelling story about the Master Chief and Cortana (the A.I. character who died at the end of Halo 4’s single-player campaign story) and the esports-like multiplayer, where pro gamers can thrive.

You still have to switch things up moment to moment, shooting out your opponent’s armor and then closing in for a melee strike in order to save precious ammo. Microsoft brings its Compute Cloud into play by enhancing the available processing power in your Xbox One by doing more of the A.I. processing in the cloud.

Designed for the esports pro gamers, you can fight four-on-four tournament-style matches where the object is to capture a flag or take out the enemy team. Both the Warzone and Arena make you feel like you are contributing to something bigger than your own survival. 343 has also spiced up the gameplay with better Spartan abilities. You can also climb up walls for the first time, giving you more vertical options for attacks with an ability called “clamber.” And you can drop down on enemies from above, assassinating them in a very satisfying way using “ground pound.” These new abilities make for very different kinds of combat options.

In multiplayer, the abilities give skilled players another way to differentiate themselves from those of us who can barely get any kills in a multiplayer match. You can hang in the air for a couple of seconds, allowing you to avoid grenade explosioins, sort of like a player doing a delayed jump shot in basketball.

If you press the melee button (right stick click), you’ll use your thrusters to move at a high speed in a certain direction, ramming any enemies in front of you. Microsoft Studios is the video game production wing for Microsoft, responsible for the development and publishing of games for the Xbox, Xbox 360, Xbox One, Games for Windows and Windows Phone platforms.

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