This review does NOT contain any story spoilers for Halo 5. There will be mentions of story elements from previous Halo games and things that have been made publicly available from adverts for Halo 5, but no specific plot points.
My overriding thought at the end of Halo 4 was ‘’well, what now?’’. One of the things I found most interesting in the series was the relationship between Master Chief and Cortana. With Cortana sacrificing herself to save Master Chief at the end of Halo 4, I was intrigued to see what would happen to our hero next. Cortana had developed from just a mere tool for exposition to Master Chief’s only friend. It was through his conversations with her that we were shown his humanity. From the box art of the game (and other bits of advertising) you are probably aware that 343 Industries have side stepped this issue by actually bringing back his friends. Halo 5 sees Master Chief reunited with his SPARTAN-II friends, who fans of the novels will be familiar with.
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One of the other things we know going into the game is that Sergeant Locke (a SPARTAN-IV) was going to be hunting Master Chief. Our gaming introduction (after he appeared in Halo: Nightfall) to Locke begins with the bravura cut-scene (that has also been released as a trailer) of Fireteam Osiris sliding down the side of a mountain, eliminating all enemies in their way. This whole first sequence sets up the playfulness and banter between the team. It gives them an implied history, a knowledge of each other that gives us a window into their character, and a certain amount of levity in an otherwise quite dark story.
You take control of Locke as the cut-scene comes to an end and the first thing you notice are the graphics. These are a significant step up from Halo 4 and Halo 2: Anniversary. Particularly worthy of note are the animations and super-smooth frame-rate. The game moves brilliantly, with no noticeable screen-tearing or slowdown even when the screen is full of enemies and explosions. The lighting, scenery and particle effects all appear to be top notch with no visible texture pop-ups. Visually it is a far more impressive console debut than Halo 3 was on the Xbox 360.
One of the areas that has had a real visual makeover are the weapons. The ammo count display on the standard assault rifle is far more realistic than in the previous games. The weapons also have a more weathered look as though they have been used before. One of the weapons that has had a full makeover is the rocket launcher. This instrument of carnage is no longer double barreled and looks just like a standard rocket launcher from any other shooter. While I admire the visual improvement that has been taken, it is a bit sad to lose such an iconic looking weapon.
Alongside the new visuals, our Spartans also have some new abilities. Each of these super-soldiers now comes with a booster pack that allows them to have a few tricks up their sleeves. The booster pack allows you to sprint continually and also to boost in any direction. This can be particularly useful when trying to reach a platform, especially with the new mantle ability that allows you to climb up on a ledge if you can jump close enough. The booster packs also allow you to hover for a short period while aiming as well as enabling the ground slam ability. This new move requires you to be above the enemy that you’re trying to strike, but once you have the altitude and have lined up your foe you will shoot down and crush your enemy. These new moves and the overall increase in speed help to elevate the game to a new level and feel a lot more at ease in the crowded market of next-gen shooters.
These new additions are very welcome and make the gameplay virtually flawless. Halo 5 does have one minor issue though: the story. I have really enjoyed the story of every other Halo game, but this latest entry has some issues. While the story being told isn’t awful, it just isn’t in the same league as the previous games. There are several moments where it feels like it’s just treading water and not really going anywhere. There are moments that aren’t played out as well as they could have been. Then there are a few moments, particularly one cut-scene between Master Chief and the main antagonist of the game, which are sublime. These moments just go to prove what this campaign could have been. I don’t know if all this is because 343 see this game as a way to get from Halo 4 to where they need to be for Halo 6, or if they’ve just dropped the ball. The fact of the matter is that the story isn’t great, but it isn’t awful either.
What is a great improvement over Halo 4, and almost every other Halo title, is the multiplayer. 343 Industries haven’t just improved on Halo 4’s online selection; they’ve knocked it out of the park. The biggest new addition is ‘Warzone’. This mode takes elements of Titanfall (AI controlled characters) and Battlefield (Capture points), then mixes them with a little Halo magic to produce something special. The maps are huge and the battles are tense, swinging one way then the next. Another new addition is ‘Breakout’, a 4v4 mode on tight, condensed maps. This mode is really designed for eSports but is still a whole ton of fun for you and three friends to test your mettle. Just be warned – it’s not the type of game you want to go into as a solo player. Don’t think that 343 have forgotten fans of the more traditional Halo multiplayer though. All your old favourites like Slayer, Capture the Flag, and SWAT are here and on some brilliant new maps. While Big Team Battle and Forge are not currently available, it’s been announced that they will be made available as a free update at a later date. In fact, Microsoft have announced that all of the DLC for Halo 5 will be made available at no extra charge. In a marketplace where Season Passes have become the norm, this is a brave move and one that is brilliant for consumers.
Halo 5 is an outstanding achievement. The gameplay improvements introduced are brilliant. The Multiplayer is not only amongst the best in the Halo series but any first-person shooter available. The game falls just short of greatness purely because of the campaign story issues. Like I said, the story isn’t a disaster, but its glimpses of greatness just rub salt into the wound. What the story does do, though, is leave the series in an intriguing place for the future.