Halo 5: Guardians – Single Player Review
*please note this review is for the Single Player component only. Stay tuned for an update with our impressions of the game’s multiplayer components.
I feel that to review a game like Halo I need to declare my position on the franchise. I am very much a pro-halo gamer. I have always loved the game for its interesting narrative and excellently balanced combat. Both the single player and multiplayer modes have never failed to entertain me and while I enjoyed some of the games more than others (Halo 3 was a bit of a let down in my eyes) I haven’t played a Halo game that hasn’t entertained me for its entirety. So with this in mind I was both excited and apprehensive for Halo 5. Could the game live up to the franchise’s legacy or would changes to the game ruin things for the long-time fans?
The first thing I noticed was how beautiful the game looked. It is stunning and quite possibly the best looking game on the Xbox One. The first few levels were set in bleak locations but even a derelict space station still managed to look amazing. The later levels set on lush planets were simply breathtaking. The player and enemy models impress as well with the Prothean enemies being a particular highlight. Animations are world class and some of the weapons (once again the Prothean models are tops) are a joy to behold. This is the sort of game I could see myself showing non-gamer friends to impress them with how good a video game can actually look.
There have been quite a few tweaks to the core gameplay experience from past games. This time around the Chief (and Locke) were much more mobile than I was used to. There is a built in dash move which allowed me to dodge incoming attacks or get a little more distance out of my jumps. I was also able to perform a ground slam move, jetting myself into the floor and injuring nearby enemies. Finally moving about the levels has been improved as well with the ability to climb ledges and pull myself up to higher levels. All of this adds up to a faster, more mobile Spartan and this forced me to rethink age old Halo strategies to best use these new abilities. The levels this time round are also much more open allowing multiple paths and routes to any particular goal. It adds a sense of freedom that hasn’t been available in previous Halo campaigns and I found it a very welcome addition.
The campaign follows the Master Chief and his team of Spartan 2’s as they hunt down a mysterious message from Cortana while Spartan Locke and his team chase them down for going AWOL. The campaign split my time between playing as the Chief and Locke as their goals began to converge. I won’t say more as I would be getting into spoiler territory but rest assured that there is plenty here for fans of Halo lore to appreciate as well as some nice inclusions from the extended universe. There are however some problems with the story in that it relies on using some fairly well trodden sci/fi themes but overall it was a fun ride.
My team mates were not just window dressing either as I had the ability to issue basic commands such as “attack a target” or “regroup on my position”. I found that playing through on normal difficulty this wasn’t an essential skill as they did well enough without my guidance but on the higher difficulties it became something that I found myself using more and more. Speaking of difficulty having Spartan teammates that could revive me made things considerably easier. I managed to get through the entire campaign on normal only having died by falling off a ledge or having a vehicle explode while I was driving. I can see long time Halo players bumping up the difficulty on this one very quickly.
Perhaps my biggest issue with the single player component was the length of the campaign. I really felt it was about two missions too short and it just left me wanting more. This is a game that had me enthralled from start to finish but I was able to finish it in just two sittings, leaving my craving for a massive Halo campaign unsatisfied. I guess it is a sign that the campaign was highly enjoyable and it left me wanting more so it isn’t all bad. I am also sure the new Warzone multiplayer mode will help me scratch that itch.
With Halo 5 I have a single player campaign that is committed to bringing some new things to the franchise and for the most part it is a huge success. The new mobility of the Spartans made the gameplay feel fresh and the graphics were universally stunning. Add to this the (as always) stirring musical score and the beautifully balanced combat and there is no doubt the game is a winner. There are some problems with the game’s length and the overuse of sci/fi tropes but in all Halo 5 delivers on all counts. Fans of the past game’s campaigns should find a lot to like here. 343 have done a great job and I can’t wait to see what adventures await the Chief in the future.