The thing about Halo is that it’s Halo. The opening moments of Halo 5: Guardians could be the opening moments of any other Halo game in the series, because every Halo game is basically exactly the same – you go from one end of a level to the other, you shoot the bad guys in between, and you wish you could find more ammo for your DMR. Everything else is just, you know, background noise.
That’s especially true in Halo 5: Guardians, because the story is totally rubbish. The series has tripped into incomprehensible techno-metaphysical stupidity at times (… rampancy?), but this game goes all in with a plot ostensibly cribbed from Cortana4Eva69’s embarrassing Tumblr fanfic page. I’ve finished it twice now, and I still couldn’t explain what exactly happens. What doesn’t happen, however, is the mega-epic showdown between Master Chief’s Blue Team and Jameson Locke’s Fireteam Osiris promised in the marketing stuff. HUNT THE TRUTH, they told us. But that truth, whatever it even is now, doesn’t have much to do with the game. Instead, there’s a punch, everybody is all, like, “cool, whatever”, and you fight an evil robot who’s probably late for Mardi Gras.
And then it ends, abruptly, with nothing resolved.
So that’s a bust, but almost everything else about Halo 5: Guardians makes up for it. For one thing, it’s visually astounding. The game’s multiple worlds sprawl out in every direction with a dizzying sense of scale, its extravagant sci-fi opera dioramas splashed with sumptuous, vivid colour and pushed to the screen at a steady 60 frames per second. You will be impressed.
While levels are still essentially linear kill-corridors, there’s a lot more vertical space and opportunity for tactical manoeuvring – and with the new boost and clamber abilities, you can be all over a skirmish from one moment to the next. Unlike previous Halo games (but like most other games), you can now also zoom down sights with every weapon, and as an added bonus, zooming down sights while you’re up in the air makes you hover. It’s an innovation that might seem profane to some fans, but I prefer the comfortable genre consistency myself, and the hover is legitimately super rad.
Halo 5: Guardians is very obviously designed to be a co-op game, but if you’re playing solo, you can use one-button contextual commands to order your AI teammates to move to new locations, pick up weapons, focus fire on targets, or even revive you if you go down. It doesn’t always work exactly as it should – the AI lacks some strategic subtlety and will continue to rush at one enemy while ignoring the other million enemies who just ambushed them from behind a rock, for example – but telling Nathan Fillion what to do is kind of… exciting. Not like that. Okay, maybe a bit like that.
The incoherent story is a tremendous disappointment, but – perhaps somewhat paradoxically – the campaign is actually heaps of the fun stuff. Between the relentless pacing and the series’ definitive guns ‘n’ go-go-go gameplay loop, Halo 5: Guardians manages to deliver a grand adventure, even if it fails to provide a compelling reason for going on it. Besides, stomping on your teammates with a Mantis is glorious.
But nobody plays Halo for the campaign, anyway.
Introducing Warzone, Halo 5: Guardians‘ hot new multiplayer mode. One part Unreal Tournament Onslaught, one part Titanfall Hardpoint, and one part something else entirely, Warzone is a 12-versus-12 flashpoint rumble featuring both PVP and PVE elements. Teams compete for control of three bases – and, optionally, the enemy’s home base – for the win, but killing additional AI mobs and “hero” units adds extra victory points to your team’s scorecard. As the game progresses, you can call in single-use weapons, vehicles, and other perks using item requisition cards (“REQs”) that are purchased with a sort of currency earned in-game or real cash (ugh, but not so ugh, because it’s no problem earning them in-game, and all additional multiplayer DLC will apparently be free). It’s the Halo multiplayer mode you never knew you’d always wanted, and it’s the multiplayer mode that everybody else is going to copy next.