NOTE: This review will focus primarily on the campaign. I did play a bit of the multiplayer, just enough to include it in my score but not enough to accurately comment on it here. Suffice it to say if you’re along time fan and player of Halo’s multiplayer, you’ll be happy. Newcomers (like myself, having never played the multiplayer in a Halo game before) may not feel the same way, and may feel more frustration than fun. It is fast paced, as you would expect. Just keep this in mind when you see my score.
Halo 5 divides its campaign between two teams, that of Blue Team, as led by Master Chief John 117, and Team Osiris, as led by Spartan Locke. The story picks up following the events in Halo 4. Cortana has gone missing, and Master Chief disobeys orders and heads off in search of her. Locke and his team are tasked by ONI to track Master Chief down and bring him back. It’s not an even split, as you’ll spend more time with Locke’s Spartans than Master Chief over the campaign’s 15 missions. It’s all over too soon (a playthrough will take you anywhere from 4 to 7 hours, depending on your skill and if you explore levels to find the collectibles and intel), leading to a cliffhanger ending and the inevitable continuation in Halo 6. Of course, this being the middle story of the second trilogy, that will be expected by returning players, though the story never feels strong enough to hold up on its own. Forget the TV ads that made this seem more like a cat and mouse chase between Locke and a rogue Master Chief. That type of tension is never achieved or even truly present here. And that’s a shame, as that would have been the game to play. Instead the campaign boils down to a couple of interesting missions involving a bit more exploration and investigation, but most just have you pushing forward towards an objective through waves of bullet sponge enemies. An emotional moment does arrive late in the game, giving some weight to the proceedings, but it’s a bit too little too late. And as such the campaign, while being solid enough in its gameplay, does prove to be unremarkable and not especially memorable.
There are bright spots in the campaign. Master Chief’s missions, while not as many, are the more interesting and varied, though Locke’s team does get something a bit different to do once they arrive on the planet Meridian. The voice acting is very good and the music is terrific, as are the stellar cut scenes. Also of special note is the environments found on the planet of Sanhelios, with its varied flora and fauna, complete with streams, canyons, and ancient ruins. Sanhelios is absolutely gorgeous to look at, and the action here is among the best in the game. Other environments are instantly familiar to anyone who has ever played a sci-fi shooter, and come across as overly familiar and as such feeling a bit bland and less than inspired. The enemies are especially varied either, coming in the same flavors throughout the game, with many being bullet sponges, taking a large amount of ammo to take down. Playing the game co-op (you can play with up to 3 others) this might not be as big an issue, but playing solo (as I did) it often devolved into more frustration than fun. Ammo runs out quickly, forcing you to hunt for other weapons on the battlefield, and your AI companions aren’t very good at helping with the shooting (though they were mostly reliable in reviving you should you fall in combat). On Locke’s team, Vale was a particular nuisance, as she constantly jumped into my line of fire and then admonished me for shooting a friendly. Master Chief’s team was a bit more competent in battle. Things really became an issue when one particular enemy type needed to be shot in the back, and trying to get behind him solo grew tiresome and irritating, since your companions never seemed to take advantage of the enemy’s focus on you, nor did they try to remove that focus. And having to hit those types of enemy filled waves often throughout the campaign really made it feel more like a chore and like they were added to artificially inflate the gameplay length. All the “Wow!” moments seemed to be relegated to cut scenes and not in the actual gameplay itself.
And that was a problem for me, because I would’ve rather played those cool moments instead of watching them. As a whole, the campaign never lived up to what was advertised (in this way, 343 Industries seemed to be suffering from the same issues that the campaign in Bungie’s Destiny suffered from). There was never any real tension built up between Locke and Master Chief, and so any real sense of conflict never rose up. Everything seemed to be glossed over and rushed through, as though the single player campaign was just a minor thing to get out of the way so people could jump into the multiplayer. Which some may find to be fine, if they’re more fond of multiplayer modes than single player campaigns. But for solo players, there isn’t a lot on offer here. The campaign doesn’t really have any incentive to play through more than once, unless you’re a completionist and wish to seek out the skull collectibles and bits of intel. The story never proves to be compelling enough to return to, despite it being just serviceable enough to keep you going through the 15 missions, some of which are quite sure and amount to no more than walking here and talking to this person and then a cut scene. The shooting is solid, as always, though some guns feel a bit loose and underpowered and a couple of others are overpowered but heavy enough to slow movement. Vehicles are nice to jump into, as the Banshees and Scorpion tank prove again to be fun to drive. Those moments are the game’s highlights, and though the Mantis is also fun, it could prove frustrating in taking too long to cool down and be able to return fire.
And that mix of fun and frustration seems to sum up Halo 5: Guardians. The campaign is solid enough to recommend playing, especially for fans of the series, and the cliffhanger may be enough to get some to look forward to Halo 6. In the end it’s unfortunately not very memorable, despite the high production values. It never achieves any real depth, and doesn’t quite measure up to the highs in the franchise. For some the multiplayer modes will be the game’s saving grace here, as it will at least give the title some longevity beyond the campaign that could technically be finished in one afternoon. And for that reason, I’d recommend for solo players to rent rather than purchase, as there just isn’t enough content here to warrant buying the game (unless, of course, you have the previous games and just want the whole saga on your shelf). It does have its moments, which at least make it worth spending some of your time with the game. It just doesn’t live up to the promise of what could have been as shown in the ads.
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