Halo has always been a narrative driven experience. Bungie worked very hard to build a palpable, well thought out and gripping universe with many interesting species and characters. I saw an article the day before Halo 5: Guardians launched, it was titled “Let’s stop pretending Halo 5’s story matters”, and I was immediately filled with a deep burning, passionate rage. As I read through this article, the guy’s main argument was that “all I want is stuff to shoot, just give me stuff to shoot”.
I agree that there absolutely is a position for FPSs that just “give you stuff to shoot at”, where the story can quite happily take a back-seat to the destruction. Things like Serious Sam and Doom come to mind. Quite frankly though, implying that Halo no longer requires a story is – to use a term recited quite frequently in the Halo Universe – heresy.
For a more PC oriented perspective on this, imagine if Half Life 3 were to come out next year, but it didn't have a well thought out and interesting story, would you still want it? Would you accept it? I know I sure wouldn't, and I hate the thought that (at least a part of) the mass media believe that's acceptable.
So with that off my chest, I should probably reassure you that Halo 5 does indeed have a plot. Said plot does indeed matter and, for the most part, it's gripping, well fleshed out and interesting.
Halo 5 is told from the perspective of two Spartan teams; Fireteam Osiris, which is led by Spartan Locke, and Blue team, which is led by our old friend the Master Chief.
Whichever team you take control of, you will find your team members have well thought out dialogue and communicate with each other in a believable fashion with plenty of camaraderie. And while these characters each seem interesting in the fleeting glimpses into their backgrounds, it would have been nice if they could perhaps have been fleshed out a little more.
For example, I don’t recall ever finding out how Blue Team managed to hook back up with the Master Chief. Now if you’ve read Halo tie-in novel ‘The Fall of Reach’ you will be intimately aware of Blue Team and I do think they were portrayed as I'd imagined them, which is nice, but I feel I shouldn't really need to have to read any of the books in order to know who these guys are.
For the most part however, Halo 5’s plot is very engrossing (even a little emotional at points), and if certain things had been explained a little better it could have been a serious contender for best narrative of the series, which is a huge compliment in my eyes. There are just a few niggling moments that prevent it from achieving that greatness.
Towards the mid-point of Halo 5: Guardians there's a huge change in focus which is not really well explained, segueing from one plot device to another with little explanation. It temporarily stunts the momentum of the plot, but it didn't stifle my intrigue or my longing for more.
One more note about the plot that may rustle a few feathers - be prepared for a cliff-hanger. We’re not talking on the scale of Halo 2 here, but it certainly comes close. I kind of left the game feeling like it had been a huge (albeit rather incredible) build up to Halo 6.
Halo 5 is visually superb, the skyboxes are vast and often filled with action. The world designs of the planet’s you explore are breath-taking, and while the art style doesn't stray from the age-old Halo mould, it doesn't need to. All of the environments are fascinating to explore and beautifully realised, and frankly any change of art style at this point would completely break the experience. Weapon models are detailed and familiar, while character animations are first class. It’s a visual feast that I'm not sure is matched by any other game currently available on the consoles.
When it comes to the gameplay mechanics, Halo has never felt this fluid. Movement is slick, quick, and silky smooth. You really feel like a well-oiled machine, which is just a great experience and the gun play is as satisfying and solid as you would expect from a Halo game.
The one thing that the 343 Halo games do have up on the old Bungie games is that the Prometheans are so much more satisfying to battle than the Flood ever were (there, I said it!). The AI is as strong as ever, with all enemy encounters requiring a bit of thought (and even caution) to get through unscathed, especially on the higher difficulties.
As I mentioned before you now have a team with you at all times, three other Spartans to help you battle your way through the game's 15 missions. If you go down they can get you back up again (a la Gears of War) though the checkpoint system is generally fair, so should you die you’ll never find yourself repeating huge sections of a level.
The game took me around 9 hours to complete, and it could quite easily take longer than that at the higher difficulty settings, which means it pretty much falls in line with the previous Halo games, which is also nice.
While the multiplayer is there (duh) and I've heard some rather brilliant things about it, I don’t have Live Gold and such I haven’t tested it for myself – though there are an infinite amount of hours to pour into that.
Admittedly, I'm a huge fan of Halo, and every time a new one comes out I'm filled with equal parts fear and excitement, the lack of local co-op was a massive blow for me personally, but thankfully 343 delivered where they promised and have provided us with another excellent entry to (in my opinion) one of the greatest FPS series’ of all time. So, is it time for Halo 6 yet?