The creeping madness
Halo 5: Guardians
Note that this review will have spoilers.
I played through it and I finished it, but I didn’t think it was all that great. It was, on the whole, seriously a forgettable experience.
Characters and story
The first issue is that your main character, Locke, as well as his whole team, is pretty much uninteresting. Nothing special going on there. Putting a random ONI into spartan armour and having him play just the same as the Master Chief is just a bit ridiculous, becuase it completely cuts down on the importance of Master Chief. Having a full team of random people in spartan armour, without any real distinguishing personality traits, is also dissapointing. Game development wise, we’re supposed to buy into over-the-comms radio chatter by voice actors to give us the background stories.
You can make a Halo game without Master Chief– I quite enjoyed Halo: ODST for example. Largely because there was a lot of NPC character interaction going on, and cutscenes actually show sacrifice– in other words, part of making a story beleivable has to do with the struggle of the heroes. In ODST, a lot of your characters actually die. In guardians? Well, you as a player are constantly dying– but storywise, nobody relevant dies. All of you spartans are such universal asskickers that it’s a bit unbeleivable– the most challenging fights thus are rendered not legendary, but simply tedious (for reasons to be set out below).
Master Chief seems like an idiot in this game. I realise he’s a soldier doing his job, and that doesn’t exactly give him a lot of leeway to make tough choices. But he is a pretty one dimensional character here.
Cortana is the real problem though. We’ve been through Halo games with Cortana since the 90s– she’s always been the voice inside your head, guiding you to saving the universe. To find out in Halo 5 that, not only is she not dead, but has gone absolutely batshit insane, is a bit disapointing. Especially since she’s got godlike powers suddenly, but these powers are woefully inconsistent–she can’t seem to keep the reins on the Warden; and at some point, instantly captures Master Chief and his team.
Level design: Halo 1 was never super famous for level design in my head, considering you had endless corridors on a spaceship that looked exactly the same. But it did do some pretty amazing things with the technology available to it at the time, and it was still fun. Level design in Halo 5 is pretty much forgettable– it’s a graphically more beautiful version of the same level design themes as Halo 1. Not much improvement here. Pretty generic
Weaponwise– I remember in Halo 1 that, with two weapon slots, you would be thinking to yourself– okay, I have a rocket launcher, but do I really want to keep this because I’ve only got 4 rounds? I don’t know what’s next– maybe it’ll come in handy. Okay, I’ll just have to make due with the rifle as my primary for now.
Halo 5? No such thinking– there was no tactical reason whatsoever to keep one weapon over another. It was always a question of “what do I have bullets for”, and everything was simply point and shoot, with some variations on range and the applicability of the gun for the cover situation. There are so many weapons in this game that just don’t matter. Maybe because I was doing my playthrough on legendary, but you just never have enough ammunition to be picky about what you pick up. You basically just fire whatever you’ve got until it’s clicking empty, and then pick up whatever comes up next.
I remember in Halo 1, when you first meet the Flood, I was thinking… holy shit. This is problematic. And then getting access to the shotgun for the first time in the game. That was a good feeling, because the gun’s mechanics actually mattered. By Halo 5, the balancing of weapons was such that it didn’t really matter what kind of gun you had. They were all equally usable, and equally useless.
And equally useless is an important part. In Halo 1, if you had a sniper rifle, short of going after heavily shilded Elites or Hunters, you would be rewarded for a clean headshot with the instant death of your target, even on Legendary difficulty. That’s part of what made playing on Legendary feel so goddamn good– because if you were limited on ammo, it would come down to skill.
In Halo 5, I find enemies are damage sponges– headshots do more damage, but they don’t mean as much. Not to mention that the computer AI assistance you get is mentally retarded, so you actually spend a fair amount of time reviving your allies just so they don’t die. Your allies just don’t interact well with enemy AI, especially during the ridiculous boss fights where you are to take on replications of the boss with instant-kill energy swords.
Gameplay wise, you could do everything right and still be running out of ammo, running away blindly waiting for your shields to recharge, and just doing circuits of the level picking up your dying allies. That is not fun. It’s an upkeep game in an FPS shell– it’s not the direct, run and gun action of the early Halo games. It’s trying to do a hide and peek style which is very different.
Play it if you’re a Halo fan, just because you need to know the how the story unfolds.
Don’t play it if you’ve never tried other Halos before– there are better things out there.