Halo is the cornerstone of the Xbox empire. The series, which began in 2001, launching alongside the original Xbox, quickly became the yardstick against which other shooters measure themselves. It also helped solidify dual analogs as a standard control scheme and made consoles a contender in a genre dominated by PC games like Counterstrike and Doom. The story of Master Chief and his uncomfortably sexy AI sidekick, Cortana, gripped gamers and gave Microsoft a hero as historically significant as Nintendo’s Mario. Today, the fifth chapter of Master Chief’s story is unleashed on the world.
After a tumultuous fight with the forerunners in Halo 4, Halo 5 opens with Chief having gone off the grid with his squad and his Spartan frenemy, Spartan Locke and crew, hot on his heels to bring him home. Xbox has played up this cat and mouse game in the lead up to Halo 5’s launch but, despite their best efforts to emphasize the Team Chief/Team Locke dynamic, there’s just not enough of that happening in the game to pay off. In fact, we were frustrated and disappointed to see the game shoehorn us into Locke’s team twice as often as we were able to play as our beloved Master Chief. Locke’s storyline is definitely the lackluster of the two even with Nathan Fillion putting in a great performance as Locke’s teammate, Buck. It seemed that 343 tried to capture the lightning in the bottle of playing as a non-Chief character like the Arbiter in Halo 2, only it’s nowhere near as much fun to play as Locke who feels like a weaker, watered-down Chief.
Luckily, the gameplay remains as tight here as you’d expect and goes a long way in redeeming the story. Halo 5 stays true to its roots with levels that put you into spectacular vehicles, outfits you with high-powered weapons and dumps you into wide, tall levels that encourage wall-climbing and quick speed boosts. There is also the added element of squad controls. Your AI teammates aren’t the most effective, but they’ll help out in a pinch when you issue them smart orders. Most importantly, they’ll revive you when you go buckwild and run into a wall of enemies with reckless abandon. Those issues melt away when you tackle the campaign with a co-op group of four, so long as your friends’ intelligence is better than the game’s AI.
Those fans less enthused by the story than Halo’s stellar multiplayer are getting the biggest bang for their buck. Halo 5’s MP is a strong contender to be best in class. Matchmaking is lightning fast, loadouts are extensive (made even more so by the REQ card system that adds variety and depth to every match) and there are game modes aplenty, from classics like deathmatch and CTF to the new PvP/PvE hybrid, Warzone. Warzone is the big team battle with its best foot forward. Teams of 12 face-off to reign supreme on a huge map that’s littered with all sorts of baddies. Knock off the enemies and focus on slaughtering your opponent’s team while completing the random objectives thrown into the mix, mid-fight. It’s an impressive new take on the Halo MP formula that had us captivated for hours on end in pre-launch testing, eagerly awaiting the rest of the world to join the fight.
Halo 5 overcomes its story’s shortcomings with great gameplay and interesting new additions to the mechanics of both the campaign and the multiplayer. Tackling the campaign in four-man co-op or taking your team’s skills to compete against the world are still premiere experiences in the Halo universe and make Halo 5 one of the best games we’ve seen this fall. The fact that the game ends with a massive cliffhanger doesn’t hurt either (but we’ll let you see that part for yourself).