Disclaimer: This review only covers the single player component of Halo 5.
Halo 1 was the first game I bought when I got my Xbox. Since then, I’ve played Halo 1, 2, and 3 (and ODST, Reach and 4). I enjoyed all of them. I played it online with friends, but I didn’t get the Overkill achievement.
What I enjoyed most about the Halo series were the campaigns. The Halo series had exceptional campaigns that presented really epic set pieces, grounded by a deep developing relationship between the mostly-silent Master Chief and his AI BFF Cortana. I loved the poignancy when Halo 3 started with a Cortana monologue that explained how she specially chose Master Chief.
So how did I feel when I played 5? Sadly, I was disappointed. I wasn’t really thrilled with 4 and the Prometheans and the Didact, but what carried me through that game was the great relationship between MC and Cortana being threatened as Cortana started dying from rampancy. 5 didn’t have that. In fact, 5’s plot is downright dumb.
Some mild spoilers here, but essentially what you’ve got in 5 is Cortana haunting MC’s mind, and pleading for him to find her on Dagobah so that they can Netflix and chill. Yet as he goes to her, she constantly makes his life hell by allowing bad things happen to him. Bad things that she had the power to avoid. It was like that time my friend was totally in love with this girl who friendzoned him and then just made him drive her around and pick up her groceries. It just wasn’t a pretty sight to watch, and makes for a crappy reason for MC to shoot bad guys.
As MC goes AWOL to find Cortana, the UNSC sends a Spartan team to hunt MC and retrieve him, led by Spartan Locke, the character with the least amount of personality in the history of Halo. On Locke’s team is fan-favorite Buck, and why they never used him as the main character instead is a mystery.
The reason why Locke’s lack of personality is such a big deal is because you play as him for the majority of the game. That’s right, not only do you not start the game as MC, you don’t finish it as him or play as him much at all. It creates this disconnect with the player. You’re playing as a guy you don’t like, doing something you don’t want to do. If you’re a Halo fan, then you want to play as MC, not as some boring guy trying to cockblock him from reaching Cortana. I hardly ever felt engaged by any of the Locke chapters. As Locke, I’m just going from Point A to Point B shooting everything that isn’t a Spartan.
Were there exciting set pieces? Yes, there were a few but nothing I haven’t already played before in another Halo game. Driving a Scorpion tank? Been there. Flying around in a Banshee? Done that. Defending an elevator as wave after wave of bad guys warp in? Hell I’ve been doing that since Streets of Rage on the Sega Megadrive. There was nothing in this game that felt as epic as taking on the Scarabs in 2 and 3, or as frightening as the Flood.
In fact, the one new boss experience (aside from the age-old Hunters with some new abilities) is the main villain, the Eternal Warden who has a million backup bodies stashed away somewhere. You fight him about halfway through the game. Then you fight him again, but with two of him at the same time. Just in case you haven’t gotten enough of this guy, you’ll fight him one more time at the end with even more of him at the same time. Does that sound fun? Well, it’s not. Like the boring plot, it’s just there to make the game longer and give you more things to shoot at.
Nothing about this game felt new. Not even the environments. Look, the game looks really pretty and while there are a lot more polys and effects, the art direction is nothing we haven’t seen before. It’s the same grassy environments, the same alien interiors, and the same Forerunner structures. Being that the Halo game most of us played recently was the Halo 2 remake for the Xbox One, it just really cements the fact that nothing much has changed.
Well, you’re now in 4-man teams instead of going solo. Whenever you die, there’s a chance that your team mates can come and rez you, so that’s something new. It’s nice to not have to restart from a save point all the time, but also it just feels weird that the MC can once solo an entire Covenant army, but now he keeps getting knocked down and needs someone to pick him up.
You know, I can deal with the fact that the weapons are the same, the environments are the same, and the gameplay I so loved remains largely unchanged (except for a COD Advanced Warfare style boost sidestep), but please give me a story that I can emotionally connect with. Otherwise, it’s just new technology, but a very old game.