by Matthew Thompson
A couple of weeks ago, I talked about the gigantic bummer that was the lack of split screen co-op in Halo 5, but I didn’t get to dive into any real in-depth impressions about what Halo 5’s campaign had on offer. But that is precisely what I am here to do today in another edition of Five Thoughts, this time about the fifth proper entry in the Xbox’s seminal FPS series. Here it goes!
I Love the Fast Mobile Combat
I grew up playing platformers almost exclusively. When I started branching out into other genres, I still wanted the kind of tight controls and mobility found in the best platformers. In the years since I have learned that wish of mine wouldn’t be granted too often. To be fair, sometimes that type of maneuverability just doesn’t fit the game or genre. But I find I’m a real sucker for when it does. In Halo 5, 343 Industries has taken steps to make you more mobile than ever in combat and I love it. Sprinting and dashing, jumping and mantling, ground pounds and charge attacks; moving around the battlefield in Halo has never felt so good. More than ever, you feel like the supersoldier you play as. While I still think the way guns feel in this series leaves something to be desired, this is the best Halo from a pure mechanical standpoint. Many other things bring Halo 5 down, but when it comes to just moving and shooting, it is superb.
Boss Fights are a Drag
These are just absolutely dreadful. Let me count the ways. They are bullet sponges. They are pace-killers. They are not different kinds of boss fights, but rather one repeated ad nauseam. The developers’ best idea to change things up is to make you fight two or three at once. They are clearly not designed for singleplayer – the weak spots on their back necessitate one player drawing fire while another flanks around the back, but the way both the boss’ AI and your squadmates’ AI is tuned makes this a complete hassle if you are playing solo. They are boring and annoying to fight. How can a whole team of developers – who one would think enjoy playing video games – think these were a good idea? I honestly don’t know. And to me Halo just doesn’t need these. Typical battles are enough for this series and I actually think they have a good substitute for these types of traditional boss fights. Like taking down Scarabs or in this game, the Kraken. Toppling massive structures like those fill the void of what epic boss encounters might bring to other games, making the boss battles added in Halo 5 not just a nuisance, but unnecessary as well.
The Scenery Sure is Nice
The Xbox One and PS4 may not seem as big a leap forward as some past console generation transitions, but I still enjoy seeing what developers can do with the hardware. Seeing particular series make the jump is especially interesting. Even with the move to 60 frames per second, Halo 5’s visuals are a treat. To be fair, this may be as much artistic as it is technical. It shines through brightest in some of the environments. My personal favorite was Sanghelios. Even with its arid and dusty landscape where structures are cracking and crumbling and falling apart, 343i constructed a beauty with their take on the Elite home world. I loved details like the giant statues of the alien species carved into the cliffs. The Forerunner world was another looker. And the cinematic cutscenes were fun watch play out as well, particularly for the impressive action sequences.
Not Enough Chief
There are times when moving away from a series’ traditional protagonist makes sense. It isn’t something I am necessarily opposed to either – I personally wish the next God of War would start fresh with a new player character. Halo itself has had varying success with Master Chief taking on a diminished role in previous games, but having him take a back seat in Halo 5 doesn’t work. You only play as the Chief in a small fraction of Halo 5’s chapters (3 of 15 to be exact though a couple of the Locke chapters are super short, so probably shouldn’t count towards that 15 total). And this is about more than it being a numbered Halo sequel and it just feeling like we should be playing as the Chief most of the time. He remains the major player here. The plot revolves around him and his relationship to Cortana. While seeing him from an outside perspective like Locke’s could have been interesting, I think they went too far with the swap. It doesn’t help that Locke is kind of a bore even when compared to the stoic Chief. Even with the two characters playing almost identically mechanically, it is clear to me that Master Chief’s role being reduced so much in Halo 5 was a mistake.
It is Different Playing Alone
As I have mentioned before, my time with the Halo franchise has been spent predominantly playing co-op. Going solo for Halo 5 represented a very different experience. Part of that is because of something I have alluded to in this post and my previous one, Halo 5 is very much intended to be played cooperatively. Playing it alone was almost certainly detrimental to my experience – the AI partners and simplistic squad commands that come along with them simply aren’t enough to fill the role of human players. But even beyond the specifics of Halo 5, playing any game by myself as opposed to playing co-op feels very different. Playing with friends means more goofing around. Our own banter often drowns out that of our characters. Playing alone, I am much more attentive. I notice details and nuances I may have overlooked while jumping into the fray with a friend. I may also notice flaws that didn’t seem as glaring when I was yucking it up with my buddies. This makes comparing Halo 5’s campaign to previous entries in the series a bit tougher than it would be normally. The circumstances I played them under just aren’t as analogous as they often are with other gaming series.
There is a lot I didn’t cover here, both good (fighting alongside the Arbiter, the weapon variety, improvements to the Prometheans, Laura Bailey’s voice, etc.) and bad (not as many cool vehicle sections, less of the big open battlefields, shorter campaign length, and so on). And as I said above, I am struggling to match this up as well as I’d like to against other Halo games because of the vastly different playing conditions. Still, I’d hazard to say it ranks on the lower end of the Halo spectrum. There are just too many apparent flaws. And yet, more often than not, I found myself having a good time. That really comes back to my first thought. The fast, mobile combat is just such a blast that I had fun playing through the campaign despite some of its more egregious missteps. If 343i can get some of the pieces surrounding that core movement and combat in order, they could certainly put together a top-notch campaign for Halo 6. As is, Halo 5’s is merely a solid one.