Halo 5 Guardians review: One more for the road

Trying to punch two Promethean Knights to death in Halo 5 Guardians  is never going to end well.

Believe me, I found out the hard way.

Two of these guys kicked my Spartan arse several times in Halo 5.

Two of these guys kicked my Spartan arse several times in Halo 5.

It was in the closing battle of Halo 5’s campaign when things went terribly wrong. Finding myself suddenly surrounded by two advancing Knights, the incredibly tough Promethean mechanised warrior, I realised that both my weapons were out of ammo and, sadly for me,  there were no discarded weapons nearby to pick up.

I  had two choices: Run or punch them in the face. So that’s what I did. I punched them.

What was I thinking? Probably that my augmented Spartan punches would crack the Knights carapaces, exposing their vulnerable AI core inside.

So, how do you think it went? It went as well as could be expected. Meaning it didn’t go well at all and I was knocked to the ground, my life force draining from my tired Spartan body.

Thankfully, one of my squad mates was close enough to revive me (that’s one of the new features in Halo 5) and, some how, I managed to sprint clear of the area, find some fully loaded Promethean weapons (I love the boltshot) before delivering swift, sweet justice to the Kinghts. It was frantic and full-on.

Master Chief: Ready to Rock.

Master Chief: Ready to Rock.

Now, I’m not  a Halo player who knows the canon off by heart and can recite it word for word. I don’t know all the weapon stats and what works best in certain situations. I also  found some of the earlier Halo games a little boring at times. Sorry, but I did. I enjoyed Halo 4, though, and really, really enjoyed Halo 5.

Guardians lets players take the role of two protagonists: Master Chief and Spartan Jameson Locke. It’s two heroes for the price of one game. Each man is supported by three other Spartans.

H5G_Render_Locke-Close5Throughout the length of the campaign you swap between Master Chief and Locke as you take on the Covenant and the Prometheans, which first appeared in Halo 4.

Hey, look, here’s me playing through the first mission of Halo 5 Guardians, including cinematics leading into Mission 2. I do die, but only to show you the revive mechanic. Really.  🙂

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I won’t dwell on Halo 5’s story for fear of, well, spoiling things for people but it deals with Locke hunting Master Chief, who has seemingly, gone AWOL. Go get him, soldier!

You’re squad mates are a competent most of the time (other times I bled out because their pathfinding proved difficult getting to me). They’ll provide cover fire, distract larger enemies and in the case of Edward Buck (who has now been promoted to Spartan after his fine work in Halo Reach) provides a wise crack or three (He also promises to buy everyone a drink at one point). The one thing I wouldn’t trust Buck with is driving: During one level, he seemed to just want to drive up rocks or take the long way home.

I did feel strange having three companions with the Master Chief, though. I’ve always felt the Master Chief was a lone wolf figure, taking on foes single-handedly, so it took a while to get used having three limpets (sorry, companions) but when the going gets tough, it’s great to have a helping hand. Like when you’re facing off against large groups of enemies or, say, two Hunters..

Graphically, Halo 5 looks nice with some impressive set-pieces and varied locations but – and I may be in the minority here – it didn’t blow me away visually all the time. I guess 343 Industries was always going to face a tough battle when it came to the look of Halo 5 given how good Halo 4 looked on the 360. Don’t get me wrong, when you stumble across scenes with a lot of action going on and vehicles flying all over the place and lasers everywhere, it looks great.

The frame rate remains rock solid at 60 frames a second most of the time, which was impressive given how many enemies can be on-screen at one time, and its in-game cinematics are fantastic, with great looking character models and atmospheric lighting.

Gameplay is the tried and true that Halo veterans will know but  if you’re after something revolutionary, look somewhere else: You won’t find it here. I also felt that the closing missions suffered too much from repetition and rinse-and-repeat game play. The finale disappointed me a little, too. I was expecting something a little more epic.

With Halo 4, 343 laid the ground work for what it could do with the series. With Halo 5, it has shown it knows how to respect the franchise and has created a game that, for me, was one of the most enjoyable of the series, even if the campaign has a few missteps near the end and it left a lot of questions.

The bottom line is that Halo 5 Guardians is a great game that will fuel your inner Spartan but where the franchise is heading to from here I’ve no idea. It’s clear from the ending that  there are more stories to tell, but whether Master Chief is a part of those, I’m not sure. He is getting on, isn’t he? Plus, I may have counted wrong, but I’m pretty sure you play more missions as Locke than as Master Chief. That might mean something.

I guess we’ll find out in Halo 6.

Note: I haven’t tried out the multiplayer of Halo 5 Guardians in real-world conditions yet, just what I’ve played at a preview event a few weeks ago. I’ll update the review with my thoughts on MP play when I can join some games. I’m also keen to play throught the game in co-op.

I played through the single player campaign of Halo 5 Guardians on normal difficulty from start to finish using a downloaded retail copy of the game provided by Xbox NZ

Halo 5 Guardian’s opening cinematic: Prepare for freefall, soldier

343 industries’ next Halo game, Halo 5, comes out on Microsoft’s Xbox One in October  so in an attempt to whet the appetites of Halo lovers out there, Microsoft has released the game’s opening cinematic. It looks impressive.

The cinematic sees Fireteam Osiris dropping onto a planet to take on the Covenant and Prometheans (an enemy that appeared in Halo 4) after being ordered by UNSC command to recover a high value asset (could that be Master Chief?).

And yes, that is actor Nathan Fillion’s face in the cinematic: He’s reprising his role of Edward Buck, who last appeared in Halo ODST, which just happens to be one of my favourite games of the Halo series.

Halo 5 Guardians is out on October 27.

 

Halo Master Chief Collection review: Finishing the fight again (but in 1080p)

When Halo first launched on the original Xbox, I’m sure I wasn’t the only person that  didn’t expect it to become the gaming phenomenon it has, but now, thinking back, it’s probably no surprise that Bungie’s console shooter has had the impact on FPS games, both in campaign and multiplayer, that it has.

Halo: The game that started it all.

Halo: The game that started it all.

I don’t actually think I finished Halo. I don’t know why that was but as the years passed, and more Halo games were released, I got more into the series, invested in what a seven-foot tall super soldier, the Master Chief, and his female AI companion Cortana got up to and faced as they traveled the galaxy saving it.

Halo Master Chief Collection brings together the four games featuring the Master Chief and I didn’t play through to completion each of these tweaked Halos – but then with the Master Chief Collection I don’t have to. The games have been given the 1080p treatment and frame rates lifted to 60 per second.

Halo 2 Anniversary: Feels all the loves in this compilation package.

Halo 2 Anniversary: Feels all the loves in this compilation package.

Thanks to the unified menu system, where everything is accessible from the one place, players can select any chapter from any Halo game and play it at any time they want. This means you can play Gravemind from Halo 2 Anniversary then jump to The Silent Cartographer  in Halo Combat Evolved before fast forwarding and taking the fight to the Prometheans in Infinity in Halo 4. It gives Halo fans a choice as to how they play the series, and I like that. I can play Halo the way I want to play it, and I like that.

I’ll also confess to starting each chapter in Halo 2 Anniversary just so I could watch the new cut scenes created by Blur Studio especially for Halo 2 Anniversary, which are, quite frankly, stunning.

Just how stunning they are is even more evident when you press the select button on the Xbox One controller  and travel back in time and view how the game originally looked.

Doing this really shows you just how far in-game cinematics have come in 10  years. It’s quite jarring, to be honest, but sometimes switching to the original view is functional: I actually found myself switching back to the original graphics in some levels because I was able to see enemies better. Strange, huh?

Of the four games in the package, Halo 4 is probably the least impressive visually in this package, but that’s  only because it was already an outstanding looking game when it came out on the Xbox 360.

Sound, too, has been given an update, with the sweeping orchestral score having been remastered and weapon sounds re-recorded so they pack more aural punch.

I haven’t had a chance to dive into the multi player (darn work keeps getting in the way) yet but HMCC brings together all the MP maps and their additions, again all in one place, and I only have a couple of niggles about the overall experience.

Halo 4: One of my favourite Halo games.

Halo 4: One of my favourite Halo games.

One is to do with Halo 2 Anniversary’s checkpoint save system, which still annoys me.  The problem I have is that the Halo games aren’t generous enough with its checkpoints.

Example: During one of the early missions, after battling through countless grunts, Elites and a couple of Hunters, I selected “Save and Quit” from the main menu, intending to come back to where I left off later. When I started again I expected to be at the point I finished, so imagine my surprise when I had to restart the level from a point about 15 minutes previously. The “Save and Quit function” had saved at the last checkpoint,  rather than the point I was at, which is frustrating to say the least.

Another niggle is while everything content-wise is unlocked and ready to access from Day 1, strangely the co-operative Spartan Ops won’t be available till December ,  as will the episodic TV-style Halo Nightfall (not that I’m that excited about that, anyway). And for some reason, if I do want to just watch the cut scenes of Halo 2 Anniversary on their own or access content from Halo 2’s in-game terminals (which are dotted about the game world) I have to launch an external app called the Halo Channel, which means you’re taken out of the game. It’s jarring to say the least.

Halo Master Chief Collection represents an opportunity for Xbox One Halo fans to play the series they love on their new fandangled games machine.

But it’s more than that: It’s something of historical guide, I think, as to how the Halo series (and FPS games, in general perhaps?) have evolved both technically and narratively over the years.

Here is the chance for fans of the series who have watched Master Chief and Cortana develop as characters almost to the point that they’re a couple who can’t live without each other, to relive it all for a modern age.

I’m confident the Halo Master Chief Collection will help sell a fair few Xbox One consoles, and with exclusive titles Sunset Overdrive, Forza Horizon 2 and now MCC, the Xbox One is now starting to hit its stride.

Making the music for Halo 4: Neil Davidge talks to Game JunkieNZ

I’ve been a fan of the game since it first came out, so no-one had to convince me.

A few weeks ago I was lucky enough to talk to British producer, musician and composer Neil Davidge about his involvement in writing the musical score for Halo 4, the next game in the blockbuster series, now under the watchful gaze of 343 Industries.

Davidge told me it had been a particularly hectic 12 months but he was thrilled to have been asked to work on the game – the first video game soundtrack he’s worked on – but it took little to convince him to come on board: “I’ve been a fan of the game since it first came out, so no-one had to convince me.”

As thrilled as he was, Davidge also revealed that he was also intimidated to be taking over the musical duties from American composer Martin O’Donnell, who had written the score for the Halo series since the very beginning. “I couldn’t allow myself to think about how I could better or improve on what Marty [O’Donnell] has done. I couldn’t afford to think about what the fans might think of a new composer coming in. That would have just stopped me from doing my actual job. I just had to make music, ultimately, that I liked, that I thought worked for the project and then just crossed my fingers and hoped that other people would like it.’’

Click on the link to see the full interview in .pdf form: Neil Davidge talks Halo 4

I just had to make music, ultimately, that I liked, that I thought worked for the project and then just crossed my fingers and hoped that other people would like it