My week in gaming: Auckland, Zelda and visiting strange planets

This week I got to do something that as a gaming writer I haven’t done in a long, long, long time: I visited a game development studio to talk about an upcoming Xbox release of a game that’s already out on PC.

A screenshot of the upcoming Xbox version of Path of Exile.

The game is Path of Exile, an action RPG made by an Auckland studio called Grinding Gear Games. If you’re a PC player, you’ve likely heard of it: Path of Exile is a free-to-play online multiplayer game that is hugely popular in Europe and America – and it’s coming to Xbox soon. No release date has been announced yet .

While I have to say multiplayer action RPGs aren’t really my first choice for video games, the Xbox version of Path of Exile is looking pretty good.

Look out for a story from my visit in the coming weeks.

Flying from Christchurch, where I live, to Auckland, where Grinding Gear Games is, gave me a good chance to play a heap load of Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild on the plane – and I’m really liking the game. The portable mode of the Switch is amazing and while the degrading weapons in the game is a bit of a pain in the arse (especially when a weapon breaks mid fight), I’m slowly making my way through the lands of Hyrule. I tamed a horse last night so am now wandering the lands on horseshoe-clad hooves rather than shoe leather.

The new research pods in Astroneer are quite weird, too. This one looks like a tomato, right?

Lastly, I’ve gone back to Astroneer this week after the latest update and I’m not sure what I think about it at the moment, to be honest. I still love the game (which is in early access) and its one of my best game purchases of the last year (along with Thimbleweed Park) but the new update has tinkered with the research tree – (when you land on a planet you find strange objects that can be scanned at your base that will reveal blueprints for technology like solar panels, space ship parts, batteries, etc) – and now research like the 3D printer, which is used to, obviously, print out objects, is much, much harder to find.

Developer System Era has now created a tiered research system but that means it’ll take much, much longer to find blueprints for things like the aforementioned 3D printer and the vehicles – and on some planets the research “nodes” aren’t that easy to find. I hear that the developer is looking at patching the game again to make those items much easier to find sooner rather than later.

OK, so that was my week in gaming. How was yours?

 

Gears of War review: Time to rev up that lancer!

Please note, dear readers, this is a review of Gears of War 4’s campaign and not any of its MP modes. If I get time to play any of them, I’ll post my thoughts, but that said, I like single player campaigns more than MP so that might be a while …

I’ve always been a fan of the Gears of War video games.

Son of a gun: JD Fenix

Son of a gun: JD Fenix

In fact, I’ve always liked the series much more than Halo, to be honest. Maybe it’s  the over-the-top characters with larger than life calves and that it has a gun that has a freaking chainsaw attached to it, but I always liked the dude bro chemistry between original Gears characters Marcus Fenix, Dom Santiago, Damon Baird and Augustus “Cole Train”Cole as they battled the Locust.

Set 25 years after Gears of War 3, you fill the combat boots of James Dominic (JD) Fenix, the son of Gears legend Marcus Fenix, and this time around the COG (Coalition of Governments) that Marcus and his pals Dom, Cole and Baird fought for so long ago are now the enemy, with JD and colleagues Kait and Del sort of revolutionaries fighting against the machine that is now the COG.

This is a much more vibrant Gears of War game, at least compared to the dark, gritty colour tones of previous games in the series, and while it’s not unicorns and rainbows it’s nice to see colour that isn’t various shades of brown and grey.

Gears of War 4 Drone BattleGOW4 takes a while to warm up and much of that is down to the fact that for the first couple of hours all you battle are COG robots called DeeBees. Don’t give up, though, as once you start fighting the Swarm – the new enemies – things pick up for the better.

Despite a new developer, Gears of War 4 feels like a Gears game and by that I mean it’s a tightly scripted affair where rooms are combat arenas full of knee-high walls and barricades that you can hunker down behind and pick out the horde of enemies, one by one. JD smacks into walls with a satisfying thump (you can almost feel the masonry crumble as a shoulder slams into it) – and there’s always plenty of cover to move to as you advance. There are new weapons too, to mix things up a little so you don’t have to reply on the faithful lancer all the time: One that fires saw blades, while another fires projectiles that drill into the ground then explode.

Gears of War has always been about arenas where you enter a room, clear out the enemies then move towards the objective. It’s never been about open-world exploration where you can wander off the beaten track.

Narrative has never been  a strength of the Gears games and it’s pretty average here but JD Fenix is a likeable character that grew on me the more I played the game and in a nice nod to the previous Gears titles, it was nice that Marcus Fenix becomes part of the team during the latter stages of the game.

A welcome return: Marcus Fenix makes a welcome return in GOW4.

A welcome return: Marcus Fenix makes a welcome return in GOW4.

It was nice seeing The Coalition give us an older, more grizzled (could he get more grizzled?)

Marcus Fenix, a military man who has lived life as a civilian for 25 years and now lives on a farm, growing tomatoes and generally leading a quiet life (there’s a nice sequence where JD, Marcus and co make their way through Marcus’ tomato plants and Marcus complains that his plants are being destroyed).

The Coalition hasn’t reinvented Gears of War here, and I don’t think anyone expected that they would, but I felt that the middle sagged a little, with the game becoming bogged down with traipsing through Swarm-infested lairs. As you’d expect, the ending has set us up for Gears of War 5.

gow4benchmark

 

Gears of War 4 looks wonderful on Xbox One – it could be the best looking game on Xbox One right now – and on PC, and it’s the third game to be released as part of Xbox’s Play Anywhere scheme where if you buy a digital copy on PC or Xbox One, you’ll get a free copy on the other platform and despite having a four-year old graphics card, I played most of the campaign on my PC. It’s incredibly scalable and my PC managed solid frame rates of close to 60 frames a second at 1080p using a mix of medium and high graphic presets. I was pleasantly surprised.

For a fan of Gears of War, I found number 4 in the series (let’s just forget that Judgement ever happened, shall we?) incredibly satisfying. It delivered all the things I wanted in a Gears game.

Now that The Coalition has got its first album out of the way, let’s see what direction the series heads in the future.

 

 

ReCore review: One girl and her robots

Meet Seth, Mack and Duncan.

They’re Corebots and the co-stars of the Xbox One/PC game ReCore, a game from Japanese game developer Keiji Inafune, the man behind the Mega Man series, and a development team that have worked on a variety of games, including Metroid Prime.

Seth, a spider-bot, is good at climbing, Mack, a dog,  is good at headbutting other Corebots and Duncan, a gorilla, is good at smashing pretty much anything you ask him to.

This is Joule, she’s the main human character in ReCore.

Hero Shot of Joule

Hero Shot of Joule

 

Joule has been sent to the planet Far Eden to help set up terraforming operations before humans start colonising the planet. Unfortunately, things seems to have gone pear-shaped and Joule wakes from her cryosleep decades later than she should have and finds the robots designed to help make the planet habitable have turned rogue and Joule has to sort things out.

As she explores Far Eden, Joule must search for things called prismatic cores, glass prisms of light that unlock doors to help her progress through the game world. ReCore is very much an action RPG game, in that Joule has to search dungeons and complete challenges to get enough prismatic cores to progress.

Platforming is the heart of the game, drawing inspiration from Inafune and his Mega Man heritage no doubt, with plenty of double jumping and boosting to grab out-of-reach platforms. Combat, too, is a prime focus of the game, with Joule and her robotic pals having to fight plenty of corrupt robots as they scour the planet.

Joule using Seth to traverse an area

Joule using Seth to traverse an area

Seth, Mack and Duncan can be upgraded and modified to make them more powerful and stronger and Joule herself is a handy scrapper, too, able to zip and jump around thanks to a jet pack and an energy weapon that fires four different coloured charges: Red, blue, white and yellow. Shoot an enemy with the corresponding coloured energy and you’ll do more damage and defeat it quicker.

Destroyed, enemies explode in a satisfying shower of collectible parts but Joule is also able to rip out a vulnerable enemy’s core using a grappling hook. What ensues is a satisfying tug of war between Joule and the defiant Corebot as both battle to hold onto the core.

recore_enviro4ReCore is a fun game with a genuinely interesting dynamic between Joule and her bots but it’s hampered by some incredibly long long load times on the Xbox One and some frustrating platforming sections which will almost have you throwing your controller across the room. At least, I found some of the sequences frustrating.  There’s also a fair bit of backtracking and grind to search for more prismatic cores when you  realise you don’t have enough to progress.

ReCore is also one of the first games in Xbox’s Play Anywhere scheme where if you buy a digital copy on PC or Xbox One, you get another copy for free on the other platform, and it works. To be honest, I played it on PC as it proved more stable than the Xbox One version with improved graphics (there is still some glitching, especially when you quit the game) and much faster load times. I was also impressed that I was able to have the graphics cranked up quite high despite having a few-years-old nVidia Geforce GTX660Ti (I’m sure locking the frame rate to 30 seconds also helped a lot).

Another thing in ReCore’s favour is the price: It’s only around $NZ60, which for a new game is a great price.

I enjoyed ReCore but wonder whether it might have been rushed out of that gate a little early. A bit more spit and polish and it would have been a great game, rather than just a good game. I’m intrigued to see where the franchise goes from here.

 

No Man’s Sky: Survive

PlayStation have released the last trailer in its four-part series: Explore, Fight, Trade, Survive in the lead up to No Man’s Sky coming out on August 10.

The new trailer, Survive, show you’ll face not only deadly creatures and toxins but extremes in temperature. Here it is here:

There’s still a lot of uncertainty about No Man’s Sky, a lot of questions about what do you actually do apart from just flying from planet to planet, scanning the world and discovering stuff. They’re valid questions and the universe is so big the chances of actually running into another player are slim. I’ve said it before: No Man’s Sky is either going to be amazing or people will play it for a few weeks then get bored with it and move on.

What are your thoughts?

I haven’t actually done a lot of gaming lately, apart from completing the Gary Busy elusive target mission in Hitman, which, to be honest, was far too easy and over far too quickly but I have been playing around with Samsung’s Galaxy TabPro S, which is a hybrid tablet/notebook running Windows 10.

While it’s not a gaming device, it does let you stream Xbox One content to its HD screen which is nice if you can’t use the TV your Xbox Once console is connected to because someone is watching TV.  Look out for a review soon.

 

Nightdive’s System Shock remake is teasing me to back it

I never played the original System Shock which came out in 1994.

I did, however, play System Shock 2, a 1999 game that scared the bejezus out of me. I don’t think I finished it. I was too scared to finish it.

Actually, I still have the CD Rom of it in a cupboard somewhere but I’m still too scared to play it. Besides, I’m not sure the disc-based version would work on Windows 10 and if there was a hack, I’m guessing it would involve mind-boggling hard things.

System Shock was something of a watershed moment in gaming and it put the players on Citadel Station where they had to fight against cyborgs and mutated crew members created by the diabolical AI Shodan.

56731be5492e09401420454944899d53_originalNightdive Studios, an American game developer probably known most for a remaster of Turok,  has a fondness for System Shock so a few weeks ago started its Kickstarter to fund a remake of the classic game. With 15 days still to go, Nightdive has reached its target of $US900,000.

I’ve been following the Kickstarter closely, each days “Umming” and “Ahhing” on whether I should back it (mainly whether I’d play it due to its scaryness) but as each day goes by, I’m seriously contemplating plonking down $US30  which will secure me a copy of the game on either PC or Xbox One (no PS4 as of yet) when it’s released (supposedly) in December, 2017. I also think I was a little hesitant to back it yet because I wanted to wait and see whether it actually reached its target first.

As part of a sweetener for potential backers to see how much work Nightdive had already done on the remake (it’s not a remaster: A remaster has already been done), the developer released a pre-Alpha demo through GOG.com, Humble Bundle and Steam  – a proof of concept, I suppose – of System Shock on PC which offered a short, vertical slice of what sort of things to expect. I was impressed, if I’m being honest, despite it only being about 10 minutes long and me realising that my now much-outdated nVidia GTX660Ti  wouldn’t handle the finished PC version.

Sure, the demo wasn’t perfect but it showed that Nightdive were serious about making a success with this campaign and indicated what direction the developer was likely to take. Honestly, I wish more Kickstarter campaigns for video games would offer a demo of what to expect with their campaigns.

WrenchSystemshockNightdive has a few more stretch goals if the campaign reaches certain milestones before the campaign period is up (ie $1.7m will bring enemy limb dismemberment, more puzzles, ammo types/weapon settings, vending machines, basic components/research, RPG progression, weapon upgrading, hardcore mode (No respawning), ironman mode (Only 1 savegame. If you die, the save is deleted). I highly doubt it’ll reach $1.7 million – now that it’s reached its goal funding seems to have slowed down quite a bit – but the core game has been funded. That’s an important milestone.

Although the core game has been funded, it’ll be interesting to see how much Nightdive gathers in the remaining 15 days of the campaign but it’s 15 days for me to convince myself I need to back it.

If I do, I’ve then got until December, 2017 to muster up the courage to play it.

 

 

E3: The big guns come out to play

Day two of the E3 press conferences before the show proper and Microsoft and PlayStation held their press events. I woke up at 4.25am to watch the Microsoft one and I liked some of the announcements, especially the Project Scorpio console (although I’m tossing up now whether to save for a Project Scorpio console or save for one of the soon-to-be released AMD RX480 graphics cards (and probably a new motherboard to put it in).

Microsoft’s biggest cheers definitely came for the two consoles that had been rumoured but no-one really knew much about. There’s the Xbox One S, which is 40 per cent smaller than the launch Xbox One, has an internal power supply and it supports 4K Ultra HD, there’s the new console called at the moment Project Scorpio which promises “6 Teraflops”of GPU power. There’s a new Elite controller and you can customise your own one-of a kind Xbox One wireless controller but as far as Microsoft’s games went: I thought they were OK but not outstanding. I do like the cross play feature where someone with a game on Xbox One can play someone who is playing the same game on a Windows 10 laptop/PC.

Microsoft had Halo Wars 2 (I loved the first game), Dead Rising 4, Gears of War 4, Rare’s Seas of Thieves (which looks great), Forza Horizon 3 (which is set in Australia!), Recore,  Final Fantasy XV, Minecraft Realms (it was good to see famed developer John Carmack wearing a Samsung GearVR headset for this demo) and The Division Underground. All solid games but nothing really earth-shattering, in my view. That said, indie title We Happy Few looks genuinely interesting as did PlayDead’s Inside (the same developers that created Limbo).

Update: Thinking about things overnight, Xbox has scored a major win in hardware side of things by announcing Project Scorpio.  Yes, it’s 18 months or so until the console will be released (I suspect it’ll be revealed middle of next year sometime) but I’d say announcing Scorpio will really put the heat on Sony and it’s PlayStation Neo console which, I think, is due for release late this year. Microsoft are really gunning to win the console wars and build the “most powerful console ever” and looking at its speaks, it is indeed a powerful machine. It’ll be interesting to see whether Microsoft’s announcement yesterday has PlayStation worried about its Neo.

As far as games go (and let’s face it, that’s why people buy consoles/play PCs), though, for me, Sony won the battle, if there is such a thing. I love both consoles but personally, I felt that PlayStation’s games seemed a little fresher, a little more exciting.

I was pleasantly surprised to see a much older (but a bit of a dick towards his son) Kratos in the God of War reboot, The Last Guardian which seems to have been in development for decades finally got a release date, Horizon Zero Dawn looks incredible, Hideo Kojima’s new game Death Stranding which featured a naked Norman Reedus (from Walking Dead fame) wondering why he’s on a beach,  there was a very Last of Us-esque game called Days Gone which features zombies in an apocalyptic setting, Detroit Become Human (the next game from David Cage) and then there was the PS VR stuff which, frankly, made my eyes pop. I was even enthralled with the Call of Duty VR stuff that I didn’t know was actually Call of Duty until near the end (oh, and I’d easily buy a copy of Infinite Warfare just for the remastered version of Modern Warfare which has, without a doubt, the best COD mission ever in All Ghillied Up). Oh, and there’s a Batman Arkham VR game [breathe, breathe]

PlayStation has a new PS4 coming out called the Neo but nothing was show at its press event. I wonder whether PlayStation will reveal more at the Tokyo Games Show?

Looks, there’s something for fans of both consoles but for me, if I had to pick a console which had the strongest line up of games coming out, I’d put my money on PlayStation. I also liked how most of PlayStation’s press event was game footage and trailers rather than people standing on stage talking.

This is not an exhaustive list of every game announced but just those that caught my attention. Anyway, enough words. Here’s some moving pictures. Enjoy.

 

God of War (PS4):

Horizon Zero Dawn (PS4):

Infinite Warfare (ship assault):

Days Gone (PS4):

Halo Wars 2 (Xbox One):

We Happy Few (Xbox One):

Gears of War 4 (Xbox One):

 

Thoughts on what PlayStation and Xbox showed today?

Gears of War 4 MP beta

I was lucky enough to get early access to the Gears of War 4 MP beta which is happening now.

I tried to get some game time in on Sunday afternoon but there was literally no-one playing. I had better luck last night, NZ time, though, as obviously more Americans were awake and joined in.

Coming from The Coalition (much of the team worked on previous GOW games), Gears of War 4 takes place 15 years after GOW3 ended and stars JD Fenix, who is the son of GOW main character Marcus Fenix. The full games is scheduled for release on October 11.

I’m not great at MP games (regular readers will have read my piece on how my fingers just can’t keep up these days) but I played a few rounds of MP Team Deathmatch on Sunday night and my lack of MP skills didn’t disappoint but a nice touch is that once all you’ve used up all your allocated spawns you can’t rejoin the game so eventually it just becomes one against those on the opposing team (if they’ve whipped your team’s butt). The beta has three maps: Foundation, Dam and Harbour,  two game modes: Team Deathmatch and Dodgeball and there will be an open beta from April 25 to May 1.

New features include active reload all the time now, not just when you need to reload, and if you get it right it gives you a nice little XP bonus and you’re also able to pull an enemy from behind their cover and shank them. I didn’t manage to do any of that: I was too busy remembering what buttons did what on the controller it’s been so long since I’ve played any GOW MP matches. The full game will match players with a similar skill level, which suits players like me, and weapons in the beta include the lancer/hammerburst, gnasher shotgun, snub pistol and combat knife (useful for stabbing things). Chainsaw duels are here, as are the executions.

Here, watch this five-minute clip of me dying a bit but actually get a kill (or two, I think) in.

Shawn Ashmore interview: Bending time and having fun doing it

Canadian actor Shawn Ashmore is a man playing with time.

maxresdefault

The digital Shawn Ashmore as Jack Joyce.

OK, Ashmore can’t actually manipulate time in real life but thanks to his starring role as Jack Joyce in the Xbox One game Quantum Break, he’s able to bend time to his will – and he couldn’t be happier about it.

The Canadian actor, who is probably more well-know for playing Iceman in the X-Men movies and appearing in TV show The Following, was brought into Quantum Break a fair way into its development cycle (a game play trailer from E3 2014 shows a different actor playing Joyce) and he said as soon as he heard that Remedy was making the game he jumped at the chance to be involved.

“I got a phone call from my agent who told me that Microsoft Game Studios was developing a new IP. When he pitched the story I thought ‘Wow, this is bold. I’m interested” but when he told me Remedy were making the game, I instantly said: “I’m in”. I felt that the narrative was well suited to my acting style.”

shawn-ashmore-1

The real Shawn Ashmore.

Ashmore said doing motion capture for his character in Quantum Break was a challenging but a “magical” experience but he said realised early on that Remedy were doing something special with the game. He divided his performance between motion capture work in Los Angeles with co-stars The Wire and Game of Thrones Aidan Gillen (who plays Quantum Break’s villain Paul Serene and The Wire’s Lance Reddick) and facial capture work at Remedy’s headquarters in Helsinki, Finland. He said Quantum Break was double the workload for working on a movie or TV show.

“The first few days were quite strange. I was outfitted with a head rig and I felt, at first, a little out of my element but I got used to it. Doing the mo-cap felt very pure, in a sense that you had more time to rehearse scenes, go over scripts. I felt that I was a little freer to work scenes than if shooting on a movie. It wasn’t a constant shoot: Because of the nature of the work, we’d shoot a week in LA doing mo-cap then a month later I’d be in Finland.”

The actor said the biggest challenge with the mo-cap was remaining completely still while capturing his performance. “It was hard, though, as Jack goes through things that are emotional and I had to go through all that emotion while remaining still.”

Ashmore says he loved that Remedy was taking a chance by making Quantum Break,  and that the developer was open to suggestions he had about how to portray Jack Joyce.

Quantum Break_REVIEWS_Screenshot 18“I’ve got a brother [twin brother Aaron Ashmore] so I kind of drew on my relationship with him in how I thought Jack would relate to Will [Jack’s brother, Will, is played by actor Dominic Monaghan]. I tried to bring a part of me into Jack.”

Since finishing the game, Ashmore said he was pleased with the end result. “I’m happy how it played out. It was exactly what I’d wanted.”

His digital likeness in Quantum Break has also had an unexpected effect on his wife, someone who doesn’t normally play video games.

“I played QB with my wife, who’s not a gamer, and I gave her the controller and she wouldn’t give it up. She was so into it. That was a good sign: That someone who wasn’t a hardcore gamer liked it, that the narrative could pull people in.

Ashmore said it was inevitable that a game like Quantum Break, which blurred the lines between video game and TV, was made. “People want to experience things like this. Remedy has taken the best narrative parts of a video game and combined it with the cinematic style of TV. It’s not the type of game that every developer will make, though.”

“I’ve been blown away by the game. I tell people that my inner 10-year-old is jumping up and down! Seeing my likeness in the game was a really emotional experience, especially for my wife, who told me ‘This is something we’re going to be able to show our kids when you’re 60’.”

Quantum Break is out now on Xbox One and PC

** Thanks Xbox’s awesome NZ PR man who, despite me emailing him after business hours on Monday requesting a possible interview with Ashmore if he had time in his schedule, found a time for me to chat to the X-men and Quantum Break star. Big thanks, Gavin!
***  Ashmore also told me that while his QB tour was his first trip to New Zealand he has ties to the Land of the Long White Cloud. “This is only my first visit but my parents lived and worked here before I was born. They still have friends here.”

What the feck is Baba Yaga? It looks scary, that’s what

I liked Rise of the Tomb Raider. I actually liked it much better than the 2013 reboot (I liked them both, but I liked Rise better).

Last week, at The Game Awards, Crystal Dynamics revealed some story DLC that’s coming out in early 2016 and, frankly, it looks as freaky as shit, dropping Lara Croft deep in something called the Wicked Vale, somewhere deep in the wilds of Siberia.

Croft’s mission is to find a missing man, presumably part of a Soviet expedition that went missing,  but, according to information, what she finds is much, much worse: A witch called Baba Yaga.

According to Slavic legend (thanks Wikipedia), Baba Yaga is a supernatural being who appears as a deformed and/or ferocious-looking woman. The legend says Baba Yaga flies around in a ,mortar, wields a pestle and lives deep in the forest in a hut usually described as standing on chicken legs or sometimes a single chicken leg. That’ll be the creep hut that we see stalking the forest.

Apparently, though, it’s ambiguous whether Baba Yaga is out to help visitors or scare the shit out of them.

Crystal Dynamic said Baba Yaga: Temple of the Witch, will have see Lara face off against deadly new adversaries, exploring a new puzzle-filled tomb and solving a decades old mystery, all culminating in a “showdown with an ancient and mythic evil”

I don’t know about you but I’m getting the creeps already, and that’s just from watching the trailer. The add-on isn’t due until sometime next year, which means I’ve got plenty of time to get worked up about it.

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.  🙂

:

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