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Spartan Locke: The Game

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    Halo 5: Guardians

    Rating: 4.0 – Great

    Spartan Locke: The Game

    343 Industries created a polarizing entry in the Halo series when Halo 4 came on the scene a few years back. The game was praised for various reasons and criticized for others, making it a game that Halo fans either loved or hated, with very little in-between. I was one of the gamers that loved Halo 4, and consider it one of the best Halo experiences to date.

    Because of this, I was especially excited for Halo 5: Guardians. I was less excited when it was announced that split-screen was getting the axe, but even with that really terrible decision, Halo 5: Guardians is a great entry in the series, and perhaps the most significant exclusive of 2015.

    First off, allow me to discuss the campaign. General consensus on the campaign seems to be split, but overall, I think that the campaign in Halo 5 is one of the better campaigns in the series. The fact that players spend most of it playing as Spartan Locke instead of Master Chief may leave a bad taste in the mouth of some, as Microsoft’s marketing for the game doesn’t state this at all, but the level design is superb.

    Each mission feels like a grand event, and is constantly throwing new gameplay mechanics at the player. There are some elements that are repeated, with boss fights being particularly repetitive, but even so, the campaign never gets boring. The game has a good balance of fights against Covenant forces and Prometheans, with the enemies requiring different strategies to defeat.

    Players have a variety of new abilities at their disposal that they can use to take down these foes. These include a new traversal system that allows for easier movement throughout the game world, as well as the ground pound attack, though the latter is not terribly useful and is more flash than substance.

    While the campaign is well-designed for the most part from a gameplay standpoint, there is one major issue, and that has to do with the new focus on squad gameplay. At all times, there are four main characters involved in every mission, and when playing solo, players have to contend with their horrendously dumb AI. While the enemies are smart as they usually are in Halo, the ally AI across the board is just atrocious. This wouldn’t be such a big deal if the game allowed split-screen co-op, but it doesn’t, so those that don’t have friends with an Xbox One and a copy of the game are stuck dealing with the dumb ally AI.

    This also fundamentally changes the way that players approach Halo. Past Halo games saw players waiting around for their friends to respawn before continuing, but reviving teammates is a major focus in Halo 5. This actually helps the game’s pace, as there are never times when players are just hiding in corners waiting for their teammates to respawn, as it is up to them to make sure their teammates are revived so that they may continue the level.

    Overall, the campaign is, from a gameplay standpoint, easily one of the best Halo campaigns ever. The quality of the story is debatable. There are some story developments that longtime Halo fans are probably not going to like, but it does set up the sequel very well, and has plenty of interesting developments for the Halo universe at large. The Legendary ending is particularly compelling, and makes the wait for Halo 6 that much more agonizing.

    But, speaking at the Halo universe at large, the Halo 5 plot suffers by not following exactly from where Halo 4 left off. The developers also don’t fill in the blanks in-game; players are expected to be familiar with the web series and the novels, the Halo expanded universe, in order to fully understand what is going on in Halo 5. Halo 5 begins with Master Chief hanging out with three other Spartans that he knew as a child, when previously, players were told that all the Spartans were dead. How did they meet? And how the hell did Buck from ODST become a Spartan?The answers to these questions aren’t found in Halo 5, and if they are, they’re buried far too deep in the game to even be appreciated.

    While the campaign may leave some with mixed feelings, the multiplayer is, quite simply, the best multiplayer in series history. In fact, the multiplayer in Halo 5: Guardians is perhaps the best multiplayer I’ve ever experienced in video gaming. It has near perfect balance, and seems to be the most skill-based multiplayer game available on consoles today.

    While Halo 4’s turn to more Call of Duty-esque features upset some, Halo 5 smartly moves more towards classic Halo, while also meeting Call of Duty in the middle. For example, in Call of Duty games, players die extremely fast, whereas in older Halo games, it can take a lot to kill someone. Guardians is somewhere in between those two philosophies, and it hits a sweet spot that makes it one of the most satisfying and challenging multiplayer experiences ever.

    There are plenty of great maps, though many lack personality, and there’s also a lot of engaging game modes. Some fan favorite multiplayer match types are MIA right now, though 343 has already added in Big Team Battle on top of the on-disc offerings, along with a couple of new multiplayer match types that are, for the most part, great additions to the Halo franchise.

    Breakout is one new multiplayer match type that only gives players one life per round. A round is won by either delivering a flag (located in the center of the map) to the opponent’s base, or eliminating all the players on the enemy team. These matches are incredibly intense and highlight the best aspects of the Halo 5: Guardians multiplayer. The team that plays smarter will win; there’s no spawn camping to complain about or anything like that.

    The other new multiplayer type takes more than few cues from Titanfall. It is called Warzone, and features large teams of players against each other, along with a slew of AI-controlled bots throughout the map that players can engage in as well. The wrinkle that helps this map have its own flavor outside of Titanfall are the various objectives that players can complete as well, as well as the boss fights that are worth many points if they’re successfully completed.

    The problem here, as is the problem with the campaign, is that the ally AI is absolutely stupid. I understand that the bots need to be toned down so they don’t get too many kills, but there were numerous times when I saw my teammates shooting endlessly at an already killed enemy. The Halo franchise once prided itself on having some of the most well-designed AI in the industry, and seeing it like this is saddening.

    And speaking of saddening, the lack of split-screen. Split-screen has been a staple of the Halo franchise since the very beginning, and abandoning it was the wrong move on the part of 343. I’m not sure why the game couldn’t "handle" split-screen, as games that look better, such as Star Wars Battlefront, seems to utilize split-screen without too much trouble. And if it was a matter of better graphics or split-screen? Split-screen everyday.

    In any case, the graphics are indeed very good looking in Halo 5: Guardians, with breathtaking environments, incredibly detailed characters, and gorgeous particle effects. The game’s beautiful graphics are complemented by a stupendous soundtrack that hits all the right beats, as is typical of the series.

    The campaign is incredibly short, however, and can be completed in about 4 hours on the normal difficulty setting. Most of the achievements revolve around players redoing the campaign, which is a shame, as a game like this should really encourage completionists to explore the multiplayer more, in my opinion.

    343 is supporting the game post-launch with free maps and new game types, which should help it maintain its community much better than Halo 4 did back in the day. The free content so far has been pretty great, and has included remakes of classic Halo maps. Furthermore, a huge update for the game is coming very soon, which will add the most ambitious version of Forge yet to Guardians. This will open up even more replayability possibilities for Guardians, and should be very exciting for fans. This free content, however, does come at somewhat of a price, as the game does have microtransactons, though they are fairly unobtrusive and are not pay to win.

    Overall, Halo 5: Guardians is another great entry in the storied Halo franchise. It is gorgeous, has a wonderful soundtrack, has a very well-designed campaign, and possibly the best multiplayer I have ever played across any series. The lack of split-screen and bad ally AI are the major flaws that the game has, but hopefully these issues can be addressed in the inevitable Halo 6. In the meantime, this is an easy recommendation to anyone that owns an Xbox One, as it is quite possibly the system’s most significant exclusive title to date.

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