I had the chance to try two missions from the single-player campaign from the forthcoming “Halo 5: Guardians” for the Xbox One at a Microsoft press event last week.
The good news is that “Halo 5” is a total blast, and shakes up the fourteen-year-old Halo formula with a bunch of sweet new additions that really mix up the game’s rhythm without ruining the grenade-throwing, skull-bashing fun of the original games.
The bad news is that a lot of people aren’t going to experience “Halo 5” to its fullest, given that developer 343 Industries threw local cooperative multiplayer — one of the Halo franchise’s best features — under the bus.
Still, if the rest of the game is as fun as the brief demo I tried, Microsoft has a much-needed hit on its hands for the Xbox One game console, which has been lagging in sales behind Sony’s PlayStation 4.
The way you move
In “Halo 5,” there are two interwoven, interstellar storylines: First, long-time series protagonist Master Chief leads a fireteam of supersoldier Spartans on a secret mission, against his orders. In the Master Chief mission I played, his Firetime Blue had to clear an embattled space station of its Covenant invaders. Things go explosively wrong, of course.
Second, new Halo protagonist Spartan Locke leads his own Fireteam Osiris on his own mission to bring the rogue Master Chief back in and take him to account. This mission saw my team cross an alien landscape on foot and via some of “Halo 5″‘s sweet new flying vehicles, attacking a huge mechanical walker and fighting teleporting enemies.
Both Master Chief and Spartan Locke get a whole new set of abilities that makes the whole game a lot more kinetic. Now, you can use a thruster pack to get a quick, short boost in any direction. So if you see, say, a rocket coming towards you, a timely thruster boost can get you out of the way and back into action.
The thruster packs tie neatly into another new game mechanic. “Halo 5” introduces “Smart Sights,” which basically means looking down the barrel of your gun to aim, just like Call of Duty, only with a sci-fi flair.
If you use Smart Sights to aim while in the air, your thruster pack will kick in and you’ll get a brief moment of hangtime that can make all the difference when you’re going for an acrobatic headshot.
Plus, you can now (finally) sprint forever, which also gives you a neat new shoulder charge ability that lets you bump through shields and past enemies, Madden-style.
That level of athleticism makes its way to the rest of the game, too. Master Chief and company can finally climb up short walls and obstacles, meaning that a pile of boxes is no longer the show-stopper it once was to these supersoldiers.
And once you’ve climbed up above, a new “Spartan Slam” ability lets you bring the hurt from up high to down low. Welcome to the slam jam.
But the biggest change is probably in the form of how you work with others. In the previous “Halo” games, Master Chief worked largely alone, save for some nameless, faceless grunts. Now, both Master Chief and Spartan Locke are in command of three other soldiers, all with names and back stories, who follow your every order.
So when you’re fighting old enemies like the alien Covenant or new ones like the Forerunners, you can order the squad to attack certain enemies or fall back. And if you fall in battle, one of your squad can revive you, assuming they get there fast enough. A developer from 343 Industries told me that the idea is that your squad is your best new weapon.
“Halo 5” brings back a multiplayer cooperative mode, which has been a series staple since the first title in 2001.
But before, where the second player is usually dropped into a role as a generic, second version of Master Chief, your fellow players will inhabit the role of your squad, letting them play a bigger part. Obviously, if you don’t have any friends to play with, the computer will take them over for you.
Not playing well with others
But the real issue here is that “Halo 5” drops the ability for multiple people to play cooperatively on the same console. I have many fond memories of playing the Halo series with friends (and, occasionally, family). And I’m usually way more into playing through the main story than I am playing online.
And so, given that “Halo 5″‘s story has such a big and fun focus on working with a team, it’s a real bummer that it removes the ability to actually take advantage of what they built with people in the same room as I am.
Ultimately, that may matter less to you than it does to me. And regardless, it’s still an absolute blast.
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