Halo 5: Guardians

Xbox One

EDGE - - GAMES - Pub­lisher Mi­crosoft De­vel­oper In-house (343 In­dus­tries) For­mat Xbox One Ori­gin US Re­lease 2015

Plenty has changed for FPS mul­ti­player in 2014, the an­cient grudge match be­tween pis­tol, ri­fle, shot­gun and sniper ri­fle aug­mented by taller, more tiered are­nas, new meth­ods of tra­ver­sal, and an ar­ray of spe­cial pow­ers. Even the pan­theon of videogame guns has ad­mit­ted new mem­bers and at­tach­ments, the likes of Ti­tan­fall strap­ping the Triple Threat and Arc Can­non to its tit­u­lar mechs, and Call Of Duty: Ad­vanced War­fare up­grad­ing sights and grenades to tag en­e­mies in lurid red. Halo 5: Guardians, mean­while, elides the se­ries’ time-worn arse­nal with a suite of fluid lo­co­mo­tion tricks, while simultaneously also re­vert­ing the mis­steps of Halo 4’ s mul­ti­player.

There is much that’s fa­mil­iar, then, but there’s much still to draw from a tem­plate that once de­fined the peak of the mul­ti­player con­sole shooter. The in­fa­mous pis­tol, for in­stance, re­mains a joy to use. Wrapped in a vastly more elab­o­rate model, it’s as mur­der­ous as ever against un­shielded tar­gets, a use­ful tool to fin­ish op­po­nents whether you switch to it after emp­ty­ing a ri­fle into a player’s shield dur­ing a close-up scrap or take an op­por­tunis­tic potshot across a map.

The As­sault Ri­fle is once again a smart warm-up op­tion, wear­ing the tar­get down as you hop over re­turn fire, but no match at midrange for the Bat­tle Ri­fle’s three-round bursts – best aimed at an op­po­nent’s torso, so that the re­coil jolts the fi­nal shot up to the head. And frag grenades are still com­i­cally over­sized rub­ber pineap­ples that will strip away a shield if you can gauge the physics just right and sec­ond-guess your vic­tim’s eva­sive pat­terns.

The rhythms th­ese weapons cre­ate are but­tressed by a fa­mil­iar se­lec­tion of modes and metagame el­e­ments, some of which even pre­date Xbox 360. What’s more, 343 has re­treated from Halo 4’ s flir­ta­tions with un­lock­able abil­i­ties and perks. Pro­gres­sion is now en­tirely cos­metic, with pre­match tac­ti­cal cus­tomi­sa­tion in the modes we’ve sam­pled limited to a choice of generic load­outs. More ex­otic weapons and power-ups such as Ac­tive Camo and the Over­shield are found on the map, though drop-off points are high­lighted by in­tro­duc­tory cin­e­mat­ics and play­ers are no­ti­fied 30 seconds in ad­vance of spawns.

As likely to please longterm fans is the con­fir­ma­tion that hip­fire car­ries no penalty in

Halo 5 and that de­scop­ing is back. It’s dou­bly rel­e­vant now that all weapons support a Smart Scope mode, which gen­er­ated much con­ster­na­tion when game­play footage was leaked, though it’s lit­tle more than a glo­ri­fied vi­sor zoom that doesn’t af­fect your mo­bil­ity, un­like aim­ing down sights in COD. As such, old habits soon re­assert them­selves dur­ing rounds of Slayer on Truth, a re­work­ing of

Halo 2’ s Mid­ship, play­ers cir­cling the cen­tral plat­forms with one eye glued on the min­imap and ears pricked for the gluti­nous smack of a plasma grenade find­ing its mark.

If the gun­play hews close to old pat­terns, then, the same can­not be said for the Spar­tans’ ex­panded moveset, though the play­ing field is level for all. One of this se­ries’ strengths has al­ways been the thrill of es­cap­ing a fire­fight, ma­noeu­vring be­hind cover by in­stinct un­til the fran­tic dis­tress calls of a punc­tured shield elapse, and Halo 5 un­folds at an even more fran­tic pace than usual thanks to 343’s in­tro­duc­tion of so-called Spar­tan Abil­i­ties, which pro­voke im­me­di­ate com­par­i­son with Ad­vanced War­fare.

The least in­trigu­ing but most sig­nif­i­cant is un­lim­ited sprint­ing, which 343 co-founder Frank O’Con­nor in­sists isn’t the get-out-of­jail-free card it is in other shoot­ers: while sprint­ing, your shield doesn’t recharge, so

“The abil­i­ties add flavour; they add lay­ers to the ex­pe­ri­ence, but they’re not re­quired”

head­long flight is only worth­while if it takes you some­where safe. Sprint­ing also fills a power bar that can be con­verted into a slide move or a charg­ing melee strike, the lat­ter of which kills in­stantly if de­liv­ered from be­hind.

There’s an in­ten­tional dou­ble jump that, in con­cert with the abil­ity to grab ledges, makes it eas­ier to move to a map’s up­per lev­els at pace, and you can also hover in midair by squeez­ing the left trig­ger, while jet dodges al­low for snappy ma­noeu­vring dur­ing du­els. Most con­tro­ver­sially of all, you can hold crouch while jumping to line up a ground pound, which is deadly to any­thing di­rectly be­neath it and in­flicts mod­est splash dam­age. It en­cap­su­lates the tweaks at Halo 5’ s heart, be­ing a means of quick tra­ver­sal that dou­bles as a dev­as­tat­ing of­fen­sive move, but it’s by no means un­stop­pable – miss and the fuss of your ar­rival should en­sure swift ret­ri­bu­tion.

The stu­dio is con­scious that such tweaks may hor­rify re­turn­ing fans, and is quick to as­sert that the new abil­i­ties merely build on what al­ready works for the fran­chise. “The goal was to in­te­grate the mo­bil­ity into the map de­sign, so you have a lot more con­trol and free­dom,” says cre­ative di­rec­tor Tim

Longo, a re­cent Mi­crosoft Stu­dios hire and veteran of Star Wars: Repub­lic Com­mando. “And then the of­fen­sive abil­i­ties, like Spar­tan charge and ground pound, are for fan­tasy ful­fil­ment as well as be­ing good fin­ish­ers.”

The de­sign­ers have been care­ful not to over­write Halo’s feel, Longo says. “We had var­i­ous ideas early in de­vel­op­ment, and the ones that made it were those that gelled with the [es­tab­lished me­chan­ics]. We didn’t want to in­un­date play­ers with too many things, but rather give them depth. So you say, ‘Oh, I’ll try this one this time, and maybe in the next game I’ll do it more’.”

Stu­dio head Josh Holmes is equally quick to as­suage fears: “The abil­i­ties add flavour; they add lay­ers to the ex­pe­ri­ence, but they’re not re­quired, so you can start play­ing the game as you’ve al­ways played Halo.”

It will be many months be­fore such claims can be ver­i­fied, but our close-fought bat­tles on the beta’s three launch-day maps do hit plenty of fa­mil­iar notes. None of the abil­i­ties seem to dom­i­nate: to counter the risk of aerial am­bushes, say, there’s a short wind-up on the ground pound that leaves you vul­ner­a­ble for a cru­cial sec­ond, plus a dy­namic chat­ter sys­tem to alert you to the threats around you. Both prove in­valu­able on Em­pire, a new rooftop map that over­looks a rag­ing ur­ban in­sur­rec­tion, and whose ramps, pipes and plat­forms cre­ate plenty of op­por­tu­ni­ties for dive-bombing Spar­tans. The com­par­a­tively level Cross­fire pays the new moves less mind, and old-fash­ioned close-quarters bat­tles soon erupt inside the fortresses to ei­ther flank.

If the Spar­tan Abil­i­ties feel un­ob­tru­sive at this stage, how­ever, that could re­flect the beta’s fo­cus on four-on-four du­elling, and that Halo has al­ways been an ag­ile shooter. More heav­ily pop­u­lated spats may be more chaotic, and 343 has plenty to prove on this count: as ac­com­plished as Halo 4’ s on-foot gun­play was, it couldn’t touch Bungie’s work for larger-scale bat­tles and ve­hic­u­lar war­fare. Still, there’s lots of time to in­tro­duce and per­fect such modes be­fore Halo 5’ s ex­pected re­lease win­dow of au­tumn 2015.

Halo5’ s cam­paign is partly the tale of Jame­son Locke, ‘leg­endary man­hunter’ and quasi-se­cret po­lice­man – an in­trigu­ing break from John117’s spot­less hero­ism

Tim Longo, cre­ative di­rec­tor, 343 In­dus­tries

The ground pound’s sheer showi­ness may an­noy tra­di­tion­al­ists, but it’s both chal­leng­ing to use – you’re vul­ner­a­ble while aim­ing its ret­i­cle and im­me­di­ately after im­pact – and sat­is­fy­ing

The Smart Scope mode on the left trig­ger isn’t quite the same as aim­ing down sights, but there’s the same penalty to pe­riph­eral vi­sion

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