Post Script

Halo 5’s move­ment up­dates re­store the bal­ance of ear­lier games

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Halo 5’ s move­ment sys­tem rep­re­sents the most con­certed and fun­da­men­tal over­haul of the se­ries’ base me­chan­ics since it be­gan in 2001. It’s a sig­nif­i­cant step, if only be­cause the suc­cess of Halo, more than most shoot­ers, has been founded on its per­fectly judged mo­tion and aim­ing. Since the start, the way Mas­ter Chief has moved through the world and ze­roes in on en­e­mies has been a mix of metic­u­lous­ness and lux­ury. It is just so, a feed­back loop of plea­sure akin to that of steer­ing a per­fectly bal­anced car, or watch­ing an oiled chain glide over gears, the sat­is­fac­tion of in­ter­act­ing with a tuned and ef­fi­cient ma­chine.

Ini­tially, the Chief couldn’t sprint – un­likely for an aug­mented su­persoldier, but an ab­sence that gifted Halo a sense of calm and steadi­ness. Field ex­per­tise in mul­ti­player com­bat was hard won, a mat­ter of know­ing the maps and their oc­ca­sional shortcuts. The only mas­ter­able skill was the game’s crouch jump, a way of tuck­ing the Chief’s legs into his body at the apex of a jump to reach higher ledges, a rough-cut back door into ad­vanced ma­noeu­vra­bil­ity.

This move­ment sys­tem im­pressed a par­tic­u­lar shape onto the se­ries’ geo­met­ric de­sign. The mul­ti­player are­nas for the first three Halo games are dom­i­nated by flat sur­faces, squares and ramps. They are, at the small and per­sonal end away from the ve­hic­u­lar com­bat, in­tri­cate solid mazes of lay­ers, ex­its and just-jumpable dis­tances. Cold Stor­age, Lock­out, Guardian, Epi­taph: all are beau­ti­fully ex­e­cuted pieces of ar­chi­tec­ture that mesh with a set of move­ment pa­ram­e­ters that dic­tates steady speed and heavy grav­ity, pro­duc­ing the clas­sic, el­e­gant com­bat for which Halo is known.

Then, with Halo: Reach, the sys­tem changed. It’s tough to stay stand­ing still, even el­e­gantly, and the enor­mous im­pact of 2007’s Call Of Duty 4: Mod­ern War­fare made breath­less, fran­tic com­bat an in­dus­try de­fault. Reach re­acted with the in­tro­duc­tion of Ar­mour Abil­i­ties, powerups that in­cluded move­ment aug­men­ta­tions such as a lim­ited dash, jet­pack boost­ing and an eva­sive roll. Halo 4 then made the sprint­ing a per­ma­nent fix­ture and also re­tained jet­packs and a thruster boost for dodg­ing as Abil­i­ties.

With the ar­rival of Halo 5’ s more thor­oughly re­designed move­ment sys­tem, it’s now clear that this was Halo in cri­sis. By break­ing up the uni­for­mity of ma­noeu­vra­bil­ity, Reach and Halo 4 dis­rupted the core of Halo’s mul­ti­player, which had up to this point been about map con­trol. Sprint­ing ef­fec­tively shrank the size of maps, but only for cer­tain play­ers, while jet­packs rewrote the rules of ver­ti­cal en­gage­ment. Those solid mazes could be by­passed with a but­ton press, and the crit­i­cal skill of read­ing Halo’s radar, in­ter­pret­ing 3D space and an­tic­i­pat­ing enemy move­ment us­ing a 2D indi­ca­tor was lost. What was gained seemed to be speed for speed’s sake – more dash­ing about and en­ergy, but no sys­tem to make it mean­ing­ful.

The con­sole shooter is now post- Call Of Duty, in as much as the ef­fect of Mod­ern War­fare’s haste and di­rect­ness has set­tled into some­thing like a new con­sen­sus. Ti­tan­fall, built by the key cre­ative minds be­hind Mod­ern War­fare, re­pop­u­larised mix­ing dou­ble­jumps and wall run­ning into the FPS moveset. It was a lib­er­a­tion of the pad-steered first­per­son sol­dier, no longer con­demned to dash along the ground un­til dead. Ad­vanced War­fare’s Exo Suit made Ti­tan­fall’s flir­ta­tion with freerun­ning seem less like an ex­cep­tion and more like the new stan­dard, be­fore Halo’s old mas­ters at Bungie con­firmed it with Des­tiny, a game that in­ter­prets ver­ti­cal move­ment as var­i­ously dou­ble-jump­ing, triple­jump­ing, hov­er­ing, and blink­ing. The top tier of the con­sole first­per­son shooter genre is now as much about mov­ing as it is about shoot­ing. Which has al­ways been true, of course, and Halo has known since the be­gin­ning. And in Halo 5, the se­ries once again has a sys­tem that re­flects that truth and mea­sures up to the com­pe­ti­tion. Halo 5’ s Spar­tans can sprint for­ever, clam­ber up chest-high ledges, and boost dash in any di­rec­tion. Their new thrusters also en­able them to slam to the ground from a jump, hover mo­men­tar­ily while aim­ing, and shoul­der charge. This moveset is uni­form, un­like the old Ar­mour Abil­i­ties, pre­serv­ing Halo’s level play­ing field and, cru­cially, making it pos­si­ble to de­sign maps around one set of tra­ver­sal abil­i­ties. The space around the com­bat is once again tuned specif­i­cally to the pa­ram­e­ters of pos­si­ble move­ment within that space, and as a re­sult Halo 5’ s Arena maps look again like Lock­out and Guardian – square-cut geography for skilled, ver­ti­cally re­strained bat­tle – and Arena is again a tus­sle for map con­trol.

Best of all, noth­ing about the sys­tem feels like a short­cut. Clam­ber­ing and the boost­ing are ways of making move­ment more fluid, but – like the crouch jump, and un­like the jet­pack – they are still locked to an es­sen­tial, re­as­sur­ing grav­ity. Halo 5 is tac­tile, and it never feels as though we are dis­en­gaged from the ring of heavy boots stomp­ing through its metal cor­ri­dors. Rather than a fly­away ab­strac­tion, there is a dex­ter­ous plea­sure to mas­ter­ing the new ma­noeu­vra­bil­ity op­tions, chain­ing boosts and sprints, jumps and climbs. And so, like the mul­ti­player at large, it feels as though 343 has done a re­mark­able thing, giv­ing us a Halo that lives up to the de­mands of the mar­ket­place in which it finds it­self, and yet de­liv­ers an al­lu­sive feel­ing of a game we once knew. The Chief moves bet­ter than ever, and yet some­how feels just like he al­ways has.

Halo 5 is tac­tile; we never feel dis­en­gaged from the ring of boots stomp­ing through its metal cor­ri­dors

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