If there is any developer that has the weight of the world on their shoulders, it is undoubtedly Microsoft’s 343 Studios. They made quite a statement with Halo 4 on the Xbox 360, showing that they definitely had the “chops” to carry the Halo torch. However, their recent release, The Master Chief Collection for the Xbox One, has put them under heavy scrutiny as a result of the numerous problems the game has faced, and is still facing to this day. These recent problems aren’t exactly how you want to enter a new generation of consoles.We’re talking about a franchise that has traditionally been the torch bearer and king of the shooter genre on consoles, now struggling to take a foothold amongst a new generation of consoles and stiff competition. If the multiplayer beta that is currently running is any indication of how they are handling all of this pressure, I think that they will be just fine as the game is off to an awesome start.
The beta gives players a chance to check out two of Halo 5’s game types across seven different maps. The game types don’t really break the mold of tradition for the genre, being Team Slayer and Breakout. Team Slayer is nothing more than your basic Team Deathmatch, as two teams race to accumulate a set number of kills. Breakout, although new to the Halo franchise, is familiar as well. This mode has two teams of four facing off in a series of 2-minute, single elimination rounds; once you’re killed, you’re out until the next round. While these modes are pretty much what you would expect, the finer details of the game are what takes things to the next level for the franchise.
Beauty is in the eye of the beholder
As expected, the game looks phenomenal and it runs extremely smoothly, even in beta form, on the Xbox One. The series has always been known for its high level of detail in the characters and the environments, and that isn’t changing in the new chapter. The Spartan suits, in particular look better than ever and have evolved to highlight more fluid motions and details. I love the Master Chief as much as anyone, but he was really just a big, green tank with very little character when it comes to his visual appeal (personality is a completely different story). The new version of the Spartan is sleeker and ultimately faster than anything that we have seen before.
The increased level of detail is also noticeable in the weapons, both in their physical design and their impact on the game’s hud. The beta features a variety of weapons, nearly all of them being familiar to fans of the franchise. However, they all look and feel incredibly fresh. The most noticeable changes, visually, are prevalent when you zoom into your scope or look down the sites. You really get a good feeling of being behind that barrel or scope and that you are in control of the firearm. There is a distinct difference in the overall feel of shooting from the hip or zooming in, as their should be. I would argue that it is probably more noticeable in this game than any other shooter in recent memory.
There are a lot of fine points to take in around the maps as well. It doesn’t seem like much when you look at the new maps, because it is all fresh to players, but when you look at the new version of Midship (Truth), you will see what I mean. The level has always been set in a Covenant ship, but now it seems more high-tech and alien than ever before. There are a lot of holographic images and instrument panels scattered throughout the map now that really sets the tone for the map. The surfaces also have a shiner / metallic finish to them, really giving you the futuristic feel.
Do you hear what I hear?
The sound design is as good and more important than ever in the world of Halo. 343 has taken some cues from their competition and implemented AI chatter into the experience which works wonders in improving the team gameplay. There is nothing worse than trying to function as a team with other players who remain completely silent online; that isn’t nearly as much as an issue now as each player will call out cues and announcements based on the events around them. Things like enemy location and the deployment of a grenade are announced amongst your team, giving you valuable intel about the world around you.
Other announcements are made by the game’s announcer (even though he does sound a little too enthusiastic to be commentating a battle of life and death). Halo isn’t straying from the classic formula of starting players off on an even level; there are no specialized layouts here as everyone starts with the exact same guns and grenades. If you want a different weapon you are going to have to hunt it down during the course of action. This means that the most powerful weapons are a bit limited in their availability (you don’t want everyone having one, do you?).
The announcer will let you know when the more powerful things like the sniper rifle and the rocket launcher are spawning; he will even give a countdown to the exact moment when it is available. This makes for some interesting battles as teamsd strategically try to control certain areas of the map so that they can get their hands on these guns. The announcer also calls out kills and momentous streaks for the entire roster of players to hear. This isn’t anything new for the series but it has been expanded in Halo 5. There are a ton more medals and notable events that will be acknowledged such as drawing fire away from a teammate that results in a kill for your team and different assist-types.
Shiny new toys and tools
As you have undoubtedly seen in the trailers and videos of the game released thus far, the Spartan armor is packing some new abilities. The most notable of these is the new ability to boost in nearly every direction. Taking a page from other games like Titanfall and Advanced Warfare, Halo 5’s new boost ability both increases your agility on the battlefield and speeds up the experience as a whole. Using the boost you can essentially dash, both on the ground and in the air, in any direction that you wish. Don’t expect to spam it though because while you may be able to use is an unlimited number of times, there is a 5 second recharge required between boosting instances.
The boost can be used for dashing melee kills and even the ultra-cool ground pound ability. This move is every bit as cool as it looks in the videos online, but it isn’t exactly the most practical maneuver in the Spartan arsenal. Nailing a boosted ground pound on an opponent is a rarity and one of those things that happens every once in a while to great fanfare. Master it, and you have the ultimate exclamation point for your arsenal; abuse it and you will be a sitting duck for every enemy in your vicinity. It is a risk versus reward type situation, with each side being an extreme end of the spectrum, you either win big or pay the ultimate price.
Although it is a bit similar to those other games, things feel a bit different here with the boost. The ability seems perfectly balanced both in its timing and effect, preventing players from really abusing the feature. In the course of an intense firefight, you will only be able to get one, maybe two, uses out of eat before one of you dies; therefore you really have to make the most of it while you can. It can really change the tide of battle, getting you into cover at the last second before you are taken out or closing the gap between you and a player for that oh-so-satisfying melee kill.
There are a few other minor additions that go a long way at improving the experience as well. First off, sprinting is back from Halo 4. The increase in speed is really nominal at best and, like the boost, is really just a small tool to assist you in getting out of danger. Another addition, ledge clamoring, is sort of a dream come true for Halo players, nearly eliminating the constant annoyance of just missing those risky jumps between ledges. You will almost always make them now, which does help you in getting from point a to point b, but if you are in a position that you need to clamor, you will be vulnerable to a second or two. This can be both a life saver and a detriment, depending on the situation.
The long wait until Fall
All of these things add up to a refreshing and exhilarating Halo experience. 343 has managed to weave in the new trends of the industry without abandoning the traditions of the series. Everyone starts on the same level, no different loadouts for each player and no special abilities separating the newbs from the veterans. These are the things that competitive Halo is built upon and, thankfully, what Halo 5 is rooted with. I just hope that this same blend of frantic, high-speed gameplay with the classic, patented Halo feel makes its way to both the campaign and cooperative modes of the game. If that happens, and the final version of the game ends up being as enjoyable as this beta test has been, then the issues we’ve experienced with the Master Chief Collection will be a distant memory. The pressure is on 343, that is for sure; now we just wait until Fall.
* The product in this article was sent to us by the developer/company.
Guess who's back!!! If you have been here before, you know the basics: lifelong gamer, father, and of course, former certified news monkey. I still consider myself all of those things, just maybe not in the grand scale that I once did. I’ve been blogging on the industry for more than decade now, in some form or another. It wasn't until I landed here at Gaming Nexus that I really dove in head first. Now, writing about games has become what I do for fun (and sometimes work) and something I intend on doing until the day I die (in some form or another).
I'm a huge fan of just about everything you can interact with using a controller, no matter how old or new, good or bad. If you put it in front of me, I will play it (at least once).