Five is set eight months after Halo 4 and, with what is described as “mysterious events threatening the galaxy”, the game will bring an expansion to the fundamental Halo canon.
Having built a new game engine specifically for the Xbox One, game developer 343 was committed to ensuring the game ran at 60fps in campaign and multiplayer modes. Alongside Master Chief there is a large supporting cast to drive the story and help expand the Halo universe. Crucially, this allows the game’s narrative to be told from two perspectives.
THE TWO TEAMS
Master Chief heads the Blue team, with whom he has teamed up following the loss of Cortana at the end of Halo 4. His three surrogate brother and sister Spartans each have different skills that are reflected through their characters. Having gone awol, Chief’s team is being pursued by Fireteam Osiris, led by Spartan Jameson Locke, in a four-person squad including a welcome return for Edward Buck, again voiced by Nathan Fillion who proved so popular in ODST. The additional characters allow the game to be played individually or in up to four-player co-op mode.
CO-OP AND AI
In single-player mode, the Fireteam is run by AI and allows the player to give simple orders to the squad: go here, attack that, revive, drive vehicle – it’s intuitive and not over-complicated and does not divorce gamers from the action as some AI controlled squad-based shooters can do. In co-op mode, the ability to revive injured comrades (incentivised with a reward) is particularly clever, reinforcing a sense of teamwork. Conversations with the team are dynamic, reacting to the plot around you, and it was pleasing to act as a team in combat – even more so with human companions in co-op. A level may be completed more quickly this way, but there is a real sense of teamwork and achievement.
NEW AND OLD
Old foes the Covenant return, but now resurgent and eager to reimpose themselves, while the Prometheans that made their debut in Halo 4 have also received an upgrade with new enemies on the agenda. As well as Buck, there is also a welcome return for the ever-popular Arbiter, who is continuing his war with the Covenant, albeit in a non-speaking role. The new Spartan abilities debuted with the multiplayer beta remain, with the campaign-specific ones of revive and tracking added. Classic multiplayer features are in place, although new arenas now feature what is described as more “verticality”, which works well, offering a more three-dimensional way of playing. A further announcement of a brand new multiplayer experience will be made at the E3 Expo. Finally, having sacrificed herself to save the Chief, does Cortana return? Well, she certainly features on some level, with a cut scene, possibly sub-concious or hallucinatory, revealing her announcing: “The reclamation is about to begin.”
LEVELS AND LOOKS
New locations and levels have been designed with single player and co-op in mind. The mapping on many is bigger than usual, offering alternative routes and ways to achieve objectives. These make them longer, more involved and offer more in replay value both through finding different routes and completing them in co-op. In the latter the difficulty scales up according to the number of human players – with four, for example, the volume and skill of the enemy threat increases, while the larger playing field encourages players to go through in pairs to achieve the goal by different routes. In terms of look, Guardians is a huge step forward. While playing in campaign and investigating a Research and Development vessel, the Argent Moon, the detail, foreground and back, were quite breathtaking. The sense of grandeur and immersion even by Halo standards is hugely impressive and in combat the improvement that running at 60fps has engendered is palpable.
Always a hugely important part of the Halo experience, the soundtrack has been composed by Kazuma Jinnouchi, including a re-recording of the classic Halo theme at Abbey Road studios that features a rather pleasing piano motif providing a counterpoint to the traditional operatic sweep. Forty thousand lines of dialogue have been recorded – more than on any other Halo title – and with an intent to be more immersive, 343 has re-recorded the sound of guns and bullets in different locations, indoors and outdoors, recorded falling debris and even huddled beneath a culvert to capture the sound of live rounds passing overhead. Even Locke has his own theme, a suitably militaristic piece of bombast that would be at home in the opening titles of a blockbuster movie.
guardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010