Review: ‘Halo 5’ underwhelming

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By Caitlin Piperx-3-5-stars

What does the modern game industry have against split-screen co-op, anyway?

Back in my day, if I wanted to play a game with a friend and couldn’t be bothered to find an extra controller, I had to wrestle with a 50-foot Ethernet cable and perform a blood sacrifice before little Billy from down the street could shoot me in the face and tell me how much he enjoyed his late-night tryst with my mother. Now I have to spend half an hour sending smoke signals to my Internet service provider before some 9-year-old in Guatemala can shoot me in the back and tell me how much I suck. The world’s going to the dogs.

I have to wonder what they were thinking when they neglected to include such a staple in “Halo 5: Guardians,” the latest in the series of highly influential runny-stabby sci-fi shooters that also have a plot sometimes.

That’s not to say “Guardians” doesn’t do a lot of things well. And truthfully, most of you who are reading this probably just want me to shut up and tell you whether or not the online multiplayer is utterly broken. But in a beloved franchise built on either A) shooting your friends, or B) blasting the confetti out of some aliens before “accidentally” shooting your friends, the omission is particularly glaring.

But enough of my nitpicking. How’s the other 99 percent of the game? The good news is that developer 343 Industries added a few changes to the familiar “Halo” formula. The bad news is that developer 343 Industries added a few changes to the familiar “Halo” formula.

Most of these tweaks manage to be unobtrusive if not outright good, but some of them fall flat and some of them crash and burn. Perhaps the most noticeable of these changes is the addition of three AI-controlled teammates who will follow you to space and back, for better or for worse.

While they usually know to stay out of your way and shoot at things that are trying to shoot at you, more than once did I find one of these guys standing off in some desolate corner of one of the (admittedly beautiful) 15 levels picking his nose with an energy sword while I tried desperately not to die.

An occasional glitch wouldn’t have been so bad if not for the dreaded rescue system. Every once in a while, a firefight would screech to a halt when I took one too many bullets to the sternum or tripped over a space root and had to wait for a twitching AI partner to drag me back up before either of us died.

Spoiler: It usually ended in death.

And so I would be tossed back to the last checkpoint and left to ponder if that kid from Guatemala was right. Thirty seconds of my life gone because I couldn’t just die instantly in an explosion of hilarious ragdoll physics like any other manly man space marine.

This feature was clearly intended to keep the action going in high-risk battles, but it winds up having the exact opposite effect.

The system is almost saved by some smile-worthy banter between the characters as well as the option for a friend or three to drop in at any time for some instant multiplayer. But the latter feels unpolished and serves as a sorry reminder of just how weird it feels to play a “Halo” game without split-screen co-op.

I thought it was a truth universally acknowledged that escort missions should have been thrown in a bag and dropped off a bridge over a decade ago, but here we are.

The plot also leaves much to be desired. I sure hope you read up on your “Halo” lore, chief, because it’s all on the test. Much of the story relies on the assumption that the player is familiar with the game’s predecessors, and while not particularly convoluted, much of the narrative feels disjointed and underdeveloped.

There’s potential here, but writing as someone who believes that the overarching plot of the “Halo” series is surprisingly decent, this one needs some work. Don’t even get me started on the gratuitous cliffhanger ending.

That being said, the online multiplayer is exactly what we’ve come to expect from the series that popularized online console gaming. I could go into greater detail, but all I’m going to tell you is that you should skip the formalities and just jump straight into Warzone, a 12v12 bloodbath that flings you into boss fights and base fights and any other number of space-themed shenanigans with an energy the main campaign sorely lacks. This feature alone was worth the price of admission.

Overall, “Halo 5: Guardians” really feels like a game done in by its own legacy. Nothing about it is exactly bad, but when compared to its predecessors, it’s clear that it just doesn’t hold up. Many of my criticisms are more nitpicks than complaints; ways to make a good game great in a series of great games.

If you liked a previous “Halo,” you’ll like “Guardians.” But don’t expect to be blown away by anything. It’s a perfectly competent baby brother or sister straining under the pressure of the overwhelming success of its older siblings, but that doesn’t make it a failure by any means.

The single-player campaign is mildly entertaining when you aren’t being forced to babysit three dopey beefcakes. The levels are gorgeous eye candy, and the online multiplayer is a blast.

While not perhaps worth the full $60 price tag, fans new and old will enjoy themselves while those unfamiliar with the series should probably check out one of the earlier games first.

Just don’t ask about Cortana.

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