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Halo 5: Guardians Game Review

Exclusive to Xbox One
As if Halo: The Master Chief Collection
wasn’t bursting with goodness already, the Christmas period bought
something extra that Halo fans would find unmissable: access to a
limited beta of Halo 5’s multiplayer. It’s a glimpse of the Halo we
should be playing towards the end of 2015, with a weekly programme of
maps, modes and challenges. We’re now into the second week with another
week to go, and it’s already clear that Halo 5 multiplayer sees some
major changes from Halo 4, not just in terms of what has been added, but
also in terms of what has been taken away.

Let’s get the most
significant changes out of the way. For the first time Halo 5 has a
Call-of-Duty aim-down-sights view when you squeeze the left trigger,
though 343 Industries describes it as a ‘smart scope’. It works across
all weapons though the degree of zoom and narrowing of vision differs
according to the weapon type and sights, so that those weapons with the
biggest zoom also have the most limiting effects on vision.

See also: Halo 5: Guardians tips and tricks

Halo 5 beta
At
first it feels alien, like a chunk of Call of Duty grafted onto Halo
multiplayer, but with time you realise that some serious thought has
gone into smart scope and how it’s used. Zooming in lessens the spread
of bullets, making your fire more accurate at distance, but you need to
work out whether the benefits outweigh the loss of vision and response
time when an enemy appears at mid to close-range. Use smart scope all
the time and it will simply get you killed, but learn how to use it when
it works and fire from the hip when it doesn’t and you’ll find that it
enhances your long-range capabilities without compromising your chances
at close quarters.

343 Industries has also been looking at
movement. That doesn’t mean jetpacks (already seen in Halo 4 and Halo:
Reach) or a Titanfall/Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare-style emphasis on vertical
spaces, but it does mean making movement faster and more fluid. Spartans
now have the ability to jump up to and mantle onto ledges or platforms,
for example, plus a continuous sprint move, though one that comes at
the cost of shields recharging. There’s a cool slide move for those
heedless rushes into combat, plus a thruster pack that can boost you
quickly in any direction, either on the ground or in the air.

See also: Xbox One vs PS4

Halo 5 beta
These
new abilities tie into some offensive moves as well, with a new
shoulder charge move when you’re sprinting that can knock out enemy
shields, and a ground pound for dealing massive damage from above.
Finally, activate smart scope while in the air and the thrust pack kicks
in to give you a few precious seconds of hovering; perfect for a final
blast at an enemy with shields down, even if it does leave you an
obvious target.

Additional features and abilities are one thing,
but Halo 5 is just as notable for what has been removed. The divisive
armour abilities and load-outs of Halo 4 are gone, meaning every Spartan
in Arena mode starts with the same weapons, the same capabilities and a
level playing field. Some will mourn the loss of the customisation and
tactical choices they added to Halo 4, but their removal puts the
emphasis back on skill – and Halo 5 seems very much a skill-focused
shooter.

See also: Upcoming Xbox One games 2015
Halo 5 beta
How
much do these changes affect the gameplay? Well, Halo 5 still feels
like Halo, and it hasn’t lost its character as a shoot-from-the-hip,
run-and-gun shooter just because you can now aim down your sights. You
might notice, however, a bigger emphasis on mid-range and long-range
combat; something which the new maps appear to tie into.

Week 1
bought us a Team Slayer mode playlist with Truth, a variation on Halo
2’s Midship with a few changes to accommodate the new movement
capabilities, and Empire, a map set on a skyscraper with a range of
levels, choke-zones and sniper-friendly vantage points to explore. Week 2
has replaced them with Regret and Eden, effectively variations on
similar themes, and both a little prone to tiresome camp-and-snipe
behaviour. The trick is to keep moving, avoid the open killzones and
take full advantage of the power weapons which appear sporadically, but –
particularly in Eden – you’ll find that well-organised teams can
dominate the high-ground, cover a wide range of angles and tackle their
opponents at long-range.

See also: Xbox One vs Xbox 360

Halo 5 beta
Week
2 also added a new game mode, Breakout, that’s clearly designed for
maximum e-sports appeal. Two teams of four are literally catapulted at
each other across a long, thin, deliberately simplified map, with no
radar, no respawn and no objectives beyond taking the other team down
before they do the same to you. It’s the competitive FPS at its most
stripped-down and basic, but it can be thrilling with a competent team.
The trick is communication. Halo 5’s new auto-chatter system means that
your Spartans will point out enemies and comment on kills and assists
even when the players stay silent, but a team that calls out enemy
positions and warns about potential ambushes can make a breakout victory
much more likely.

If you’re expecting an Xbox One showcase at
this point, then the Halo 5 beta might come as a mild disappointment. A
new lighting system and the most detailed Spartan armour yet give it a
slight edge over Halo 4 and Empire has some impressive sci-fi scenery,
but overall it’s not quite up there with Far Cry 4 or Killzone: Shadow
Fall for knockout visuals. Still, it’s clear that 343 Industries has
been focusing on gameplay, responsiveness and clarity over graphical
splendour, and we’d be surprised if the multiplayer beta was an accurate
reflection of the single-player campaign.

First Impressions

The
big question is whether Halo 5 will put Halo back into contention as
one of the top competitive multiplayer games. From Battlefield to Call
of Duty: Advanced Warfare to Destiny, the competition has never been
fiercer, and we’re still not sure that the gameplay or the maps we’ve
seen so far are strong enough to see the rivals off. Yet it’s still
early days for Halo 5, and 343 Industries will doubtless be combing
through the data captured through this beta, looking at the comments and
working out what works and what needs more attention. The Halo: Master Chief Collection was a powerful reminder of how good Halo can be when it’s on
top form. Let’s hope Halo 5 makes future reminders unnecessary.

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