I didn’t have the best Christmas, it has to be said. For the most part, Christmas & New Year 2014 was spoiled by one illness after another. I won’t go into details – but it was messy. Very messy. My Christmas spirits were raised, however, by the arrival of the Halo 5 multiplayer beta, and now that I am feeling better (hooray!), I am here to tell you what I think of it. The Halo 5 beta is available to everyone who bought Halo: Master Chief Collection up until it expires in the middle of January and -surprise surprise – it rocks. Hard.
Halo 5: Guardians will be the first original entry into the Halo universe for the Xbox One, coming 2 years after the console’s release. Two years is a long time to wait for a new Halo game on your shiny new Xbox, don’t you think? Well, everything in the Halo 5 multiplayer beta suggests that the wait will be worth it. 343 have changed things up far more than they ever did in Halo 4, which was the first 343 made Halo title. It really feels like the gloves have come off here, as 343 take the Halo formula inherited from Bungie and make it their own. The changes made are immediately obvious – with the most prominent of these differences coming in the way Halo 5 handles precise aiming. In all Halo games up to now, aiming (zooming in) switched to a zoomed in view of the battleground, apparently through your Spartan’s in helmet optics. In Halo 5, your Spartan looks down the sights of his weapon, you know, like most other shooters. Halo fans needn’t get up in arms about this, though, as it is still the same system, it just looks a bit different. The HUD is still overlaid with the same fancy “look, you are zooming in!” graphics, 343 have just brought aiming in Halo 5 in line with what people expect from a modern shooter.
Every Spartan in Halo 5 is equipped with the same jetpack-like apparatus on their back, which acts as a movement aid rather than a device for flying around. Increasing player mobility is nothing new, of course, it’s a trend we are seeing in modern shooters (COD: AW, Titanfall), but Halo 5 handles its new toys very well indeed. Your Spartan doesn’t feel overpowered or ridiculous, he just feels more nimble and reactive in certain situations. A tap of the B button gives you a spritely dash in a given direction – useful when jumping to a far away platform or dodging rocket fire. Jumping and aiming causes your Spartan to hang in midair, Matrix-style, while you pop the head off your enemy. This also makes you a sitting duck, in all fairness, so I tend not to look down the sights while jumping from buildings. When the beta went live for us on December 19th, all the games I got into were full of slowly falling players taking advantage of the weird new aim assist. A few weeks on and people seem to be put off it – I’d be surprised if this feature makes the cut when the game hits retail.
In the content update that hit January 3rd, 343 added a new game mode, Breakout, which pits two teams of 5 players against each other in a no-respawn battle to the death. Halo 5 takes the concept that all the multiplayer elements in the Halo universe are basically one big training exercise for UNSC personnel to the next level, with some of the maps being purpose built death pits designed specifically for Spartans to do battle in. Every multiplayer match starts and ends with a little clip of your team, all kitted out in their armour, posturing before camera in a way that calls to mind beefy NFL players and arrogant sports louts.
Your team is thrown into the Breakout arena via a man-cannon, shown over the shoulder as your team goes into battle. The announcer keeps track of proceedings “5 v 4”, “2 v 1”, “LAST MAN STANDING” – shit, everyone is watching me. Need to get this right. Headshot, headshot, HEADSHOT – YES! Victory. Breakout is awesome, as is its setting, “Trench”, an environment that wouldn’t look at all out of place in the TRON universe, which brings to mind old favourites “Hang em’ High” and “Cold Storage” – a small tight map where precision is the key. Breakout will be the darling of Halo-related esports, mark my words.
The other maps seen so far are Crossfire (another Breakout specific map), Regret and Eden (which are restricted to Slayer matches). Regret is an outdoor symmetrical arena, with tunnels and bridges built around a central point players must control in order to get access to the map’s power weapons. In this case, the all new “’Hydra” – think Bruteshot with a homing feature and you’re on the right path. Eden is a non-symmetrical map set in a more urban environment, a stunning backdrop sets the scene for some intense up-close battles. Visually, Halo 5 is a treat, with Regret in particular showing off some beautiful art that makes me think that Halo 5 may be leaning towards a more “painterly” style when the full game lands later this year. Everything looks a little less cold and lifeless, here, which is great given the fairly drab visual style of Halo 4 and its overbearing use of Forerunner architecture.
For a beta, the number of technical issues I have encountered has been surprisingly low, especially given the mess that was the Mater Chief Collection launch. The new Kill Cam seems to be a tad on the glitchy side, and there are some balancing issues to be sorted out, but apart from that? Halo 5 is looking damn good to me. The next few months are going to pass extremely slowly for Halo fans in the wait for Halo 5: Guardians retail release.