After Microsoft’s Halo 5: Guardians announcement at E3 last year it became clear the game had considerably more to live up to than ever before. The announcement included a gameplay demo session on stage featuring a painfully slow beginning as a group of new Spartans were trying to find Master Chief, a Grunt screaming “I regret everything,” and the player running away in a panic from imploding buildings. Little did we know that this gameplay demo was actually a summary of the entirety that Halo 5 would become: a slow and meaningless campaign full of self-regret and loathing over what it could have been, while fruitlessly trying to chase what once made Halo great only to be stopped and laughed at without any hope of success.
Some of the more subtle shortcomings with the title would not be apparent until after the game’s release; however, the most obvious detail was revealed at the announcement. Halo 5 would not feature split-screen co-operative play for the campaign. This decision was immediately and furiously despised by the gaming community and Halo fanbase at large. Local co-operative play has been a cornerstone of Halo since the beginning of the series, and even the development team knows this as it is discussed in their Halo Waypoint piece about the campaign:
“Co-operative play has always been a big part of Halo, allowing two or more friends to play through the campaign together. Over the years I’ve spent countless hours playing Halo co-op, as have the majority of us here at 343 Industries.”
The same section goes on to say that “co-operative play gives the campaign a new level of depth and richness,” which apparently means removing a big part of that experience. I sure hope the aforementioned changes to Halo 5 don’t include anything that might make the absence of local co-op stand out.
Unfortunately for anyone hoping to have a good Halo experience, the development team has done just that and made the worst of all possible decisions. The campaign in Halo 5 no longer features a single protagonist, but rather a team running with the player through the entirety of the game. This sure seems like something that would be enhanced by the inclusion of local split-screen co-operative play. Fortunately, the other members of your squad are controlled by the game’s AI, who are capable of fighting the enemy and reviving you if you get downed. But these soldiers’ AI is so bad that most of the time they might as well not even be there. Their path-finding makes the revive mechanic useless as you will expire before they manage to walk up a flight of stairs. Also, while playing solo (not by choice), my fire team frequently pops into existence upon entering a new room because they had unknowingly all died minutes earlier.
This profound uselessness is perhaps most surprising after being treated to this outstanding intro cinematic for the campaign:
Just look at how skilled those soldiers are and how amazing they were able to evaluate and move through that hostile situation. None of the characters in the game are capable of performing any of these magnificent feats.
This also brings up another glaring problem with the narrative and the game itself. It is no small secret that Halo’s campaign is intended to be played on Legendary difficulty, and a special ending is even reserved for those who can. However, to dispatch bad guys in the way this, obviously canon, cinematic displays the game must be played on Easy. This one cinematic has effectively split the entirety of Halo’s canon story between two possible paths. Spartans also have never been this flashy or careless when handling situations, instead always opting for the methodical and calculated approach demonstrated in previous games.
The game at its core is not objectively bad, and if you can play co-operatively with someone who has another Xbox One (or buy a second one yourself) the campaign is quite enjoyable. Online multiplayer is still Halo multiplayer and is also good. It just remains painfully obvious that the decision to remove split-screen from the title was a profound mistake and makes an otherwise fantastic game the single most disappointing gaming experience of 2015. This is one decision that should absolutely be rectified in the inevitable next installment.Image Credits: 343 Industries