Campaign Preview: All that and a bag of chips.
Halo 5: Guardians has already been noted for the ways in which its multiplayer offerings have become twitchier to match the competitive field of games like Call of Duty. So it's actually Halo 5's other elements that really make it stand out, like its campaign and new multiplayer setting (which we can't talk about until Friday).
Halo 5's campaign leverages the best parts of the Halo franchise while adding fresh new content. One of Halo 5's best features is its squad-based combat. Regardless of whether you are playing as Master Chief or Locke, you have a small squad of three Spartan soldiers at your disposal—whom you can command to target enemies, grab weapons, or take a specific position—similar to the great, under-the-radar shooter Star Wars: Republic Commando. In co-op mode, you play as one of the other three. It's a nice touch that, during story sections, you can tell when your character is talking because it isn't muffled by a radio filter.
The demo opened with a section with Master Chief infiltrating and subsequently destroying a shipyard that had been invaded by Covenant soldiers. One of my favorite parts of this section was that you could sneak along and hear discussions between grunts and elites, with the squeaky-voiced enemies calling the stronger faster enemies "big brother" and the latter acting protective towards the smaller weaker ones. Of course, I still felt no remorse crushing them with melee attacks: Die, Covenant scum!
Playing up the rivalry featured in all those Halo advertisements, you switch between sections playing as Master Chief—who early in the game receives a message from a figure from his past that's cloaked in darkness (it's practically "Go to the Dagobah system.") and goes rogue to follow the trail—and Locke, who is following behind. In the playable demo level as Locke, the team provided fire support for the Arbiter in taking down a Covenant Kraken platform, in order to get access to Forerunner technology guarded by Prometheans; ostensibly, having found more of a plot than "find Master Chief" at that point in the game.
While the short tiff with the Prometheans was my favorite combat sequence (with their awesome enemy-tracking energy weapons… like needlers on crack), my favorite gameplay section was a set-piece where you could pick how you wanted to get by a large Covenant force blocking the entrance to a temple. Initially I worked my way through waves of enemies on a raised platform up top, but in a second playthrough I stayed below, picking off enemies hiding underneath the rocky platform and finding a secret entrance that you could smash through with the Spartan Charge ability.
The Spartans of Halo 5: Guardians have a number of abilities, some adapted from Halo 4's multiplayer options, like thrusters to evade with a boost, mantling over obstacles or up onto ledges, a ground pound attack, and the aforementioned Spartan Charge, which is an enhanced melee attack that can break through obstacles or open hidden pathways. With the squad-based combat, other units can revive you if you fall in battle, explained by your armor failing or locking up from taking too much damage.
It's nice to see the franchise evolve with Halo 5: Guardians, with engaging firefights and a story that's sure to keep Halo fans on the edge of their seats. It wasn't all sunshine and rainbows; you could almost hear a sigh from the developers on one of the multiple occasions—I overheard this at least three times—over some journalists mentioning that they "liked the game, but I've gotten used to Destiny's double-jump." Still, an upgraded Halo is a very enjoyable and welcome FPS experience.
Halo 5: Guardians releases on October 27th exclusively for Xbox One. We'll be rolling out coverage of multiplayer in the next couple days, so stay tuned to see how it's shaping up!