Halo 5’s campaign is almost unbearable—almost.
343 Industries’ latest sci-fi shooter has severe story problems that make its single-player campaign exceptionally dull. Halo’s story has always been bigger than the games, spanning across novels, books, short films, and a miniseries. There’s characters and relationships and story arcs that don’t, and were never intended to, fit into the games. This multimedia world-building finds its limits in Halo 5, a game that so strongly assumes you’ve read and watched all of the other stories that it forgets to have one of its own. This is Halo 5’s prevailing problem, and while it can’t be fixed, I did discover a satisfying way to cope with it.
It starts and ends with movement. Halo 5 introduces a suite of new movement abilities for its two main characters, Spartans Locke and Master Chief. Both super-soldiers can use their thrusters to dodge left, right, back, and forward. They can also squeeze out a little more range from their already-long leaps, or almost instantly land while they’re airborne. It has a slight cooldown period, but it’s short enough that you’re able to fling yourself around reliably. Both of the heroes can also briefly hover mid-air while aiming down the sights of their weapons, which always feels like you’re pulling off much trickier kills than you probably are. They can also clamber over obstacles and grab ledges now too, because for some reason—maybe they explained it in the books—Spartan soldiers weren’t trained for that until now.
Halo has always been an agile first-person shooter, emphasizing strafing and jumping way more than games like Call of Duty do, at least until recently. Halo 5’s additions double down on what the series has been doing for a long time and give you the tools to quickly get around the game’s wide environments with ease.
One unfortunate aspect of Halo 5’s story missions is that they feature a squad of other soldiers ineffectually following you around like brain-damaged puppies, distracting enemies and diminishing the feeling of one-versus-many that’s always made shooting aliens in Halo feel righteous. Luckily, I found a way to change that.
The trick is to never stop running.
KEEP MOVING, SPARTANS
Halo 5 shines when you keep moving forward. Your teammates have trouble keeping up, which means for the first few moments of a battle, you’re alone against a wave of enemies, just like the good old days. Most of the missions feature large battles that take place in large open areas that cater surprisingly well to the game’s new mobility mechanics. You can run along a set route and change it depending on how the fight is going. On straightaways, you can push forward until the end of the level. The occasional necessity to actually shoot a few aliens keeps this method spontaneous.
It’s all about setting yourself immediate and easily achievable objectives while you run. With Halo 5’s iconic Covenant enemies from previous games and the still new-ish Promethean enemies, most of those goals include who to kill first and how best to do it. Fodder enemies like Grunts and Jackals and those annoying Promethean dogs can be sprayed from the hip while you sprint, or picked off while you hover at the crest of a jump. Tougher foes like Elites and Promethean Soldiers require more attention.
I found myself using melee attacks more than in any other Halo game. My strategy was to drill them full of bullets on the way toward them and end them with a swift, killing blow on arrival. Or you can dodge in and out of fire as you circle your target and slip in for the kill. Then you back out, identify another goal and map out a path to get there, whether that’s head-on, from above, or from below. Halo’s combat is, and has always been, dynamic and rhythmic; that aspect of it is heightened if you don’t give yourself time to take long breaks in between its battles.
All of the solo combat goes by pretty quickly before your squad members come in and start drawing the attention away from you. That’s when you can start to command them to focus on specific problem enemies like huge Covenant Hunters or Promethean Knights, to give you time to flank or move past them. Later in the game, your comrades, dumb as they may be, are essential for keeping the attention of turrets and enemies while you bolt by.
THIS IS MY RIFLE
Playing Halo 5 as a never-ending marathon sprint means you have to use weapons you wouldn’t normally choose to pick up, like Plasma Rifles and Magnums. Under this constraint, you start to adjust to each weapon’s strengths and weaknesses on-the-fly. I got really good at charging up a Plasma Pistol shot mid-air and timing it so that it would strike moving enemies, a skill that no previous game ever went out of its way to require of me.
You learn to cherish every shotgun shell, using it to knock off enemy shields or pop the Promethean Watchers, who constantly shield nearby enemies, out of the sky. You work with what you’ve got and with what little ammunition you have left. It’s surprising, and a little impressive, how well Halo’s combat can replicate the stress of frantically scavenging for resources like a survival game. All you have to do is push against the game’s limits.
That’s the true benefit to playing Halo 5 this way. The new movement mechanics combined with the game’s classic firefights put you under duress and create challenges that embrace, and occasionally tweak, the shooter’s strong, underlying formula. It propels the action in a way that the story of the Master Chief and Locke never does. There’s nothing that can solve the game’s barren narrative, but running through the campaign, with all the immediacy and adrenaline it creates, is a satisfying compromise.
Tyler Colp is a freelancer writer and critic who is curious about games, music and film. Follow him on Twitter @tylercolp.
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