REVIEW WRITTEN BY LOU KESTEN
Near the end of “Halo 5: Guardians” (Microsoft, for the Xbox One, $59.95), an artificial intelligence bemoans humanity’s propensity toward solving every problem with violence.
Which makes one wonder: Have you been paying attention? The entire “Halo” series is about flying to distant planets and then shooting everything that moves.
That formula has served Microsoft well since the first “Halo: Combat Evolved” in 2001, selling millions of Xboxes and inspiring legions of imitators. But it’s getting stale, with even trigger-happy games like “Destiny” (by “Halo” creator Bungie) offering players a little more to chew on.
“Halo” is now in the hands of Microsoft’s in-house studio 343 Industries, which has streamlined the storytelling while acknowledging the convoluted mythology that has built up over the last 15 years. In essence: Our recurring hero, the faceless Master Chief, appears to have gone rogue, and it’s up to a new commando named Locke to hunt him down. And assorted aliens are getting in everyone’s way.
The missions in the eight-hour solo campaign fall into an uninspired pattern. You go to another planet, which conveniently has an assortment of guns lying around. You plow your way through increasingly aggressive waves of alien monsters. There are occasional respites where you get to drive a Warthog attack vehicle or fly a zippy anti-gravity Ghost, but for the most part you’re on foot.
The major change is that whether you’re playing as Master Chief or Locke you’re now leading a four-person squad. This opens up some limited tactical possibilities — primarily, ordering your team to gang up on particular enemies — as well as the ability to tackle each mission with three online friends.
As with any online relationship, you and your friends will eventually want to stop playing nice and start attacking each other. And here, 343 Industries has built a beefy collection of multiplayer battlefields.
They’re divided into two sections, Arena and Warzone. Arena is the traditional four-versus-four competition familiar to “Halo” fans, with the usual variants like deathmatch and capture-the-flag. Warzone is more ambitious. It’s a 12-versus-12 affair, with computer-controlled aliens added to make the mayhem even more intense.
The sprawling Warzone maps accommodate a variety of gameplay objectives. At the start of a match, you need to clear all the AI monsters out of your base. Then you can focus on taking over various control points on the map, earning “req points” you can spend on more effective weapons, armor and vehicles. If you build up enough power, the enemy’s base becomes vulnerable and it’s game over.
It remains to be seen how well this works once millions of “Halo” fans are trying to compete — last year’s “Halo: The Master Chief Collection” anthology was dogged by online issues. But Warzone holds much promise, and could make up for the pedestrian story in the “Guardians” solo campaign. Two stars out of four.