I’ve just been Force choked to death by Darth Vader. And you know what? I enjoyed it. Not in a perverse, dress up as a Jedi and strangle yourself while beating off way, but in an absorbed, nostalgic sense. I’m quite happy to be finished off by the Dark Lord of the Sith (again, nothing weird) when it’s all part of the authentic and immersive Star Wars Battlefront experience. In fact, I often find myself dying in this game because I’m too busy staring at the utterly breathtaking scenery. ‘Look at that Star Destroyer reflecting on the moonlit lake’ I’ll think to myself, and boom; I’m dropped by a blaster shot to the head. I once let Boba Fett torch me with his flamethrower without even returning fire, because I was more interested in the sand cascading down the side of a nearby rock. It’s frighteningly beautiful; probably the best graphics I’ve ever seen. But just like a Stormtrooper’s helmet, there’s not much going on beneath the glistening exterior of this widely anticipated title.
You know when you walk into a room and completely forget why? That’s basically what it’s like to play the Halo 5: Guardians solo campaign. Throughout the game’s measly eight-out-long story, I found myself frequently pausing it and gawping into space, trying to piece together what the fuck was happening. Not a lot, was the answer. I’d been sifting through alien planets and characters like a senile old man attempting to spell his grandchild’s name in alphabetti spaghetti, but I needn’t have bothered. There wasn’t much of a plot to be found.
That kind of upset me, as a major fan of the series. Halo has always had a strong story to tell. But Guardians just dangles a carrot in front of an idiot mule (that’s me), as a means of driving the narrative cart. The game’s two protagonists (futuristic super soldier USB hubs) chase perennially out-of-reach targets, until everything is either dead or not dead, or the screen prematurely fades to black. There’s also something about ‘taking over the mantle of responsibility for the galaxy’, but I barely had time to notice, as I was whisked through colourful mushroom-infested environments, seldom understanding where I was or what I was meant to be doing.
Speaking of colourful mushroom-infested environments, I’m not too sure what motivated such a vibrant change of aesthetics. Sure, we’re visiting all-new planets that undoubtedly have varying types of alien vegetation, but that doesn’t explain why the entire game has been repainted to look like Kermit’s arse splatter, after eating a crate of Skittles. Taste the fucking rainbow, Halo fans.
It’s colourful and confusing, like that thing in your mum’s top drawer. Come to think of it, there are a lot of similarities between the game’s super soldier ‘Spartans’ and vibrators. They come in all shapes, sizes and colours, they often need recharging, and they’re strong enough to kill someone with a single blow to the head. Not that I know anything about vibrators. Or killing people with them.
But for all that’s wrong with the campaign mode and contrast ratio, there’s still one thing to cling onto – the shooting aliens until they die part. Playing Halo 5: Guardians is probably more fun than being an actual super-soldier, especially since there’s no risk of actual death. There’s all sorts of fascinating weapons and vehicles that have had their controls refined since the previous game, and there’s a satisfying pop to headshots and explosions. You really feel your enemies die at your hands. I’m not a psycho, promise.
Most of that enjoyment predictably comes from multiplayer. As is the trend with many first-person-shooters now, players are more interested in online play, and developers 343 Industries have clearly capitalised on that. And by capitalised, I mean introduced in-game purchasing for the first time in Halo’s history. Bastards. ‘Warzone’ is their new centrepiece game mode that sees players capture bases, take out AI bosses and opposing online players to score points, with the option of pumping in real money to get better weapons than everyone else. It’s like watching your childhood best friend turn into a street-dwelling whore.
But it is fun. And if, like me, you consider the option to pay real money a sort of computer game version of natural selection – where only the idiots will abide, until they go bankrupt – then it’s not much of a problem. However, the real reason I buy these games is for the story. And I can’t help but think that the time invested in the moneymaking elements of multiplayer has encroached on that. It’s quite sad really; makes me think of simpler times when Bungie were at the helm. Oh no, wait. They made the add-on-happy Destiny. They’re greedy bastards too.