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Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

Halo 5 is a step backward, but it’s a step in the right direction

Illustration for article titled Halo 5 is a step backward, but it’s a step in the right direction

Welcome to our weekly open thread for the discussion of gaming plans, nagging questions, and whatever else we feel like talking about. No matter what the topic, we invite everyone in the comments to tell us: What Are You Playing This Weekend?


This weekend, as with last weekend and most of my free time lately, I’ll be toiling away on the battlefields of Halo 5. It’s the first time that I’ve found myself stuck on a multiplayer shooter in ages. That the one to capture my attention is yet another Halo game doesn’t come as a surprise. I’m of the generation that grew up with the series, that hosted gatherings of teenagers dorky enough to lug crappy CRT TVs and Xboxes around town just so they could wire them together for oversized death matches. The way Halo moves and flows, the distinct roles of each weapon in its menagerie of guns and grenades—it’s second nature to me now, like some innate knowledge that’s been permanently written into my DNA. And after all these years and all the trends that have swept through multiplayer games, Halo stands largely unchanged. That’s why I still love it.

Every new installment comes with requisite changes and additions to the game’s periphery, but the series’ stewards have excised just as many bells and whistles as they’ve added. Halo 2 let you shoot two guns at once, and by Halo: Reach, it was gone. Halo 3 introduced gadgets like force fields and land mines, and Reach and Halo 4 replaced those with customizable gear for your super soldier, like camouflage or jetpacks.

One of the most interesting things about Halo 5 is just how much it feels like a reversion. It does away with all of those experiments and strips the game back to the simple, frantic fracas that I remember it always being. What changes it does make are more necessary, natural, small modernizations than anything else. That’s something I didn’t really grasp until playing multiplayer modes like Snipers and SWAT, where a wrong turn and a single shot from a quick adversary means instant death.

Here, when the game is reduced to nothing but a tense contest of wits and reflexes, being able to use a tiny burst of speed—a new addition to the game that’s so important it has a button all its own—to disorient a rival or break their line of sight is indispensible. Say you round a corner and see the glimmer of a distant sniper-rifle scope inching its way toward your squishy head. If you’re quick enough, you can engage those thrusters and get the hell out of there.

It’s no guaranteed solution to the age-old “whoever sees the other person first always wins the gun fight” problem, but it goes a long way to evening the odds without feeling like some glued-on, ostentatious accessory. Halo 5’s multiplayer shows a deep understanding of that balance—changing and adapting where necessary without overcomplicating a simple, timeless foundation. There are plenty of shooters out there that are far more complex and ambitious, but that just isn’t Halo. I’m glad 343 Industries seems to have realized that.