This week, Zero Punctuation reviews Halo 5: Guardians.
Is it me, or is the current slew of new installments to ongoing franchises even more of a flatline than usual? It feels like for years, consoles were slapping the same wet laundry against the same rocks over and over again, but then adventure called and they journeyed through a harrowing odyssey of motion controls and 3D, and the faint obligation to innovate that comes with a console generation. But now things seemed to have settled down and they’ve returned to the Shire to resume slapping the wet laundry against the rocks, blissfully unaware of the VR monster that’s about to leap up from the riverbed and make them all puke themselves to death.
But while we’re waiting for that, let’s take a look at Halo 5, the fifth installment of what was the original progenitor of the open-quotes “next-gen shooter,” i.e., nice skybox, shame about the game, or rather the second installment of the new trilogy developed by 343 Industries, after original creators Bungie decided, “Hey, this incredibly repetitive sci-fi shooter garbage with pseudo-mythical pretensions with the emphasis on "pretensions" got old pretty fast. Let’s move on to Destiny and see if we can beat our previous speed record.” And rest assured, this is going to be another trilogy, because without wishing to spoil, a sentence fast becoming my own personal "I’m not racist but...", Halo 5 ends in a cliff-hangery Empire Strikes Back kind of way. Oh yes, Microsoft see no reason to hop off this gravy train as long as it’s still moving, even if it’s at a fucking crawl across perfectly flat terrain lest its contents slop out and baste nearby cattle.
Although there is a little blip on the plot's heart monitor in that Cortana is sort of turning into the big villain now. Oh yeah, spoiler alert: turns out Cortana’s big dramatic death scene in the last game wasn’t for realsies, but one could kind of predict that from the mere fact that there is a Halo 5 at all; it doesn’t take a giant space protractor to calculate that Master Chief and Cortana are the only marketable faces of the franchise, which is not even because they’re good or interesting characters, it’s only because Mr. Chuffy is the protagonist and Cortana flaps her big blue knockers about like a gelatin dessert on a merry-go-round.
The funny thing is, even in-universe everyone seems to realize that Mr. Chuffy and his little blue titty monster are the only characters of any importance, so when Mr. Chuffy reports having a weird dream about Cortana being alive and calling him to a distant planet, not a single person so much as hazards the possibility that it was just a dream and maybe he’ll forget all about it if they buy him a new wank doll for Christmas. No, they’re all like, “Ooh, this is serious; we better go to that planet then!”
But despite Mr. Chuffy knowing Cortana best and his grief affecting his work 'cause they had to install little windscreen wipers to get all the tears off his face plate, he is inexplicably disinvited from the mission. I guess his superiors thought they were playing XCOM and wanted to level up some of their rookies. And so Mr. Chuffy is given an excuse to go rogue.
The action is split between the four Spartans trying to hunt down Mr. Chuffy and Mr. Chuffy himself, who also has three finger puppets with him for no better reason than because his bits need to be four-player co-op as well; any potential that might have been here for some kind of tense or dramatic character interplay is lost by the fact that Halo continues to seem like it was written by a castrated slug.
The crime for which Mr. Chuffy is being hunted is so completely fucking weak that the two parties can barely summon the effort to be cross at each other when they do meet Two of them have a token punch-up about midway through that has more the air of two blind people trying to politely get past each other in a crowded restaurant. It might have helped if it had been playable, but Halo 5’s attitude seems to be that nothing ruins an action sequence faster than players.
The game opens with the four members of the B-team having a huge spectacular punch-up in a warzone, at which point I went, “Holy wow, look at that! The stain on the wall behind my TV is exactly the same shape as New Caledonia! If only this overblown footage of people I don’t know fighting other people I don’t know for reasons unexplained could be as interesting.” After all, I know the backstory for that stain: it was left by an errant jet of spunk after I watched Free Willy for the first time, and after this brief sequence of pointless spectacle, almost all the storytelling is done with two-sentence dialogue exchanges barked out in between samey combat arenas.
“Hey, third finger puppet! here’s a quiet moment; you may now flesh out your backstory in a maximum of ten words.”
“Errmm.. I worked for six months as a seal clubber.”
And then I’m all like, "What? Sorry I wasn’t paying attention! Post-action sequence probably isn’t the best time to have important exposition, 'cause my mind’s in recovery mode and I’m trying to chug this Gatorade."
I don’t want no one trying to tell me the story doesn’t matter if the gameplay’s fine, because frankly the story is all that Halo 5 can possibly sell itself on. It’s the same shooting as always, no new weapons or vehicles -- and incidentally, Halo games could save me some time and throw my starting rifle and pistol in the bin as the level starts and give me something I could actually find some fucking ammo for. No new enemies either; there’s a boss character in that he’s functionally identical to certain standard enemies but twice the size and can’t shut his fucking face for five seconds, and you fight him, like, twenty times. The plot reason is that it’s one guy with, like, a million bodies and I thought, "Okay, that’s actually quite threatening as villains go since blowing him up over and over again isn’t going to help and that’s pretty much the only string to my bow", until what might as well be the final boss is just ten more of the guy. Psych! Turns out blowing him up over and over again is going to help!
Halo is the premature ejaculation of video games, and I’m not just saying that because Halo 5 feels shorter than Cortana’s laundry list. It took 'til Super Mario Galaxy for Mario to spooge his last and that was Halo’s fucking starting point: kick off with huge galaxy-spanning threats and giant fat-arsed space prostitutes with fanny cankers the size of small moons, and where the fuck are you supposed to go from there? Maybe you could breathe some life in by switching to a more focused character narrative, but the prerequisite for that is actually having characters beyond titty holograms and giant dustbins on legs.
The attitude of Halo 5 seems to be that if you keep chewing the bubblegum, maybe the flavour will eventually somehow come back. It’s just more meat for the grinder, more grist to the mill, more innocence lost to the 70s children's TV presenter, but at worst, it’s merely bland unless you plan to get into the multiplayer, at which point the threat level elevates to court-martial offense. If paying for the game and the subscription fee weren’t quite enough fun for you, the fun need never stop in the micro-payment shop as you struggle to compete with fat 13-year-old tit-fiddlers with Mum’s credit card and poor supervision. And $3.95's getting pretty bloaty for a micro-payment! If that’s a micro-payment, then my dick is comfortably petite!
- Hey nonny lo: Ben "Yahtzee" Croshaw
- And here I thought the 'Guardians' subtitle meant Master Chief had gone AWOL to leak snooping data to left-wing newspapers
- Come Mister Tally Man tally me Cortana