We already knew Halo 5's campaign would entwine two distinct, paralleling stories as Spartan Locke and Master Chief lead a four-strong fireteam each as the sci-fi franchise leant heavy on co-op for its main story this time round. But while E3 gave the spotlight to Locke and his crew in a very cinematic sequence later in the campaign, behind closed doors at Microsoft's Gamescom booth 343i gave us a glimpse of classic Halo.
Playing as Master Chief and backed by his trio of Spartan companions, the studio stormed a Oni research station hidden deep in an asteroid belt to retrieve undisclosed, but seemingly sensitive information. It's the second mission in the game, entitled simply 'Blue Team', and plays like a supercharged introductory level with a light nod to the Halo 2 opening.
Blue Team enter the Covenant-ridden station by smashing through a viewing window, and use in-built thrusters in their armour to hold them in place while the initial wave of alien attackers are sucked into space and the emergency shutters slam shut. It's a nice cinematic setup, and leads directly into a slow explore of the darkened station until map room - and therefore the route to restoring power - is discovered. We stealth kill Grunts (with a third-person kill animation) but in very quick order we tackle Jackals and then numerous Elites. Rooms seems spacious enough for attack variation as well as the necessary scale up to accommodate three extra players.
Playing single-player as 343i is, we're seeing John-117 in full-on command mode, solo hero now command-issuing leader, pointing out enemies to focus attention on or weapons to switch to with contextual button presses. Orders issued, the rest of Blue Team respond. Elite shields now downed by doubling up firepower and leaving MC to make the kill shot rather than having to swiftly juggle the correct weapons. There's an emphasis on verticality in one sequence as Master Chief heads upwards to overhead ledges to snipe from on high as Blue engages below. Soon he's back down in the fray, testing out the UNSC Hydra launcher, a semi-directional rocket firer.
The biggest alterations are with the Spartan abilities, each got their own quirks so you can't spam to win. The frontal Spartan Charge requires you to sprint for a few seconds before it engages, but once started lets you slam into an enemy in your pathway and send them flying. Ground-pound requires a few seconds of hovering to charge, leaving you potentially open to shots, while the Spartan Dash allows you to thrust out of the way quickly, but has a small recharge meter. Coupled with the the mantle to climb higher when landing against a ledge, the suggestion is traversal and attack strategies can be strung together for a quicker and wider flow through areas.
It's a very small taste of what's to come, tantalisingly ending in another cinematic that sees Master Chief imagining the thought-dead Cortana speaking to him from beyond the grave and eluding to "the reclamation" that's to come as a huge, Forerunner-like shadow (similar to the colossus spotted in the first teaser trailer) rips itself out of the ground and soars past Master Chief. Likely this vision's what sparks MC and his team to go AWOL and head out across the galaxy (human, Covenant and Forerunner worlds will all serve as backdrop in some capacity). While his disappearance apparently coincides with numerous cataclysmic events across the galaxy, it still seems far-fetched that the UNSC would send a fire-team after its most decorated hero as the potential reason for these events. But we'll likely find explanations come the game's release later this year.
Additionally 343i touched on the inclusion of new enemy types, tweaked abilities for each Spartan and that the multiplayer mode will carry twenty maps at launch, and the fifteen released in the first eight months following release will be completely free for all players. With the biggest cast any one game the series has ever seen, and a campaign that's promised to be four times the size of Halo 4, 343i is certainly trying to promise the largest story of any Halo yet. Let's see what it delivers come October.
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