The 2¢ Review - Halo 5: Guardians

Don't let the picture fool you; the real story is in the background. 

On October 27, 2015, 343 Industries released the latest entry in the Halo series - Halo 5: Guardians. Being the second entry in what 343i dubbed as the “Reclaimer Saga”, it’s fair to say that Halo 5 had to meet certain expectations. The story should build off from the previous entry, the new threat should prove more dangerous than the last, new characters should be introduced, and we should be left prepped for the next entry in the series. For the most part, Halo 5 delivers on all accounts. It’s just unfortunate that Halo 5 fails to finds its own identity along the way, avoiding big risks with the series formula and potentially standing out from the rest of the series.

It’s not to say that Halo 5 isn’t a good game; it is. Regarding the campaign, the gameplay is as solid as you would expect it to be for a Halo game. Battles are epic and the overall narrative is captivating, eventually setting the stage for the inevitable Halo 6. New characters make their appearance, and new gameplay mechanics, referred to as “Spartan abilities”, are introduced and work very well.  What Halo 5 struggles with is which plot is most important: the main plot (which won’t be spoiled here), or the subplot between the game’s two leads: the Master Chief and Spartan Locke.

Treading on familiar ground akin to Halo 2’s shifting perspectiveHalo 5 has the player switching between the Chief and Locke. Microsoft’s rather misleading ad campaign focused heavily on an implied resentment between the two, which is greatly exaggerated when compared to the in-game interactions nor reasonably explained for existing. In fact, when our two leads finally do meet, the moment feels forced and is quickly dismissed after a brief exchange of fists and a cold stare. It’s a poorly developed subplot that the game tries very hard to convince the player of its importance, but does little more than undermine the far more interesting main plot of the story. Fortunately Halo 5’s excellent multiplayer makes up for any lingering disappointment left after the credits roll.

“Arena”, Halo 5’s classic multiplayer mode, brings the Halo competitive experience back to form. Halo 4’s multiplayer was arguably a mess, thanks to 343i’s attempt to modernize it with “Call of Duty-inspired” mechanics. Weapon load-outs and support drops stripped away the balance and skill-based gameplay the series was known for. “Arena” marks the return of that level playing field fans of the series loved, where skill is key to victory; not luck of the supply drops. However, 343i didn’t completely do away with what they started in Halo 4’s multiplayer mode, instead simply giving it a separate playlist called “Warzone”.

A team-based, large-scale objective game mode, “Warzone” has players fighting over control points as well as fending off AI opponents that appear periodically. During the match, points are earned which players can use to requisition weapons, armor abilities, or vehicles. Requisitions are obtained via Req Packs; digital collections of cards that can either be earned by simply playing or by purchasing with real money. At the time of this review, "Warzone" is a sorely unbalanced affair. While players may start off on equal grounds, matches often tilt in one direction early on and tend to remain favor of the leading team. It's a chaotic affair that some players may enjoy, but those who were not fans of Halo 4’s multiplayer, it's best to steer clear.

So, found in a Req Pack, my 2¢:

Halo 5’s campaign, while solid in many regards, does little more than provide set up for the next entry in the “Reclaimer Saga”. The story suffers mostly due to Microsoft’s mishandled marketing, as well as 343i’s unwillingness to take any real risks with the series formula. Fortunately Halo 5’s “Arena” mode offers a bit of redemption by returning the series’ competitive multiplayer experience back to form. (It also has Nathan Fillion starring in the game, so it has that going for it.) Long-time fans of the series will definitely want to give Halo 5 a playthrough; if anything to be surprised and left intrigued by the main plot given the outcome of Halo 4.


Burn Zombie Burn: Short Review

     I came across Burn Zombie Burn through the nice "You might also like..." section of Google Play's games store.  It caught my eye because it reminded me, visually at least, of one of my favorite games of all time- Zombies Ate My Neighbors- and it turned out to indeed be a game I did like.

      Burn Zombie Burn is a top down arena shooter full of hordes of zombies that you need to slaughter.  Sounds simple and fun right?  Well, that's where it gets really interesting.  The score multiplier is compounded by burning things.  Yes, the title comes into direct effect here.  You need to light things up and them slay everything you can with any weapons you can get a hold of, and there are a lot of them to choose from.  You have your simple torch, a vast array of guns, dynamite, and even a lawnmower to pick up and kill every thing you can.  Many of them are even nods to great zombie films that would appeal to the exact type of player the game wants, as is the main character's name- Bruce.  Almost undoubtedly a reference to the Evil Dead's Bruce Campbell.

     Lighting things on fire is easy of course, but managing the flame can get a bit troublesome.  I've found myself on numerous occasions being caught between a horde and a fence on fire, leading to my impending doom.  This sets up a wonderful risk versus reward form of gameplay and it is extremely satisfying here.

     The downsides are that there are only a handful of maps in three different modes to play, some challenges, and even a multiplayer option.  But that really isn't too limiting here as Burn Zombie Burn surprisingly hangs on to the fun factor and it's small and highly replayable nature is appealing in small doses, always leaving me wanting to play just one more round trying to chase a higher score than the last one.


Minor Steps (by Evgiz): A Micro Review

     In an effort to continue both gaming and writing I've been playing a ton of great little indie gems, and came across Minor Steps by someone calling themselves Evgiz.  It's a simple game wherein you find yourself locked in a strange facility with lots of blood and a dead body.

     What makes this 10 minute game nice is the very small details.  The way the text appears and floats away as you investigate items, the top notch sound design, and the controls.  They are all sparse, but at the same time they are also perfect for the game.
     The mood here is set wonderfully, given weight by Kevin MacLeod's "Anguish" leaving a haunting feeling in the player.  It really does a good job of giving off a mysterious vibe to the facility you are trying to escape.

     This game brings up questions with what it doesn't say.  There's a strange sense of unease brought up with wondering why there is so much garbage laying around, where'd all the blood come from, who killed these people, and most curiously- why did someone eat a key?
     Unfortunately, there are no answers to be found.  Minor Steps starts a story that could very well go on to something much bigger, and much more sinister, with the implications.  Though it's highly doubtful Evgiz will continue with what they started with this project.

     Play the game here [ Minor Steps ]


Koi: Journey of Purity: Short Review

     At first glance Koi appears to be a game about tranquility and peace.  Finding harmony by helping other koi to freedom and going from pool to pool blooming flowers in an attempt to brighten a dimming world.  But the Zen-focused puzzles here are subject to a couple very dark influences seeping into the waters, leaving the beautiful music and visuals to be marred by something sinister.

     The darkness is partly from some carnivorous fish you encounter, but much more so is the real trouble in the game- the horrendously sluggish controls.  They are tremendously clumsy and awful, and it makes the game extremely frustrating when the giant black fish can dart through the water while you helplessly flounder to get away.  The lack of a map or zoom features mean you can't truly plan alternative paths to avoid them either, as by the time one spots you, there's only a couple seconds to react, and of course, that isn't even half enough time to get your koi remotely out of the way.  Even attempting to steer around the other koi to their necessary destinations is a pain, because they seem to get caught on everything in the way and lodged in odd places while following you and meandering all over the place.  There problems inject a lot of stress into a game meant to be a relaxing aquatic experience.

     Due to the ultimately failing response times for movement, plodding your way through the story's lengthy levels (yes there is a small bit of story here) is a task only for the supremely patient.  If the controls were more responsive, the game could've been a lot more tolerable, but the lack of balance between enemy speed and movement speed is disastrous here.  It's the equivalent of trying to rake a Zen Garden while being followed by an angry 5 year old kicking and stomping their way through the sand.  This Koi is, sadly, one that should be flushed with all the World's dead goldfish stores to that great bowl in the sky.


Murder: The Shortest Cyber-Punk Mystery & Review Ever

What's the Point...   & Click?

     As a game goes, Murder barely counts.  I got more interaction watching House, M.D. on DVD by pressing play between each episode than I did playing this.  In reality, I would've much rather have paid 99¢ to watch this as a small cyberpunk short film instead.  There's a few decent characters, the voice acting was good, and it presents a beautifully rendered world with its Neo Tokyo, evoking a sense of the dark and gritty realms we've come to know from the genre.  But that's where the good ends.

     Making the lack of interactivity worse is the threadbare plot and it's 20 minute play time.  The plot isn't remotely new if you've ever seen anything like I, Robot- based, very loosely, on the book of the same name by the great Isaac Asimov- but it is an age-old sci-fi staple so worn and predictable that I had an idea of how it was going to end even before pressing start.  There's apparently nothing new in Neo Tokyo.  No new philosophic thoughts, no new take on artificial intelligence, and when Peter Moorhead claimed he was sticking to the hard-boiled influences of cyberpunk masters Masamune Shirow and Katsuhiro Otomo, I thought he was going to use more than just the leftover bits of shell.  The whole last third of the game is nearly the same as the second, and felt like it was added on merely to stretch the run time out just a bit longer.

     As it is, Murder seems like it should've been used as the opener for a full game.  Normally I wouldn't complain about a game's brevity, in this case, it's the video game equivalent of a flash fiction story, but there is not only nothing to the story in Murder, there really isn't much game to it either.  Both aspects are as shallow as could be here making it seem like the skeleton of something much larger.  You'll get more action and entertainment out of physically turning the pages of one of Masamune Shirow's Ghost in the Shell graphic novels, or hell, even tapping the screen of an E-book of one, so go read one of those instead.  At least those stories are truly fleshed out and far more interesting to read.