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Game Review

Master Chief is back to fight off the alien invaders!

Well ... sorta. I mean, there are really two different four-person squads of playable characters you can suit up as. And while the alien "Flood" has been flushed, those Covenant baddies from past games are still around … but pretty scattered. So you're really fighting, for the most part, a bunch of Forerunner digitally "composed" creatures called ...

OK. Let's start over.

Since this massive Halo franchise started way back when, a lot has happened. And a lot has changed. The play has spanned several different Xbox gaming generations, a couple of digital universe-wide wars, and the production efforts of two different gamemaking crews (Bungie and Microsoft's 343).

So with the ever evolving cast of characters, shifting allegiances, numerous factions and philosophical themes at play here, I'll stick to boiling things down to the love story at this game's core. Did I just write love story?! About a futuristic shooter franchise? Yep. After all, what would a grand space opera be without one of those? So holster your pistols for a sec and follow me through this twitterpated portal:

In Halo 4, Master Chief, the armor-clad, genetically enhanced hero/battler of the story, and his ever-faithful female AI companion, Cortana, were in a tight spot. Cortana had to meld with some futuristic technology, sacrificing her life in order to save the Chief's bacon. The hero survived, but his only true friend and companion was gone.

Or was she?

As the Chief now battles on to save human colonies under attack, he gets a strong vision-like hint that Cortana might still be out there somewhere. So he and his three fellow Spartans of Blue Team defy their orders and set off in a valiant gun-blazing search for any possible clues to her whereabouts. Fireteam Osiris, led by the steely-eyed Spartan Jameson Locke, is then sent out to confront the emotionally distraught hero and bring him home, forcibly if need be.

As the tale unfolds and the two teams jockey for position and superior firepower, we find that, once again, an all-powerful future-tech force, complete with gigantic Forerunner robots called Guardians, is set on controlling—to the point of annihilation, if necessary—all human life in the universe!

Triggers, Gun Sights ...

All right. Now that the kettledrum thunder is echoing off into the distance and the full-throated choir is taking its seat, let me step back and remind us all that Halo 5: Guardians is still, well, all about the shooting. It's an intuitive, easy to control, graphically sweeping, well-made trigger-puller, but a run-and-gun shooter nonetheless.

One of the biggest changes to the single-player setup is that the "single player" is now clipped out of the equation. Throughout the campaign mode (and all the online multiplayer challenges) you're always maneuvering and flanking enemies alongside three other members of either Master Chief's Blue Team or Locke's Fireteam Osiris. They may be AI driven or all live players online, but you'll always have to think in terms of squad play. That also means the deadly game-overs are in many cases a thing of the past since team members can revive one another when someone falls.

A second change is that you can now look down the sights of your various pistols, machine guns, grenade launchers and futuristic weapons as you blast or slash enemies in frenetic combat. You can also use a mini-jetpack of sorts to hurtle fist-first into an opponent for a thumping, shield-busting melee zap.

Back to those gun sights: As much as you might suspect that such a look-down-the-barrel gameplay adjustment would make things messier … it doesn't. In fact, it feels like the 343 team has made a deliberate effort here to clean the various battlefields up just a bit. Many of the running and leaping opponents you take aim at are mechs, for instance. And those foes that are flesh and blood don't go down with excessive globs and glugs of purple gunk like they have in the past. The splashing part of things is pulled back to a T-rated small-spurt minimum. (Which means it is still there. It's just diminished. We're all clear on that, right?)

... And Catsuits

The language has been toned down, too, to a handful of uses of "h---," "a--" and "d--mit." And what about things like cleavage? Well, I'll throw out a bit of a spoiler and let you know that Cortana does indeed show up in life-size form, wearing an evocative if not explicitly revealing (like in Halo 4) catsuit/neon-electronic getup.

Of course, it's hard to just shrug off all of the possible take-aim-and-blast-away negatives that can be connected to any shooter, even T-rated ones. And that's especially true if you decide to take your trigger-pulling online, where the quick-fire, tactical nature of the open battlefield capture-the-flag challenges can feel all the more brutal and, shall we say, Call of Halo-like.

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