Part 2 of this review contains SPOILERS. Part 1 does not.
Click Here for Part 1 of my Halo 5 review.
Note: Before commenting on this review, please read the review all the way through. Thank you.
The short version:
Upon seeing the credits roll for Halo 5, I felt like I had been told that I was drinking coffee with Colombian decaffeinated coffee crystals:
The long version:
If there was a piece of music that conveyed how I feel about Halo 5, this would be the piece:
In terms of graphics, gameplay, music, voice-acting, and sound, Halo 5 delivers. I shouldn’t take these aspects of a game for granted, but the Halo series has excelled in these aspects before, and Halo 5 is no exception. What I want to talk about in this review is the story.
This review of Halo 5’s story is me expressing my own, personal, opinion. I’m not out to try and tell anyone what to think, or tell them “You’re wrong” if they have a different opinion than me. I’m simply trying to, as clearly as I can, explain why I feel the way I do about Halo 5’s story.
With Halo 4 and Halo: Combat Evolved, the Hunt the Truth series, the short story anthology Halo: Evolutions, The Fall of Reach, and Ghosts of Onyx, the Halo series has proven to me that it can tell a good story.
Does Halo 5 tell a “good story”?
I knew that, whatever story Halo 5 told, it wouldn’t be the best story I had ever seen. The best story I have ever seen would be Whisper of the Heart.
I knew that the interpersonal relationship of the four Spartans of Blue Team, and the interpersonal relationship of the four Spartans of Fireteam Osiris, would not be the interpersonal relationships that have affected me the most. The interpersonal relationships that have affected me the most would be those of the “Mane 6” of My Little Pony.
I knew that the hunt — Agent Locke searching for Master Chief — would not be the most riveting hunt I had ever seen. The most riveting hunt I have ever seen would James Bond’s hunt for the terrorist behind the bombing of MI6 in Skyfall.
The reason I am saying this is: The kind of story Halo 5 is telling, I have heard it told better.
Let’s start with what I liked:
I liked the interpersonal relationship that the Spartans of the two teams had. The Spartans of Blue Team and Fireteam Osiris came across as human beings, not blank canvases that the player fills in themselves like Chief in Halo: Combat Evolved.
All of the characters came across as actual people. Whether it was Lasky trying to keep the Infinity safe, Halsey trying to gain control of a situation that was spiraling out of control, or the Monitor Exuberant Witness helping Locke find Chief, to give a few examples, none of the characters came across as cliche, one-dimensional, or blank slates. Halo 5 has a diverse cast of characters, and they all — hero and villain — have their reasons for doing what they do or feeling how they feel. Bravo, 343.
The audio logs. In addition to the skulls and power weapons, audio logs are hidden throughout the levels. These audio logs give us little snippets of daily life in the Halo universe. The audio logs are an effective way of telling the player, “There is more going on in this universe than the story that you are currently participating in.” I’ll also add in the attention to detail in the environments. The little things — for example: a logo on a gun — make the science fiction world of Halo 5 feel like it could actually exist
Exuberant Witness. I like this character. Cortana will always be my #1 favorite character in the Halo series, but Exuberant Witness is now #2. She’s the kind of character I didn’t know I wanted in a Halo game. 343: More Exuberant Witness, please!
The game mechanics. As I said at the top of this post: “In terms of graphics, gameplay, music, voice-acting, and sound, Halo 5 delivers. I shouldn’t take these aspects of a game for granted, but the Halo series has excelled in these aspects before, and Halo 5 is no exception.” It’s worth repeating, though.
The set pieces. Halo 5 isn’t short of moments that made me go “Wow.” A sense of wonder has been, for me, one of Halo’s greatest strengths. I’m glad that Halo 5 retains that sense of wonder.
Now, I have to talk about what I didn’t like.
Oh man. The ending.
If you want to know what my reaction to the ending was, watch 21:32 — 21:41:
After seeing how Halo 5 ended, I wrote down the following:
Halo 5’s story might as well crumple up Halo 4’s story and throw it in my face.
I feel like what I went through in Halo 4 was for nothing.
No. Actually. It is worse than being all for nothing.
I feel betrayed.
I feel like I got spat in the face and punched in the gut.
In a blog post on Halo HQ, I said that no matter what, Halo 5 wouldn’t piss me off.
Well, 343, Halo 5’s story proved me wrong.
If I had to pick one word to describe Halo 5’s story, it would be “Sadistic.”
There’s 343 standing over me, dangling Halo 6 on a string in front of me like it’s a piece of meat and I’m a dog, saying, “You want to know the rest? Wait for Halo 6…”
Or Halo 7 or Halo 8 or Halo 9 or Halo 10 or who knows how long they’re going to drag this out!
I don’t want to know how the story ends anymore. I don’t want to care. But I just can’t. I can’t not care. And it is that fact, above all, that makes me hate Halo 5’s ending.
To paraphrase Roger Ebert: I hated Halo 5’s ending. Hated hated hated hated hated its ending. Hated it. Hated every simpering stupid vacant audience-insulting moment of it. Hated the sensibility that thought anyone would like it. Hated the implied insult to the audience by its belief that anyone would be entertained by it.
I watched Halo 5’s ending last night. It is now morning. My anger has cooled, but I stand by what I wrote.
Be careful what you wish for: In a previous post on Halo HQ, I said that a part of me was hoping that Halo 5’s story would give me an excuse to no longer buy Halo games. The reason I said this is because I didn’t feel like I could stick with the series for 30 more years after having already been invested in it for 14. For me, the Halo series was becoming too much of a good thing.
I will always be a Halo fan.
I will play Halo: Combat Evolved — Halo 4 until I am no longer able to hold a controller. And I will always cherish the memories I made, alone or with family or friends, because of the Halo series. And I hope to continue making memories, too.
But, Halo 5 is where I say to the Halo series, that in terms of its story, “I am done.”
Halo 5 makes me feel dirty.
Whatever conclusion 343 has for this story arch with Halo 6 (if this story arch ends with Halo 6) it won’t be worth it to me. Here is why: Cortana died in Halo 4. In Halo 6, Cortana will either 1) Die again, or 2) Change her ways and no longer be a villain. Neither conclusion, to me, is satisfying. Not after everything that Cortana has been through throughout the series.
I feel like Cortana being evil now does nothing more than drag her good name through the mud.
At the end of Halo 4, Cortana died a hero. In Halo 4, and in the past, Cortana was someone who did her best to protect not only those she served (like Master Chief and Captain Keyes) but all of humanity, too. Cortana was selfless, strong, smart, and witty, but she wasn’t without her flaws, which in Halo 4 and in the books and short stories she did own up to.
Now with Halo 5, my memory of Cortana is tainted: She’s now just another A.I. that has turned evil — like Skynet or HAL 9000
Cortana was the rare A.I. who wanted to protect humans, not kill or enslave them. And now she’s not.
After all Cortana had been through — rampancy, the realization that, no matter what, she’ll never be human, and torture at the hands of the Gravemind — she, after dying in Halo 4, deserved to be remembered fondly by those who knew her: To have the peace in death that she did not have in life. And now that’s no longer possible.
As far as I’m concerned, Cortana’s part in Halo’s story ended with Halo 4.
If Halo 4 was 343 giving Cortana a hero’s death, Halo 5 is 343 digging up Cortana’s grave and peeing on her corpse.
So, that’s it.
Those are my thoughts on Halo 5’s story.
UPDATE: October 31st:
The Cortana in Halo 5 isn’t the real Cortana. It’s a rampant fragment of her.
Incorrect. Cortana says that she was able to cure herself of rampancy. Cortana is doing everything she is doing of her own free will. Hence, it is the real Cortana.
Watch 7:51 — 10:03
Cortana could redeem herself in Halo 6.
While I am glad there is the possibility of Cortana redeeming herself — while it would certainly lessen the hard feelings I have about Halo 5’s story — to me, if Cortana were to redeem herself in Halo 6, it would feel redundant.
Here’s what I mean: In Halo 4 Cortana was suffering from rampancy. As a result, she often did things that placed Chief in danger. But, in the end, Cortana was able to pull herself together and save Chief: At the end of Halo 4, Cortana redeemed herself and died a hero. If Cortana were to do redeem herself in Halo 6, the first thought I would have would be “I’ve seen this before.”
It would be like if, at the end of Return of the Jedi, Luke blew up the Death Star. Yes, it would be awesome that Luke blew up the Death Star. But I’ve seen Luke do that before, so its makes less of an impact on me this time.