PS4 owners, look away now: Microsoft’s biggest gun for this Christmas has arrived, bringing with it sufficient bragging rights to render the Xbox One fraternity insufferable. Halo 5: Guardians is astonishing both to behold and to play and, although the likes of Call of Duty: Black Ops III and Destiny may quibble, can plausibly claim to be the best first-person shooter money can buy.
Halo games have always been epic, but the fifth core release – and the first built for the Xbox One – hits new heights of sweeping bombast. It looks incredible, featuring some amazingly detailed alien environments and, perhaps more importantly, counters past criticisms that it tends towards the formulaic. This time around, you spend less time playing as Master Chief than as Jameson Locke, leader of a Spartan fireteam called Osiris. Windows Phone owners may be perturbed to learn that the artificial intelligence Cortana, who has apparently gone rogue, is the main baddie. Master Chief heads to track her down, while Osiris embark on various universe-saving missions, which include stopping Master Chief and his team.
The single-player campaign is vastly more varied than in previous games: you even find the odd sequence that approximates platforming, and there are some great new vehicles to master, along with all the old favourites and some decent boss-battles. Early on, the Prometheans are the main enemy, which is good, since they have much better weapons than the Covenant, who still feature. The fact you’re always part of a fireteam means that your mates can jump in co-operatively, and even AI-controlled team-mates can revive you – for once, they actually contribute, rather than standing around like lemons.
Online, Halo 5: Guardians also nails it. Arena includes classic modes like Capture The Flag and Slayer – which is essentially Team Deathmatch – and adds Breakout, which gives you a single life per round, while Warzone plunges you into a full-on 12v12 battlefield situation. Clever tweaks and improved Spartan maneuverability add an extra impression of freshness.
You will struggle to find a slicker, more polished game than Halo 5: Guardians, yet it is far better equipped than its predecessors to dismiss any suggestions of soullessness. While it’s the most convincing standard-bearer yet for the new generation of consoles, it’s also thoroughly absorbing and adrenaline-inducing to play. It’s the strongest case yet for undecideds to buy Xbox Ones this Christmas.