It feels good to caught in the middle of some good old fashioned Red vs Blue action again. To be completely frank, the last three months have been something of galactic dream for constituents of the UNSC. Developer 343 Industries delivered not one, not two, but five Halo multiplayer experiences designed to let us headshot, shoulder-smash and gleefully teabag denizens of Xbox Live in the new generation. It doesn't matter if you were naughty or nice in 2014, 343 didn't discriminate when it came to dishing out the greatest present an FPS fan could ever dream of receiving. That’s right, Microsoft’s seminal series has established itself on Xbox One in the grandest way possible thanks to Halo: The Master Chief  Collection a boxset that not only contained over a decade of super hot Master Chief action, but gave our sweaty Spartan palms an opportunity to sample what's to come in the near future. Wait, do spartans even perspire? Surely their MJOLNIR armour comes equipped with some sort of air-conditioning system that keeps them cool in even the fiercest of battles .... wait, we have no time for silly asides. We’ve played Halo 5: Guardians.


OUT WITH THE NEW ,IN WITH THE OLD
Everything you disliked about Halo 4’s multiplayer has been either been altered to the point that it works appropriately within Halo's established rhythmic action, or removed entirely. Loadouts have been cut, Ordnance drops have been eradicated and custom armour abilities are nowhere to be seen. Basically, the core experience has been tweaked and tightened so Halo is no longer the embarrassed kid caught dressing up in daddy’s well-worn Modern Warfare suit. If you liked those things about Halo 4, well, we probably weren't ever going to be friends anyway. That said, Halo isn’t about making friends. It’s about stealing your teammate’s kill with an insane Battle Rifle no scope head shot; it’s ramming the butt of your gun into enemy skulls with a jet-pack assisted thrust; and it is definitely all about ground-pounding your rival so hard and fast that the last thing they hear before staring at a respawn screen is you screaming, “Xbox, record that!”

Oh, that’s right. You probably haven't done a few of those things before, not in Halo at least. Halo 5: Guardians’ multiplayer might be re-introducing the level playing field that we’ve been so desperately craving as it brings fixed Power Weapons, de-scoping and a skill-based ranking system back into the fold but that doesn't mean we won't have a few new toys to play with too. What would the point of a shift to 60fps be without something introduced to take advantage of all of those extra Xbox One-enhanced frames? Well, you mean aside from the fact that Halo 5 plays faster, smoother and sleeker than anything that’s come before it in the series? Oh, well, how about a host of new Spartan Abilities that ensure you finally feel like the most powerful genetically-enhanced soldier in the galaxy? Yeah, we thought that might get your attention.

Like in Halo 2, every player begins a round equipped with the same abilities and weapons, not to mention the same opportunities to grab power weapons and clamber around the maps, as everybody else. The MJOLNIR armour has been upgraded to include aspects of all of the best abilities from past Halo games and, to just briefly touch on the mysterious campaign, believe us: if this is what Chief will have to contend with when he meets with Agent Locke and his team of Spartan Vs, he’s going to have a hell of a time surviving. Still, before you get worried about the consequences of chucking a bunch of  Call Of Duty: Advanced Warfare-esque abilities at players and letting them run riot, you’ll be happy to learn that it has been meticulously balanced. An ode to the amazing and long-lost, but not forgotten Quake and Unreal Tournament days, if you will.

IT’S ALL ABOUT THE BALANCE
Infinite sprinting is now the default reaction to clicking in the left analogue stick, but sprinting also restricts your shields from regenerating. Think you can get out of a messy firefight by high-tailing it away and around a corner to safety? Think again, and prepare to die swiftly and unceremoniously from a rogue grenade, melee punch or bullet if you try. In fact, despite Halo 5 gaining a severe increase in its movement and combat speed, strafing and deft manoeuvrability is more important than ever.

This is assisted by a brand new ability that you Advanced Warfare players might be familiar with pushing the analogue stick in a direction, along with a press of B, will see you utilise a swift jetpack-enhanced ‘Spartan Boost’ evasive manoeuvre. This is integral for moving in for melee takedowns, quickly jetting behind cover, and for managing groups of two Spartans or more. That unlimited sprint we mentioned before can also be combined with other basic abilities for new results: running full pelt at another Spartan and hitting RB unleashes a brutal ‘Spartan Charge’ a shoulder barge that, while difficult to aim, will provide an instant kill against anyone foolish enough to not be paying attention to their mini-map.

That’s not all either. Your Boost ability can also be used in the air, letting you add a little extra distance on your jumps especially helpful as you can now clamber over and onto objects in the tightly spaced arena maps. The frustratingly inaccurate ‘crouch jump’ technique has finally been removed from the meticulous  Halo movement equation. We mentioned a ground pound attack earlier too, and we weren’t kidding. Leap into the air and click in the right analogue stick, a red targeting reticule will briefly appear as you prepare and aim the deadly strike. Seriously, if you hit a Spartan head-on with a ground pound you’ll earn a sweet medal and an instant kill for your trouble, but it isn’t easy. Not only are players jetting, jumping and sprinting around at speed, but it’ll rip away your energy shield on impact so you better hope the enemy isn’t running together in packs. High risk and high reward plays secure victory in  Halo 5, and that’s exactly how it should be.

Halo fans have always seemed to fear change, but the addition of new abilities is seamless. The new traversal options simply offer a wider range of approaches towards enemies and altercations, while the abilities feel like a natural extension of your role and prowess in the established universe. The best thing we can say about the additions and changes in Halo 5, is that it doesn’t have any noticeable impact on the way you’ve been enjoying Halo competitively even if you’ve been entrenched in Red Vs Blue warfare since the LAN session days from back in 2001. There’s a surprisingly small learning curve to contend with, and it won’t take long for the muscle memory to kick in and take over.

Truth be told, the hardest thing to wrap your head around is returning to  The Master Chief Collection. Halos 1 through 3 suddenly feel archaic; relics from a bygone era where you weren’t able to sprint, clamber or thruster-boost? What was Bungie even doing back then?  Halo 5 has stripped away the extraneous features of Halo 4 and, if the beta is a real indication of the final product, has refined 343’s original vision placing a laser focus on balance, competitive play and evolving combat in subtle, yet impactful, ways.

ADDRESSING THE DE-SCOPING CONTROVERSY
What would a 343 game be without a little controversy? One of the biggest complaints that could be levied at Halo 4 surrounded the studio’s decision to remove de-scoping in favour of flinching. In traditional Halo, whenever you zoomed-in with a weapon that could be aimed down sights, you would revert instantly back to hip-fire view as soon as you were hit. Halo 4 replaced this with a Call Of Duty and Battlefield inspired penalty, whereby you could stay in ADS but the player’s reticule would randomly shift direction while you were under fire. It sucked. It meant those who were especially proficient with scoped weapons such as the DMR, Sniper and Battle Rifles could run unchallenged at a distance. De-scoping ensures that even the most accurate players need to close the distance, and get their strafing while hip-firing technique nailed down.

It’s back and that’s more important than ever. Every firearm in Halo 5 can be scoped. The SMG, the Battle Rifle and yes, even the Assault Rifle. You can ADS with all of them for the first time in Halo, though it doesn’t impact the game as much as you might suspect. This isn’t Call Of Duty in a Halo skin, de-scoping ensures firefights are still deadly dances where foot placement is just as important as how quickly you can pull the trigger. Scoping a weapon simply increases your accuracy at range and reduces bullet spread, but you won’t be any less deadly firing from the hip. The seven early beta maps have been designed in such a way as to encourage moving into close-quarters combat, while still giving players the freedom to engage in long-to-mid range Battle Rifle and DMR shootouts. Unlike in previous Halo games, you need constant spatial awareness. You’ll always need to be aware of where the four enemy Spartans are, and what power weapons they hold, if you want to claim victory.

WHAT 343 NEEDS TO IMPROVE FROM THE BETA
It’s clear that 343 has learned a great deal from redeveloping the early Halo games for The Master Chief Collection. The focus on four versus four arena combat is compelling. The leap forward in a generation always seems to come with the demands for  more. Higher player counts, bigger maps, more weapons you’ve heard it, and probably said it all, before. We certainly have. But this early showing of Halo 5: Guardians has proven that bigger isn’t always better. By scaling down battles and by designing maps designed for four versus four combat, Halo has regained its sense of speed, danger and pace. Of course, when the full game launches in November 2015, it will also come with larger maps designed for 16 players, if not maybe more and will introduce vehicles, more weapons and a host of other unknown quantities. Halo 5 feels great scaled down, the question now is whether the abilities and ADS will have a detrimental impact on large scaled maps.

We also have some small concerns over the state of the new Halo 5 game engine. While this is still in beta and still obviously subject to change, it’s clear from what we’ve seen so far that 343 has simply layered new effects over an old design. While the new lighting model looks set to embarrass the upscaled Master Chief Collection version of Halo 4, and the space-screen effects such as the motion blur, lens flare and particle effects are all pretty bloody lovely, we were hoping the studio was going to deliver a completely fresh engine to blow our minds. Still, the beta was locked at 720p, so we’re sure it’ll look suitably incredible by the time the 1080p final version arrives later this year.

The release of  Halo 5 is going to be important for Microsoft. With the recent success of  Titanfall, Call Of Duty: Advanced Warfare and Battlefield 4, the FPS competition has never been fiercer. But after the opportunity to sink a horrible amount of hours into seven incredible maps, we’re certain that Halo 5: Guardians is going to be a powerful return to form for the defining Xbox franchise.

TRENDING
The features and additions we loved and loathed, and what we’d like to see 343 tweak before November

HEADSHOT

ADS
We never thought we’d say it, but the ability to aim down sights with every weapon is a fantastic addition to the Halo franchise. It’s brought back mid-to-long ranged fights without sacrificing close quarters combat thanks to the return of de-scoping.

SPARTAN SPRINT
Sprinting pretty much sucked in Halo 4, we liked how slow and meticulous movement was back in the Halo 2 days. But FPS games have sped up in a decade, and 343 has managed to balance sprinting perfectly with the shield recharge restriction.

MAP DESIGN
Of the seven maps we’ve played so far one of which was a remake of Halo 2’s Midship they’ve all proved to be a lot of fun, and are incredibly well balanced. Still built to encourage strafing, grenade lobbing and melee takedowns.

POWER WEAPONS
We are so happy to see fixed power weapons return. The rush towards the sniper rifle, rocket launcher and energy shields is intoxicating, and entire rounds can be dominated with solid communication and holding the power weapons.

SPARTAN BOOST
The ability to thruster boost has essentially made Halo faster and more chaotic. It has a small recharge time so you can’t spam it. There’s a learning curve of knowing when the opportune moment to use it is in a one vs one situation.

BETRAYAL

THE SERVERS
Sure, this is still in beta so problems were to be expected. But this hasn’t been a great showing for the new dedicated server support. After The Master Chief Collection ’s launch fiasco, 343 will need to lock the server stability down.

SPARTAN SLIDE
While sprinting, you can click in the right analogue stick to slide supposedly useful for slipping into combat and cover. But it has little tactical advantage, nor did it seem widely used by the player base. We’d like to see this fully reworked.

HOVER TIME
While in the air, you can bring your weapon to sights and activate a short jetpack hover. This allows you to get above cover and accurately lay down fire, but you’re a sitting duck. Of all the new abilities, this seems like the one to drop.

RESOLUTION
We aren’t total resolution junkies, but this is  Halo we are talking about. Halo 5 looked pretty, but the beta was locked at 720p, and didn’t give a chance to sample its full next-gen wonder. We need to see it in full 1080p, please, as good as it gets.

FRAME-RATE PROBLEMS
Again, being in beta this was surely to be expected, but the frame-rate needs to be solid before launch. While it ran at a smooth 60fps most of the time, there was some noticeable slowdown when eight Spartans hit the screen.