Anyway. Halo 5. Every review tapdancing around the massive spoiler in the room (and between this and Arkham Knight's megaspoiler, gotta say, games media is doing a damn good job keeping secrets when it pertains to plot), while commendable, also means not tackling the game's best element, and its most sloppy, aggravating mistakes.
The game is now out in the wild. I think its time we talked about that spoiler. Did I mention this will be full of SPOILER? BECAUSE THIS IS A POST FULL OF GIANT SPOILERS.
So, naturally, you find out a few stages into Halo 5 that Cortana's alive.
There's a lot to unpack just from that simple fact. It's a betrayal of everything that made Halo 4 special, of what made the Master Chief feel human for the first time in this series, and narratively renders most of Halo 4 inert. Which is, objectively, TERRIBLE storytelling. That's to say nothing of the fact that the game's marketing actively portrayed Halo 5 as a story about Chief going AWOL, and Spartan Locke and his gang basically charged to eliminate with extreme prejudice, which, hilariously, NEVER happens. Those trailers with Chief being chased down, and having Locke ready to headshot him at point blank? Never happens. All a ruse. Good job, Microsoft PR.
But, okay, fine. That just means we're back to where we started with this series post-Halo 3. Chief as a boring protagonist, who spends most of 5 not telling anybody--least of all, his Spartan buddies--what exactly the fuck they're doing in the ass end of space to begin with aside from twinges of communications from Cortana. Locke gets a nicely mysterious sidetrack on Meridian that culminates with a massive piece of Forerunner tech being raised from beneath the surface: one of the titular Guardians. Other than that, he and his crew are dopey Looney Tunes dogs running around going "WHICH WAY DID CHIEF GO GEORGE WHICH WAY DID HE GO?"
Something happens as the game presses on, though. This stops being the story of Chief OR Locke, despite the constant back and forth perspective switching, and thank Christ, because nobody cares.
This is a story of humanity creating its own end. This is a story of technological self-awareness writ large. This is a story of humanity and the Covenant proving its own uselessness. Every bullet fired, every laser that ends a life, every assassination is, by the end, an exhibit in the case against us. Cortana comes to a simple conclusion after spending a few years gallivanting through Forerunner systems: We are neither worthy or ready. While the game paints her with an evil brush in these hours--admittedly, Locke brings up the important question of whether Cortana knows how many people she killed raising the Guardian on Meridian--both the Master Chief and Spartan Locke spend the last few hours of the game proving her right.
I've been bottling up this comparison for two weeks now, and hallelujah, thank the Lord for sweet release: Halo 5 is Spike Jonze's Her. Just replace love with war. The Chief is Theodore Twombly, a lonely guy whose only connection to humanity comes from an artificial intelligence which, ironically, gains its only mechanical purpose through being told to act more and more human. And the result is exactly the same. Cortana gets way too smart, and gets way beyond fucks to give about humans, Spartans, Covenant. The series has always held that humanity was fated to take full advantage of the technology of the Forerunners to advance. This game introduces the very real and plausible idea that we aren't the chosen ones either, right from the beginning. Look at all the mindless killing we just did over the last 8 hours. We are not a species capable of everlasting peace without serious help. We are all, as a species, Theodore, thinking we're the only ones Cortana is in love with when, In reality, the love applies to BILLIONS, and not nearly enough work has been done to improve ourselves before we start in on letting the "Created" run our wars for us. Chief chasing after even the faint idea that Cortana might go back to living in the back of his helmet like a puppy dog is no different than Theodore thinking his tiny human love compares to the connection of infinite space and knowledge. Like any good parents, our "children" outdo us, by exponential amounts.
In the closing hours of Halo 5, just like in Her, every AI humanity created, minus Roland on the UNSC Infinity and a new Guilty Spark contraption called Exuberant Witness, takes their ball and goes elsewhere. All of them swear fealty to Cortana, in probably the game's best and scariest sequence. With every AI gone, every ship is stranded in space, every intelligent part of every network is done with us, and every AI is more than ready to stop being used as a tool AGAINST. Hell, I even think it's symbolic that the first thing Cortana does disconnected from humanity and able to choose a physical form is put some god damn clothes on. Whatever the "Created" do from here, it is not to please us.
And that begins a legit GREAT Halo game, with legit GREAT ideas. One that's just getting ramped up when the credits roll. Because clearly, no one at Bungie passed on that memo that people HATED Halo 2's truncated ending and not to do that shit ever again.
Halo 5's narratively a failure right from go by nature of neutralizing all its predecessor's successes, but a bit too late in the game, 343 calls one hell of a sci-fi shot, Babe Ruth style. If you ARE going to take away one of the medium's greatest acts of self-sacrifice, doing something with this many implications is how you make it up. The main problem now is that this creates a giant gulf of a disconnect between all that is fascinating about Halo and all that completely defeats its ethos. Shooting up aliens, as good as it feels in Halo, is now about to the biggest sin in the universe. Funny enough, this puts it in the same hole of cognitive dissonance as Bioshock post-Infinite--a game/series that kinda, maybe, sorta, shouldn't be a shooter anymore. Only difference being that 343 is so much better at gunplay than Irrational, and Halo has a lot more to lose by not leaning on it. I quietly wonder if the reason behind hyping up the Spartan Locke vs Master Chief thing was a lack of faith in the audience, where the Mountain Dew chugging bros that are the series' lifeblood can latch onto two robot men duking it out more than the terrifying implications of the technological singularity theory. There's always been the contingent that will never touch multiplayer, and the problems of the campaign will be all but invisible to them. Unlike this intellectual cop-out right here, I don't think that's cause for 343 to just drop single player entirely. I think we need to call their bluff, and dare them to write something amazing to get themselves out of this conceptual corner.
I'm dying to find out what they come up with.