I have finished the fight. After three long years of anticipation Bungie has finally released their legendary opus to a nation of salivating Halo fanatics; most of which stood in line for hours to be the first to own their copy of the third and final chapter in the series. Halo 3 is easily one of the most important releases of the year if not the most important for Microsoft’s Xbox 360 console for the rest of its lifespan. It is expected to move hardware and finally give the system an edge over its competitors. With so much riding on one game there are sure to be some skeptics claiming it is overhyped, but the only way that is even possible is if Halo 3 doesn’t deliver a solid and compelling experience. The good news for Microsoft and Bungie is that Halo 3 is quite possibly the best deal you will get for your sixty bucks for a long time.
The story picks up immediately following the end of Halo 2. For those of you unfamiliar with the tale up to this point may want to refresh yourself before trying to decipher what is going on in Halo 3. This time around Bungie has listened to the fans and given Master Chief center stage throughout the entire game. No more switching characters back and forth, which is actually both a relief and a bit disappointing as the Arbiter now feels more like a sidekick as opposed to having a fully fleshed out background and story.
While there is certainly no question about the quality of the storytelling there is come concern about its content. Unlike the previous entry Halo 3 delivers a straight forward sci-fi narrative that plays out almost exactly like you would expect. There are really no “wow” moments to be had storyline wise, but it is nice to be able to comprehend everything happening without worrying about giant talking plants that seemingly come from nowhere. It was obvious that the series was coming to a close, and while the finale is far from disappointing I would be lying if I said I wasn’t expecting just a little bit more for the final chapter of this amazing game. On a whole though the story is well told and genuinely interesting, it just isn’t going to blow you away.
The campaign mode will feel familiar to anyone who has played the previous outings, the key with this franchise is that it never tries to re-invent the wheel; it simply makes it roll better. The Halo series is known for its incredible AI and near flawless pacing not to mention the massive vehicle battles that break up the on-foot monotony. There are nine levels total and each one is distinctive enough that it never feels boring or repetitive. If you want to nitpick any one thing about the single-player portion it would have to be the length. The game clocks in at around 10 hours depending on your skill level and of course which difficulty you choose to play on. A quick side note to all Achievement junkies you cannot obtain points on any difficulty lower than normal so you will have to earn these.
Even with this length (which isn’t necessarily short by any stretch of the imagination) there is plenty to keep you occupied simply from the campaign. The biggest and most important addition to Halo 3’s single player is online co-op with up to four players. There is nothing that adds life to a game than being able to throw the difficulty onto Legendary and grab three buddies as you try to progress through the story fighting for kills. This is further enhanced with the addition of a co-op meta game that scores each player individually for in-game accomplishments. Things such as headshots, grenade sticks, and amount of times you die all factor into your score and after the game it gives you a quick break down of all the action.
Throughout the campaign you can also discover different skulls, which have become a sort of tradition with the Halo games. There are multiple skulls in each level and each one has a distinguishing characteristic that can be utilized in the meta game. Some of these include having to start the entire level over if you die, removing the hud and crosshairs, and even decreasing the ammo in weapons you pick up. There are of course benefits to these modifiers as well; every time one is activated you will get a bonus multiplier for your meta score in campaign mode. Score enough points on each level and you will earn an extra achievement. Needless to say there is more than enough single-player action to keep this game fresh for months and we have yet to even talk about multi-player.
Of course no Halo game would be complete without the weapons and vehicles to back it up. Thankfully Halo 3 brings all of your old favorites back as well as introducing some new ones into the fold. Your default weapon as Master Chief will now be the same assault rifle you came to know from the first game. Its accuracy has increased but it is still just a starting weapon. The battle rifle also makes a return along with SMGs, sniper rifles, and of course the rocket launcher. Covenant weapons also make a return with a beefed up Needler (you can no longer dual wield these bad boys), plasma pistol, and my personal favorite the Brute Shot, which is now more balanced and can deliver some serious damage. A lot of the weapons have been balanced better for the third iteration such as the plasma sword which now has an ammo cap. Bungie didn’t settle for just balancing classics they have also added a plethora of new toys for you to play around with.
There are now several power weapons outside of the rocks including a missle pod, a gattling gun, and everyone’s favorite humiliation weapon the Spartan Laser which takes three seconds to charge but can split a Warthog into shreds in one hit. Another noteworthy addition is the Brute Hammer which can actually knock vehicles back if timed correctly. Bungie has also added a third tier to the chaos with the inclusion of equipment. The X button is now used to deploy different items that can give you the edge in combat. These include items such as a bubble shield that creates a protective barrier for anyone inside of it, a radar jammer that confuses your enemy, and a power drain that can suck the life out of your opponents shield. This new dynamic adds another strategic layer to the single and multi-player portion of the game not to mention being a whole lot of fun.
Vehicles also make a return once again with returning classic and new faces. The most notable new ride is the Brute Chopper which is arguably a bit overpowered, but still damn cool. There is also the elephant tank that is one of the largest vehicles I have ever seen in an online game and basically becomes a mobile base in objective games online. Then we have the returning classics such as the Ghost, the Banshee, and of course everyone’s favorite the Warthog. The UNSC doesn’t come unprepared in the vehicles department though with the addition of the extremely quick mongoose which is great for moving the bomb and flag in multi-player as well as a new air ride known as the Hornet. While neither one of these are really offensive powerhouses they are both fun to toy around with.
This brings us to the heart and soul of the series, and easily what has made it as popular as it is today; multi-player. Let’s be completely honest here, Microsoft could have split the single and multi-player versions of this game into two packages and each one alone would have been worth full price, but if you compared sales the online version would have easily outsold its counterpart. The problem with Halo being so popular with the online community is that no matter what Bungie brought to the table with Halo 3 the vocal minority would find something to complain about while they were logging their 1000+ hours of play time.
The game ships with eleven maps out of the box with the promise of more DLC over the next few years. This new set of maps is easily the best package since the series inception with a wide array of styles ranging from gigantic battlegrounds great for vehicle objective games to claustrophobic arenas perfect for a small slayer match. All of your favorite match types return such as slayer (Halo’s version of deathmatch), capture the flag, and territories as well as a host of new types such as VIP. All of these modes can be modified to change weapons, respawn times, and a bevy of other options that really give players a chance to play the game they want to. Want to make vehicle indestructible, feel free the option is there.
Another key factor in longevity of this mode is the addition of Forge. Not so much a map making tool, but more of an environmental editor that allows you to spawn new items, weapons, and objects at will, even with other people playing around in the environment. While fans of PC shooters will certainly scoff at the simplicity of this tool, it is actually quite addictive to get in there and start dropping tanks on one another, or better yet creating an explosion that respawns every ten seconds. You can also save your custom creations and share them with friends or the entire Halo nation with Bungie’s handy file share system.
The file share system is also directly tied into Bungie’s website where gamers can check stats, view screenshots, and even queue up downloads for the next time they log into Halo 3. One of the other cool new additions is the ability to save replays of any match online or off and even save clips to upload and share with your friends. Did you have a massive killing streak on Sandtrap last night with just a sword and some grenades? Now you can capture that moment and show it off to your friends online in a lobby complete with commentary from your voice chat. The system actually works extremely well except for the rewind function which is more like a chapter back button. Sometimes you just want to go back one frame and that simply isn’t possible right now, but outside of that it is a great addition to the game and adds a ridiculous amount of customization to the already robust online mode.
This of course would not be a complete Halo review without mentioning the visuals and sound. Plenty of people on forums and blogs across the web have criticized how Halo 3 looks since the first screenshot surfaced. After the beta many gamers were concerned the game didn’t look quite “next-genny” enough. While I am not here to tell you that this is the best looking game on the system it certainly does not deserve the disparagement it is getting. The art direction in Halo has always been unique and if you are familiar with previous installments this one is no different. The environments are large and beautifully detailed and the game runs at a rock solid frame rate. Some of the character animation is questionable and the game overall isn’t going to cause your eyes to hemorrhage from its intense realism. But that doesn’t mean the game doesn’t look damn good.
The sound on the other hand is leaps and bounds above most shooters. The score once again stands out as one of the greatest achievements in game music to this day. That simple piano melody still gives me shivers every time I hear it and the way the music picks up during intense battles is really engulfing. The voices are also very well done with some Hollywood talent in there for good measure. Your allies and opponents chatter on the battlefield is also well rounded and you will likely not hear the same phrase twice in one play through.
While I could continue to fill this space with great things to say about the game I am sure most of you have already taken the plunge. Halo 3 is going to sell a bazillion copies (no that is not literal) so this review is just another statement as to why this franchise is one of the classics in gaming. Halo 3 is not perfect; in fact it doesn’t do anything innovative or groundbreaking. What it does do is take a great game with superb gameplay and improve upon it in every way imaginable. You will also not find a more complete package for your money this year. The single-player campaign is worth the price of admission alone and with a multi-player component that could last years its hard to argue about getting your money’s worth. Halo 3 is a great game, but the sum of all of it’s parts make it a classic and a must-own title for all fans of the action genre.