Ever since the 360 was released, Halo fans across the world have been waiting, hoping and anticipating a conclusion to possibly the most contagious and obsessive video-game saga to ever grace a video-game console. Halo 2 generated a massive amount of media and public attention on the original XBOX and its cliffhanger ending angered many fans who thought that they would have to wait some four years to finally get the ending they’ve been hoping for. Now Halo 3 has hit the shelves and after some early controversy involving Microsoft employees going online before the release date, the anticipation has slowly turned to excitement and then relief as the 360’s “system seller” comes to life.
There’s no doubting that the Halo franchise is an incredibly fun FPS series. Its basic gameplay, vast amount of weaponry, large number of maps and online options as well as some deep customization make it an almost given in the multiplayer department. While Halo 3’s single-player experience is not quite as much of a standout as Bioshock, like its predecessors it is a multiplayer beast that focuses heavily on online carnage and action instead of a lengthy single-player story. The lack of a strong single-player focus is one of the few issues why Halo 3 may not be the “must have” title for the XBOX 360. In saying that, it has many positive attributes that warrant a purchase and the multiplayer is just one of those. Is Halo 3 really worth the hype and where does it stand in wonderful XBOX 360 game library?
Gameplay – 9.0/10
Halo 3 takes off where Halo 2 ended; Master Chief is headed back down to Earth to stop the Prophet of Truth and its Brutes from destroying Earth and everything it holds dear. Cortana has been captured and Arbiter and his Elites have put aside their differences and joined forces to fight a larger evil for the greater good. The way this story plays out from the beginning makes it feel every bit like a blockbuster action flick and it’s told in more narrative sense than Halo 2 which makes it a little easier to follow, especially for those new to the franchise.
Halo 3’s use of the Master Chief as its main character is a little more applauded this time round and it was often a criticism that the Chief wasn’t used to his best ability in Halo 2. Far too often you were left doing side-missions and such that had nothing directly to do with him, but thankfully now we have more of an influence and more of a focus on the monster of a soldier.
Most of the nine levels throughout the game are generally well designed and executed but don’t stand out as anything extraordinary and overly exciting. The first level plays out like a training drill, even on the more difficult setting. Certain levels, particularly the penultimate chapter, can get so boring and overly repetitive that it’s a wonder why the human race hasn’t already be obliterated; if I were a soldier fighting in that setting, I’d drop my weapon and sacrifice myself just to get out of there. It’s certain areas like this that are consistently boring and far too frustrating to play out that it may completely turn you off from playing the single-player campaign through a second time which, suffice to say, is a shame because the length is relatively short and anything that short justifies a replay.
The difficulty throughout the game seems at times off-track with the actual setting you chose from the beginning. When you first get into single-play you’ll notice that the default is Normal. Any frequent Halo gamer will understand that Normal actually plays out like a really easy shooter and that Easy is actually a difficulty for a toddler who’s never put there hands on a video-game controller before. Furthermore, the toddler probably would be able to play through the game quite easily. However, this direction of difficulty could be justified considering the amount of action this title is going to get from casual gamers who A: Have never player a Halo game before or B: Aren’t overly that good at video games. Bungie has obviously countered this possibility and made a game that is easy to pick up and play from the get go and should satisfy the simplest of video-gamers. The Heroic and Legendary difficulties play out a little more challenging than in the first two titles and this will satisfy experienced Halo gamers, but the truth is even the novice of gamers should get into the tough settings, as Normal and Easy are far to simple and quick to play through and you won’t get the full Halo 3 experience playing on those easy settings.
In may be wise to play out the first level on Normal though if you’re new to the series, just to get a hang of the controls, gameplay and weaponry. Once you get into the harder difficulties the AI gets a lot more challenging and the communication gets a little more intense, allowing for more gun battle and some hectic fighting which may be too difficult for the newbie. The AI, in general, is top notch and counters your aggression with its own defensive and offensive tactics while it gets more complex and smarter with higher difficulties. The Brutes will again be your main enemy in battles and you’ll notice that once fighting gets into full spring, The Brutes will use particular tactics to heal, attack and defend themselves with. Where this really stands out is in the Heroic and Legendary difficulties where the chatter between enemies is a lot more frequent and planned and clearly displays the high level of AI intelligence incorporated into the title.
Fortunately, Master Chief is the saviour for mankind because if your battlefield mates were the leaders the human race would be in a lot of trouble. While you aggressively take out enemies and take cover when injured, your team-mates are far to easily shot down and it often feels as though you’re the only one taking some action. Unfortunately, this lets the gameplay down as the enemy AI can be quite challenging and complex while you’re practically left to fight it all on your own.
The Skulls make another appearance (after being used in Halo 2) as a major incentive for playing through a 2nd and 3rd time. Unlike in Halo 2 when they were only reachable and accessible in Legendary, you may come across some in Normal, Heroic and Legendary therefore making them more of a frequency than in the past. However, not all deem to be good, as some have negative effects on the gameplay, such as increasing your enemies weaponry skills. However, some are a little fun and shooting an enemy in the head may incite a party (yes, an actual party, full with balloons and confetti.) These skulls ultimately add a little bit more to the gameplay and are reasons why people still play Halo 2 today.
Halo 3 may not purely be a multiplayer title, but its main purpose on this planet is just that; to provide an awesome online experience that made the first two Halo’s so special. Where Halo 3 continues this tradition is in its maps, as you’ll notice that multiplayer has a Halo and Halo 2 feel about it that will please many fans of the genre; instead of something completely different, they’ve reworked a formula that already worked so well and added a few extras.
The weaponry still has its broad itinerary and effectiveness. Some weapons will have little to no effect on an opponent, while some will be absolutely brutal and devastating. The typical and original machine guns and hand rifles come off as almost useless against the Brute Spikers that just about kill anything they come into contact with.
When you have a title the relies heavily on its multiplayer you can bet your right arm that Bungie were in for creating an insanely fun and deep online, multiplayer experience. They achieved that with quite easily the number one title to get online for on the 360. You have new vehicles like the Brute Chopper which handles perfectly and looks incredibly cool, eleven maps (which should increase via the Live Marketplace), heaps of weapons and a lag-free and popular lobby that should have you playing Halo 3 online for the next 3-4 years.
A new addition to the Halo series is The Forge, which acts as a map layout editor that allows you to rearrange locations of weapons, power-ups, vehicles and buildings. These altered maps can then be uploaded to Bungie.net for other Halo 3 gamers to check out and this adds even more depth to the MP and will add plenty of life to the eleven maps on offer.
Overall, Halo 3 offers deep, fun gameplay in both single-player and multiplayer mode. While the difficulty setting may seem a little out of whack and the length can be a little demeaning, the multiplayer is more than worth the price of admission and should be checked out by all immediately. The customization, maps, vehicles and weapons are all part of the deep online experience that made the previous Halo games so memorable and popular. It is also the best Live game available.
Graphics and Display – 8.5/10
Halo games in the past haven’t necessarily been the standard for graphical presentation. On the menu and load-screen front, the amazing animations mixed together with the outstanding soundtrack make all three Halo games, at times, a breathtakingly beautiful title. However, the environments themselves don’t seem to shine out in Halo 3 as much as one would have hoped.
There are moments of significant slowdown in the gameplay most notably when there is a lot going on in screen. Considering the hectic style of gameplay that can occur, this can be a little frustrating and affect your success against the Brutes. There are particular areas that show-off battles in the distance and these add a little bit of character to the environment and make it feel even more like a realistic battlefield.
The weapons all have a cool, futuristic look about them and there are little things, such as cracks in walls and dints in vehicles that look great and realistic.
Overall, Halo 3 is a good-looking title. It’s not the best looking title available on the 360 and doesn’t quite come close to the environmental beauty of Colin McRae’s DiRT, however, considering the vastness of the maps and draw-distance, this can be excused as the game looks stunning in 1080p.
Sound – 10/10
One aspect that took a backseat to the multiplayer in previous Halo titles was the soundtrack. The futuristic soundtrack, mixed together with classical tunes, made the first two Halo’s memorable and somewhat beautiful and Halo 3 is not an exception. The blistering music as you first pop the game in will give you goosebumps and the in game soundtrack is inspiring and great to listen too. It sounds amazing with Surround Sound and you won’t be able to get the true sensation unless you hook a decent sound system.
The chatter between your teammates and opponents is also fantastic and realistic and adds a feeling of excitement and chaos on the battlefield. Weapon sounds are very cool and not overly loud and they take a back seat to the sensational soundtrack, even during the gameplay. Bungie have focused on the music and you’ll notice that the weaponry sounds, while realistic, aren’t too loud.
Overall, a brilliantly mastered game that adds to the atmosphere and gameplay which is intense, beautiful, exciting, thrilling and heart-warming.
Value – 9/10
While the single-player won’t tied you over for that long, even if you go back to the collect all of the skulls, the multiplayer will have you hooked for years. It’s quite possibly the best Live experience to date and adds 3-4 years to the life of the title. If you buy Halo 3 for the single-player, it’s the biggest injustice you could ever commit. MP is an amazing feat and an extensive experience that no on should overlook for a second. Join the millions now.
Overall – 9/10
Beyond an amazing soundtrack, Halo 3 is a great title, but not quite perfect. It doesn’t fail miserable in the sense, but the single-player experience is too quick and doesn’t totally justify a 2nd and 3rd play through. While the Skulls may be good enough incentive for you, the games true beauty lies in the multiplayer, which is unfortunate because the Halo story is intriguing and deep. If the single-player was longer and more challenging this title may have challenged for GOTY, however it may struggle when it comes up against titles like Bioshock, GRAW and God of War II.