Is there any point in trying to keep our emotions in check for this Halo 3 review? Should we start by trying to remind ourselves of the series genesis with Halo: Combat Evolved on the Xbox console and how it redefined the console shooter? Perhaps then moving on to discuss the nature of hype and how it affected the reception of the sequel? No. We all know why you’re here: you want to know if Halo 3 is good. Well, simply put, yes, it’s good. Actually, it’s better than good, it’s fantastic and it’s the game that your Xbox 360 has been waiting for.
Undoubtedly, most players’ first port of call will be the single player campaign, which starts off pretty much where Halo 2 left off. The Master Chief makes one of the hardest, most impressive entrances in military history, performing a parachute jump from two kilometres high with no parachute. Being the Chief, he simply shrugs it off and starts shooting Covenant without even so much as a limp. The game starts off in a jungle, which shows off the amazing lighting techniques as it filters through the dense trees. Make no mistake, Halo 3 is a beautiful game; perhaps not the graphical powerhouse many thought it would be, but the art direction and lighting effects more than make up for it. It’s subtle, not overdone, and most importantly, it looks like ‘Halo’. The distinctive aesthetic continues throughout, and everything runs smoothly at all times without a hint of slowdown and no graphical glitches that spring to mind. Gamestyle is sure some people may bemoan the game’s graphics for the first five minutes or so, but by the time four hours have gone by, all such complaints will be non-existent.
It’s hard to pick out any one element to extol over the others in Halo 3, as it all works so well together. It continues the series’ fine tradition of intelligent and tactical skirmishes over vast open battlefields, but turns everything up to 11. There’s vehicular combat, fighting alongside marines, taking down all manner of Covenant forces with a varied selection of guns, turrets and explosives. The holy trinity of guns, grenades and melée all at your fingertips entrench Halo 3 as the best combat shooter around. Marine chatter is natural and responsive (and often quite funny) and the musical score is epic and powerful, kicking into its well-known motif at appropriate intervals.
The craftsmanship here is astounding, but unfortunately the game is not perfect, as there are a couple of shortfalls. The first is the game’s storyline, which throws players in at the deep-end and requires prior knowledge in order to fully appreciate it. This isn’t a problem for fans, but anyone else who wants to enjoy the game will be wondering what is going on. Still, if you’ve been following the series, you’ll appreciate the story as well as the gameplay all the way from the intro to the game’s heart pounding (if familiar) end sequence… especially considering Halo 3 actually has an ending! The other shortfall is in Bungie’s tendency to include at least one bad level, despite all common sense. That the game’s quality in the latter third takes a bit of a downturn is unfortunate considering how brilliant the first two thirds are. Still, it remains enjoyable throughout, but peaks a little too early in its eight-hour lifespan and doesn’t reach similar levels of excellence until the very last mission.
But the single player portion is only the beginning. As anyone who plays the game knows, the multiplayer component of Halo games is just as important, and the same Bungie dedication has been applied here. Halo 2’s multiplayer was the next step-up for Xbox Live titles, and Halo 3 improves on that, partly because of the four player co-operative mode. It makes the Legendary difficulty, an otherwise excruciating trial by fire, into a fun and incredible experience that should not be missed. Within the normal multiplayer arenas, the familiar game types return – deathmatch, CTF and so forth – and are accompanied by Bungie fan favourites such as Oddball, Territories, and Juggernaut. There are even some new game types which have come about due to the ravenous Bungie community, such as Zombie, where one player starts with a sword and over-shield, versus normal players, who must defeat the zombie. However, every time a zombie player kills a normal, the normal is switched to the zombie’s side, until either all the normal players are killed and converted, or all the zombies are dead. This game started off as a fan-made Halo 2 game type for custom games, but has now made it into the official roster. It’s touches like this that show Bungie really appreciate its legions of fans… or, if you’re cynical, know how to keep the money coming. We believe the former is the truth because of the two other big features of the game – namely the amazing theatre mode and, of course, the Forge.
The former is probably our favourite feature thus far, but the Forge has the most potential. In basic terms, the Forge is a multiplayer level editor that lets you edit practically everything in a level aside from its actual geometry (and you can even do that to a certain degree with enough imagination: crates on top of gravity lifts, creating a reverse suspension bridge, perhaps?). You can choose what weapons to use, where they spawn, what vehicles to use, the power-ups on the map, and what these power-ups actually do. The Custom Power-Up tool lets you create your very own that can do pretty much anything. Want your players to have 300% weapons damage with it activated? It’s there. Or perhaps make their shields disappear entirely, or allow them to hit rockets with a hammer, if you edit it right. It’s amazing what you can do with the Forge, and you can even share what you create over Xbox Live. There are limits, of course, since everything has a price, literally. To make sure nobody fries their 360’s memory, every item in the map has a cost in dollars. The prices range from the low for basic equipment (such as two dollars for a simple crate or fusion core) to the insanely high priced items, mainly in the vehicles section (where a Wraith tank costs forty). You can accrue more dollars by removing items from the map, but the more you put on, the less money you have; so be careful when trying to make an eight-on-eight Scorpion versus Wraith deathmatch, as you may need to scrimp on other areas, such as respawn points, to do so.
But the theatre! Oh, the theatre! Such a brilliant feature that saves a video of every single game you play of Halo 3 – or, more specifically, saves the last 25 you played, whether they be single player, co-op, or multiplayer, online or off. Then, you can view these movies and save them permanently to your hard drive, make clips or take screenshots and save them to your hard drive, or upload them to your Xbox Live ‘share’ folder for other users to download and view. It’s a great tool that allows users to forever record their greatest and/or worst moments of Halo 3. It’s a brilliant feature that brings the community together and will no doubt lead to, amongst other things, a slew of custom wallpapers for computers. But more than that, recorded footage is also a useful training tool for online matches, as you can see exactly what everybody else is doing and how they’re doing it.
Halo 3 isn’t perfect, but it’s so close it’s unnerving. There’s very little to fault with this game, and the flaws that are there are almost completely overshadowed by the overall quality and incredible amount of content and features. We’ve never had this much fun with a 360 game before, online or off, and we doubt we will again for quite some time.