The short live demo shown of arguably the year's most anticipated game did more to instil its faith in me than the video Microsoft showed at their pre-show E3 press event. Still, there are no major changes to gameplay from an immediate glance. It all looks very much like the Halo we know, only in a higher resolution. That being said, however, I was impressed to see the environments no longer look cut and pasted like they did in the first two games, giving me hope that we might actually be in for a visual trek of variance during Halo 3.
Apparently what was shown was lifted from the first level, only about 1/3 of the way through (to avoid spoiling any of the game's initial set up). The level is called Sierra 117, which I assume will have far more bearing when we get to see the game's intro. What was cool was the action was thick, fast and very much Halo. Covenant patrols were skittled through the level and our masterfully handled Master Chief had no problems taking them out. We saw a handful of weapons being used, including the sniper rifle which is back, as well as the needle gun and more. The level itself is a lush forest, replete with warped trees, creeks, boulders and tiered ground. The first encounter saw a stack of bad guys dug in deep away and above us, which gave tactical advantage to the enemy. Thankfully the AI is working as well as it is, because our talky comrades have no trouble joining in the fight and building their own respectable kill count. The animation for them is far smoother than in previous games and small touches such as lighting and particle effects (which were stellar) around add to the fervour of the situation.
It was great to hear some of the in-game banter between the Covenant and the humans, and you'll be happy to hear our old Aussie-voiced soldier is back with far more to say. The entire demo I didn't hear a single repeated line, which is always a good thing. Pressing on, I notice we have the arbiter alongside for the ride, and he himself has plenty to say, pointing out enemy positions and generally being a good turncoat. There was no music in this build, which for whatever reason, actually made it even more intense from my point of view. Maybe it was omitted to give us a closer look/listen at the game's great sound-effects and voice library, which is a stand out element at the moment, or perhaps it's because it just wasn't finished, but again, whatever the reason, I'm glad it was lifted for this.
Eventually we break out of our Predator-esque surroundings and come across a pretty cool section with typical Halo-looking structures. There are two support carriers floating off in the distance, dropping off troops for us on the field, which is a good thing because the enemy seems to be everywhere. Thankfully, beyond the backup, we also have the cool new shields in play. You can't shoot through the almost invisible honeycomb dome, but you can walk in and melee the crap out of its occupant. Very cool. Our Master Chief was ducking in and out of the structure like so much real-terrain cover, taking pot shots and the enemy and generally ensuring survival and tactical play, but things get even hairier when a Covenant drop ship drops
in on us and actually destroys one of our ships. Hopefully the game is riddled with epic battle moments like this to keep things as grand as possible throughout. But so far, while no Gears of War visual feast (then again, what is?), it's looking pretty solid all-round. It's a bit of no brainer this game is going to be a hit, but it's at least nice to know Bungie are taking the time to make it worth all the hype and marketing that will invariably surround it upon release in September.
But wait, there's more.
Almost everyone and his (or her) dog have probably had a crack at the multiplayer beta for Halo 3, but that didn't stop the nice folks at Bungie showing us some of the video features that will be available when the game ships. The feature is nothing short of incredible and should help create an entire community of video editors out there.
To begin with, you can record an entire match, then go back in and watch it from multiple angles, slow it down, speed it up and pause it wherever you want. You can watch through any player's point of view, take screenshots wherever you want, and edit the thing to your heart's desire. You won't be able to save it as a .mov, .mpeg or anything like that, but as you're only saving game data the files will be incredibly small, it's just that you won't be able to upload anything to YouTube just yet (unless you're some kind of master rigger and manipulate your way around it), but Bungie are planning on offering some pretty cool stuff on Bungie.net to help feed all the Red Vs. Blue types out there, so stay tuned for future announcements.
As I said earlier, it's a no brainer this is the biggest game this year (apart from maybe, GTA IV), but there's going to be plenty of meat to the product, making all the hyperbole worth it. So far so good, and while I saw games I thought were better, Halo 3 could still come up trumps in my book when its released in September, but I'll just have to wait and see (and so will you).