Initially I thought reviewing Halo 3 would be something of a redundant exercise. After all, this is the biggest game of the year, as stated by Microsoft themselves. But then I remembered Halo 2. A game that, while following on from the massive success of the first Halo outing, really did fail to impress the same way the first one did. With this in mind I realised just how much Halo 3 would be scrutinised; it’s one thing to tell the world you have the biggest videogame release in history, but it’s quite another to live up to that claim with a game that is only going to be pulled apart by critics the world over. But Bungie and Microsoft have most certainly accepted this challenge (Bungie probably less by choice
though), and while there is no doubt Halo 3 will be a massive success, how it fares within its own franchisal standings, and indeed, against all other games it’s bound to be compared to remains to be seen.
Sitting in Microsoft Australia’s gamer lounge though, I realised something about this “most anticipated title for 2007” while watching the other Aussie game journos ploughing through the game around me – Halo 3 is just that, a game
. It’s not going to bring about the second coming, reshape the future or tear a hole in the fabric of space-time, it’s going to keep someone happy, on their couch, for around 10 hours and then keep them slaying it online for as long as the game remains a Live must-have (which it will, but more on that a bit later). Beyond that, Halo 3 just isn’t the greatest thing since sliced bread, hurtful as that might be for Microsoft to hear.
At one point during our Halo 3 day (which ended up being two), I pulled off my headphones to hit the snacks table – our Microsoft Halo 3 guide was laughing and when I queried the source of his humour he said the room was full of angry gestures and annoyance – but in that good way. We all, with our headphones on and locked to our plasmas, had no idea just how much each of us were dealing with frustration but apparently every few minutes a voice could be heard cursing the game, the covenant, your team-mates, the controller, the console, the TV, the couch, the coffee and life in general. Now, while this might sound like a detriment to the game, it’s actually quite the opposite – Halo 3 is replete with those frustratingly difficult bottlenecks we all remember from the first game, only this time they’re decidedly more
difficult than before, but even more compelling as a result. After all, we’ve beaten this style of gameplay once before right? Why should we let it win this time?
Trouncing through the game over two days actually saw me only unlock a handful of Achievements and most of those were strictly for completing levels. While I didn't get a solid look at the Achievements list, it's a safe bet Bungie has set most of them aside for the multiplayer portion of the game which means Achievements junkies like myself, are going to have to put in the hard yards on the multiplayer. Hopefully there are some cool Achievements still to be found for the single-player, but don't get your hopes up just yet.
From the outset, don’t expect this to change the series or reshape the way you think about first-person shooters. Halo 3 is simply an extension of the first two games; however, it is, in my opinion, the best of the series so far. To begin with, it’s by far the prettiest Halo, and I’m not simply talking about visual presentation or use of effects – this is the most organic the series has ever looked. No more cut and pasted art-direction throughout. As the game is set on Earth, we get to see some excellent locales, from massive factories and structures, to lush forests, rolling hill-sides and more. You never once feel like you’re simply walking the same path or moving in circles, and as such Halo 3 offers a far more believable
sense of advancement. In the visual presentation department though, it’s a bit of a mixed bag of good, great and sloppy. The lighting throughout is always amazing, from the blooming rays of sunlight penetrating the canopy during the forested portions of the game to the flickering, atmospheric illumination of the game’s many life-like structures, Halo 3 never ceases to amaze, however, textures (like the vines in said forested sections) are almost laughable, looking more like they belong on the PS2 than on the 360 and its most anticipated game, no less. This trend never once lets up though (possibly pointing to a need to have the product ready by a particular date as opposed to the usual “when it’s done, it’s done” ethos most other big developers tend to go for), which does let the game down some, though with that being said, Halo 3 is still the best visual feast of the trilogy.
On the aural front, however, Halo 3 couldn’t be more consistent. Expect the same soundtrack throughout, but delivered in all its Pro Logic glory – it’s epic, masterful and driving, but again, it’s the little things that stand out. Small touches such as the crushing of leaves beneath your feet, the sound of water splashing as your team-mates trounce through the nearby creek or the piercing shriek of a flying covenant grunt as your grenade hits its mark. Gold. Playing through the game over two days (and dying a bunch of times in the process) I almost never heard the AI say the same thing twice. You’re constantly referred to as “the demon” by the covenant, while your allies are always awed by your presence. The story stuff is also good, if not a little cheesy – one particular line that stood out began with a soldier querying Miranda “Ma’am, the troops are requesting a rally point, where should they head?” to which she replies while stylishly cocking her pistol, “to war”. Priceless.
Speaking of AI, Bungie have definitely outdone themselves here, and I would go out on a limb to suggest Halo 3’s enemy and friendly AI is the best yet ever created for a videogame. Dying as often as I did, I saw a pattern within most bottlenecks that actually meant I couldn’t see a pattern. At no point did the AI do the same thing twice, despite maintaining a single desire to have me killed. They’ll take cover, try and outflank you, draw you out and do just about anything you could think of to see you dead. It’s equally cool to hear them rallying to bring you down. If you’re out of sight they’ll talk to each other to see if anyone can spot you, or will attempt to draw you out with stabbing remarks at your “cowardice”. Your team-mate AI, on the other hand, will do everything they can work dynamically with you. In one instance it’s up to you to save a bunch of troops deep within a complex. When you reach them they’re already outnumbered and fighting and the first time I helped them clear the room (guns a’ blazing, nonetheless) I was left with only one survivor before I myself was killed, the second time around though I worked with them more as a team and only lost one of about eight guys. Truly masterful.
Beyond visuals, sound and AI though, what’s really new about this instalment? Well, there are new weapons to play with such as the Gravity Hammer (which is a massively devastating tool that will even knock pieces of the environment about as you tackle enemies with it), new vehicles such as the Mongoose (a quick four-wheeler that houses you and one other team-mate on the back) and Chopper (a cool enemy motorbike with some pretty powerful guns) as well as a host of new enemies. The Brutes this time around are a real pain, and pretty tough to beat, but certainly offer a real challenge, while the game’s seminal boss-battles (like taking down the new Scarabs) offer a little more in the way of level closure. Obviously there is also a fair amount of story here, though none of it I can talk about (at the request of Microsoft), but I can tell you that playing right through, I wasn’t overly compelled by what the Chief was doing or what the Covenant were doing – this is pretty much the same type of yarn as we’ve seen in the first two games and while Microsoft are convinced finishing the trilogy is going to complete your life, I’m somewhat more sceptical.
While Halo 3 is most certainly a game you’ll enjoy running through, the real draw here is just how deep the multiplayer option is. There have been countless write-ups about the multiplayer since Bungie released the beta all those months ago, and with everything written or talked about, both positive and negative, it seems like they’ve utilised the overall feedback to make the final product one that will most definitely stand the test of time.
There are countless customisation options throughout, from changing the overall look of your character (you can change armour, logos, helmets and heaps more), to customising your matches. Forge offers what can only be described as an insane
amount of freedom. Every player can enter a mode where, in real-time, you can literally move anything on the map. Want to place a spawn spot on the most precarious part of the map? Do it. Want to pile up a bunch of crates around the opposing team’s spawn area so they can’t get out? Do it. Want to drop a tank on an unsuspecting team? Do it. There is so much freedom in Forge, you almost get the idea Bungie threw it in as an experiment, just to see how creative people could be with it. Beyond Forge, there are other game modes to enjoy such as Oddball where one player most hold onto a ball for as long as possible while everyone else around attempts to kill the ball holder – the only points accrued here are those gathered from holding the ball. Infection turns players into zombies who then head out to infect
all the other players while other favourites such as standard deathmatching, team deathmatching, CTF and more are all also in here, and again, all with an unbelievable amount of customisation – Halo 3’s multiplayer really is what you
make of it.
When the dust has settled though, Halo 3, while offering an incredible multiplayer experience (which could just have easily been released as a stand-alone product), isn’t the most incredible game ever made. It’s not even the best game on the 360 and it won’t
change your life, no matter how much Microsoft tells you it will. Thankfully, for the foreseeable future, this is the final chapter in the series, meaning we may, in fact, see a new IP out of Bungie down the road, but for now, Halo 3 is a fitting end to the series. It doesn’t break any new ground by any measure, but it is fun and is sure to break countless sales records due largely to Microsoft’s relentless marketing and PR campaign. There’s no denying this is a worthy purchase (if just for the multiplayer alone), just be aware it’s not the be all and end all of existence.