Review by oneshotskye

"Halo 3: Where slaying Brutes, Grunts, and preteen brats is all part of the daily grind"

Here's the thing: This review is not going to sway you into purchasing Halo 3. I know that, you know that, and (as we'll discuss in a minute) Bungie knows that because if you were truly interested the game, you probably would have bought it already. It's as simple as that, and it really doesn't matter if I spend the next four or five paragraphs slamming the multiplayer community, or the storyline, or emasculating the Master Chief to the point that he emits a girlish scream whenever someone strikes him with a needler. You'll be too busy fighting the Covenant to care.

And here's the other thing: Halo 3 is not going to sway you into loving the series if you don't already. This fact becomes blatantly clear from moment the opening cutscene begins to play, because unlike in Halo 2, you're given no summation of the events that transpired over the course of the past two games. There's the African jungle underbrush, there's a small group of marines pushing through the dense landscape with the Arbiter, and there's our hero, who makes his grand entrance by crashing down to Earth a minute into the game. The soldiers check his vital signs, hand him an assault rifle, and then you're good to go lay waste to the alien ranks. For those of you who have forgotten the events of the past game, here's a brief overview to catch you up to speed: Cortana is still held by Gravemind, the Halo ring is supposedly still destroyed, and the Prophet of Truth and his minions have been up to no good destroying our planet. With a rare artifact in their possession, they prove to be all the more dangerous to the future welfare of the galaxy. Not to worry, because (obviously) Master Chief and Co. are ready to take on the challenge. Being that this game marks the end to the lucrative trilogy, the story does its job in pulling together loose ends, but don't expect too many surprises. The characters who need to be killed are, and being that this game is called Halo, you assume that the giant space installation will make an appearance at some point during your intergalactic travels. The campaign mode is short, and if you devote a day to obliterating the Flood, you'll be trudging through the final chapter by evening.

At least the game looks pretty. Halo 3 has been under some criticism with people complaining that other 360 titles, like last month's BioShock, have been sporting superior graphics. They would be correct to an extent as well. Yes, it is fairly safe to say that Halo 3 does not have the absolute best graphics out there - if you're looking for that jaw-dropping experience, play Heavenly Sword - but the game is still technically impressive. Weapons possess a high amount of detailing and polish, especially the alien arsenal, where a soft reflection of light curves around the outer side of the gun. Plasma rifles power up sparking blue lasers. The needler's prismatic attachments refract the sun's rays as you race through a level. You can see both your shadow and your legs when you glance down, and if you jump into an online fray, you can see how intricately detailed the other Spartans are after beating them to a bloody mishmash of metal and bone.

There are two things that make players jump to the “Halo 3 = substandard graphics” conclusion and both occur early in the Campaign mode. The areas in the story are expansive, but sometimes lack the graphical gloss that other shooters (like Gears of War) have; for example, the water featured in Sierra 117 (itself a meticulously detailed level) looks more like rippled glass than a pond. Although nowhere near as awful as the later areas featured in the original game, the rooms in some of Halo 3's interior levels can begin to look alike, so that like me, you can find yourself spending half your time in the Crow's Nest level just trying to figure out how to get to the enemies, much less how to get through them to the next warehouse hangar. There are only so many industrial turbines a person can pass before annoyance beckons. The other drawback comes from the characters themselves. The enemies, both the Covenant and the Flood, are wonderfully modeled with metal armaments and contoured musculature for the viewing (see: Brutes and Changlings), but the same compliment can not be said of your human allies. The lighting effects alone make it impossible to place one of the soldiers in an original Xbox game, but I guarantee you won't find yourself marveling at Sergeant Johnson's graphical appearance anytime soon. Hair has virtually no texture and character faces hold little expression while explaining the current, grim situation to you. Thankfully, you'll be seeing the backs of their heads more than anything else, since a few marines help you out in the early missions of the game.

These missions will instantly bring feelings of familiarity to anyone who has picked up Halo or Halo 2 within the past year. Excluding a couple of tweaks, the gameplay mechanics are identical to the past couple games. Because the button arrangement for the 360 controller is a little different than that for the original Xbox, players may feel a bit off during their first few matches online, reaching for a black or white button that doesn't exist anymore. The reload command, previously assigned to the X button, is now allocated to the new RB button. You can use the LB button to toggle between the different types of grenades in your inventory, whose stock is displayed in the upper left-hand corner of the screen. Underneath that listing lies an icon displaying an additional set of weapons known as “Equipment”. These items add an extra level of strategy to your enemy encounters; now players can temporarily blind their opponents with a flare, or add another level of defense with the bubble shield. Weapons, too, have been tweaked a little, with Bungie reintroducing the assault rifle, increasing the plasma rifle's speed, and decreasing the shotgun's bullet capacity. There are four cumbersome armaments at your disposal in the newly created “Support Weapons” category. These ultra-heavy and ultra-effective firearms allow you to mow down your enemies with ease. Fire an unlimited number of missiles at your adversaries! Jog slowly to the next skirmish! In all honesty, these weapons do possess a good deal of offensive power, but leave you vulnerable to a group pincer attack when you see how sluggish your Spartan is with these babies equipped. But if detaching a machine-gun turret was your dream then, hey, here you go.

These new features come in handy when you're facing off against other gamers in the multiplayer frays, because let's face it, that's probably why you bought the game in the first place. The maps are a collection of new and old terrains that allow you to relive the glorious past of 2001 at the Last Resort/Zanzibar beach before jumping into the present with the brand new, spacious desertscape that is Sandtrap. Players can expect their favorite multiplayer modes to make a triumphant return to Halo 3 - Slayer, Oddball, Juggernaut - as well as a new game called “Infection” which works like a B-movie version of Sharks and Minnows: Some people begin the game as zombies, whose sole job is to spread their infection to their healthy, living adversaries. The living players' objective is to survive by any means necessary. If you ever find a one of these undead slayings hilarious, or are proud of an Oddball skull beatdown, or perhaps consider a particular fuel canister explosion your finest achievement to date, then you can upload those saved videos to the File Sharing feature and show them to all of your internet buddies. They can then watch these videos to gain pointers as to how they might achieve a similar outcome during their next skirmish. It's a nice addition, as is the Forge feature. Bungie initially included Forge in their 1990s series Marathon, which allowed players to custom-tailor maps to their liking. And while you cannot manipulate either the terrain or structural elements in the levels, you can still change gameplay drastically through the adjustment of spawn points and weapon locations. Add an Elephant to the Epitaph level and take away a few sniper rifles in Valhalla, make all the players spawn on top of outlying crags or open fields or underground bases - the options are endless as long as you stay within the credit limit the game assigns to you. It's a fun feature to have, especially if you want to make an online match play to your advantage. Have your opponent spawn next to a puny plasma pistol and you beside a Warthog. Sparks will fly, both on and off the screen.

While he's busy cursing at you, you can mute his ranting with the A-hole button - a flick of the right analog stick, a press of the button, and presto! You won't be hearing from him any longer. And when you two are (if ever) back on speaking terms, you can play through the Campaign together with a competitive co-op mode called the “Meta-Game” that allows up to four players to vie for points in each of the game's nine levels. Gain points through multiple kills and headshots, lose points by committing suicide or engaging in a round of fatal friendly fire. Skulls, which make a welcome return in Halo 3, are hidden in each level and give players an additional point boost when activated. Up to four players can engage in these friendly competitions - one person plays as the Master Chief, another as the Arbiter, and Players 3 and 4 take on the role of two new Elite soldiers - and with virtually no lag hindering your various space battles, feel free to invite as many friends as you'd like to join in the virtual fight.

The sound effects are almost all rehashed from the other two games, and the music sounds strikingly similar to the brazen fanfares that blasted at the Cairo Station and the Pillar of Autumn in the years past. This is not necessarily a criticism, as the Halo series sports some of the best orchestral arrangements featured in any game. But it goes back to my original statement: If you like the Halo series, you'll like Halo 3, because at its core it's the same game that you've been playing since the turn of the new millenium. Sure, the developers have made some tweaks to the engine, added a couple weapons and a coat of polish, but at the end of the day you're playing the same old Halo that you've come to love. Thankfully, the trilogy ends strongly, as both maps and weapons have been modified to give a more balanced playing experience. The story still features the Flood and Cortana, Halo and Master Chief, who is just as much a silent, hulking, killing machine as he was six years ago. And you still get to hear the whining insults that preteens hurl at you from beyond the great (cyberspace) unknown, though thankfully this time around, you can mute them with the simple press of a button. No, Halo 3 does not advance the FPS genre, but it does provide a fun, intense romp through the universe for the fans. Not that those fans are listening, anyhow. They're too busy teaming up with Master Chief to take on the Flood one last time.

Pros:
- Graphics are an improvement over Halo 2, with plenty of detail thrown into each environment; soldiers splash through puddles and rustle grass realistically.
- Music continues to be top-notch and sound effects, although pulled from the previous titles, continue to impress; the intensity of the gunshot noise allows players to know how close to the fray they are.
- Large, expansive environments that give plenty of diversity in terms of location; move through desert tundras, tropical jungles, snowy fields, and space bases.
- Weapons are given a good balance of strengths and weaknesses, and this balance is a general improvement over the last installation.
- Campaign mode serves to tie up the storylines that were left dangling at the cliffhanger end to the second game.
- Equipment gives players an extra advantage when entering frays, with trapmines and bubble shields at their disposal.
- Lagging is not a problem in online matches.
- Competitive, Meta-Game is a fun alternative to the Campaign mode, allowing players to amass points by taking out more enemies than their allies, ultimately boosting their Gamerscore in the process.
- The Forge feature brings a whole new degree of level interactivity by granting players the ability to change weapon locations and spawn points.
- Hidden skulls make a long-awaited return.

Cons:
- Will not attract new fans to the series because the game is essentially the same as the previous two installments.
- Graphics can be a bit jagged and unimpressive at times, especially when viewing the human characters.
- Sometimes the areas in a given level begin to look alike; this statement holds especially true for indoor spaces.
- Campaign mode is short and the later levels (most notably the eighth chapter) begin to drag.
- Story is linear and predictable up until the last cutscene of the game; if you weren't engrossed in the storyline before, you certainly won't become a fan after this episode.
- Online community can still be petty and immature; thankfully, Bungie packaged an ingenious A-hole button to deal with any adolescents who may be lobbing insults your way.


Reviewer's Score: 9/10 | Originally Posted: 10/02/07

Game Release: Halo 3 (US, 09/25/07)


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