Review by briantw

"Mediocrity, Thy Name is Halo 3"

First, I would like it noted what a 6/10 means according to GameFAQs:

"Fair - game is okay, but there are many better."

And that is Halo 3 in a nutshell. Is it a bad game? No, not really. Parts of it are bad, but as a whole it's not. Is it an amazing game? No, not really. Again, parts of it are amazing, but on the whole it's not. Instead, it's content to walk that line of mediocrity.

SINGLE PLAYER

The single-player campaign is, by far, Halo 3's weakest point, which is sad considering to what lengths Microsoft has gone to hype it and the fact that Bungie has had unlimited funds to develop it for the last three years.

The story picks up relatively where Halo 2 left off. Master Chief has apparently jumped off the ship he was on at the end of Halo 2 and plummeted to Earth. Why did he jump off? No one knows. Seeing as he's the only person in the entire human army aside from Johnson who is not completely incompetent, I don't see why he didn't just take down that entire ship by himself. He spends enough time being sent off alone as it is.

Anyway, the Covenant are still laughably evil. Their prophets want to destroy all existence. Why? Again, who knows. They murmer something about humans being heresy or something like that, but that's about the extent or their reasoning. See, me, I'd think that destroying all existence was a bad move, but I guess I'm not an evil alien overlord with unlimited funds and technology. They have, however, more or less conquered Earth. Still, Bungie makes this as un-epic as possible by never showing the effect the occupation has on civilians. Because of this, the five levels set on Earth don't really feel that way, and they might as well be set on yet another Halo due to the lack of any life you actually see.

In Halo 3, the Elites (who now fight alongside the humans) have been replaced by the Brutes, who are basically comparable to fighting the Elites but less fun. They have very little personality, and I find it kind of hard to take a giant talking gorilla seriously.

Oh, and the Flood are back too and, big surprise here, they still suck. I guess Bungie never got the memo. The Flood are not fun to fight. They have never been fun to fight. They are up there as some of the worst enemies ever created. They are basically the polar opposite of what most people enjoy in the Halo series' single-player levels: the fun AI. Granted, six years ago when the first game came out the Flood mindlessly rushing at you made sense in context, but now we know a bit more about them and the Gravemind and it's much less forgiveable. The Flood operate as a collective consciousness, and it would be nice to see them utilize it from time to time.

The writing in the game ranges from campy to bad in varying degrees. Dialogue basically sounds like it was written by a guy whose only experience doing so was watching Full Metal Jacket a single time and then filtering out the profanity. The story itself is pretty mediocre. As mentioned above, the laughably evil Covenant want to wipe out all existence and, naturally, Master Chief has to stop them pretty much single-handedly. It's all very cliche and melodramatic, and the writers never go out of their way to develop any particular character, which effectively ensures that you care for none of them. When characters die, it's supposed to be either sad or epic, but in Halo 3 it just seems tedious, like my time would be better spent killing things instead of watching other people do so.

The levels are very inconsistent. About half of them are great, but there are a few that are mediocre and two and a half that are just plain bad. Level Eight, titled "Cortana," is definitely a nomination for the worst level ever designed in the history of gaming. It is the opposite of fun. It's tedious, forces you to backtrack back through almost the entire level, and basically made me want to not finish the game.

The graphics in Halo 3 are similarly inconsistent, and it stands out as one of the few games I've played that can simultaneously wow me and make me wonder how certain things made it past QA. For example, you can look at the environment in Tsavo Highway and be floored by how great it all looks, but the faces of Marines look vaguely like someone drew markings on a turd. The game also retains much of the high level of shine (as if someone came by and polishes items every day just for the sake of doing it) from Halo 2, but it's not quite as ridiculous, so I'll let it slide.

No one can fault the developers at Bungie for the amount of weapons they put into Halo 3. There are a lot. Unfortunately, their impact is lessened because they all look and sound like toys. The human rifles pack very little punch. Sure, I can tell I've shot an enemy, but I can't feel it. The plasma weapons...well, I suppose they sound how plasma weapons would sound, except a bit weaker. Even something such as the rocket launcher doesn't provide a suitable "boom" when it hits something, and the same goes for the grenades.

People always praise Halo for its excellent AI, and while I certainly don't feel the AI is bad, I think it's somewhat unwarranted. Basically, 90% of your fights will contain a Brute, a group of Grunts, and possibly two of those little guys with the shields. Occasionally, you'll fight Hunters, snipers, or those stupid flying things that are annoying as all hell, but for the most part get used to the group above. Similarly, you can peg the reactions of the group based on what you do. As soon as you shoot most Brutes, they'll drop a bubble shield, which basically makes the pace drop to a crawl because, nine times out of ten, it's safer just to wait until the shield dissipated before doing anything. Sure, you can charge in guns blazing, but on anything above Easy you'll probably die doing do.

If you take out a Brute, the Grunts run almost every time. Occasionally, you'll get a suicidal Grunt running toward you with two plasma grenades, but even I can program a handful of statistical reactions. If you shoot a Brute to the point the his shields go down but you leave him alive, his helmet will pop off (every time) and he'll go berserk if you don't kill him. What this means is that he'll mindless rush at you, which sounds scary in theory but in practice just makes it easier to kill him since he's no longer shooting a gun at you. Again, the AI isn't bad, but I don't call amazing AI the same thing as the enemies reacting almost the same every time you fight them. They're programmed better than a lot of games, but they are still highly predictable. Oh, and the Flood still have no AI. They just rush at whatever they want to die mindlessly and shoot or bat at them until one of them is dead.

The AI of the Marines that fight alongside you, though (and the Arbiter/Elites, for that matter) is just awful. They will get you killed. That is, if they don't kill you themselves. They can't drive either. They are fond of driving around in circles or straight into obstacles/each other. This generally sucks the fun out of the game because, unless it's a tank or a flying vehicle, I'd rather be manning the guns, and Halo 3 doesn't seem to want to let me because the damned AI can't figure out which way to turn, which forces me to take over most of the time. Anyway, a game that has good AI has to have it on all sides. Good enemy AI means nothing if the friendly AI sucks ass, and Halo 3's friendly AI sucks a massive amount of ass.

Which brings me to gameplay. The gameplay in Halo 3 is pretty much the same as it was in Halo and Halo 2. Master Chief still moves too slow and can still jump too high (and the jump is too floaty). Bungie added equipment (which is the fabled X button that was going to change the way we played shooters forever), but that's really more of a diversion than anything useful. It can occasionally save your life on higher difficulties, but I wouldn't go so far as to call it necessary. Other than that, if you've played Halo 2 you've played Halo 3, the levels just look a tad bit different and prettier. There are a few new weapons, but they generally border between reskinned old weapons (the Mauler is the same as the SMG, for example) and totally useless (the flamethrower, which in theory should be perfect for taking out the Flood but in practice just lets them kill you while on fire). Thankfully, Bungie brought back the standard assault rifle, though, and it remains one of the most consistently useful guns in both single and multi-player. The controls are as solid as they ever were. No complaints in that department.

And that brings me to sound. As mentioned above, the weapon sounds leave a lot to be desired. They are all too weak and quiet. The voice acting is passable, but not great, especially if you've played other recent shooters like Half-Life 2 or BioShock that really set the bar for voice acting in an FPS game. Most of the characters sound very stereotypical for their roles in the game, which is one of the problems with the narrative as a whole. Master Chief has your standard "Solid Snake tough guy" voice. Johnson has your standard "black guy in charge" voice. The Prophet of Truth has your standard "evil mastermind" voice. It's all very predictable and disappointing. The one saving grace of Halo 3's sound is the music, although I can't really tell if they actually recorded any new music for the game. It all sounds like the same tunes I've heard in the first two games, but I guess Bungie's motto is to not fix it if it isn't broke, or even if it's a little broke they can kind of let it slide. Still, when the music starts playing during an epic battle, it gets your blood pumping, and that's what game music is meant to do.

Overall, the campaign is kind of sad considering how much time and money Bungie had to perfect it. It lacks in almost every area, from length to sound to writing to graphics.

5/10

MULTI-PLAYER

Now, all the Halo fanboys generally say that Halo's single-player campaigns shouldn't matter, because the game series is all about the multi-player (lest they forget that the first game was very much about the single-player). I don't feel that way. A truly great game has to excell in all areas, and Halo 3 certainly does not. That said, even the multi-player in Halo 3 suffers due to a variety of different reasons, which I will now cover, followed by what's good.

First, the map selection in Halo 3 leaves a lot to be desired. None of the maps are really terrible (except maybe Snowbound...see why below), but only a few of them stand out, those being Sandtrap, Valhalla, Isolation, and maybe one or two others. Compared to the first Halo, which had over half a dozen standouts, the offering here isn't all that great, and why graphically updated versions of popular maps from the first two games (all we got here was an updated Zanzibar) aren't included as a default is beyond me since it should theoretically take very little time to port them on over.

Second, Bungie's matchmaking system is basically broken. They are updating it, yes, but right now the same few maps tend to come up over and over again, and for some reason it's rarely the good ones that do this. The horrible Shotty/Snipers problem appears to have been fixed (although it still shows up a bit too often for my liking), but the fact is that the matchmaking system is totally inadequate, especially given that Bungie promised to put in a feature allowing users to search for games. It's annoying playing online and nine times out of ten not getting to play on a map or game mode that you want to play on, and it's really a problem that shouldn't exist in this day and age.

Next, the melee system is broken as well. You've got to realize that something is wrong with a shooter when 90% of the players have melee kills in their top two or three methods of dealing death, and I'd wager that most of that 90% has it at number one. Melee kills are ridiculously unbalanced, and it's beyond annoying when you clearly lunge before an enemy and they still end up killing you with their lunge. This immensely decreases from the enjoyment of the game because half of your firefights (especially those on the smaller levels) basically becomes two people running at each other shooting assault rifles and then both hitting melee when they come within range. Shooters should be deeper than this, and hopefully it's something that Bungie fixes real soon.

Finally, the custom games mode, while great, needs to be updated so that you can play against strangers. It's ridiculous when a game has a dozen great game modes, but you can't play any of them online against people you don't know, which essentially screws over most of us gamers who don't have fifteen friends who own a 360. It's annoying that, in order to get the most out of my game, I have to organize a dozen people together ahead of time rather than just hopping online and playing my favorite modes against strangers like I can in every other game on Live. This problem wouldn't be that big of a deal if most of the custom modes were terrible, but the problem is that most of the custom modes are better than the regular game modes because they actually add some originality into the mix.

And now on to the good. If you're a fan of Halo's gameplay, Halo 3 keeps things about the same. There are minor tweaks here and there and more weapons (see the single-player section for details), but for the most part this is the same Halo you know and love (or don't, that's your choice). Equipment can spice up the occasional multi-player match, but I don't see it used enough to actually call it game-making. It can help win the occasional game or, if used incorrectly, facilitate the terrible loss, but for the most part it's just kind of there.

The vehicles, as always, are fun in multi-player, but as always, not enough maps use them. Luckily, customize maps (see Forge section below) allow us to add tanks to some maps or a Mongoose to others, which should lead to some fun times if you're able to organize a custom game.

Bungie has again given us a wealth of options in multi-player. There are social matches and ranked matches, and each of those two has several additional ways to narrow down which type of game you'd like to play, be it Big Team Battle, Team Slayer, or an objective-based game, among others. Again, these modes suffer from the problems listed in the first few paragraphs, but on the whole they offer some nice and varying options for people with various interests.

The graphics in multi-player are similar to those in the campaign. Overall, multi-player probably looks a bit better because you don't have the horrible human models weighing down the overall score.

Sadly, something that can't go without being mentioned when speaking of Halo 3 is the Live community. Sadly, the Halo series seems to bring about some of the worst gamers out there. They are rude, obnoxious, racist, and a variety of other negative adjectives. This detracts a bit from the overall fun of the multi-player because you just know you're bound to get stuck with some jerk who doesn't want to use a microphone in a team-based game, which in turn leads to your team getting dominated by the other team that is composed of four friends who work together. This isn't the game's fault, but it is something that needs to be brought up in any good review.

Overall, the multi-player is a lot of fun, but Bungie sure seems like they tried like hell to keep it from being that way. The poor matchmaking system coupled with the repetitive bad gametypes and maps really hurts what could have been such a great thing.

7/10

EXTRAS

Halo 3 also comes with two additional features...Forge and Theater.

Forge allows users to edit maps, although not in the traditional way PC gamers or fans of the TimeSplitters series are used to. Rather, it allows you to add or subtract items from the map, but not to alter the geography. This effectively allows users to block off areas of maps, add new weapons or items, throw in teleporters, and make items fall from the sky at a regular interval. It also facilitates the creation of brand new game modes which can be easily downloaded from Bungie's web site. All in all, it's a great little feature that, while not as powerful as most would have liked, serves to add life to a title that already has a ton of replay value. Sadly, though, any custom game types you download can only be played in custom games, which means the masses probably won't see some of the more awesome ones like Pirate Ships.

Theater is exactly what the name implies: a feature that allows users to view their last twenty-five (if I recall correctly) games, take small chunks of them, save them, and upload them to Bungie's website. People can either watch another user's videos there or watch them from inside Halo 3. Theater is a great concept, and one that I hope more games implement in the future. It allows users to save visual proof of their greatest accomplishments, and it's something I really wish I had during some of my better Team Fortress 2 games. However, it has a ton of limitations. You can't really do any editing with the tool, and rewinding/fast-forwarding is a huge pain and moves far too slow. I also can't help but feel that the game as a whole (particularly graphically and in the single-player campaign) suffered as a result of the feature's inclusion. Still, it's a really cool feature.

Overall, these two features are just that...features. They don't have a big enough impact on the game as a whole to make them all that important, and at the end of the day are just little things to waste time with if you've got a lot of it free.

8/10

OVERALL

Sadly, Halo 3 was quite a letdown to me. I shouldn't have been surprised seeing as Halo 2 was the definition of a let-down, but at the same time I kind of hoped that Bungie would use their infinite finances and extended development time to really turn in something special.

Unfortunately, it almost seems like the company phoned it in. They knew they couldn't deliver a terrible game, but they also were fed up with Microsoft and it's "Halo, Halo, Halo" mentality, so they ended up giving us a very mediocre game that would appease the die-hards (who would like the game regardless) and leave everyone else wondering what all the fuss was about.

If all you care about is the multi-player and you don't particularly care about being able to choose what game modes or maps you play on, Halo 3 is definitely for you and I highly recommend you purchase it (although if you're that type of gamer you assuredly have it already). For anyone looking for a solid single-player experience, however, I recommend you browse elsewhere in the aisle where they're keeping BioShock and The Orange Box. If you like a bit of both worlds, you could certainly do worse for your money, but you could also definitely do better.

6/10


Reviewer's Score: 6/10 | Originally Posted: 10/25/07

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


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