Review by OathofChaos

Reviewed: 10/05/07

Understanding the Chief Part 1

~12:15 -- 15 minutes after the official release of Halo 3, I'm sitting at my apartment with my freshly opened Halo 3 Collector's Edition in my excitedly shaking hands. I pop the game in and jumped head-first into the campaign. Within moments my anxiety peaked. The environment was so crisp and clean... the Grunts and Brutes were smarter on Normal than they were on Halo 2's Legendary ( sometimes ending badly as I hear the Brute call for flanking maneuvers before a Grunt wielding two armed plasma grenades comes around the corner ). Cortana's fully detailed body haunts my HUD, calling out to me... and I press on. Seven hours later I get a phone call while trying to kill a giant mechanoid Scarab. Had it really been seven hours? Could this game have sucked my soul that badly? It had and worse. My job was on the phone. Quickly, I made up an excuse. "I'm sorry, I've been vomiting all night because I had been fighting to control a *BLAM, the scarab falls to the floor* *cough cough* control an outbreak of plague that was trying to take over my body." My boss seemed satisfied ( as most 50-something bosses are with grotesque details ) and allowed me a day of reprieve and rest while I fought this plague.

Upon first glance, Halo 3 looks like a clone of the previous two, however Bungie knows how to sideswipe you with a Warthog when you're least expecting it. The graphics and physics engine have vastly improved since Halo 2's launch in 2004. Everything from small blades of grass moving gently when you brush past chasing after that last Jackal to the intricate design of the sky above when playing every level, no stone was left unrefined. Even the Flood have been upgraded to the point of seeing old facial structures of the poor sap who was zombified. The seamless streaming of a near-fully interactive environment combined with several platoons of Covenant or Flood truly push the 360 to the limit, but you'll get virtually no in-game loading times as you traverse the ruins of Earth and beyond.

And while you're fighting your way through the hordes of AI improved enemies, your weaponry is everything. Many of your old favorites have returned, including the Assault Rifle from Halo: Combat Evolved, as well as new weapons like a Flamethrower to roast your rivals to ashes. Taking note from the previous two games, Bungie Team has done a great job of equalizing the weaponry in all aspects of the game, including Mutliplayer. Nothing says "Hello" like a three-round burst fire from your Battle Rifle, then a melee to the face. You could also switch it up and use the new Covenant shotgun variant in one hand and a Sub-Machine Gun in the other, mowing your opponents down where they stand. In addition to the new weapons, two new grenades have been added: a Stick grenade that kills Brutes dead, but causes very little splash damage, or the Fire Grenade ( or as I call it, the Molotov ). Even the vehicles get a boost in performance. An All Terrain Vehicle, nicknamed the Mongoose, adds much hilarity and variance to your current selection of vehicles. Warthogs are back with a vengance, as a third Armored Personnel Carrier variant is added to the lineup with the Gauss Cannon and normal Turret Warthogs. Even a UNSC Harrier-esque plane and Brute Motorcycle was placed into the game. Truely they've outdone themselves this time.

The best part, however, is the combination of casual and competitive gameplay. The Achievement system unlocks different armor designs for multiplayer as well as more difficult ways to play the campaign. Various skulls hidden throughout the campaign can have adverse effects on you and your companions like no motion sensors, or doubling the health of your enemies. This doesn't come without a boon though. The new Meta-Campaign scoring system allows you to compare your scores with your clan or fellow friends, as well as unlocking extra goodies within the game. While having the skulls active, you gain multipliers that can rapidly set you over your friends' scores by thousands. With four player co-op online, you can go for the gusto with Team scoring, or go head to head against your friends. The online ranking system has also made a dramatic resurgence. As you progress in levels, which are based on points gained by the multitude of ways you can kill someone, you unlock other Achievements that net you bragging rights. Finally, an FPS that encompasses all aspects of gaming without solely relying on casual or competitiveness to propel the game.

Whether you're chilling at your apartment trying to get past the final level on Legendary mode, or goofing off with your friends in a Big Team Battle tournament, Halo 3 can provide hours of entertainment. Building and destroying levels, blowing up Covenant, sniping Flood, dodging grenades, and following the adventure of an epic cyborg -- this game has it all.

In Part II, I will be discussing the Forge and Theater systems, how they work, and why they are so freaking cool.

Rating:   4.5 - Outstanding

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

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