Review by Gruel

"With the fight finished, Halo 3 goes out on top"

The bar was set outrageously high for Halo 3. The first two Halo games were enormous achievements for FPS games on consoles. The first Halo provided one of the best co-op experiences in the history of gaming, and provided some of the best console FPS multiplayer since the Goldeneye days. The sequel continued Master Chief's saga, and though it featured a cliffhanger for the ages as the ending, it brought forth a robust online multiplayer component that previously only seemed viable on the PC front. It looked impossible for Halo 3 to live up to expectations after the first two insanely successful installments, but the developers at Bungie pulled it off and managed to not disappoint.

Halo 3 picks up with Master Chief found on Earth by Sarge and his fellow USNC soldiers, and learning of his alliance with the Covenant's Arbiter. Together they team up to take on the endless assault from waves of Covenant and Flood forces. Without giving too much away, expect to see many new and old faces from the past two games. As expected, Bungie went all out with the budget and feature some gorgeous cutscenes to present Master Chief's story. Rest assured Halo 3 lives up to its “Finish the Fight” marketing as there is no crummy cliffhanger to get pissed off at again, and it seems to tie up all the loose ends in the Halo universe, at least for this saga anyways.

The campaign itself is highly enjoyable. If you played the past two campaigns, you know what you're in for. Expect tons of Covenant and Flood forces from all angles, and expect more of their smart AI as they'll run from grenades and try to catch you off guard with flanks from behind. The past two campaigns were notorious for having levels that were way too open ended, and left the player lost for precious minutes. Bungie must have finally did their homework because, with the exception of one level towards the end, most levels have are much more accessible to navigate. They're not as straightforward and linear as in Gears of War for example, but needless to say players won't be as confused where to traverse as before. The boss battles are also more frequent, and confrontational than before. Throw in the requisite vehicle segments, and it all combines for a wide selection of gameplay variety to the very end, culminating in an homage to final level in the original Halo.

Aside from a few changes, Halo 3 still controls and feels like its predecessors. The main change is that the X button no longer reloads (which took quite a while to get use to), that task is now assigned to the left and right bumpers. The X button is now used to access several new pieces of equipment Master Chief has at his disposal during combat such as a Bubble Shield, Radar Descrambler and Energy Drain.

This wouldn't be a sequel if there weren't any new weapons and vehicles, and Halo 3 delivers them. For weapons, the Assault Rifle makes its return after skipping out on Halo 2, and it seems slightly more powerful compared to the damage it yielded in the first game. The USNC also introduce a Laser that deals lethal blows and needs at least a few seconds to charge up its devastation. The Covenant's new weapon of choice is the Brute Spiker, a rapid fire weapon comparable to the assault rifle, yet deadlier when dual wielded. There are also some new support weapons that make a few cameos throughout the campaign such as a machine gun, plasma cannon, and flamethrower.

On the new vehicle side of things, the USNC have the Mongoose, which is essentially a quad, and has no turret on board, but a comrade can ride horseback and provide cover fire. The USNC also finally have a controllable aircraft that will give the Banshee a run for its money in the form of the Hornet. The Covenant's new vehicle is the Shade, a weird hybrid of a motorcycle and a unicycle, it controls as awkward as that description.

One of the big gripes a lot of people had with Halo 2 was that it didn't have online co-op after many strong hints towards it during its production. Ultimately, Bungie said they couldn't pull it off. Maybe Bungie needed some extra horsepower because not only is online co-op featured in Halo 3, it supports up to four players. Playing through with up to three friends is a blast, and makes the campaign more manageable on the tougher difficulties. For an added challenge, there is the option to turn on campaign scoring, which keeps tabs on each player's kills and accuracy for the ultimate bragging rights to see which player can culminate the highest score. There is one small qualm I have with co-op, that is only one player can control Master Chief, and one the Arbiter, and the other two slots are filled with two new forgettable Covenant Elite characters that have zero presence in the main campaign. I understand the Arbiter needs to be in there for some cutscenes, but why not let each player pick the character of their choice and show all the appropriate characters when they need to appear in their cutscenes?

For some people though, online co-operative won't be a factor when picking up Halo 3. Instead, they'll be playing for the online multiplayer that Halo 2 ended up being remembered for. Have no fears, as the matchmaking and ease to hop right into a match is as smooth and easy to execute as before. People who were huge into clans from Halo 2 may be disappointed that feature has been omitted for Halo 3. Most of the game variants from Halo 2 are here, but the list is consistently changing with the latest auto-updates from Bungie. In addition, there has already been two map packs released via downloadable content, so be on the lookout for plenty of new grounds to wage war on, along with remakes of classics from the last two games. Expect to frag away countless hours online with friends.

Rounding off Halo 3 is two new modes. First is the Forge, a map editor of sorts that lets the player edit in weapons and obstacles into any existing multiplayer map. This may not sound like the most groundbreaking feature, but search online and you'll be shock at the new ways people are making Halo to be played. Next up is the Theater mode, which allows players to save clips from any multiplayer or campaign mission and share their best moments in action online forever with their friends.

Graphically, Halo 3 isn't that huge of a leap from the remarkable graphics in Halo 2. The Halo games on the original Xbox seemed leagues ahead of their competition, but they don't stand out like they once did when compared to the next-gen visuals of today's games. The graphics aren't terrible by any means, but for having three years and a new platform to work with, I do not think it's much by saying I was expecting more than a layer of HD paint on top of Halo 2's visuals. Aurally, it wouldn't be a Halo game without Martin O Donnel's memorable score being prevalent throughout the game, and it's here in all its glory. All the gunfire, grenade blasts and vehicle revs sound rightfully identical to past games, and the voice dialogue for the cutscenes sounds near Hollywood quality.

Overall, Halo 3 lived up to the endless amounts of hype that preceded it. While the graphics may not seem all that jaw-dropping as they once were, Halo 3 still packs a damn good campaign that is now playable online and more of the same great online multiplayer they established in Halo 2. By adding in the Forge and Theater modes, it brings in a whole new level of replay value to get more out of the game. Halo 3 is a fitting end to the trilogy that made the Xbox a factor in the home videogame console market. Halo 3 gets the highest of recommendations, and if you are only slightly interested in first person shooters, you owe it to yourself to check out this game.

Reviewer's Rating:   4.5 - Outstanding

Originally Posted: 05/28/08

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

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