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Halo 3 Review 373

Posted by Zonk
from the cue-orchestral-background-music dept.
From a certain point of view, Halo 3 is without a doubt the biggest game of the year. The combination of fan anticipation, marketing, and the skill of Bungie's design combine to create a game that's larger than life; if gaming has a blockbuster franchise to match the movie industry's punch, it's the tale of Master Chief. The importance of the Halo franchise to gaming is a very big issue, though, and one worth it's own article. Having played through the game, there's really only one question I'm here to answer today. Does it meet expectations? In a word: yes. It's not the best game ever made, and it may not even be the best game this year. Will it make the fans happy, and deservedly sell thousands of Xbox 360s? Very much yes. Read on for my impressions of Bungie's years-in-the-making epic, Halo 3.
  • Title: Halo 3
  • Developer/Publisher: Bungie / Microsoft Game Studios
  • System: Xbox 360
  • Genre: First Person Shooter
  • Score: 4/5 - This game is above average, and excels in the genre it supports. A classic for the genre and well worth a look for every gamer.
The Tale

I hope you were paying attention at the end of Halo 2, because the folks at Bungie don't waste any time getting new players up to speed. The action picks up right after the Gravemind's infestation of High Charity at the end of the previous game, and the Master Chief's escape from that doomed city in the Prophet of Truth's stolen Forerunner vessel. If that makes no sense to you, I refer you to Wikipedia for a brush-up on Halo's lore. That said, once you're in the thick of things you don't need to know a lot about the past two games to enjoy 3's story. There are a bunch of references back, and continued threads, but really ... it's a first-person shooter. There are aliens on Earth, trying to dig up an alien artifact. You have to stop them. Go to it.

If you are a fan of the previous games, the story of Halo 3 is going to satisfy your need to see things wrapped up. What it's not going to do is surprise you. The plot plays out pretty much the way you'd expect, though the writers do make some very mature choices towards the end of the tale that distinguish it a bit from every other hero's journey. I'm reluctant to say more, as I'm not sure what's common knowledge at this point, but there is one storytelling choice I wanted to point out as being particularly effective. Cortana, Master Chief's AI companion, was left behind with the Flood's master at the end of the previous game. Despite this, she connects regularly with the Chief in a form of psychic connection. This allows a sense of desperation to build throughout the title, and has a satisfying payoff late in the game.

Story is a really important component of the gameplay experience for me. Though I'm no expert, I do actually like the Halo metaplot quite a bit, and I was left well pleased by Bungie's conclusion. Suffice it to say that while you're not going to be blown away by any revelations, there are no cop-outs, no cheap tricks and (best of all) no meaningless cliffhanger endings. Just make sure you watch to the end of the credits.

Beware the Scarabs

In Halo 2 there's a sequence where you attack a building-sized walking tank in the shape of a multi-legged bug, with a giant laser on its front. It's an elaborate experience: rushing alongside it on rooftops, jumping aboard, taking out its crew, and finally destroying its core. It was, for me, one of the highlights of the game. In Halo 3 you take on these tanks at least three times, and at one point you're fighting two at once. That pretty much sums up the experience of gameplay in this title: it's like the other two, only a lot moreso. Everything is bigger, better, and very, very polished.

That polish is something that exists across the title, from moment-to-moment combat through to 'set piece' battles like the Scarab tanks. There are several set pieces like that spread throughout the game, areas that are more than just the movement from point A to point B with enemies in between. None of them are any more particularly challenging than the rest of the game, but provide exclamation points on areas of hard work and forward progress. There are also several vehicle sequences, more (it seemed) that even in Halo 2. Fast action in the Scorpion tank and Warthog return, but there are also sequences designed specifically to show off some of the new vehicles in this title. I felt these were much more seamless experiences than in the last game; jumping in a vehicle seems like the natural thing to do, not a decision forced upon you by game design.

The vehicle sequences - and the whole game, for that matter - would have benefited from some extra time in NPC boot camp. Once again, your AI assistants prove to be poorly equipped at driving, shooting, or doing pretty much anything other than getting in the way. This, frustratingly, is a step up from Halo 2, where they were incapable of driving without continuously flipping your vehicle. The AI is at least smart enough to get from point A to B now, but you're not going to enjoy the journey. The continued incompetence of the AI in moment-to-moment fighting is particularly frustrating because the Elite known as the Arbiter is your constant companion through most of the game. This is a shadow of the co-op play component, a reminder that it's always possible. All the Arbiter was good for in my experience, though, was waving around his energy sword ineffectually. The AI here wasn't as dumb as the grunts in Gears of War (who enjoyed mantling onto the side of cover the enemies were firing at), but they weren't much better.

The enemy AI, at least, isn't entirely ineffective. They seemed particularly adept at using some of the new toys added in since the last game. Brute chieftains regularly came outfitted with the pleasant addition of a ripped-off turret. These mounted weapons, a frequent sight in past titles, can now be removed from their housings and carried around to provide some heavy firepower. A chieftain with one of these in a secured location can mean regular trips through respawning. The ability to dig in and hold a position was greatly enhanced by this game's addition of 'equipment'. The new use for the X button (reloading is now down with the LB and RB bumpers), most equipment allows NPCs and PCs alike to better hold an area. The 'force shield' is shown off in the E3 2006 trailer but deployable cover (a tall shield), a regeneration aura (which keeps your shields charged), and even deployable turrets all allow for positions to be maintained more effectively than in the past. Other equipment is intended to bypass such advantages, like the power-draining opposite of the regenerator, a portable hover-lift device that can allow you a quick hop over enemy fortifications, and a placeable mine great for taking out drawn-in Grunts. I'll admit it: I didn't use the equipment as effectively as I could have, but it was always enjoyable to play against. Particularly the energy shield; Brutes always seemed somehow vaguely surprised when I popped through the translucent wall.

I regularly got unpleasant surprises throughout the game, and I feel like I need to point out a frustration Bungie has managed to preserve intact from Halo 2: checkpoints. Halo 3 features an autosave system that updates your progress every time you complete a specific objective; passing a point on the map, or activating a certain control panel. Most checkpoints, though, are reached by killing enemies, and you very specifically have to kill every enemy in a group. At several points I found myself frustrated by my inability to find hiding bad guys - I'd complete a long stretch of the game and die, only to find myself further back in the game than I had anticipated. On my way back to where I'd died, I would regularly encounter a checkpoint I hadn't used before. These additional checkpoints were there because I'd missed a single hiding Grunt, or one of those stealthy sniper enemies the first time through. It's always frustrating to lose progress, and even more so when you find you lost that progress because you didn't see the point in finding a single cowering trooper.

That frustration with checkpoints, though, is really my only complaint about level design and the actual experience of play. There is a lot less back tracking here than in either of the last two games, and levels themselves feature a great deal of variation. There's a far wider palette used to put together levels, and the greens and brilliant whites used in Halo 3 stand in stark contrast to the greys and browns that have dominated other next-gen shooters. Combat itself is just as much fun as ever, and it's unflinchingly fair. You never feel cheated by gameplay in Halo 3. If you screw up and die, you usually spend the few moments after your death and before you respawn going, "Yeah, fair enough." Pro tip: The loud beeping of your lowered shields should have told you to get behind cover. While everything is polished to a glistening shine, it's great to be able to say they really haven't changed the feel of gameplay that much. Nine million people didn't buy Halo 2 because of a marketing campaign: ultimately they bought it because Bungie puts together one of the best console shooter experiences, hands down.

One Fine Looking Suit of Armor

Halo 3 looks really good, especially in motion. That said, compared with a game like Gears of War or Lair, it doesn't particularly scream 'next-gen'. The water is pretty good, the explosions are works of art, and reflections off of the Chief's visor are satisfyingly accurate ... but for the most part the game looks a lot like Master Chief's previous adventure. That's fine, though, because (unlike in that title) the framerate is pegged at 60fps and never wavers. There was never once a stutter or slowdown, even with dozens of fastmoving objects on screen, swarms of enemies, or a speedy vehicle sequence. I also saw none of the 'texture popping' that I annoyingly associate with last-gen titles. There are also almost no loading times in the game. The only time you'll see a (brief) loading screen is when you start the game or load a new chapter. Otherwise from start to finish your gaming experience is essentially unbroken. Bungie obviously spent time working on the visual elements of the game, but not to the exclusion of equally important components like story and gameplay. The look of the game is conveyed more by the art style used in the varied environments that through sheer power; the graphics here get the job done, and look great doing it.

Firefly Stars and Heavy Guitar Riffs

One game element that needs no qualifiers is the title's sound presentation. Just as in the previous two games, no expense was spared to bring the world to life through sound effects, voice acting, and music. The sound effects are essentially identical to the experience a player may have had in Halo 2, with a few subtle improvements. The voice acting is extremely well done, with the likes of Keith David, Jen Taylor, Steve Downes, and David Scully reprising their roles. Jen Taylor's Cortana has some especially challenging scenes in this game, and I thought she did a great job with them. New (but familiar) voices also add their talents to the cast. Red vs. Blue viewers will recognize the name Burnie Burns, who is one of the voices of the generic soldiery, but fans of Joss Whedon's Firefly will have just as much to enjoy. Alan Tudyk and Adam Baldwin are also soldiers, and Nathan Fillion takes on the role of an NPC sergeant. I noted this during gameplay, actually, as Alan Tudyk's voice is ... distinct.

Martin O'Donnell composed the game's score, reprising his role from the two previous titles. If you've heard the moving music in the E3 2006 trailer you're already well aware of what that implies. Most of his compositions are much more low key, of course, but they nonetheless provide a welcome backdrop for the game's graphics, gameplay and story. The later levels especially benefit from this subtle but important reminder of what's at stake. The music serves as an obvious but not over-the-top pacing element. Ultimately Martin O'Donnell's compositions are the kind of music you'd be more than happy to listen to outside of the game; it's hard to see how you can pay a soundtrack a higher compliment.

Playback and Multiplay

The clearest sign that Halo 3 is a 'next generation' title is its online and playback components. Most startling are the game's video editing and level creation tools. The first time you'll play through the campaign, you'll find that you can relive the whole thing by reviewing the videos stored on your 360's hard drive. There's no need to set a special setting, it just does it automatically. From there, you can enter the recording and rewatch the whole thing, stopping to take screenshots or snip video clips. These clips and pictures are then viewable from your Bungie.net profile, proving your game mastery to awed onlookers. The real awe, for me, was stepping outside of the Chief to fly around the map as action progresses. If you recall a particularly cool moment - a really good grenade stick, for example - you can see what that looked like on the outside ... and take a picture of it. I haven't had much time or inclination to play around with the level creation tool (called the Forge), but it's incredibly robust. Think something along the lines of Gary's Mod for Half-Life 2, and you'll understand the possibilities in Bungie's generous tool offering.

I've talked extensively about the game's campaign mode, but for many gamers online multiplayer is the real reason to buy this game. And understandably so: if you participated in the Halo 3 multiplayer Beta a few months ago you're already well aware of that game element's polish level. The real draw for me, though, is the campaign co-op play. I played entirely through Gears of War three times because the co-op experience was so well done. Here Bungie has provided the opportunity for up to four players to participate in the entire campaign experience. Just as with the 'single player' campaign mode (which is really just co-op with bots), the entire experience will be recorded to your hard drive for later public mockery. Unlike in single-player, by doing a co-op session you and your team-mates participate in what the game's achievements call 'the metagame'. Players are scored on their play throughout the game, and netting a certain total score during a co-op session can earn you some gamerscore points.

As much time as the team has obviously taken on the game itself, it's great to see that they've fleshed out the experience with elements like this. Graphics aside, these playback and co-op components are truly what makes Halo 3 'next generation'.

Consider the Fight Finished

Halo 3, then, is just about everything a player of the previous games in the series could hope for. It looks good, it plays smoothly, and backstory fans are going to finally have some closure. There are obviously flaws, but none are so glaring or frustrating as to be worth more than a passing mention. Even the checkpoint thing, which I'm sure I have run into far more often than the average player, never stopped me from grinning at the chance to melee some more Brutes into submission.

In essence: Bungie has succeeded marvelously at bringing this trilogy to a close. The game's tight story is complete-able in Normal mode in about ten hours, and that feels just about right. At the end of the game you're left wanting more, but not feeling gypped. Folks who have been holding their breath for this since 2004 can relax; the only thing left to do now is play and have a good time. Halo 3 is fun. Any game - regardless of platform, generation, or genre - where you can finish up and immediately want to start playing again ... it's hard to call that anything but a success.
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Halo 3 Review

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  • by martin_henry (1032656) on Monday September 24, 2007 @01:15PM (#20731137)

    From a certain point of view, Halo 3 is without a doubt the biggest game of the year.
    That would be the point of view of Xbox 360 owners only, correct?
    • by svendsen (1029716) on Monday September 24, 2007 @01:20PM (#20731213)
      well not sure on this...but didn't halo 3 break all pre-order records? Do you think any other game on any other system this year will match its sales? For the entire gaming industry this is the big one for this year (whether you hate/love it).
      • by Trillan (597339)
        I guess if you're using preorders to define significance, you've found one such viewpoint. To me, the statement "it's like the other two, only a lot moreso" sums it up really well. I don't even know that I consider the same game, re-heated and with extra spices and baked cheese on top, its own entity.
      • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

        by Trillan (597339)
        Also worth noting: Halo 3 has not lived up to Halo 2's preorders.
    • by Trillan (597339)
      I was thinking the only such viewpoint would be "Halo 3 is the biggest game of the year." Only that would produce the statement that "Halo 3 is without a doubt the biggest game of the year."
    • by Yusaku Godai (546058) <hyuga@nOspAm.guardian-hyuga.net> on Monday September 24, 2007 @01:36PM (#20731439) Homepage
      You could look at it that way. But even as a non-XBox, non-Halo fan, I can see why they would call it that. There are the preorders for one, and then the merchandising. I was at Target a couple weeks ago and the had stacks upon stacks of these Halo preorder cards you coul buy. I've never seen anything like that. Nor have I seen anywhere near the level of merchandising (tie-ins at 7-11?) for any other game.

      So, while I don't give half a shit about Halo, clearly somebody does, for some odd reason. And it's huge.
    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by archen (447353)
      Probably not that far off though. PS3 sales have lagged. PS2 is considered dated. The Wii has outsold all other consoles (and will probably continue to widen the gap), however; people who game on the Wii are a lot more diversified in their gaming tastes and there will probably be no single game on the Wii that almost all Wii owners will buy. In contrast Xbox360 owners are mostly the "gamer" demographic that games like Halo tend to target. So looking at Xbox360 sales being alright, and most Xbox360 owne
    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by jppatton1 (1146813)
      Well, you'll find that many of the truths we cling to depend greatly on our own point of view. . . .
    • That would be the point of view of Xbox 360 owners only, correct?

      Yeah, I think the millions of people playing Burning Crusade (which came out this year) might just out do this game.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      "That would be the point of view of Xbox 360 owners only, correct?"

      Well, as a fanboy of another console, I probably could turn my head and pretend that Halo doesn't have a number of people salivating over it. That'd make me willfully ignorant, though.
    • by spir0 (319821)
      no, from the point of view of the Halo fanboy. I am a 360 owner, but I'm saving my money for Sega Rally.
  • by peterpi (585134) on Monday September 24, 2007 @01:21PM (#20731217)
    UK Resistance has another review here [ukresistance.co.uk]
  • Gypped (Score:4, Insightful)

    by king-manic (409855) on Monday September 24, 2007 @01:25PM (#20731283)
    I wonder how many people are aware that 'gypped' is a racial slur. Might as well just say jewed or chinked or niggered. Your doing the same thing. Associating an ethnic group with a negative stereo type. Maybe you should just say "not feeling ripped off" or "feeling they got their moneys worth". I am not of that ethnic group but I find it offensive when someone says "jewed" or calls me "slanty eyed".
    • by fishdan (569872)
      I appreciate you informing me of this in a non-preachy way so that I was able to actually read and digest. I had never realized the etymology of gypped (which I had always spelled 'Jipped'). I will try to amend my vocabulary.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by giorgiofr (887762)
      Maybe he should say what he feels like saying and you should grow a thicker skin.
    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by plague3106 (71849)
      Wow, how about you quit being a crybaby. Growing up, I was always taught "words can never hurt me." Perhaps you should stop letting words have such power over you, and move on with your life. Honkey and cracker could be equally as offensive to me as a white person, but I never give a shit when anyone uses them.
      • Wow, how about you quit being a crybaby. Growing up, I was always taught "words can never hurt me." Perhaps you should stop letting words have such power over you, and move on with your life. Honkey and cracker could be equally as offensive to me as a white person, but I never give a shit when anyone uses them.

        I am personally enraged when someone uses an Asian racial slur around me. Words are part of culture and they can hurt you. Why was my great great grandfather not allowed to bring his family over from
        • by HungWeiLo (250320)
          It's even worse if you're poor and their affluent.

          Not necessarily. Quite often the other way around. Ask the German Jews circa the 1930's or the Chinese living in Indonesia.
        • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

          by plague3106 (71849)
          I am personally enraged when someone uses an Asian racial slur around me. Words are part of culture and they can hurt you.

          No, they don't hurt. YOU get yourself upset. You choose it. You can choose to not let it affect you.

          Why was my great great grandfather not allowed to bring his family over from china or get payed a decent wage for taking the dangerous jobs building the Canadian railway? because there was a tight cultural connection between Chink,Chinese and china men with Sub human in the minds of the
          • No, they don't hurt. YOU get yourself upset. You choose it. You can choose to not let it affect you.

            Emotions are often part of your circuitry. You may choose to ignore your wife/husband cheating on you but that isn't the default reaction for most of humanity. Someone might call me a geek. That is derogatory as well but I am proud of that title. It's less weighted then "chink" and Geeks have reclaimed the word.Words carry emotional weight. The absence of a emotional reaction to heavily weighted words like ra
    • by ADRA (37398)
      Thanks for the comment, I was aware of this one, but all too many of my friends take slurs for granted without even meaning harm. For instance, I worked in web development a while back and I always pronounced W.A.P. as wop, which is apparently a slur against Italians.

      On the one hand, its really offensive to the party who you're unintentionally insulting, but on the other if you're truly ignorant of its meaning it means there are people born and raised without racism, etc.. and I'd say thats a healthy ignora
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by camperdave (969942)
      This is the first I've heard of "gypped" being an ethnic slur. Who is it an ethnic slur against, and more to the point, who cares what it's origins are? It currently means "ripped off".
      • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

        by beavioso (853680)
        It is an ethnic slur to Gypsies. I am not that informed on the subject, but it probably refers to the nomadic people of Eastern Europe, and the term basically labels them all as cheats.
      • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

        by Anonymous Coward
        If you knew your European history, it should be pretty easy to figure out what 'gypped' means. It is an Ethnic slur against 'Gypsies', which usually refers to the Romani [wikipedia.org] people of Europe.

        Europeans like to blame Gypsies for theft, petty crimes, pickpocketing, getting ripped-off, etc. It's largely bias, but the words have traveled here to America as well.

        It's largely bias, and an good example of racism in Europe. The Romani have been in Europe for hundreds of years, but are still considered outsiders by many
  • by 192939495969798999 (58312) <info@NoSPAM.devinmoore.com> on Monday September 24, 2007 @01:25PM (#20731289) Homepage Journal
    Anyone else notice a weird pattern with Doom 1, 2, 3... Quake 1, 2, 3... and Halo 1, 2, 3? The third one is the one that has the features the other 2 really should have, and yet all three basically peter out when the next new crazy fps comes out. How long will Halo 3 hang on until the next fps title eclipses it (but with way crappier features, like from Quake 3 -> Halo 1)? Just a thought.
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by p0tat03 (985078)

      The third one is the one that has the features the other 2 really should have

      Sequel Improves On Predecessor: Video at 11!

      How long will Halo 3 hang on until the next fps title eclipses it (but with way crappier features, like from Quake 3 -> Halo 1)? Just a thought.

      You know both Doom and Quake franchises are still around? Not to mention Half-Life that came before Halo, and... oh forget it.

      I don't even get how Q3A and Halo 1 are comparable. One is a game that focuses on singleplay, with a smattering of multiplay maps based around vehicle combat. The other is a multiplay-only game with a focus on frenetic close-quarters fighting...

    • by RonnyJ (651856)
      Not sure your pattern works for the Quake series. Quake 3 was a huge change from the first two, being completely multiplayer-oriented.

      I don't think the Quake series has 'petered out' either, in my view Quake 4 was the game that Doom 3 should have been.
    • by thrash242 (697169)
      Except there's a Quake 4, which makes it not really a trilogy.
    • Just a guess but maybe a game engine has only so many good years ahead of it before it is obsolete?
  • Alan Tudyk's just glad he didn't have to wear a bright-green wet suit [imdb.com] the whole time he was working on the project.
  • Is there any word on how many copies they managed to pump out for US release?
  • After these choice bits:

    I hope you were paying attention at the end of Halo 2, because the folks at Bungie don't waste any time getting new players up to speed.

    and

    If you are a fan of the previous games, the story of Halo 3 is going to satisfy your need to see things wrapped up. What it's not going to do is surprise you. The plot plays out pretty much the way you'd expect, though the writers do make some very mature choices towards the end of the tale that distinguish it a bit from every other hero's journe

  • point of view (Score:5, Insightful)

    by snarkh (118018) on Monday September 24, 2007 @02:21PM (#20732133)
    From a certain point of view, Halo 3 is without a doubt the biggest game of the year.

    From a certain point of view a mouse is without a doubt the biggest animal in a forest.
  • Do people still play those 'computer game' things? I suppose they have a fancy 3D Ms Pacman or something by now.

    How many quarters does it take to pay a game of this 'halo' thing anyway? If i remember right, it was like a buck to play that videodisk based fantasy game. ( damned if i can remember its name.. )
  • by SpeedyDX (1014595) <speedyphoenix@nosPaM.gmail.com> on Monday September 24, 2007 @03:24PM (#20733205)

    From a certain point of view, Halo 3 is without a doubt the biggest game of the year.
    From a certain point of view? That's like saying, "from the vantage point of having my face two inches away from the backside of a fat lady, her ass is the biggest object in the world!"

    Perspective. It's all about perspective.
  • by eepok (545733) on Monday September 24, 2007 @04:30PM (#20734211) Homepage
    Well, Jack Thompson hates it. It must be good. That's all the review I need anymore. Hey eepok, Butt-Darts 4 is coming out tomorrow! What's Jack think? He says it will summon the anti-christ if even one child plays it. What time does Best Buy open?

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