Halo 3, the hype machine; have you drank the kool-aid, errr the Game Fuel yet? In the midst of a media storm and $170 million opening week sales, Halo 3 was released to the public in three different versions. For most people, the regular edition was enough to satisfy. Some like myself opted for the limited edition, which includes a tin and a bonus disc. Others decided they wanted a Master Chief helmet and opted for the legendary. No matter which edition you decided on, you were more interested in the amazing gameplay & multiplayer from the previous incantations. By the time it takes to come down from the caffeine buzz generated by the mixture of code red & live wire (& cough syrup I believe), though, you realize that Halo 3 — while awesome on many fronts — isn’t quite the mega-wonder we all had hoped for.
Games that present the action in full 1080p are starting to come into focus. Halo 3 is one of those dandy operations that supports this function and provides perhaps the best looking console video game to date. The colors are vivid (especially if you like the color green) and the environments are beautiful. Who would have known that Brutes could look this good? If the scenery goes underground and into the darkness, this is one of the rare games that I did not have a lick of trouble figuring out which way to turn. Even in the most dense jungle, very little distinction is needed to get to the next objective. Gunfire is easy to detect and as long as your shields hold up, you’ll be able to see where it is coming from and return it in no time. Halo 3 will sell more 360 systems based on store displays alone (just look at those gorgeous loading screens) than any other game to this point.
In first-person shooters, sound has become just as vital as gameplay in producing a fulfilling experience. One has to figure out where that shower of bullets or lasers is coming from so that one can turn and face the enemy. Halo 3 provides this by showcasing the sound in 5.1 English Dolby Digital sound. Gunfire can be clarified as to what direction it came from. Dialog between the Master Chief and the other participants was clear and easy to decipher for the most part. One thing Halo 3 does have a problem with in the sound department is that it just doesn’t seem to be intense enough. The sound doesn’t seem to scream. I wouldn’t call it a whimper or anything like that. The sound is very good, but it doesn’t blow you away. Interestingly enough, the Warthog mini-game on the essentials bonus disc has more umph than most of the regular Halo 3 experience.
In Halo 3, you play as Master Chief, known to some as Spartan 117, the last member of a legendary military program. He is the last hope for humanity as they battle the Covenant. The Covenant is a bunch of species that practice and preach the art of war and only see humanity as a group in their way to fulfill their journey. This “journey” of theirs could possibly ignite “The Flood,” a horror that would consume every living being and turn them into monstrous puppets. It’s time to finish the fight. Scary, huh? Actually if the game’s plot line was Master Chief goes into the darkness and blows up crap, you’d still buy it. Admit it! I’m waiting for the Halo where Master Chief has sex with a female Grunt and then slaughters 100’s of the Grunt’s brothers and sisters. Which incidentally might be Duke Nukem Forever’s plotline but we’ll never know or be too old to find out.
The controls have not changed much from previous Halos. Right Trigger is still your primary weapon, left trigger is your secondary weapon or grenades. Your right or left buttons are used to reload your corresponding weapons or select a type of grenade. The analog sticks control your movement and your aiming. The only other buttons of real interest are the A to Jump and B to Melee (give the beatdown to an unsuspecting enemy). Weapons are incredibly varied, giving you lots of choices of what to pick up and deal damage with. This can be as something as simple as an Assault Rifle to the Shotgun or using the enemy’s weapons against them which would include a Needler or the Brute Shot. Heck, there will be areas where you can tear a turret right off its perch and use it like a normal gun due to your Spartan strength.
Grenades and Equipment while varied to some extent aren’t exactly as interesting. Grenades follow the Frag, Plasma and Spike variety. Master Chief can hold up to two of each at a time. The equipment includes a bubble shield, trip mine, and a grav lift. They have their uses but aren’t exactly awe-inspiring. The time spent on weapons will be geared towards your guns, so feel free to experiment with a few until you find what you like. In the same vain as weapons, vehicles make a comeback to Halo. While the sentimental favorite Warthog still exists, you might find yourself interested in other vehicles. My personal favorites so far would have to include the Chopper, a single-manned vehicle that is quirky but very useful. Then there is the Wraith, which helped make the last half of mission three in single-player a cakewalk. There are about a dozen vehicles in all, and mastering these will make finishing the fight a lot easier.
Keep in mind, I feel a bit spoiled since I have played a ludicrous amount of Rainbow Six Vegas, but the first thing I notice is the aiming. Or lack thereof. Sure you press in the right analog stick and zoom in. But minus the sniper weapon, you can’t really adjust it very well. The more important problem here is once you shoot, you’ve lost your aim. Even after you kill something, it is hard to decipher due to open field warfare what you have killed at times. Also, if it wasn’t for helpful on-screen hints you wouldn’t have a good idea of what you could pick up from your fallen enemies or comrades. Cover is also kinda curious as you can’t really poke out and shoot something from behind a wall as in more recent fps games. There is cover to be found and it has saved my hide more than a few times, but there are instances when you just have to go guerilla and hope your shields hold out.
Difficulty is handled pretty well for the most part. I would describe it as average overall, but on normal this game doesn’t play very hard. The first few missions can be laid on the back of your fellow solider with minimal effort. Heroic and Legendary are certainly much harder and require much more effort, but competent Halo players should be able to get through them. An oft-criticism of mine is that difficulty should be due to the action on-screen. If it is a tough monster, that is understood but it should not be due to a hindrance in the character controls. Some of the controls did feel like it was a hindrance to get to the enemy and I found myself more often than not trying to find some hole to crawl into to have my shields recharge.
As you can see, the single player experience of Halo is varied from awesome to a little meh. It is also very short; the single player game will take you typically less than ten hours to play straight through. Chances are unless you are going for achievements, you won’t be playing the single player portion again after you beat it. That alone would have most people worried regarding the replay value. However, no Halo game has been measured by single player (except for the first one perhaps). It has always been about how you can vanquish your fellow Spartan.
Multiplayer has taken on a whole new look this year with options out the ear. Sure you can still set up a game and have your friends join in for some Slayer, but perhaps the most interesting thing is the idea of Matchmaking. Matchmaking starts you out as a raw recruit trying to climb the ranks. You are tossed into various multiplayer arenas with people who are in the same skill level (rank) as you. That’s right, the same skill level. If you suck at Halo (like I still do), you are tossed in with people who are probably just as bad. I played a couple of sessions back to back and found myself in decent company. I was able to get kills and felt like I could hold my own. The idea is that through this you become a better player than just being thrown into some game where Master Chief-lite is ready to frag you 5 million times. As mentioned, you also move up in ranking, from Recruit to Sergeant to eventually Lieutenant. The nice thing I noticed is you can change it to automatically find games you’ll have the best connection on. Trust me, when you live in BFE with a questionable cable connection at times, this is a godsend. With 600,000+ people on, you’ll find a game.
As mentioned, Multiplayer encompasses a lot of game types. There are, of course, new ones and old ones to appease your taste. Slayer is the most recognizable one as you just are trying to get frags by any means possible. Capture the Flag is also back as you just get the flag and bring it back to your base. VIP requires you to protect your guy and frag the other team’s. There are a couple of interesting modes I noticed such as Juggernaut where you are the Juggernaut and everybody is out to get you. This is similar to King of the Hill, where you try to stay on top for the longest time. Infection is where score points for killing the Flood or for infecting the humans. There is more, too, including having the ability to create a custom game variant. This is varied and what’s more you can save them to your hard drive to play with others.
Others? Something rather unique that Halo 3 has done is bring about the idea of a file share system. There are modes such as the Custom Games, Forge (change any Halo multiplayer level), and Theater (view films of campaign and multiplayer and take screen shots) where you can build levels (by yourself or with friends), take screenshots and create custom games to share how you wish through Xbox Live. 25MB is the starting limit and actually you can upgrade your capacity to even more by joining Bungie Pro. This further populates the game playing masses and brings about a sense of community.
Halo 3 naturally has achievements, totaling 49 for the usual 1,000 points. About half the points are geared towards the single player experience, which is interesting given the multi-player notion of the game. One nice thing, though, is these can also be done in multi-player through the co-op system. You and your buddies can tackle any level and still get the achievements. The online achievements are fair for the most part and a couple of them will be a little rougher to get. However, the average player should find only reasonable difficulty in achieving 400 or more points over time.
I took the liberty when purchasing Halo 3 to put in a little extra effort (translation: more money). I purchased the Limited Edition (waits for oooh’s and aaah’s). However, as some of you have already heard, the packaging is somewhat flawed. The very nice tin it came in had very crappy pegs to store the game discs. Many reported that it was very difficult to find any discs that were not loose. I experienced the same problem. Mine were floating. However, there was only the slightest scratch on my game disc and my Essentials disc was clean.
The Essentials disc is actually a very decent bonus disc. It has documentaries (Anatomy of a Game: Making Halo 3) covering Story, Design, and Art among other categories. The bonuses were also nice, including a tutorial on Routers and another documentary on Life at Bungie during crunch time. Also present were 3 different gamer packs & themes from Bungie, the Red vs Blue crew, and This Spartan Life. The final little tidbit under Game Extras is Warthog Launch, a mini game where you are launching a Warthog by blowing up bombs in hope of killing enemies on the screen. It’s a cool time-waster, and actually boasts some of the best sound effects I’ve ever heard. Even the Setup & Credits portion has some very functional & funny ways to make sure your Surround sound is working and your picture is as clear as possible.
The actual physical portion of the package, besides including the tin, the game disc and the essentials disc contain more goodies. There’s a manual and a poster which explains all of the game controls (with a well-drawn poster of Master Chief and the enemy on the back). There is a bestiary hardcover mini-book, which goes over all the enemies you will encounter in Halo 3, and even a couple of flyers about Halo Wars (Halo in RTS) and the Pontiac G6 GXP Street Edition (gotta love the advertising). It’s a gorgeous package and actually worth the extra $10 if they had gotten those silly pegs right.
Halo 3 is a great but flawed game. The graphics bounce right off the screen. The multiplayer is nothing short of sick with the amount of options and game types you can play. The level playing field in Matchmaking will get your skills up to a true Spartan in no time. The difficulty feels about right and the achievements, while straightforward, bring about a sense of completion once you hear the familiar ding. However, the gameplay suffers from awkwardness and the inability to properly aim. Cover is questionable and doesn’t give you the real sense that you are hiding behind it. That and the monsters aren’t always smart enough to come get you or hold their positions better than they should.
The limited package is a plus and minus as well. It is well worth the $10 when you take into account the tin, the hardcover bestiary book, and the bonus disc. However, you start wondering if you got the short end of the stick when the pegs can barely hold the games without slipping off. Halo 3 is good for the hundreds of thousands of people you will play with and it belongs in your collection. But to be honest, there are better FPS shooter experiences such as Rainbow Six Vegas. So grab a Game Fuel, load up the Warthog and bring a Battle Rifle; Halo 3 doesn’t live up to the hype but it sure does pack a punch.
Other Coverage & Reviews
- NLGSean of NextLevelGaming:“Halo 3 has enough guns and ammo to make a Soldier of Fortune junkie blush”