Halo 3 - 360 - Review
While eagerly awaiting my review copy of HALO 3, I played some more of HALO 2 to get me pumped and ready for the third and presumably final installment of the storyline (I know, HALO Wars comes out next year, but it probably will have nothing to do with the story). And I got to thinking, what makes the Master Chief such an endearing and well-created character. And it dawned on me, that the Master Chief is everything that we, as people (me as a father), should be. He is brave, always calm, knows what to do no matter the situation, and if you recall at the end of HALO 2, The Chief makes a promise to Cortana, and the man always keeps his word.
HALO 3 is now upon us and like all good things, it seemed it took too long to get here. The last game left many gamers upset and wanting more with its cliff-hanger ending and curveball surprises in the form of the Arbiter. Are there surprises in this final chapter? Well, yes, and like a good reviewer I am not going to mention them. Half the fun of this game is the fact that it plays out like a major motion picture. In fact, this game is about as close as it gets for most of us, in terms of starring in our own action-packed movie.
I wanted to actually beat this game before writing this review, not that this is a common practice, most of the time we reviewers only need to play the game enough to get a good idea of what the game is about. Its faults and strengths, how it looks and sounds all that good stuff. But with HALO 3, I really needed to know that the game comes to a definitive conclusion. No, cliff hanger ending, no "clearly rushed" sections of the game. I know many of us love the series, but you could tell at the end of the first one, that the chase sequence was way too choppy for it not to have been rushed. I can report that there was a little bit of the game that appeared to me did not have the same glossy finish as the rest of the title, but it only appears rarely and most won't even notice. There is no choppy sequences to be found.
Now, to the good stuff. Yes, the game delivers, right out of the gate, the action starts up and never lets up. As you may recall in the end of HALO 2, the Chief comes back to Earth in order to stop the Prophet of Truth from activating the rings (The Halos). It is believed that if the rings are activated, then all life in the known universe will be snuffed out and complete Truth's idea that by doing so he will ascend to God status. In order to do so, Truth is unearthing a device long buried in the African sands called the Ark. Of course, not wanting the Earth to be turned into a big lifeless rock, the Chief and the rest of the majorly depleted Earth forces must band together with the Arbiter and other Elites from the second game and turn the tide of destruction. Plus, the Chief has to do all this without the help of Cortana, his steadfast assistant who was lost in HALO 2 to the Gravemind, the leader of the Flood and all things gross.
"Next on 'Pimp my ride' we turn the Chief's classic 74' bronco into something a bit more rugged."
Graphically, you can't deny that HALO 3 is at the top of the heap. The environments do not disappoint; the water effects, the green lush jungle, futuristic structures, and other areas are all rendered very smoothly and give the impression of not only authenticity, but also a weathered and war-beaten look in some cases. Stumbling into an already started battle, vehicles are left burnt out and destroyed, buildings are demolished, bodies lie everywhere, the game does a very nice job of keeping you in the moment. Since this is the first installment officially on the 360, Bungie used the more powerful system to really make things pop. The explosion effects, the weapon fire, the lack of slowdown when things get crazy on screen and some really unique and creative sequences will keep you, as the player, very happy. I think it is important to acknowledge that in the past games, there were times when repetitive graphics were used. I know this was a complaint from several game sites and I can see where they had a decent argument. Well, that does not happen in this go around. Missions are all original and never seem to take place in the same areas. Plus, with the addition of several new vehicles both human and Covenant and more weapons on which to dispense justice, the new visuals just keep coming.
Controlling this monster is more of the same. HALO is credited for bringing the first-person shooter to the console format correctly and Bungie and Microsoft made sure they didn't fix what wasn't broken. The controls are almost identical, with some slight modifications to accommodate the newer buttons the 360 controller has. The bumper buttons are used to scroll through grenades and to activate items/reload. The D-pad is used for the flashlight, which surprisingly is not used all that much and the "X" blue button is used to activate the new and exciting items this edition includes; like shield generators (that fancy bubble you've seen in the commercial) and energy drains. The Brutes (those simian-inspired baddies from part 2) are the main foil to your actions and they also have their own special devices, including one that spews forth a green healing mist. Yes, there are all sorts of wonderful new weapons and toys to play with, chances are though, you will stick with what works for you, and use these new toys in the multiplayer heaven Bungie has now created.
So, let's sidestep for a second and talk about how much more fun you are going to have now that HALO 3 is online and ready to rock. For starters, there are 11 maps with all sorts of accoutrements for the discerning player. Some maps favor snipers, others favor close quarters and still others take advantage of both. The point is, they are a nice set of varied battlegrounds and even come complete with a nifty little trick called Forge. Forge is the map editor that allows you to move things around so to keep things fresh. You can't radically change the landscape, but you can augment spawn points, weapon placement and so on. If you get really good, you can even begin adding items to the map, like vehicles. MS has also promised more maps for the future that will be available for download and with the coming of "HALO Wars" next year, I seriously doubt that any of us will be jonesing for something new afterwards. It's a good day to be an Xbox 360 owner.
"Shooting the Arbiter will not gain you any favors."
If there is one thing that gets me pumped to play, it is that darn orchestral music. It's got hero written all over it and the low pulls on the strings gets me so fired up to go kick some butt, I honestly think it helped me through some of the game's tougher parts. Yes, the sound in HALO 3 is phenomenal. From the concussive blasts of bringing down a large vehicle to the perfect voicework done by all of the cast. Steve Downes is the voice of the Master Chief and I will say, that if they ever do make a HALO movie, hire some stunt guy to wear the suit and have Downes do the voice-over work. He has such an awesome baritone voice and says everything with such conviction, I couldn't imagine it done any better. The same can be said of Keith David - he voices the Arbiter and I am convinced some of the other characters, and Jen Taylor as Cortana ... wow, this is the way voice acting in a video game is done. My hats off to the folks at MS studios for coming up with some great dialogue and sticking with the same voices throughout the series. Well done.
A few other things you should know about the game. The normal setting is a bit too easy for players who have been going at it online for the last few years; you may want to play on either heroic or legendary and I can confirm that there is a different ending when played on legendary as opposed to normal. Want to know what really happens at the end, you have to play the tougher game. This being said, the game's A.I. is really ramped up when you play on heroic or legendary. The Brutes employ an awful lot more tactics when this is changed and you will find it to your liking if you appreciate a challenge. As far as the marines and the Arbiter who run with you at various points of the game, their A.I. isn't quite as dialed in as I would have thought. Marines run out into enemy fire and even the Arbiter, who is supposed to be the equivalent of the Elites, will often stand around getting his darn fool head shot off when cover is clearly available. I know, I am picking at breadcrumbs here, but I was hoping to get more support from a group of people desperately trying to save the planet and not Gomer Pyle USMC.
"Not these guys again!"
Now I will tell you this, the game is all the Chief, all the time. There is no crazy dual-story, dual-character thing happening, and to be honest with you, I liked it this way. However, I did think that the storyline dropped the ball by not giving enough thought to the Arbiter's storyline that was pretty carefully laid out in the last installment. Again, you won't be disappointed by the ending, but as a player who wants all his things tied up in the end, I thought they sort of lame ducked the Arbiter's side of things.
Review Scoring Details for Halo 3
It is as smooth as ever. Vehicles, the Chief, they are all old friends and everything works out so fine.
Lush, varied and really well put together. The end sequence is as crazy as a hen house filled with fireworks and you love every second of it.
The complete use of digital surround sound, the perfect voice acting, the choice of dialogue the explosions, the whirrrr of machinery, the beauty of it all, this is perfect sound.
Like I said, if you know what you are doing, you need to ramp up the difficulty to make this a real challenge. The single-player campaign can be beaten in 5-6 hours on normal.
It is a wonderful piece of science fiction work that deserves all of the accolades it gets. A strong lead character wrapped around a fantastic story.
After playing the game through a few times, you may want to join the millions of people playing online, it is kind of fun. Oh, who am I kidding, the online tear is a blast to play and with all the new bells and whistles they added to the game, you may not play anything else online for quite a while.
I said it before and I'll say it again. The Xbox 360 is the system to beat. With this, Bioshock and last years Gears of War ... well, it simply does not get any better then this.