Halo 3 Xbox 360 Review

By now we are all getting pretty used to the Microsoft hype machine, with one game getting singled out each year to be hyped to the high heavens where it really has no chance of living up the stupid bubble of overexcitement it has created for itself. Last year Gears of War was that game, and while we were somewhat impressed, the game was not everything it could have been. In fact, even though there was quality there, the game was more or less just a victim of its own hype. This year we have Halo 3, and the buzz word that Microsoft has chosen to sell it to us with is a simple one – Believe. To Microsoft, ‘Believe’ is supposed to sum up everything about the game, and market it to the consumer in a memorable way. But in truth it takes more than one word to encapsulate the full extent of Bungie’s latest effort.

Recognizable; that is definitely another word to use to describe the game, but you would expect this as the game takes place exactly where we left off in number 2. Right from the get go everything about Halo 3 feels familiar, and as you start to work your way through the lush flora littering the game’s first level you start to feel very much at home. Aiming still feels very much the same, with the sensitivity still more or less unchanged from previous experiences. Enemy encounters are once again similar with each one almost feeling like a set piece of it own, offering its own set challenges to overcome. Hopping in your first vehicle also feels the same, with the game’s unique steering system still in place. Your accompanying group of marines still excel at making those amusing yet well-worn quips you expect from them, as do the collection of brutes and grunts littering the environments.

Conversely, change is certainly another way to define the game, and moments to showcase this are undoubtedly evident in Halo 3. The game’s intense skirmishes are now drastically larger in size than before, with some of the later ones possibly seeing the amount of enemies quadruple in size from those in Halo 2. The game also boasts a huge collection of new toys to play with, new weapons and vehicles are instantly the most noticeable additions. Three new vehicles are on show with the top of the pile, arguably, being the Brute Chopper, which is a Mad Max meets Ghost type creation. Top of the new weapon pile has to be the stupidly powerful Brute Hammer that will break just about anything you hit with it, vehicles included, and the Spartan Laser, offering deadly one shot kills if you can time the charge right. New items are also added, such as the much vaunted Bubble Shield that lets people in but keeps bullets out, along with portable Grav Lifts and Power Drainers. All of these new items fit well into gameplay and add another layer of fair tactics to an already well balanced game.

Change also comes from Marty O’Donnell’s score, which is more varied than previous efforts, with many new tunes on show, but thankfully it also contains a few remixes of the highly memorable drum laced compositions of the predecessors. Taking down the immense four-legged Scarabs has been given a ‘remix’ as well, with many methods to defeat them now available. You can opt for the simple option to drive around their legs as an AI Marine fires rockets to knock them off balance, or if you’re feeling lucky you can ascend a nearby structure and try and leap off that onto the back of the Scarab. On the other hand, if you are feeling up to the task you could grab a sniper and try and shoot the necessary part from a distance.

Sadly, the rather disparaging word ‘buggy’ would also be another way to sum up a part of Halo 3, as the game’s AI is yet another point of contention that has to be spoken about. But fear not, the enemy AI is top notch, particularly when played on Heroic or higher, with many groups of enemies making smart cover decisions, splitting off into teams to try and find a better angle to lay fire down, and the smarter enemies even finding ways to work around you and flank you from behind. It is in fact the friendly AI that is still very suspect, with many of your allies running head first into battle, dying needlessly, and perhaps most frustratingly having great trouble when driving any of the game’s long list of vehicles. Also, when speaking of the few flaws that are in there, the checkpoint system is once again a bit on the iffy side as it sometimes will give you three checkpoints in a row for no reason, but then leave you many minutes without one at other times. However, these problems have been commonplace in all the Halo games since the series’ inception, so if you have managed to live through it before then there is really nothing new to annoy on show here.

Triumph is yet another word to label Halo 3 with, as that can truly be the only way to describe the game’s huge amount of multiplayer modes. There really is just so much to do, far too much to give a full summary of in this review. Co-op once again makes an appearance, and this time it is for up to four players, and available over Xbox Live for the first time, thus letting you invite, or allow, up to three friends to join you to play through the main campaign on any difficulty. Then there is the competitive multiplayer, arguably the main reason for Halo’s colossal success for the past half dozen or so years. The collection of modes on show here are just a treat to play. In fact, bar one of the modes – Shotty Snipers I really do hate you – Halo 3’s multiplayer is as nigh on perfect as perfect can be. Currently, at the time of writing this, I have just about hit the 100 match mark in the game, and I have to say it just keeps getting better the more you play. Each map offers so much to learn, with so many areas to explore, and attack options available. The same goes for each mode, with a myriad of tactics for Capture the Flag, a selection of best routes to run when you have the Oddball, and loads of strategies for playing Territories entering your head the more you play the game. Outside of the main action the possibilities for meeting new friends, forming teams, getting better medals than your mates, and muting damned annoying kids makes the game that much better.

Then of course there is the Forge, which can be only described as vast. It is hard to see how interest in this mode could ever ablate, as there is just so much you can do, and so much you will want to do when playing. Simply put, Forge is like nothing seen in an FPS before, as it offers a real-time sandbox editor function to all maps that lets you change and move items as the game is been played. Also, you can add more guns, more warthogs, a load of banshees, move around spawn points, build a fusion core heap, and a lot more should you want to. If you can’t think of enough ideas by yourself then you can invite in friends to edit with you, and then if your collective minds create something ingenious you can save your crazed creation and invite others to partake in the craziness you have just created. Additionally, if your collective creative mind really gets stuck then that does not matter either as you can choose to download someone else’s creation – via the game’s file-sharing system – and mess about with that instead.

Speaking of file sharing, community is yet another part of Halo 3 that cannot be overlooked as the game’s theatre mode tied in with Bungie.net almost feels like another game in itself, as it lets you take a selection of screenshots or movie clips of your hard fought wins or harsh defeats from any angle as you look back though a replay of the action. This really is a wonderful addition to the game, and definitely something everyone will end up using at least ones. In fact, we have already done it more than once as all the screenshots you can see on this page are from the staff’s adventures within the game!

In terms of graphics, the game will probably be a notch down than most would expect, as it is hardly the most graphically impressive work ever seen on the 360. Still, there is loads of variety on show, with each of the levels drastically different from each other. On the other hand if you compare the sights in the game to the current advert playing on TV with the rousing piano cords playing, leading into the big build up to show Master Chief’s orange visor and angular green suit there is never really any defining moment to match that in the game. However, what it lacks in sheer eye-catching appeal it certainly make up in scope, with some of the levels, particularly some of the final ones, being some of the largest, most epic available in any game, regardless of genre to date. Also, the game’s engine now seems to be refined to the absolute limit with nigh on no slowdown or framerate drops noticeable in any mode, regardless of the amount of action going on. Furthermore, the game also seems highly polished with the multiplayer maps in particular having just about every object as perfectly placed as it could be, with just enough rocks to hide behind, just enough space between trees to drive a warthog though, and just enough undulating rises and falls in elevation to make sniping long distances a real challenge.

So, as you can see Halo 3 is quite a good game, or maybe great would be a better word. The campaign, for the most part, is a joy to play with only a few nagging elements, and possibly only one nagging level to blemish the experience. Then on top of that there is the multiplayer, and on top of that still there is the game’s theatre mode. All in all, it is easy to see the amount of work Bungie has put into the project, with everything being well thought out, so many little nods to fans and a huge amount of features, modes, and little extras included to fall in love with. The memorable moments the game delivers may not be gaming moments you’ll remember for years to come, but they are something you’ll feel you want to talk about with friends following the game, and remind them about the next time you play.

So there you have it, Halo 3 may be very recognisable if you played the previous games, but it also bring a few elements of change to the table to mix things up a bit. In places it is buggy, of that there is no doubt, but in turn the vastness of the multiplayer options, including the triumphant addition of the Forge, and the overwhelming choices available for the community are just staggering. When you put all these subtle words together you realise what Halo 3 is all about, and that is giving gamers one very solid, at times spectacular, long-lasting game. When all is said and done Halo 3 not only makes up for that abrupt jarring ending to its predecessor a few years ago, it actually makes it all seem worth it. You can believe that.

Easily justifies the amount of hype generated before its release.

9.5 out of 10

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