The last episode of the trilogy and even the best one!
Throughout video game history, there have been franchises that have attained such popularity that they quickly become a household name. Take Halo for example. When the first game launched, it came out of nowhere and surprised many a gamer with it's interesting story and satisfying gameplay. The sequel, Halo 2, moved more XBoxes than any other game in Microsoft's history and very quickly became one of the top selling games of all time.
Now comes Halo 3, the seemingly final chapter in the trilogy. It picks up exactly where Halo 2 left off. We find Master Chief unconscious from his long leap of faith at the end of Halo 2 and, after he snaps out of his funk, he joins the rest of the Marines and his new ally, the Arbiter, as they fight to fend off The Covenant an their evil Prophet. The story arcs very well and brings together the second and third installments seamlessly in just a couple of minutes, which sort of makes up for Halo 2's disappointing ending. In fact, the story in this game is by far the best one of the trilogy. It has all the ingredients and emotion to bring closure to a fantastic science-fiction saga. Sadly, the ending wasn't as epic as the rest of the campaign. It seems like it just doesn't render justice to the rest of the story, which features epic battles in tremendous landscapes. All of the original actors return one final time to voice their pixelated counterparts and do an excellent job in the process.
The gameplay stays true to the Halo franchise. As the old saying goes: If it ain't broken, don't fix it. The controls remain exactly the same as previous Halo games, in which you can dual-wield certain weapons, melee, throw grenades and so on. New this time around is the ability to detach bigger weapons and carry them around. For example you can now detach those big stationary gun turrets and use them against your foes. When you do so, the game switches to a 3rd person view and the Chief moves around much slower than he usually does. Also new this year are deployable weapons, such as the Bubble Shield, which will protect you from bullet fire and grenades for a short period of time. All of these additions work well in single player or co-op action, but it seems like they were developed for multiplayer purposes.
Speaking of the multiplayer, this is where the Halo franchise shines brightly amongst the sea of other first-person shooters out there. The irreproachable Matchmaking system is back once again and is still extremely reliable. All of the MP modes you know and love are back once again in all of their current-generation glory, as well as the good old ranking system. Some new mods were added to the game and add even more depth to an already deep MP. Also new this year is the ability to mute some players. Now, this might not seem like much, but for those out there who have played the Halo 2 MP and witnessed some of it's online community, you'll agree that this is a blessing. The online component is pretty much lag-free, even while playing a 32-man Big Team match. I regret to inform you that the online isn't perfect though. Oftentimes, you'll find yourself spawning right next to your enemy, who will just have to turn around and kill you. Also, it seems that, at times, the weapons aren't well balanced, as you'll find that your opponent just needs to shoot 2 or 3 bullets your way and melee you for the kill, while you'll have to unload an entire clip on him and still he doesn't go down. This happens quite frequently and, when it's not favoring you, it can get really frustrating.
Also new in Halo 3 is The Forge, which fairly resembles what the guys at Valve have done with Half-Life 2's level design tool. You'll get to place different objects from the Halo universe in a selected map, such as vehicles, exploding barrels, spawn points and so on, and then try it out. Now, this doesn't seem like it would be fun, but once you get your design online and try it out with some friends, it can become a riot. If that wasn't enough, you can then view your buddy blowing up and flying around in the Theater over and over again. Speaking of which, the Theater is another new addition to the game which can be used to view everything from the single player campaign, multiplayer matches and Forge madness. You'll be able to go back and view your last 6 sessions and then select what you want to keep from them, as you can swivel the camera around, focus on a player, an area or then entire map. The only drawback about the Theater is that the fast forward option isn't really fast, so if what you're looking for is at the end of a session, expect to fast forward for quite a while.
The Forge and the Theater are excellent additions to an already solid game. After you've completed the campaign, which will last you around 10-12 hours, you'll have plenty of other options at your disposal to make Halo 3 last for quite some time. You can go through the campaign with friends, either on easy, normal, hard or legendary. The co-op allows up to 4 players to play through the campaign together, which is often lacking in most shooters these days. The graphics are quite good, as most of the environments are well detailed and good to look at. The characters are also very well designed. Aside from the great voice acting, the other sounds in the game are what you've come to expect from a Halo game.
If this is truly the end of the Halo franchise, I can honestly say that they went out with a bang. The incredible epic battles you'll have both online and offline will remind you of why this franchise became so popular in the first place. With an excellent campaign and even better multiplayer component, Halo 3 will stay with you for a long time and, as Cortana would say, "It was an honor serving with you John."