Too derivative for a "masterpiece" but still a damn fine game
When Halo 3 was released in September of 2007, it was instantly met with a flood of praise. Reading the initial reviews, one would expect the game to be the absolute pinnacle of what a first-person shooter could accomplish, which unfortunately inflates the game to a level that is impossible for it to live up to. However, evaluating the game solely on its own merits, without the flashy soundbites offered by innumerable gaming websites and magazines, it's still a fantastic game; certainly not the absolute best FPS ever made, but definitely the one of the best total packages available.
The developers at Bungie always championed their Halo design as thirty seconds of fun spread out and repeated throughout an entire game. Halo 3 doesn't do anything to change that mentality, but rather refines it to near perfection. Unlike a game like Call of Duty 4, Halo 3 isn't all action all the time. On the flip side, it rarely relies on mood-creating setpieces like Mars City in Doom 3 or Rapture in Bioshock to heighten the atmosphere of the game. That being said, there is a lot of action, but once each battle is finished, you just walk the Master Chief along a linear path until the next big action setpiece occurs.
While all the levels of the single player campaign are pretty short, Bungie packs a lot of variety almost every part of the campaign. The first level opens with what looks to be a small skirmish, but quickly escalates as Covenant backup arrives to reinforce their allies. Two or three of these battles occur before the player is introduced to grenades, when they immediately get thrust into a larger battle against a superior force with higher ground. Rather than escalate any further, Bungie opts for the next skirmish to take place in a dense jungle, with Covenant snipers in the trees. The player can certainly go in all guns blazing, but a smarter approach is to identify enemies, take cover, and attack them individually rather than en masse. In less than thirty seconds, the level design has changed enough to warrent a wildly different approach to a situation.
By far the biggest action setpieces in the game are the vehicle battles, of which there are MANY. They're all a ton of fun, but often far too easy, with only a few standing out as even mildly difficult. However, they're an excellent change of pace and the eye candy is astonishing. Aside from the vehicle segments' lack of difficulty, the only other real complaint that can be made is that the player is often pigeonholed into a set path or a particular tactic. The Scarab battles being the exceptions, as the player can take down the behemoth in a number of ways, but the other battles frequently have the "right way" and the "take-this-path-and-your-Ghost-will-be-blown-to-smithereens-by-three-Wraiths way."
The entire campaign can be beaten easily in a few hours, unless you play on Heroic or Legendary, which require that the player take a little more caution when dealing with large groups. That's not to slight the campaign for its length, as it's infinitely replayable (especially with the use of Skull modifiers) and the checkpoint sytstem allows it to be played for as much or as little time as the player can allow.
Equally important to the game is the extensive multiplayer mode. The game offers 4 player split screen multiplayer in a wide range of gametypes as well as the ability to take your friends online to XBox Live and compete with people around the world. There's also a great 4-player co-op mode, either locally or over Live, that is a ton of fun although the addition of extra people dramatically decreases the length of the campaign.
Rounding out the package are two additions that many players might choose to ignore, but that are a lot of fun in their own right. The Forge mode allows players to modify item placement and in some cases the layout of the multiplayer maps included with the game. They can't alter the terrain, but through the clever use of items, new paths throughout the levels can be created while others are entirely blocked off. The Theater mode allows people to watch the replays of their multiplayer games as well as the single player campaign levels, freely moving the camera around the environments to record video from the replay or capture screenshots of particularly cool moments.
Halo 3 doesn't reinvent the wheel, but it doesn't pretend to either. The gaming press may have put it on a pedestal when it was released, but now that almost a year has gone by the game stands just as strong on its own merits. A replayable campaign and wildly enjoyable multiplayer options guarantee the game to get more than a few spins in your XBox 360.