Finish the fight on home turf
Every console has its signature series, or that one game that becomes synonymous with the system. For the Xbox, that series is of course Halo. Nobody expected it to turn out that way, but the unsuspected successes of Halo: Combat Evolved catapulted the game universe into stardom where it stands today.
Halo 2, as people look at it now, was basically a shinier version of the original game with online multiplayer capabilities. It is also home to one of the most infamous cliffhanger endings ever devised. Fans everywhere developed ulcers the size of a small bowling ball, and demanded justice. This of course begs the question: does Halo 3 deliver that justice? The short answer is yes, to find out how, read on.
It's obvious from the start that Halo 3 had more put into the story than was placed in it's predecessor, as it answers much of the questions so brutally laid out in Halo 2. Don't expect the story to stand up against the likes of Bioshock or Morrowind, but what you need to remember is that this is heavily a first person shooter, and so doesn't try to be much else. The important thing is that it brings together all those nasty loose ends that you've been trying so desperately to pick up by yourself for so long. Basically, Master Chief has hit a bit of a rough spot in his journey from which he only just returns via dropping from the sky into the jungle below, where you are greeted by Sergeant Johnson and a small group of fellow marines. The Arbiter is also there to say hello, and though it's obvious the Master Chief doesn't want to see him he is reminded by Johnson that the elites are on their side. Time to suck it up and move out. You can go it alone, or bring along 3 of your friends locally or via Xbox Live. One player will simply become the Arbiter, and the other two will be the Arbiters best men (who actually do play into the story if you read the novels). Skulls are also a part of the experience this time around, though they are handled much better. Unlocking a skull now grants you the ability to turn on its effects for campaign play at the menu, and in many cases will boost your multiplier for campaign scoring. What's that you say? Campaign scoring? Yes ladies and gentlemen, now you cannot only prove to your friends that you are better than they are online, but now you can outscore them in the campaign as well. Each kill has a value to it depending on whether it was a headshot or not, and on the enemy type – the bigger than baddy, the more points you'll wrack up. It also depends on the campaign difficulty, and as stated before, what skulls you have turned on. By far the greatest skull to use at any time, even if it doesn't give you bonus points, is the Grunt Birthday Party skull. Nothing screams "good times" like scoring a headshot and being rewarded with cheering children and a shower of confetti.
Halo 2 pushed the graphical capabilities of the original Xbox, and Halo 3 is no slouch in the graphical department either. Though it isn't the prettiest thing to grace the system, it is definitely a worthy achievement by Bungie. Some character models are amazing, whilst some poor saps like Lord Hood look like someone attacked them with a frying pan and magic marker. The environments are quite a sight to behold though, and never end up looking too repetitive. Through lush jungles, across broken highways, and over flood laden territory you will get to see some of the most technically awesome spaces found in a shooter to date. The frame rate is rock solid in all but the most intense, explosion filled firefights, and though you might see some texture popping, it's not nearly the freak-show that Halo 2 put on. Artistically speaking, it's Halo. The architecture and environments are…well, Halo. That's not to say it's bad because it's a sci-fi masterpiece, but you won't be in shock and awe at it all since you have surely seen it before. It does have it's moments though where it will grab at your attention and you'll wonder just how much drugs the artist was on when they came up with such an awe inspiring feat.
With all those fancy technically and artistically sexy graphics, one hopes for the sound department to pull its own weight. Of course, the sound is just as great as you would expect. The explosions are all satisfying, the guns all sound lethal, the comments from the enemy are as hilarious as always, and a Brute screaming and running at you still makes you wet yourself a little. Halo though, is also well known for its incredible sound track. Once again, we have been given some of the most epic musical score in any game. It's also dynamic which means that when you're really getting into some serious battling, the music picks up with it. Just the same, if you allow yourself to be pummeled into submission by the advancing forces, you will notice the music will drag down and spell out your impending doom.
Halo, though not the founding father of the mechanic, is now the game that comes to mind when you hear "dual wielding." The multiplayer and even solo campaign tactics were almost entirely based on the combinations of dual wielding weapons that one could possess. Halo 3 doesn't shy away from it, but it does rebalance the weapons so that have a single gun on hand will still be sufficient in your hunt for head shots. Also important to point out, is the return of the Assault Rifle as the default weapon. The only real change from the original Halo is that it packs a much more powerful punch, and has a higher degree of accuracy – so much so, that some people will argue it's a bit TOO much of a killing machine. That aside, the balancing of the weaponry is pretty darn close to perfect. Probably the most noticeable tweak players will see is that they can only wield one Needler. This is offset by the fact that it only takes 8 consecutive needles to blow your opponent sky high. Most all of the weapons from Halo 2 make a return, and can all rack up the kills quickly. Of course, there are new additions to the arsenal such as the Brute Spiker: an automatic machine pistol if you will, that at close range will absolutely tear through whoever stands in your way. Then there is the Mauler, a single handed automatic shotgun that is also a formidable close range weapon that has become popular in multiplayer since one shot and a quick melee means instant and almost unstoppable death for the enemy. There is also the flamethrower…and well…it's pretty useless aside from its use on one campaign mission. Also new to the mix is the ability to use Master Chief's uber testosterone to rip the turrets from their tripods and get your frag on Arnie $tyle. This comes in handy in many campaign situations, but on the multiplayer side, unless you're backing up a squad of people in front of you with it – you will have your $#% handed to you royally. With all this awesome weaponry, balanced and all, Bungie seemed to have struck a cord amongst the headshot fanatics. Drawing a bead on your adversary's head with a sniper rifle can no longer grant you an instant kill with the bragging rights to go with it. Instead, the hit box seems to have a mind of its own and doesn't account for all shots landed, which Bungie calls "added difficulty." Be that as it may, you have a ridiculous amount of options as to how you want to take down the baddies.
With all those weapons, you would hope that you'd have a whole world of people to take your weeklong frustrations out on. Luckily Bungie has given us some of the best multiplayer action you can find anywhere. Halo has always been about its completely crazy multiplayer action, and it's brought to a glorious head in Halo 3. Whether you're looking to take on the planet by yourself, or recruit some pals to do it with you, there is an enormous variety of match types, and game variants to be found. It also delivers a solid number of maps that are all very different and exciting in their own ways, and can accommodate most all of the game types across the board. Not everyone loves all the maps and game types though, so now you have the option to "veto" a game once per round, and another is selected to replace it. This has raised some questions though, since some maps (Snowbound, Highground) are chosen what seems to be most all of the time. What makes this worse, is that whenever a game is vetoed, it always seems to "punish the lobby" with Team Slayer on Snowbound. Bungie has said that they will try and fix this issue in the future, but it isn't really a huge roadblock to having fun while online.
Perhaps the most interesting aspect of Halo 3 is the addition of the Forge. The Forge allows you to add and remove items from maps, create different game variants, and generally have a lot of random fun. The system works in terms of cash, where certain items are worth a set cash value. Each map has its own max cash limit, and so though you can add a whole lot of stuff to maps, your insanity is limited. You can also change things like the respawn time for the items on the map. Such options have led to some of the most epic displays of explosions and physics around thanks to being able to float explosive barrels and batteries, thus dropping on an unsuspecting group of other barrels, effectively blowing the @#!$ out of everything within 50 meters. The Forge has now led to some of the most fun game variants you can play online, all thanks to the next additional ability found in Halo 3: File Share.
You can now bring out the "on the scene journalist" within you, thanks to the ability to take photos and video of your feats of bravery and/or insanity for posting on Bungie's forums. Along with map and game variants, photos and video can be uploaded via the File Share feature. It effectively allows you to upload 6 files (or more if you pay a small fee for more slots) to your share. From there, anyone that clicks on your gamer tag can see your file share and download them at will. The files are also automatically uploaded to Bungie.net once you've made a profile, and from there you can display your accomplishments to the forum community and beyond. It is a great feature that really makes for an amazing community experience, and allows you to finally prove to your friends that you did in fact kill that dude with a headshot as he used the man cannon.
All told, Halo 3 is the definitive game of the series, and the definitive shooter for the 360 to date. Possibly one of the most talked about, and hyped games in gaming history; Halo 3 has solidly delivered on all fronts, and then some. With such great campaign options, unbeatable multiplayer, and the community features that would make a small group of the Amish cry, Halo 3 will most definitely keep you happy for a long time to come. If you own a 360, and are a fan of the genre, or even if you're just looking for a whole lot of "OH SNAP!" moments, you owe it to yourself to pick this game up. It will grace your gaming shelf for months to come…if in fact it ever leaves your console tray.