Not Quite the Holy Savior of FPS's
Let us be candid here. The Halo series is Microsoft’s lifeblood for its Xbox brand. Without it, the current console war might only be Sony vs. Nintendo. Halo has been called everything, from being the revolution in the console FPS genre, to just being a vulgar term for excrement, if the men from Penny Arcade are to be believed. Regardless of what anyone says about it, Halo always sells well. Hell, Halo 3 has already broken sales records in the game industry (Even breaking some records in the cinema, if you can believe it). So what do I have to say on the final chapter in the Halo franchise?
In a word, disappointing. Now, don’t take this to mean that I hate Halo 3. I still think it’s a very fun and laidback experience to share with friends and such. But unfortunately, Halo 3 suffers the same media hype backfire Fable fell to, except that this time the game isn’t actually bad. In that, I mean that the media typhoon around this game was so enthusiastic and articulate, you’d think that it was to be the gaming industry’s version of the Rapture, come down from God Himself to escort us to eternal bliss. I don’t blame Halo 3 for letting me down for the things I’m about to name. I blame Microsoft’s marketing department, who thought it necessary to make me think that this game was so much more than just another Halo game. If you’ve lived in a mountain cave for the last year or so, then I guess this exposition is lost on you. But I digress.
The game’s story is what I think hurt it the most for me, personally. The game finally wraps up the hanging events we were so infuriated by three years ago at the end of Halo 2. Master Chief returns to an ass-whipped Earth under the thumb of the Covenant and must help turn back the tide of battle before the Flood reach Earth and assimilate everything. While it feels like everything has ended properly for this arc, I had some problems with the direction of the story. I can’t quite name why, but I feel that the game was under-delivered. Perhaps I didn’t feel satisfied that the mysteries of the Forerunners weren’t really revealed.
Another genuine issue I had was the media hype promised a large-scale land battle in which the Master Chief and Earth’s army square off against the might of the Covenant in the middle of the desert, something I was really looking forward to. This battle is non-existent. It does not happen at any point in the game. I’ll let that sink in and hopefully you’ll realize the futility of anger before losing your temper. Are you calm now? Let’s continue.
Still, the story has merit for finally letting us “finish the fight” and it does deliver some top-notch action cutscenes and battles. It just feels like you’re cut out of some truly awesome content.
In terms of gameplay, it’s pretty much the same as Halo 2. While there are new weapons and a new equipment system of shields and specialty items, it plays like how you would expect Halo would. The big additions this time are some awesome vehicles.
We are finally given a Human flying vehicle, called the Hornet. It handles smoothly and is much more fun to pilot than the Banshee. There is also a neat little ATV called the Mongoose, which was supposed to have been in Halo 2 but didn’t make the cut, which also handles well and sees some fun use in the multiplayer sections. The Brute Chopper is also fun to drive, but the weapon-aiming mechanics of it feel pretty weird. Finally, Bungie also did away with the useless Spectre transport in 2 and gave us an improved Brute version called the Prowler, which handles and looks better
My biggest complaint about the game is that there are some really bad level designs present. It’s not consistent throughout the game otherwise I’d have just said Halo was bad. Still, some parts of certain levels become very confusing, in that your objective is not clear on where you’re supposed to go next. It’s especially bad in one of the later Flood-centric levels, wherein I wandered around a big room for nearly fifteen minutes before finding a rather small and unnoticeable doorway. I still don’t like replaying that level because I keep forgetting where the door is located. These bad design choices aren’t common at all, but when they do pop up, you’ll get very impatient with the game.
The graphics are rather disappointing as well, appearing to be stuck on a plane of quality between the original Xbox and the Xbox 360. I would say, in spite of this, I still love the presentation. Halo 3 has some big levels, and I mean huge levels. This makes for some really neat battles where you are invariably surrounded by enemies and allies on all sides, all locked in a massive struggle of life and death. I guess something had to be cut to make room for this, and I suppose it could have been a lot worse.
It took me forever to get around to this review because I needed more time with the multiplayer. Unfortunately, the only game type I actively enjoy playing is Big Team Slayer. Therefore, aside from the technical issues, take any bum-rimming I might give Halo 3’s multiplayer with grain of salt.
The multiplayer has been pretty much carried over from the second game, and since that was great, so is this one. You’ve got a large variety of maps and gametypes so you’ll be able to constantly try new things or just stick with the ones you like.
However, the matching seems to suffer from a few problems. For instance, I’ve several times found a full list of players to play with, only to have the game restart the search for no apparent reason. It’s as though the game suddenly made itself my personal manager/bodyguard, placing the responsibility of screening and approving any potential acquaintances upon itself. There’s also some lag sometimes, but it doesn’t occur often enough to be a glaring flaw.
The two things Halo does to attempt to revolutionize the online multiplayer experience this time are the new Forge and Theater options.
Forge is great. It is a mode where you can edit the placement of objects, weapons, and vehicles on any existing map. This made can be done online with friends as well, allowing you all to screw around in a lot of different ways, like making cannons out of fusion coils and grav lifts or constructing a bevy of floating platforms to engage each other on.
Theater, while not as interesting as Forge is, is still a nifty little extra to the game. It allows you to replay and watch any of your recent games. It has a variety of functions, from studying enemy movements to simply showing off your “best sticky evar.” It can also be used for campaign levels too, but I doubt many people are fervently obsessed with speed-runs of the single-player.
At the end of the day, Halo 3 is just another Halo game. It doesn’t truly revolutionize anything. It doesn’t surprise the audience at all, but it still remains as a fun way to relieve tension by blasting hordes of Flood/Covenant/Noobs. Go in with those expectations, and you’ll be pleasantly treated to a fun game. Go in believing the ill-conceived marketing onslaught, then prepare for some shattered delusions. But it has always been about having fun and Halo 3 at least delivers on that note, though doing little else.