One of the best games this gen
If I had to rank the 3 Halo's, here'd be my ordering:
1. Halo 3
2. Halo: Combat Evolved
3. Halo 2
Halo: CE was Bungie's original masterpiece that pushed the console FPS genre to new heights by refining game mechanics and creating an immersive sci-fi world. Halo 2 was a solid follow-up, but given the limitations of the original Xbox and certain level design choices, failed to surpass its predecessor.
Why do I think Halo 3 is better than either of its predecessors? It's hard to put my finger on, actually. In principle, Halo 3 features the same gameplay as CE and 2, but with greater variety in weapons and vehicles. Usually, more of the same with shinier graphics isn't enough to impress me, but in the case of the Halo franchise, the core gameplay is sufficiently exciting that Halo 3's similarities to its precursors doesn't hamper it from achieving greatness.
Overall, I felt that Halo 3 was the most engaging title in the franchise, in part because of the graphical leap to Xbox 360, but in part because the game just felt more epic. Bungie took seriously fans' complaints about the constrained level designs of the second iteration, so some of the levels in Halo 3 are truly expansive. With more powerful hardware, the developers were able to cram more enemies on-screen with more physics, animations, and special effects--so that in many cases I felt like I was a small part of a much bigger battle.
As such, I experienced multiple "Oh ****!" moments during the campaign, which reminded me why I believe games deliver entertainment experiences like no other medium. What's more, a multiplayer mode with balanced but greatly varied gameplay and an addictive ranking system kept me coming back for more.
Halo 3's greatest weakness is a defect of the series as a whole--while the setting, art style, and music of the game are striking, Halo 3 lacks a gripping narrative and complex, believable characters. Master Chief is a badass, but a very one dimensional one. The story, while engagingly told, is ultimately forgettable, though the ending does set the stage for future surprises. The game's narrative weakness is the only reason why I gave this game a 9.5 and not a 10.0--on gameplay and entertainment grounds, Halo 3 is easily one of the best--if not the best--game I've played this gen.