Halo 3 and me

The end of an era.

Spoilers for Halo 3 ahead.

Talk about Halo long enough and chances are that you’ll get around to Halo 2’s ending, a moment so comically disappointing that I still remember it painfully clear today. I was playing in co-op with my brother when we get to the infamous scene where the Master Chief stoically says, “Sir, finishing this fight,” in which my brother responds with, “Imagine if the game just ended there.’’ That joke became a lot less funny about three-seconds later. And so, with the nigh-on-goading marketing tagline “FINISH THE FIGHT” blaring at me, I couldn’t help but get begrudgingly excited to play Halo 3 and finally get closure to one of gaming history’s most buy-the-next-one cliffhangers.

The reason why Halo 2 ended so abruptly was pinned on time constraints, but I’m almost (almost) glad it did because it meant Halo 3 now exists. Not that the series wouldn’t have continued if Halo 2 did bring the story to a close, there was still a lot of money for Microsoft to make after all. And – after years ruminating on it – Halo 3 is my favourite Halo of them all. That bitterness of waiting another three years quickly melted away when I found myself flying happily through the air on a nippy ATV. Halo 3 was the combination of the best aspects of its predecessors, with the more expansive environments of Halo: CE combined with the tighter physics of Halo 2.

Peter Moore never got over his addiction to getting video game tattoos.
Peter Moore never got over his addiction to getting video game tattoos.

Halo 3 also made good on the promise of the invasion of Earth, with it actually feeling like a war instead of the drunken scuffle outside a pub we got with Halo 2. The Covenant also saw some changes, with the Brutes now calling the shots who were perplexingly less effective than the Elites, mainly due to how the Brutes’ armour would explode off them Ghouls ’n Ghosts style when shot. The ante was also upped with the parasitic Flood and this is easily my favourite version of them. The little puff bags can now turn friend or foe almost instantly into another body of the horde, which really helps sell you on how much of a threat they are. The story is as much about ridding the galaxy of the Flood as it is breaking the Covenant once and for all.

A task aided by the addition of some shiny new armaments, such as the Spartan Laser which could tear through vehicles, and the wonderfully cathartic Gravity Hammer – which also spawned the game mode Griffball. As mentioned, the ATV Mongoose was a blast to drive, and having someone on the back with a rocket launcher turned it into a tiny terror, with lumbering tanks shuddering in fear at the sight of it. The front-heavy Chopper could plough through smaller vehicles and it was wise to assault it from the back or sides where the driver was exposed. Thinking about it, it was strange to see Brutes have floating vehicles, they always seemed like a race who’s greatest technical achievement before being absorbed into the Covenant was shitting into their own hands and throwing it at each other.

The Ark for all its build up was essentially just a really big Halo.
The Ark for all its build up was essentially just a really big Halo.

The generational leap in power went towards making the battlefields more organic, despite the game not stacking up technically against its contemporaries – faces for example weren't great. The domineering Scarab which was essentially on rails in Halo 2 was now free to roam, you even fought two in the suitably epic showdown on the level The Covenant. Speaking of levels, the penultimate one Cortana might have had me lost in a confusing nightmare of disembodied voices and anus doors, but at least tonally it came across as Halo 3’s darkest hour. And it of course lead to the very last mission, in which I couldn’t help but feel a tinge of sadness because after all these years of being a fan, Halo was finally coming to an end – or so I thought back then.

But what a finale, closing the entire thing with a redux of the Warthog run with the very ground falling away as you race towards your ship, which ends in the Master Chief and Cortana being stranded in the middle of space. While it was inevitable that there would be some allusion that the story wasn’t truly over, it was a satisfying conclusion at the time. The campaign was only half of my relationship with the Halo series, however, with the other half being the multiplayer.

And thank the gods because the much-despised Battle Rifle plus Plasma Pistol combo had its bite softened, as the Plasma Pistol’s charged shot now homed in with less precision and the Battle Rifle was no longer hitscan. Other changes included the Energy Sword having its range reduced, and the Rocket Launcher losing its lock-on ability. Ladders were also thrown out to make way for the far more expedient – and far funner – Man Cannons, which would launch players and vehicles soaring through the air.

Maps were solid with some real gems in the bunch, even if they weren’t as dynamic as some of Halo 2’s collection, which might have been a good thing considering that lag would often turn the trains of Terminal completely invisible for instance. Rat’s Nest mixed tight room-to-room combat with an outside racetrack for Warthog’s to patrol. Narrows featured a bridge suspended between two bases, but you could also use Man Cannons to fire yourself across if you were feeling brave. And how could I not mention Sandtrap, the only map to include the enormous mobile fortresses named Elephants.

Valhalla was far superior to Blood Gulch and I don't care if no one agrees.
Valhalla was far superior to Blood Gulch and I don't care if no one agrees.

It might not have been the birth of console online play Halo 2 was, but Halo 3 did add something that would become a staple of Halo for years to come: Forge. Although it was fairly limited in its first iteration, Forge could still be used for some novel game types. I fondly remember a scenario where one person on the ground had a Spartan Laser, while everyone else was on a platform above them, a platform that could slowly be blasted into pieces with said Spartan Laser. What followed was an incredibly tense match, as everyone scrambled for ground that was being destroyed by a person taking blind shots.

To put a finer point on it, Halo 3 was where the series peaked for me, and while I’m not saying there isn’t any enjoyment to be found in later instalments, with every new release after, I felt my enthusiasm slowly fizzle. Halo 3: ODST was a fun, moody little expansion that brought us the wave-based Firefight, but the premise of being a normal, squishy human in a mini open world didn’t really change much. Halo: Reach went for a more character-focused story, but made the rookie mistake of forgetting to give any of the cast a compelling personality. Plus, I didn’t much care for the whole reticle bloom thing. Halo 4 was the introduction of a whole new chapter featuring the Prometheans, yet they had to share the spotlight with the (at this point) overly familiar Covenant. It was also clear that Halo was now chasing the Call of Duty train, as Halo 4 introduced some rather anaemic loadouts and, of course, sprint as a core ability.

Halo 5? I didn’t even play it, which would have boggled the mind of the me from 2007. Back then I adored the Halo games, lapping up every morsel of information about them from the lore to new gameplay mechanics, but that feels like a lifetime ago. And while the battle rages on with the next-gen arrival of Halo Infinite, for me personally, the fight was finished a long time ago.