Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Halo 3

Tech Info :

Developer: Bungie Software
Release Date: Sep 25, 2007
ESRB Descriptors: Blood and Gore, Mild Language, Violence

What the Game's About
Six years ago, Bungie Studios defined Microsoft's new-kid-on-the-block platform, Xbox, with one game: Halo: Combat Evolved. It can be argued that without Halo, the Xbox would have been a miserable failure, and there certainly wouldn't be an Xbox 360 today. After the tremendous success of Halo, Microsoft put Bungie to work on Halo 2, which released to see even more impressive sales. And now there's Halo 3, which will undoubtedly sell through the roof. The title is the third and final installment in the Halo trilogy, which means it offers closure to the arcing storyline. In addition to its campaign mode, the game also supports Xbox Live multiplayer. Some will argue that Halo 3 is essentially "Halo 2 Plus," but few would disagree that it's superior to its predecessor in nearly every way possible.

What's Hot
It all starts with campaign – at least it did for us. True Halo fans will immediately sink their teeth into the campaign mode, as it brings to an end the Halo trilogy's storyline. Bungie's third installment is roughly the same length as its predecessors and has diverse level design. You'll explore a satisfying amount of areas as you progress into the game's depths. Like both its predecessors, Halo 3 is pure action. There are no puzzles to slow you down. You'll have to blast your way through level after level, employing different weapons for different situations. In this sense, the game can very easily be picked up and played without having to think a lot. You get to shoot stuff. And it's fun.

It's hard not to compare Halo 3 to Halo 2, as we'll be honest: we were disappointed with Halo 2's campaign mode. The reason we bring this up is because Halo 3's is an absolutely huge step in the right direction. Indeed, Halo 3 is a blast to play for many of the same reasons the original Halo was years ago. The level design is compelling, the story interesting and the action non-stop.

Playing alone is fun, but playing with friends is more fun. Whether it's in two-player co-op or four-player co-op via Xbox Live, Halo 3 provides an excellent co-operative experience. The new "points" system, which challenges you to compete as well as cooperate, adds a whole new reason to replay through the campaign mode. If you love playing co-op, you're going to love Halo 3.

Halo 3's greatest single strength is – no surprise – its multiplayer. This is true for co-op, but it's even truer when it comes to the game's main multiplayer mode. In many ways, it is a more refined version of what we got in Halo 2. Bungie has tweaked, polished and re-tweaked the different facets of the Halo 2 multiplayer experience, the end result being Halo 3.

What's more, Halo 3 has the most interesting variety of weapons in the entire franchise. There are more weapons to choose from than ever before, and many of them are purely awesome. Take, for instance, the gravity hammer. It feels like pure power when you use it to literally pound your enemies to smithereens. What's more, not only is the spartan laser an excellent option for dealing with vehicles, it's just as satisfying to get a kill with it against someone on foot. Oh, and what about the needler? It took Bungie three games to do it, but finally, at last, the needler is a serious option for those looking to do some serious damage.
If you've ever played Halo 2 on Xbox Live, you know all about the annoyance that is push-to-talk. Well, apparently Bungie listened to all of our complaints – it's gone. Well, sort of. If you have four people on your team or less, you don't have to press the D-pad to talk to your friends. Hallelujah.

Perhaps the number-one thing that sets Halo 3 apart from both its predecessors is The Forge. With it, Bungie has ensured that the online community can reinvent Halo 3 as time goes on. You're able to customize almost anything you want. Whether it's modifying weapon placement, adding vehicles to a map, changing spawn points or creating power ups, you can do it in The Forge.

Bungie has also included the long coveted Saved Films feature in Halo 3, which lets you save and edit your own game videos. What's particularly impressive about this is that the game automatically keeps in memory the last few games you've played. So, if you decide that you want to find and send a game you played an hour ago to a friend, Halo 3 will most likely have kept the real-time replay of the match in a list of previously played matches. This even works for campaign mode.

Finally, Halo 3 could have the very best soundtrack we've heard all year. The music is responsible for the different kinds of energy that surge through you as you play through the game. Bungie always queues the music at just the right time. When exploring dark, unknown corners of a Flood-invaded compound, sinisterly moody music plays. But the switch flips when you face a crowd of Covenant warriors; the game blasts you with some of the most epic music in any video game ever. Our hats go off to Martin O'Donnell and his team. Nobody does "epic" better than you guys.

What's Not
While Halo 3 is bigger and better than Halo 2 in possibly every regard, it's incredibly easy for us to nitpick the game. Perhaps this is because the game feels like nothing more than "Halo 2 HD." The uninformed gamer, in fact, might see someone running around with the battle rifle in Last Resort and think its Halo 2. An important question must be asked: how wrong would they be? After all, the underlying skeleton of Halo 3 is awfully similar to that of Bungie's last game. At times, it feels like Halo 3 is simply the team's attempt at a "redo" of Halo 2.

While the campaign mode is a huge improvement over Halo 2's, it's not without flaws. The formula is unchanged from the original Halo, which released in 2001: shoot stuff, progress. It can feel repetitive and devoid of the kind of depth other shooters, like Half-Life 2, bring to the genre. Some areas in the campaign mode are immediately memorable, but others are less so. One level, towards the end of the game, comes to mind. Unfortunately, while we wish we could forget about the level, we can't. When you play through Halo 3, you'll know what level we're talking about. It's a notable low point for the game's campaign mode.

Bungie has retooled the difficulty system in an attempt to make Halo 3 accessible to the millions of newcomers who will undoubtedly buy into the Mountain Dew-powered hype. This means that Normal difficulty has been translated into baby mode, with permanently defunct enemy AI. Both Heroic and Legendary difficulties will provide you with more challenge if you're playing campaign alone, but if you're in a group of four people via Xbox Live co-op, you'll be disappointed to find that you're blowing your way through hordes of Covenant with little to no trouble.

On the subject of Xbox Live co-op, many of our attempts at playing co-operatively online have been ruined by noticeable lag problems. The problem seems to come and go, and while we aren't docking points because of it (it'll likely be fixed via a patch in the future), at this point in time, the lag is an issue.

Despite that both The Forge and Saved Films on paper sound like the second coming, in reality, neither functions quite the way Bungie would have you believe. With The Forge, you actually can't change "anything and everything" you want. Certain maps don't let you place certain weapons on them. What's more, weapons like the Fuel Rod Canon are entirely missing from not only The Forge but multiplayer as a whole, which is incredibly disappointing. Meanwhile, Saved Films lacks no-brainer features, like active rewind, and can be more difficult to play around in than it should be.

Perhaps our single largest complaint with Halo 3 is that it still doesn't allow you to browse and join other people's custom games. This is a feature that was even available in Halo PC years ago, and no console version of Halo has included it. This means you're limited to only playing with people on your friend's list and random people in matchmaking. Matchmaking is great if you're looking to get in on a quick game of some kind, but in its current form, it suffers from the identical problem Halo 2 did at launch: there's a very limited number of playlists and if you don't like any of them, you're out of luck. Thankfully, chances are Bungie will add more play lists in the future. But the lack of a custom games list is quite simply inexcusable.Confusingly, Halo 3's load times seem to be some of the worst in the franchise. Whether you're playing in campaign or over Xbox Live, you'll have to wait for the game to load each level or map when you're in the menu. Then you'll have to wait again for it to actually load the level in-game. The load times just feel so long.

And, at last, our last complaint: while Bungie has ditched the push-to-talk system for smaller parties, for some reason you still have to press the D-pad to talk if there are more than four people on your team. What's up with that?

Final Word
Halo 3 is an excellent first-person shooter, and with it, Bungie ends its trilogy on a strong note. The campaign mode never amazes, but it is still thoroughly enjoyable. Meanwhile, multiplayer is, as expected, the best part about the game. Ironically enough, Halo 3's biggest weakness is also its most powerful strength. The game is, essentially, a super refined and polished version of Halo 2. This is true in regards to the campaign mode, the multiplayer, the weapons, the maps – everything. As an entirety, Halo 3 feels just like Halo 2. Is that a good thing or a bad thing, though? The answer to this question will likely differ depending on the person answering it.

Ultimately, Halo 3 is in fact just more of the same. However, it's always been more of the same. Bungie once said that what makes Halo so entertaining is it's the same 30 seconds of fun over and over. Just like Halo and Halo 2 illustrated this theory, Halo 3 does too.

Even with its many shortcomings, Halo 3 is an absolute must-purchase for anyone with an Xbox 360. At last, Bungie's finished the fight.

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