Published by Microsoft Game Studios
Developed by Bungie
ESRB Rating: M for Blood and Gore, Mild Language, Violence
For Xbox 360
For three years, Xbox gamers the world over have been waiting. The end of Halo 2 was a cliffhanger of epic proportions. As the Master Chief's final words echoed on televisions across America, so did player's screams of indignation upon the realization that there was no more game to play, that the ending was really just that--the end. Still, gamers played Halo 2 in droves, mastering the single player, competing in the multiplayer, and wondering to out loud and to themselves how it would all end.
The answer is finally here. Halo 3 launched on September 25 and broke sales records the world over. It made more money in its first weekend than Spider-Man 3 did on its opening weekend. To gear players up for the launch, Microsoft launched a massive marketing campaign, consisting of everything from sodas to action figures to comic books.
Halo 3 was a very big deal. But was it worth the wait?
Game Play 20/20
Halo 3 is not on the bleeding edge of shooters, not anymore. That distinction belongs to games like Rainbow Six Vegas or Crysis. In fact, Halo 3 introduces very little new into the formula that hasn’t been previously established in other shooters. What it does, it does well, and so the game plays with a polished sheen.
The game opens up with hardly any introduction whatsoever, so any player that hasn’t played the past two games should familiarize themselves with the stories of the previous games prior to this one.
Game play itself boils down to clearing most areas of enemies and completing objectives. This takes place across a variety of environments, from open plains to deserts to flesh covered halls of metal.
The story of the campaign will not be spoiled herein; however, the player will be brought back to the game multiple times due to a bonus ending (on the hardest difficulty), unlockable features through hidden “skulls,” terminals (computers that reveal the back story of Halo), and perhaps the most important new feature, Campaign Scoring. What this does, when turned on, is ranks you much like in a multiplayer match. You get points for stylish kills, special moves, and variety in your play style, and you can apply this to either single or multiplayer games, making campaigns either more cooperative or more competitive.
Multiplayer, on the other hand, is a different experience from that of the campaign mode. Online matchmaking is overall very smooth and without hiccups, and seems seamlessly integrated into Microsoft’s online service. The flow of the game is balanced both by the power of the weapons placed on the map, and general logic in where they are placed; some maps are designed with a symmetry that allows fights to ebb and flow back and forth. There are, unfortunately, one or two maps that some players will not like. For myself, these are the maps Construct, Isolation and Snowbound. However, the great thing about all the maps in Halo 3 is that, even if you aren’t particularly fond of some, there are many ways to turn that dislike of the map to your advantage. For example, Isolation has indoor areas with windows that allow for a crossfire to be set up. Or Snowbound has a massive plain between two bases, perfect for an enterprising sniper.
To keep things fresh, Bungie has multiple game types on the retail disc, and some user created ones that can be downloaded. Variety is key here. Games such as Slayer or Team Slayer are just your standard deathmatch that most shooters feature, but add in games like Infection (where one player is the zombie and the others try to get him) or One Bomb (there is a bomb on the map; teams take turns trying to defend or arm it), as well as a slew of customizable features, and you have a game that is destined to be more popular than Halo 2.
Players can also team up with three of their friends to tackle Campaign together, online or off. This is a first for the Halo series (although Halo 2 feautured two player offline co-op), and extends the life of the title.
There’s a ton more to Halo 3, too. Take, for example, the Forge, which allows you to edit any map in the game (not create, just edit) while others are playing in it. If your friend asks you for an escape from a battle, hit a button and drop a tank or a Warthog (an armored car, for those not familiar with Halo) that your friend can get in, and they can make their own exit. And everything on the map can be edited. Weapons can be added, removed, or moved. You can change spawn points or have fun with explosive barrels. Pretty much anything you can think of, you can move. The real fun of it lies in the impromptu games that will form. You can play baseball using rockets and a new weapon called the Gravity Hammer, or try to flip the Warthog as in the famous online game. Forge would seem to be Bungie’s best addition to any of their franchises since the original Myth came out, but that would be leaving out one of the best features of Halo 3—the Theatre.
Whenever you play Halo 3—be it multiplayer or single player or cooperative—your Xbox 360 is compressing and recording the game data. After the game is done, you can then go into the Theatre, via the main menu, and choose to save a recording that you like. After that’s done, you can take screenshots, record awesome or hilarious clips, and upload what you like to Bungie’s servers, where other players can then download and view the crazy stuff that you’ve done. And say that you managed an insane grenade kill. Instead of bragging to your friends, and likely having them doubt you since it seemed too awesome to be true, you can record what you did, and show them yourself.
I know I’m going on here, but please bear with me. There are two other new features in Halo 3 that directly affect the game. The first, and perhaps most important, is that the player has access to equipment in the game. Equipment is vital on the higher difficulty levels, and kind of throw away on the lower ones. It can protect you (the Bubble Shield), give you a boost (the Gravity Lift), or help you on offense (the Auto Turret). There are other pieces of equipment, and they can all be used in interesting ways. Try throwing a Gravity Lift in front of an oncoming Warthog and you’ll see what I mean.
The second new feature is heavy weapons. In the previous Halos, you could use turrets on certain maps and in certain areas of the single player game. This time around, you can actually snap the turrets off of their pedestal, enabling you to carry around a very big gun. Other heavy weapons you get affect game play equally—the Flamethrower is especially lethal (to yourself and others), and the Missle Pod might just replace the Rocket Launcher as weapon of choice for the demolition guys in the game.
There’s more to Halo 3, but I’m not going into it here. It’s enough to say that the game is an excellent and cohesive whole, that it is more than the sum of its parts, and that it might just represent a new frontier for what we can expect out of console first person shooters.
I’m not going to lie. Halo 3 looks good. Really good. It has some of the best water effects I’ve ever seen (and that includes Bioshock), and features amazing looking vistas and massive levels. It even runs at an impressive clip the majority of the time (there are instances of slow down, but only in co-op), which is something that is expected out of this series.
I also can’t get over just how cool the Master Chief looks now. Unfortunately, the detail of modeling in the main character isn’t always carried over into some of the other characters. Some look really good, while others seem a little off—certainly better than anything seen in Halo 2, but given the overall level of graphical polish in this game, it’s surprising to see this jarring of a difference.
All of the characters and vehicles and enemies animate very nicely. It’s insane to see a Brute (one of the enemies in the game) choking a Marine as you walk into a lush tropical environment. The little details in a scene like that all show just how amazing looking this game is. The Marine struggles with his hands to get his neck free, the Brute assumes a stance that suggests his dominance in the situation. Things like that happen the entire game, from cinematics that show a Marine’s surprise at the Master Chief being there to help out with the fight, to something as simple as a soldier’s stance during a down time. All of it makes a more immersive, cinematic experience, one which will certainly be rivaled soon, but stands alone currently in the game market.
The levels are all varied and interesting, and most of them are well designed. The only level that is in the very least frustrating is the second to last level; no one I have spoken to has said that they enjoyed that level. However, the level looks great, despite its frustrations, and is appropriately gooey.
Even so, Halo 3 maintains the quasi-realistic sci-fi look that its predecessors established, and does it looking slick all the while. Light shines down through trees and leaves, lighting is accurate and detailed, and the particle effects (explosions, smoke trails, etc.) are all amazing, and need to be seen to be believed. In fact, I can only recall two other times I was this blown away by the graphical realism in a game—Resident Evil 4 on the ‘Cube and Bioshock on the 360.
For me, one of the best things about the Halo franchise has always been the sound. Musically, it’s an excellent game, standing up there with some of the best of gaming music.
In terms of what goes on in the game itself, most of it is quite well done. There are some hokey lines with some bad delivery to boot, but it’s overall very good. Enemies all have cool voices, from the deep rumble of the Brute to the squeal of the Grunt. And the voice acting heightens it. Ron Perlman shows up for voice over as Lord Hood, while Terence Stamp does an excellent job as the Prophet of Regret. Those two are pretty good actors on their own terms, but the script that is given to them is pretty good, and they make the most of it, which is to say that it’s enjoyable to listen to the voice acting. Of course, most of the original voice actors return (with the exception of the one who played Miranda Keyes in Halo 2), and they all turn in stellar performances as well.
Gunfire sounds good, with different, unique sounds for each weapon. It says something for a game when the player is able to identify what weapon an enemy is using just by the sound of it firing, and Halo 3 does this better than ever. Vehicles all sound great, and yes, the water effects sound, well, watery.
The bottom line is, Halo 3 is a great sounding game, with excellent memorable music and some great voice acting. There’s no reason it shouldn’t set an industry standard at this point.
The QA guys at Bungie did a great job here. Not only is there nary a bug in sight, but with the sheer amount of things that the player can plausibly do, it is absolutely amazing that there’s not much in terms of bugs.
There were two things that I did notice. The first is that there is a little slowdown during co-op; that’s not really enough to even mark down the score here. The second, and the real reason that the score is bumped down a notch, is that in certain places, a dead body will glitch through the floor, go down part way, then respawn and repeat, making an almost continuous floating fall. It’s kind of weird, but doesn’t really affect game play at all, except for adding hilarious visuals.
With the Xbox 360 controller, Bungie was able to do a lot more with the controls than they were in the last game. In fact, they were able to change the controls significantly and make them feel much the same, which is a feat in and of itself. The X button no longer reloads your weapon, but instead uses the new equipment that the player has access to.
Now, the Right Bumper takes over all of the X button's former duties. This is actually much easier once you get used to it, although the learning curve might be a little steep for those who clocked in hundreds of hours in the first two games. As any rabid fan of Halo would tell you, the payoff is well worth it.
The front end menus are a little strange to get used to at first, mostly because Bungie changed stuff around. No longer do you select “Change Game Options” in the Multiplayer screen; instead, you hit X to change those very same options. Other changes exist, but they’re mostly cosmetic, and don’t really add or take anything away from the game itself.
As with most Mature rated titles, this is Halo’s stumbling block. Unlike in the past two games, where it was quite evident that the series had a rating change from T to M late in development of the first game, Halo 3 more fully embraces its Mature rating.
This is the main area where Halo 3 has a big problem. The entire game, you’re fighting against a race of alien beings called the Covenant. To do so, you have an entire arsenal of weapons at your disposal, some more violent than others. At one point in the game, as in the last two iterations of the franchise, you begin a fight against a parasitic organism called the Flood (more on that in a bit). Humans do die in the game, but mostly as a result of your inaction and their total ineptitude.
When your character, or any character, for that matter, is shot, blood spatters. Halo 3 is a pretty bloody game. Most of the time, you’re not seeing your own blood, but rather the green and blue goo of alien creatures. In multiplayer, however, it’s not uncommon to see certain areas drenched in blood because of a particularly brutal gunfight.
Now, to the Flood. First and foremost, the Flood are gross. In fact, they are pretty disgusting when you get right down to it (in addition to being just obnoxious in every way). When you shoot the Flood, pieces of their bodies fly off and start rolling around. While I wouldn’t necessarily consider it gory (there’s not really blood with the Flood), it is pretty gruesome and deserves a mention.
(Killing non-human, fictional beings, -3.5 pts.) (Blood sprays on the wall and everywhere else, -2.5 pts.) (Body parts can be visually detached, -1.5 pts.)
One thing that can be said for Halo 3 is that it really establishes personality and individuality within the soldiers that you fight against. One of the ways that the game does this is through the language that the characters use. It’s not present in the main story of the game, but during fights, you will invariably hear some curse word. I don’t remember precisely what words are used (I do remember that there was an instance of a**h*** early in the game), but I do know that they are all in the PG-13 range.
There’s not very much in terms of sexual dialogue in the game, but there is one instance that I’m certain of. One of the collectable skulls is called the IWHBYD skull, or I Would Have Been Your Daddy. This is a reference to a line and a mission from the first Halo game, and is continued in full in the description of the skull.
(Swear words found in a PG-13 rated movie are used in the game, -4 pts.) (Sexual jokes are made once or twice, -2 pts.)
Sexual Content/Nudity 8.5/10
Halo 3 is pretty clean here, especially in terms of being a sci-fi epic with a (sort of) love story in it. The only character that could be considered as wearing something offensive is Cortana, the artificial intelligence that Master Chief carries around in his helmet. She’s hardly present in this game, but still plays a major role that is vital to the plot. Her clothing (if you could call it that) is tight and accentuates certain parts of her body.
(Character’s clothing is sexy or accentuates their sexuality, -1.5 pts)
There is nothing involving the occult or the supernatural in this game.
This game is about the last surviving humans fighting off an invasion. If anything, it’s about following orders and saving the world.
Halo 3 is one of the biggest releases of 2007. Its story, while not the best I’ve played through in all my years of gaming, is good, and its game play solid. This is a game packed with value, and replay for years to come.
Game Play 20/20
Final Score 82/100