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Halo 3 Review

publisher: Microsoft
developer: Bungie
genre: Shooters

ESRB rating: M

release date: Sep 25, 07
» All About Halo 3 on ActionTrip

It's been a long three years for Halo fans, but finally, the wait is over. It's time to finish the fight... before a next one begins.

After stowing away on a Forerunner spacecraft, the now iconic figure of the early 21st century pop culture, Master Chief, must make his way back to our neck of the woods - planet Earth. He must stop the army of alien zealots, known as the Covenant, who converge around their spiritual leader, the Prophet of Truth.

This chapter in the Halo history reaches its climax as Cortana, Spartan's ethereal female companion, is held captive by the Flood's intelligent embodiment, Gravemind. The Arbiter, leading the "freed" aliens alongside Master Chief must stop the Prophet from firing the Halo rings. Together, they must also eradicate the Flood infection once and for all.

After finishing the single-player campaign in Halo 3, one cannot help but feel as if we've come to the end of a trilogy. Was this the plan after the first Halo came out? I am not sure about that. Has this been the plan since the conception of Halo 2? One can be absolutely sure of this.

And so, with the cliffhanger ending in Halo 2, Bungie deliberately left a lot of things unsaid. They left the players guessing for three years almost. In Halo 3, you can sense that the team had a strong desire to complete this chapter, to let it come full circle.

In that sense, even though the campaign starts in medias res so to speak, the tag-line "Finish the Fight," truly becomes the main theme of the third installment in the series. In fact, once you've completed the story, "Finish the Fight," changes into "Finished the Fight," on your Halo 3 menu screen. As if to accentuate even further that things will come to a climactic resolution.

Additionally, there are a few notable signs that have happened "behind the scenes" that serve as further proof of this. Many of you have surely heard Halo 3 being referenced as Halo 2.5. When we look at the player models and even the AI, technically, it's clear that Bungie hasn't built a new engine from scratch. Halo 3 quite certainly uses a modified version of the Halo 2(1?) code, and although it carries many technological improvements, one cannot escape the feeling that the programmers have just about squeezed the last drop out of a code that's getting a little long in the tooth.

Don't get me wrong though, we are talking solely about the technical side of things, and even on this front, Bungie has done a lot to make this game feel next-gen. To start with, the levels with dense jungle vegetation show off just how far they've pushed the tech. Fancy soft body physics are at work here, coupled with a clever use of advanced pixel shader effects. On the other hand, the character models look dated, with rigid facial animation that offsets the advancements made in the rendering of the environment, and especially in the lighting.

Speaking of which, the HDR lighting is put to amazing use in Halo 3. Bungie does the most spectacular job of leading the player through dimly lit and narrow indoor areas and then overwhelming us with sprawling, sun-lit landscapes since Valve's Half-Life 2.

Furthermore, the physics calculations and all they entail become an integral part of the gameplay; as you would expect in any next-gen shooter.

From a technical standpoint, the thing that pissed me off the most was the AI routines. Even though Bungie claims the AI has been revamped, all that I could see were some new behaviors for certain new enemy units. The friendly AI seems to use the old code as far as vehicle handling and vehicular combat, tactics, and movement patterns go. And, to put it bluntly, they are not really good at it, not by today's standards. Of course, this is my subjective opinion and I may just lack the technical prowess to understand the subtle differences; but, that's just it; I'm a gamer and as a gamer, I can't really see any improvements.

Still, one mustn't forget that technical innovation often doesn't stop with the single-player game. Thankfully, that's exactly the case with Halo 3.
Bungie's introduction of the Forge, a way for teams of players to modify every single bit on their favorite maps and then play them, as well as the awesome feature of making in-engine bits of code that act as movies (which you can manipulate in real-time for both single-player and multiplayer action and watch it later in the Theater), are proof that the team has been looking beyond just the single-player experience. In fact, bearing in mind how popular Halo has become in multiplayer, the new movie-recording feature is certain to add a whole new dimension in both the research of multiplayer strategies and, of course, in just giving Halo's huge community a way to share cool moments from the game with each other and give Matrix-style depth to bragging rights footage.

This is probably for the best, as the main campaign in Halo 3 took me around 5 hours to finish on "Normal" difficulty level. I wasn't timing myself; I swear it could be even less than 5 hours of actual play time, or it could be a little more; the bottom line is, the awesome thrill ride which was the single-player game was over much sooner than I had anticipated. It was so short, at one point, I sensed the story nearing its apex and I actually thought it was a build up to an unexpected twist. As it turns out, it wasn't.

Even so, one could say that Bungie was brave in making the game this way. One of the biggest flaws in the original Halo was the compromise which the developers made in regards to the length of the single-player game. In order to make it last longer, the level designers introduced a host of unnecessary and often tedious backtracking; you could sense that they were simply adding similar sections and making you go back and forth to make the game longer. Bungie makes no such compromise in Halo 3. It's a major trade-off. On the one hand, the level design feels absolutely superb, showing the sort of versatility and pacing that awesome shooters are made of. On the other hand, this is exactly the reason why single-player feels so short and why it IS so short.

I have to make myself clear, however; without going into too much detail and spoiling the fun for the fans, you should truly expect some spectacular twists in standard Halo gameplay. On top of the new weapons and units, you will see subtle changes in the interface that make the action more streamlined; a narrative that surpasses anything that was done in the series before - a more powerful and deeper connection between the characters. Halo 3 was injected with more soul and larger-than-life scenes than either of the two previous games. Bungie and Microsoft raise the bar so high in terms of game direction and incredible production values that no sane Halo fan will want to miss playing Halo 3.
I was actually quite disappointed with Halo 2, both in terms of gameplay and narrative, but Halo 3 more than makes up for it.
In being so uncompromising in certain ways, in offering incredible vistas and epic clashes on a whole new scale of grandiose; in delivering all of that with spectacular art and a profound soundtrack; finally, for offering 4-player co-op, it goes without saying that Halo 3 deserves to be in your collection of 360 titles. It IS one of those genre-defining games, even though it has some things working against it.

All that remains now for fans is to wait patiently for signs of the next chapter in the saga. My prediction is that we won't see Halo again before the next iteration of the Xbox console is ready to hit the market; Halo 4 is renamed into something along the lines of "Halo: A New Beginning," and is a true technological pioneer, as groundbreaking in some ways as the original was at the time of its conception on the Mac and PC.

PS A friendly tip, once you've finished the main campaign, be SURE to watch the ENTIRE end credits.


9.2   Excellent

Superb action-packed shooter experience, art, music, narrative and relationships between characters, production value, multiplayer, Theater, The Forge;

Very, very short single-player; despite many improvements, the tech feels old; inept team AI.



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