It’s funny, but in theory Halo 3 shouldn’t work.
You see, if you follow the pattern of big-budget threequels, they are usually doomed to mere mediocrity. And the fact that Halo 3, in an industry who seems to have become focused on “innovation” as its latest buzzword, lacks such a revolutionary edge also seems to work against it. But it’s a testament to Bungie’s brilliance that they have managed to carve their second sequel into a good old-fashioned, impeccably designed game.
Yes, once again we find ourselves adopting the guise of striking six-footer Master Chief and fighting notorious insectoid gits The Covenant. And, yes- the gameplay is essentially the same as the title’s predecessors. This, however, is no bad thing- tight, user-friendly controls ensure that the player feels comfortable in their role as humanity’s besuited saviour. Minor changes to button layout mean that finishing the fight is more streamlined than, um, ever before. Bungie have also managed to further refine their level design, creating intricate, luscious environments populated by fantastic character design and awe-inspiring set-pieces. Indeed, Bungie’s grasp of the epic and cinematic means that the game, while technically advancing little (if at all) past 2006’s Gears of War, is by far the Xbox’s most beautiful game. Often the game resembles an intricate piece of art (something which can further be appreciated in its Theatre Mode video editing software- a wonderful diversion if ever there was one).
Naturally, such breathtaking presentation requires an equally grand soundtrack, and Halo 3’s score never disappoints. The main theme kicks in at all the right moments, accompanying you on some of the most intense, operatic battles you will ever witness. As I mentioned before, the game’s set-pieces are simply fantastic and present battles the scale of which have never been seen before. It really is an outstanding all-round package, and Campaign mode is perfect for displaying the game in all its glory.
But what’s amazing is that this blockbuster, for all its hype, remains surprisingly fresh. No doubt this is helped by the prevailing anonymity of Mr. M Chief, who, almost like Zelda’s Link, allows the player to literally embody their title character, hence ensuring you care for his war. Sorry, your war. Voice acting remains superb, with the cast (bolstered by thesps such as Terence Stamp) delivering fine performances to the backdrop of the epic play that is the Halo universe. Likewise, a witty and intricately-written script (which sees the brilliant Grunts establishing their place as the ever-loveable Goombas of today) ensures that cut-scenes, usually the bane of most gamers, are genuinely enjoyable and add to the overall experience. String this together with a brilliant, if sometimes a little confusing (particularly for newcomers), plot and you have one of the solidest single-player experiences ever witnessed on any platform.
Whoops, forgot the multiplayer.
Ever since the Halo 3 Beta was released, this game’s multiplayer was obviously going to be something special. And it doesn’t disappoint- this is the ultimate Xbox Live experience. Maps are some of the best since the N64’s Goldeneye, vehicular combat is as fun as ever (boosted by the addition of new “wheels,” such as the Brute Chopper which comes across as a mix between Akira and Easy Rider) and game modes are brilliant. It’s quite hard to describe how much fun it is to co-ordinate the mass slaughter of your differently-coloured enemies with your mates, then riding around like absinthe-chugging joyriders afterwards to celebrate. It’s probably fair to say that Halo 3 has the most well-rounded Multiplayer mode in the history of gaming. And that’s saying something. Then there’s a new addition in Forge- essentially a level-editing mode which allows you to place objects, weapons and vehicles around a level during a multiplayer match. This, again, is absolutely brilliant as, although it is hardly as in-depth as the modes given to us by franchises such as Unreal, it means that some wonderful multiplayer scenarios can be dreamt up (and some surreal, tank-flinging battles can be embarked upon).
You’ll note my repeated use of the word “solid” in describing Halo 3. And that’s exactly what it is. However, therein lies its main problem- it’s perfectly solid; nothing more, nothing less. Halo 3’s aspirations never seem to reach beyond upping the ante of Halo 2’s gaming experience, breeding intense familiarity (welcome or not). As I mentioned before- this is a very old-fashioned sort of –shooter in a world where gaming is entering a strange new revolutionary phase ushered in by the Wii’s waggle-stick. For all its brilliance, you can’t help but worry whether the game is a little behind the times.
There are also a few little niggles that accompany the title. One is the occasional overbalanced weapon, with the puny pin-cushion that is the Needler somehow becoming an all-consuming behemoth of a tool. It should also be noted that even the single-player has its enjoyment troughs- notably the Flood levels. Casting away elegant skirmishes between impressive AI troops, Flood levels see you simply blasting away at irritatingly persistent swarms of tumour-ridden gimps whose presence only serve to make these sections appear archaic in their sub-Doom nature. An interesting character plot-wise, maybe, but the Flood don’t make for good gameplay. I should also mention that the game is surprisingly short and actually not that hard on some of the middle levels of difficulty. It also features more endings than Return of the King, but the high-speed adrenaline-rush of a finale is more than worth the wait.
Yes, the above paragraph is pure nitpicking, but I had to write something. See, I’m preaching to the converted, as chances are that if you like Halo– and would lose your monocle in astonishment to see me criticising it- you’ve already bought the game and are too busy “pwning n00bs” (as I believe the kids say) to be reading this review. So, that just leaves newcomers, to whom I urge to pick this up.
It may not be quite perfect, but it’s as well-designed an FPS as you’re ever going to see. Well, until Halo 4.