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Halo 3

 

Halo 3

ESRB: Mature - M
Platform: Xbox 360
Category: First Person Shooter
 
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9.6
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Developer – Bungie
Publisher – Microsoft Studios

Features

1-4 Players
Cooperative Play
System Link (2-16 players)
HDTV 720p/1080i/1080p
Optimized for the HDD
Online Multiplayer (2-16 players)
Content Download
Leaderboards
File Sharing

Finish the Fight. That saying is been seen all over the globe as Microsoft has been gearing up to finally give Xbox owners what they have been waiting three years for, the third and final chapter in the exclusive Halo series. Aptly titled Halo 3, gamers once again put on Master Chief’s helmet in an effort to save humanity. And after spending a week finishing the single player campaign, and hitting XBL for some crazy online madness, I would have to say that Bungie and Microsoft concluded this story in relative style.

Graphics

Halo 3’s graphics are indeed a step up from anything we’ve seen in this series, but this should really be expected given that this series is coming to a close on the 360. If anything, Halo 3 continues the same visual feel of the first two chapters, but now Bungie has the tools and hardware to make this an even better looking game. In a day and age when everyone is talking about first or third person shooters like Rainbow Six Vegas or Gears of War, which by the way both use the same Unreal 3 graphics engine, I think that Halo 3 stands on its own two feet with no problem at all.

Upon watching the games introduction, I was taken aback by the on-screen visuals, but when that same cut scene transitioned into gameplay seamlessly without losing any of the visual flair, I knew this was going to be something special. Halo 3 uses its own in house graphics engine and it does an awesome job. The first level begins in a jungle setting and the amount of detail is incredible. From the streams that meander towards the river to the lush forests, the amount of detail is great. Branches sway in the wind, as does the long grass beneath your feet. Light breaks through the forest canopy to provide soft beams that shine on everything below, from the jungle floor to Master Chief and his fellow UNSC Marines who are about to continue their fight against the Covenant. This level of detail continues across all the other eight levels that follow the first, and this includes desert settings, snowy settings or lake side settings. Everything that you come across is as detailed as the level before. Bungie spared no expense when it came to maintaining an equal level of quality and detail across all the levels designed for the game.

The horsepower of the 360 is used to bring not only the environments to life, but the characters and their tools of destruction as well. Everything from UNSC Marines and Covenant enemies to all the vehicles and weapons found in the game are rendered so clearly and crisply that it really helps to bring the Halo story into the world of next generation. Character animation is silky smooth and shows that Bungie made sure to provide a setting and a group of characters that melded into one. For example, I was somewhat amazed to see how the large Covenant Brutes made their assault towards me during battle. Their movements were so fluid and lifelike (well, as lifelike as you would expect an alien of this size to look), and as they advanced towards me all the other action going on around me (e.g. UNSC Marines attacking the other Grunts or Jackals) continued without so much as even a stutter.

Something that I noticed during my first few hours with the game is that so much really goes on on-screen at once. Thinking back on my time with Halo 2 I honestly don’t remember so much happening on-screen at the same time. But with Halo 3 there were a lot of times when I really had to focus on the task at hand as I wanted to stop and just watch all the frenzied action that was taking place around me. During these times the game moves at a constant framerate too while maintaining the crazy ability to show numerous enemies on screen with lots of special effects going on everywhere. From explosions or muzzle flashes of weapons to vehicles being destroyed everything on-screen manages to continue without ever showing a hiccup. The ability to have so much going on at once really helps bring the player into something so rich and detailed and in many ways it really does pull one into the world of Halo 3.

If it sounds like I am gushing over the visuals in this game you are exactly right. Everything just screams quality and Bungie is to be commended for the work they did in visually upgrading this series into being a true looker indeed.

Sound

The audio package that Halo 3 serves up compliments the great graphics. The soundtrack found in the game has a feeling of familiarity to it, but yet there are new aspects that continue to take it over the top. Each level has a “holy cow” moment and the music is there to help the impact of each one. I actually found myself on repeated occasions turning up the volume to hear the music that accompanied the action on-screen. This is something I do not find myself doing very much and it was pretty clear that I enjoyed the musical sounds of Halo 3 enough to crank the volume on my home theatre.

The voice acting in Halo 3 also deserves major props. There are a lot of returning characters this time around and they all put in a top notch performance in bringing the story and their characters to life. Each voice actor manages to put in a lot of emotion into the dialog and every scene that is paramount in continuing the story is done so in a very convincing manner. And of course the voice actor who plays Master Chief hits his lines bang on. The supporting dialog from other UNSC Marines is also a treat, as is the lines that are delivered by the various Covenant enemies during battle. I would have to say that Bungie made sure to include a heck of a lot of voice acting overall, be it minor or major roles, and it all helps bring the final chapter of the Halo series to life.

Finally, the rest of the sound effects for the various weapons, vehicles and environments are very convincing. And although some are carried over from previous games, others have been altered ever so slightly. For example the new assault rifle sounds somewhat quieter but yet has that audio impact to convey the feeling you are showering your enemy with a barrage of bullets. Bottom-line here, everything from the new UNSC flying vehicle to the Brute Chopper to all the environmental sounds (e.g. running rivers or large waterfalls) manages to be conveyed in a very convincing and solid level and should you be lucky enough to play the game using a decent home theater system in Dolby Digital 5.1 you are in for even more of a treat.

Gameplay

As I start to type up this section of my review I can’t help but think of how to put all of my thoughts into words. A few things make this area somewhat difficult. First off, I don’t want to ruin any of the storyline for those who have not played the game. As well there is so much to do in Halo 3 that I don’t know even where to begin. There is the single player campaign, online multiplayer (co-operative and adversarial), the Forge mode, theatre mode, ability to take screenshots, customizing game modes, creating game modes, file sharing, and the list goes on. I think the best way for me to address all of the preceding areas is to briefly touch on the story without spoiling it and then touch on the play mechanics, online capabilities and added features of Halo 3.

**Single Player Story/Campaign**

When we left Master Chief in Halo 2 he defeated a whole lot of Covenant aliens, teamed up with the Arbiter to help fight a brutal and somewhat crazy faction of the Covenant made up of Brutes whose beliefs were very different then that of the Elites, he had lost Cortana, and he had hitched a ride on a Covenant ship in an effort to stop it’s ill willed intentions. Halo 2 shocked people with a cliffhanger ending, and it is up to Halo 3 to wrap up the story and allow for final closure. Halo 3 picks up right where Halo 2 left off. The story continues with Master Chief teaming up with the Arbiter and his fellow UNSC Marines fighting hordes of the Covenant faction who want to activate all the Halo rings that exist in the universe. You also search for your AI companion Cortana as she plays a major part of the story. This time around your journey takes you all over the universe as you fight on both familiar and new ground. I would love to tell you where the levels are, but out of all honesty some of the levels were a surprise for me and made for a great gaming experience. I want them to be a surprise to you too so I wont say too much, but what I will say is that the new levels are fantastic and the familiar levels are just as much as a treat. There are a total of nine levels that should take you approximately 10-20 hours depending on both your skill level and the skill level you set the game to. There are four skill level settings to play: easy, normal, heroic and legendary. For Halo veterans out there nothing less then heroic should be attempted as normal seems a little too easy. Of course legendary is the toughest and I have to say that after going through the game on heroic, I was somewhat surprised by the legendary setting. It is tough, but it can be done.

Overall I found the story quite enjoyable. It has some interesting twists and turns and it was all well implemented using the in-game graphics engine. If there was anything that I was somewhat disappointed with it was the ending. Don’t worry; I won’t spoil it for you, but when everything was said and done I just wasn’t as satisfied as I thought I would be. The ending does wrap up the series and there are no questions left unanswered, but I just wasn’t as satisfied as I had hoped. Maybe my expectations were too high, but regardless I just wasn’t as happy as I could have been. That being said, this is my opinion and once you finish the fight you may be on the other end of the scale, but as a reviewer I wanted to give you my thoughts on what I experienced.

The computer AI really puts up an admirable fight at the higher skill levels. And for casual gamers, or those who do not play first person shooters on a regular basis, the game may even challenge you on normal. That being said, the AI overall is an impressive sight to watch. The first time I threw a grenade into a group of Grunts and Brutes I was amazed to see how the Brutes reacted by rolling out of the area to find safe space from the impending explosion. Enemies took cover (by using existing cover or deploying their own), they tried to find alternative routes to my position, and they even managed to make some pretty accurate shots in what seemed to be a safe area from enemy fire. To that I do add that a lot of these shots were not cheap, but just reflected the skill of the enemy AI. And yes there were times that I wondered how the hell they got the shot, but hey, I did get through the game so it couldn’t have been that cheap. My fellow UNSC Marines also put up a pretty good fight against the onslaught of Covenant. There was constant chatter amongst them and they weapon skills were quite good. I also noticed that they were not just the usual cannon fodder for enemy fire and they actually assisted more then the past two installments in my fight. They were able to kill the enemy on a regular basis and provide cover at some very valuable times.

During your adventure you are not just stuck firing at hordes of Covenant enemies. The single player campaign has some very interesting and somewhat lengthy vehicle sequences. You get to control a vast array of vehicles that all have an impact one way or another on your gameplay experience. You get to drive some very recognizable vehicles, such as the Covenant Ghost or UNSC Warthog, but you also get access to new vehicles such as the Hornet (a UNSC version of the Banshee), the Mongoose (a UNSC quad ATV) or the Brute Prowler (a two person Brute vehicle with a turret). Some of these vehicles are actually required as they are part of your campaign. That being said, they are not all mandatory and you will end up using some of them because you just want too. All of the available vehicles really enjoyable to use and they actually add to the gameplay experience.

Playing Halo has always been about shooting and killing in creative ways, plain and simple, and from the initial chapter on the original Xbox Bungie has always seemed to craft a game with original weapons that provided for some pretty great killing ways. From the original pistol from Halo to the Battle Rifle of Halo 2, there have consistently been advancements in the area of weapons. Well Halo 3 is no different. This time around we see the return of the Assault Rifle and the addition of new weapons such as the Gravity Hammer (Covenant), the Mauler (Covenant), the Spartan Laser (UNSC) and the Spiker (Covenant). These weapons are really quite wild and make for some interesting times fighting on the battlefield. Being able to overtake a Covenant enemy and use the Gravity Hammer truly provided a sense of accomplishment as I mowed down hordes of Grunts, Jackals and Brutes. Also new to the Halo universe is the ability to tear off particular turrets in an effort to gain the upper hand. These are either Machine Gun or Plasma Turrets. As well you can find Missile Pods and the odd Flame Thrower Turret as well. Finally there are two new grenades, the Spike Grenade and the Incendiary Grenade. The first time I used the Incendiary Grenade I was amazed to see the circle of flame ignite, heat up and takk down my enemy. Finding the incendiary grenades was far and few between, but man were they ever satisfying.

Bungie made some alterations to the control scheme of Halo 3 and by doing so utilized the X button for something new. As you venture through the levels in your effort to defend humanity, you will come across equipment pick-ups. These vary and can be quite useful in your fight against the Covenant. You will find such things as a Bubble Shield, Power Drain, Regenerator, Flare, Radar Jammer, Cloaking or even Invincibility. There are total of 11 different equipment pick-ups in the game and you can only carry one at a time. To use any of these you just need to hit your X button at any time to activate it. For example, the Bubble Shield is a bubble that you can retreat in at any time to get away from enemy fire. Should you feel overwhelmed just hit the X button and this bubble activates. But be forewarned, the bubble doesn’t last forever and enemies can enter at anytime too. Should they do so, and drop a grenade without you noticing, you can pretty much say good bye once the explosion hits.

Overall the single player campaign is quite enjoyable. The computer AI is challenging and there are incentives to play through again. Bungie has once again hidden skulls (13 of them) throughout the game and these add some further reason to play through on any skill level except for easy. These skulls, when found and activated at the beginning of any level, add some interesting twists. For example one skull allows head shots on Grunts that result in a confetti explosion and children yelling “yay”, whereas another skull forces you to melee enemies to get your shield back. These skulls are well hidden and can take some creative solutions to get to. Overall anyone who takes the time to play through the single player campaign should thoroughly enjoy their experience, I know I did.

**Online Multiplayer**

Of course Halo would not be Halo without a very engaging and long term online multiplayer experience. In this section I will touch on the new co-operative mode, the Matchmaking and Custom Games modes, and the new Forge mode.

New to the Halo universe is the ability to play co-operatively online through the single player campaign. It is my honest opinion that the single player campaign should be experienced this way. Don’t get me wrong, I am all for just going through the story myself, but there was something about going through the whole story with a friend who loves the Halo series just as much as me. We could chuckle at some of our victories (or deaths) as well as share in what was a pretty engrossing storyline. I really enjoyed being able to talk with my online co-operative teammate(s) as certain key sections of the new story unfolded as we could immediately talk about what we just saw and what we thought of it. Plus it doesn’t hurt to have an online teammate when the action gets really crazy.

In terms of adversarial play, there are two modes to consider: Matchmaking and Custom Games. Matchmaking is basically the quickest way to dive into a multiplayer game in Halo 3. You simply choose a playlist that corresponds to the type of combat you would like to engage battle in and Bungie’s servers then allocate a suitable game type and group of similarly skilled opponents for you do fight against. You can form parties to travel together from match to match as well so you can keep people you like to game with on a regular basis with in your group. There is also an option to join other parties at the end of a match by simply hitting X. Should there come a time when you don’t want to play a specific type of game chosen by Bungie’s servers you do have the option to veto the game, but a majority has to chose to do this for it to actually happen. Within the Matchmaking modes are two separate modes, Ranked or Social play. Ranked not only tracks your experience, but gives you a skill rank as well. Here the play is more competitive and cutthroat as players want to keep their high rank. In the social mode, only experience is tracked, which applied to your rating (e.g. private or sergeant), and a skill rank is not considered. I found myself playing more in the social parties as the skill rank is not that important to me. As well I could take larger parties into the Social Matchmaking modes then those into the Ranking modes.

In comparison to Matchmaking, Custom Games is designed for parties to play matches of their own choosing. The vast array of customizable options basically allows you to create and refine unique versions of each game type that exists in Halo 3. The options in the Custom Games Lobby and its many sub-menus are explained using onscreen captions. This being the case, I am not going to try to explain them here as it would only make this into one of the largest reviews ever done on GameBoyz and this review seems large enough as is. Custom Games is a mode that allows for as large as a party as you can get together to play with each other and not have any strangers in the fold should you desire. You can play up to 16 players in these games. It is a great way to learn the maps while battling it out in a somewhat competitive environment with people you play with on a regular basis. And trust me, the first 16 player rocket match you do on Last Resort is going to let you appreciate the online friends you play with.

Within the multiplayer games there are a total of 11 maps to start off. Out of those 11 only one of them is familiar as it appeared in Halo 2. Last Resort is remake of Zanzibar, however this remake is more then just a high-def version of the original. It is larger, contains more obstacles and really shows how good Bungie is at designing levels. There are nine different game modes that can be played on any of the 11 maps. They are as follows:

-- Slayer - Relentless deathmatches in which players score by killing opponents;

-- Oddball – Follow the waypoint indicator to find the oddball, and hold it for as long as you can to score;

-- Capture the Flag – Team-based combat in which teams score by picking up a flag and taking it back to their base;

-- Assault – Team-based combat in which team score by planting a bomb in the opposing teams base and guarding it until it detonates;

-- Juggernaut – One player is the Juggernaut and has stronger attributes. Whoever kills the Juggernaut becomes the Juggernaut. The longer you are the better, as it is a time based game;

-- King of the Hill – Your objective is to conquer a designated area of the map (the hill) which is marked by a wall. The longer you maintain control of it, the more you score;

-- Territories - Teams score by taking control of certain territories;

-- VIP – At least one team has a VIP. Teams usually score by killing another teams VIP;

-- Infection – Each player starts either as a zombie or as a human, with both species having different attributes. Zombies score by killing humans, and humans by killing zombies. Any human killed by a zombie becomes one.

Within each of the aforementioned gameplay modes come different variants of each. Overall, within the nine play modes are a total of 35 different variants to play. And this is all before one decides to customize a specific gameplay and save it to the HDD for even more variety.

My general online play was pretty enjoyable, especially when I was in a room full of online friends. If there is one thing that I really hate with Xbox Live, and with Halo’s online component specifically, it is the way public rooms have the ability to attract prepubescent kids or people with no life who like to tell me what they are going to do to my mother or what they think my sexual preference is. I can’t help but cringe when I hear people like this start to talk smack for no reason at all. I am just glad that I have the ability to mute opposing players, or even players on my team, who have to go down this path.

In terms of the technical side of the online play, I only ran into one match out of 70 where the game was affected by lag. However this was more my fault then anything else as I did not set my matchmaking options to “good connection” as had it was set to find any game as quickly as possible. Given that I have been playing during periods when there are up to 660,000 plus people online at once, this is quite impressive. However, your online experience can get up to over 1,000,000 people online at once. Add to the mix graphics and special effects (e.g. explosions) that are on par with the single player campaign and you have one smooth and exciting online experience.

New to the online world of Halo is a mode called Forge. Forge is a powerful and somewhat easy to use real-time object editor that allows you to customize Halo 3 multiplayer maps far beyond the simple rules. As well this mode can be quite a ‘social experience’ as you can have more then one player adjusting the map while others (up to eight) actually play. If you play in this mode you become a Guilty Spark and you float around the level making changes. Should you allow others to play while you are making any changes, they can shoot you out of the sky. This can make for an interesting game where you have teams of people playing and a Guilty Spark on their side trying to take things away from other teams, and adding beneficial items for their own. This in itself is a great game. However, the main goal of Forge is to be a highly powerful and quite flexible editing tool. You can add and put things on the map and have either yourself or a friend try things out to see if they make sense on the map. It is a great way to further customize maps in an effort make a good map even better. As well as being a great editor Forge allow you to learn the exact layout of each map available as you can fly anywhere you like within the confines of the maps boundaries. It is a great way to explore and find great areas to hide or snipe from. Now I did not play this mode nearly enough to really experiment, but my limited time with it was definitely an indicator that I am going to have to spend a lot of time with this as I enjoyed what I did try.


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