|By Andrew Raub||Wednesday, 5 Dec 2007|
Let me just get things straight here:
I played about 5 minutes of the original Halo, and I wasn’t too enthralled. My first experience with Halo 2 was in a commandeered classroom playing on a projection screen. It was cool but I sucked and I didn’t see what the big deal was. I played online at a friend’s house a few times, but again, I sucked and I didn’t see the draw. I never owned an Xbox and Halo 3 is one of the two reasons I have a Xbox 360.
Wait, what!?!? Yeah, that’s right. Even though I didn’t like Halo 1 or Halo 2, I really, really like Halo 3 and I bought a Xbox 360 because of it. I dunno what it is, but when I played Halo 3, I didn’t get pissed off that I sucked, and I actually enjoyed playing it.
Halo as a series has been gotten a lot of flak because it doesn’t really innovate much. But honestly, that is what makes it so good. It doesn’t innovate but it nearly perfects the genre. Sure, the single player campaign is a little lacking, but it’s fun enough and the multiplayer is where the real fun is. My favorite FPS deathmatch game for a long time has been Unreal Tournament. The original UT offers a striking amount of variety in terms of maps and weapons, while maintaining a really solid run-n-gun style of play. Halo 3 matches this closely. There’s very little room for camping and strategy. Just know where the weapons are and start running and shooting. This as visceral and raw as it gets, and it plays as Halo’s greatest strength.
Ok, so let’s get down to business, shall we?
Halo 3 looks great. It doesn’t play in 1080i/p, nor does it really play in 720i/p, but it doesn’t matter. Everything looks great from the lighting to the textures to the character models. There are times when there is so much action going on that you would almost expect a noticeable drop in frame rate, but it rarely, if ever happens. The scope of the game is humongous, and the level designers have done a great job at giving a variety of environments. There is a nice balance of outdoor and indoor areas, and a great mix of settings ranging from lush tropical paradise to closed-in military bases. You will fight enemies half your size and mechanoid creations with legs that fill the screen. This much variety ensures that the game never gets stale and the presentation is always fresh.
The audio aspect of the game is just as grand at times, but at other times takes a back seat to let the action unfold. The orchestral score is pretty spectacular, but it really only pops up for the story parts and stays quite once the action picks up. This isn’t a bad thing, really, as the action gets so intense that I have often not noticed that there was no music.
Storywise, there really isn’t much here. Since I never played Halo 1 or Halo 2, I’m kinda lost. There’s Master Chief, some chick that he has a thing for, an army, and some enemy dudes who want to use the Halo (apparently a big weapon?) to blow shit up. That’s fine and all, the story isn’t really too important to this game in the long run. It’s easy enough to figure out what’s going on at any given moment, which is really all you need to press on to the next objective.
The Campaign mode can be played either solo or co-op, and online. There’s lots of options here for what is generally a solo-only outing, so props to Bungie for giving us the choice to play with friends. There are nine levels total, but it’s kind of hard to tell where one level ends and one begins aside from new cutscenes. This is nice on one hand, because it makes the whole experience seamless, but on the other hand it makes it feel like there is no break. The Campaign offers plenty of action and thrills, and for someone like me who’s never really put in the time on Halo, it’s a good primer on how to play the game.
Multiplayer is where the real fun is to be had. Bungie really got things together with their matchmaking service. Matchmaking works by selecting from various playlists and waiting for the matchmaking service to find you players. It doesn’t just find anyone though, it looks for players who are as close to your skill level as possible. The more you play online, the more EXP you get, thus raising your rank. The better you play, the higher your skill number goes up. The game starts you off in an optional Basic Training list, and eventually graduates and bans you from that list. This is absolutely wonderful for people who don’t want to get “pwn3d” on their first outing.
Multiplayer modes include a variety of solo and team based matches, ensuring that there is something for everyone. Unfortunately, however, there is no way for a player to set up exactly what type of game type he or she wants. What map and weapons you play with is pretty much up to the matchmaking service. Players can veto a map, but once it is vetoed the next map must be played. Personally, I like variety, and I think this is a good decision. Nothing makes me want to play a multiplayer game less than playing the same map, with the same weapns, getting killed the same way, over and over and over again.
What is a FPS game without its weapons? Not much! There are a lot of great vehicles and guns to be used, even in multiplayer. The default automatic rifle is a worthy weapon in its own right. One well aimed clip can take down almost any foe, and combined with the punch, it’s fine for most situations. There are also sniper rifles, shotguns, rocket launchers, grenade launchers, and flame throwers. For a more exotic touch there are just as many alien weapons. Some are deadly, some are not, but overall the weapons are pretty balanced. Dual wielding is an option for some weapons, but dual wielding loses the ability to toss grenades, which makes the concept quite a bit less useful than expected. There are several varieties of grenades, including the sticky grenades that will… stick to your foes if you land a direct hit. Items including shields and a power-draining item can also be used. There is plenty of artillery and defensive measures available, but getting used to them all can be quite daunting. Eventually it’s easy enough to feel out what you are good with and how each weapon works.
What else can I say, really? If you’re a fan of the series, you probably already own the game. If you aren’t, well, you’re either on the fence or adamantly hate it (probably without ever really giving it a shot). I urge you to try it out if you can. Halo 3 really surprised me. It’s one of the most balanced online FPS games I’ve played, and it makes it much more fun that most other games as a result. It’s not without its problems, but the sheer amount of simple fun to be had is insurmountable.