Halo 3 [Xbox 360 Review]

Developer: Bungie.
Publisher: Microsoft Game Studio
Game Rating: M (Mature)

Halo3 has made close to $300 million since its release 2 weeks ago and has been accused of causing the lowest take at the box office since 1999 for this time of year.

To further the controversy, it came out recently that Halo3 also doesn’t run at HD resolutions, but instead runs at 80% of the minimum HD standard of 720p at a resolution of 1152 x 640. While it was expected that the community would be up in arms about the lower resolution, the gameplay and graphical prowess of Halo seems to have more than made up for the fact that Bungie upscaled the resolution. The community barely made a puff of smoke, let alone an explosion of outrage when the information got out and gamers went back to enjoying Halo 2 for what it was meant to be; An enjoyable gaming experience.

Graphically, Halo 3 is a mixed bag. Bungie has admitted to going to great lengths to ensure that the High Dynamic Range in Halo3 was effective and realistic. In this, they definitely succeeded.

When High Dynamic Range hit the scene in PC games around 2004, there were very few titles that made use of it and even fewer that used it well. One of the most impressive uses in Halo of HDR is in Chapter 9, when coming back outside from your objective and your eyes have to adjust to the change in light; Looking from the ground up to the Ark in the sky really shows how the HDR emulates the eyes’ ability to adjust to light. Halo’s implementation of it is far superior to games like Halflife2 (Xbox 360) and Far Cry (PC) and it makes for a much more immersive and believable environment.

From a presentation and environment standpoint, Halo3 is very much the successor to Halo2. The outside environments are crisp, vibrant and colourful, but this gives them a somewhat artificial look at times. It’s understandable why Bungie did this, as the flow from inside to outside environments is more fluid with this kind of colour scheme, but it does make the outside environments less immersive and believable. The environments are very varied though and this makes for gameplay that never gets tiresome. The only level I found somewhat tiresome is Crow’s Nest, as the running back and forth from one end of the base to the other and back again can get a bit much. Every other environment however, is really something to behold.

The interior architectures of structures don’t stray far from their lower textured, less detailed predecessors and a comparison between Halo, Halo2 and Halo3 actually shows very few differences in the environments save for what I mentioned before. Even the character models are in close keeping, albeit much better eye candy, than past titles.

Appreciating what’s gone into Halo’s graphical engine is as easy as playing with the Theatre mode in the game. Theatre really allows you to get up close and personal with the characters and models in the game. If you really want to see the Arbiter or the Master Chief up close and personal, play back a Campaign mission and set the camera free. The markings and reflections on Chief’s suit and visor, the explosion effects when grenades or vehicles explode, is something to admire again and again in instant replay.

Screenshots are also a fun way to capture the action and atmosphere of the game if you’ve got a good eye for such things.
Once you use Theatre, you begin to realize that there are a few control issues with the Theatre mode that could have been better, but I’m not convinced they could have been improved with the current controller scheme on the 360 and Bungie has already outdone themselves by the sheer fact that they have set an all new standard on Multiplayer and Campaign replay.

Disagree with friends in coop on what happened, or just want a good laugh at an unexpected scene in the game? You can all sit and watch it over and over together. That same mechanic has already settled a few disagreements about some friendly fire incidents in multiplayer games I’ve played where the traitor in question just might have been me….
If you’re interested, the perpetrator turned out to be guilty and he deservedly got a few melee beat downs because of it.

The multiplayer in Halo is a strong part of an already solid title. The party system is fun and allows you to stick around with anyone you’re enjoying playing with. There’s a lot of variation in the maps, gametypes. The ability to create custom gametypes and share them with friends is something that continually brings about new and interesting variations in gameplay on multiplayer maps that might otherwise have become old hat by now. There is a complaint about too many sniper matches coming up, but the veto’ing in the game is being monitored by Bungie and the occurrence of the gametype will hopefully be dealt with in a surprisingly democratic way.

The skill matchups seem to work really well and allow for close matches most of the time a match is played. It keeps the challenge and adrenaline running at full speed.

Halo’s gameplay mechanics will never be accused of being revolutionary. In fact they’re almost identical to Halo2, which is why if you’re a fan of the series, you’ll love it. If you’re the kind of person buying into all the hype and haven’t played the previous games, you may be left scratching your head. This is the final chapter of a series that has a cult following and like most cult followings, those on the outside probably won’t understand what the big deal is all about. They haven’t fought alongside the Master Chief or the Arbiter and they don’t know the intricacies of the Halo Universe. For people like that, and I have met a lot of them, this game won’t impress them. It’s a fun, straight forward shooter on rails that gives all of us that last promised taste of Halo for the next generation of consoles, but it’s a fun train ride nonetheless.

It’s also a short-lived adventure depending on what difficulty you play it, which is why Halo veterans will likely want to jump straight to Legendary, or at least Heroic if you want to prolong your enjoyment and at times, frustration.

The great thing about Halo3 is that the replay value is actually quite high. You’ll find yourself playing levels over and over with different friends on coop. You’ll arrange skull hunts to get the skulls you don’t have, which in turn will make you want to play the game again with the skulls on to up the fun and challenge you even more. In addition to that, once you have the skulls you’ll play it even more to get your achievements for scoring on levels that are mostly only attainable through use of the skulls.
Bungie certainly knows how to keep us playing.

The weapons in Halo3 were covered in our preview, but needless to say there are many new weapons which bring a new dynamic to the Campaign and Multiplayer and they seem to have been balanced quite well. The gravity hammer is a welcome addition and is as fun as it sounds. It’s not quite as effective in multiplayer as it is in Campaign as it’s easily countered by a human opponent, but catch someone by surprise and you’ll get the satisfaction of seeing their lifeless corpse go flying. Batting a missile with the hammer tends to be pretty fun too!

All in all, Halo3 is a worthwhile experience and a worthy addition to your 360 collection. While it is the best selling game for the 360, it will be interesting to see how its longevity stacks up with the myriad of excellent titles slated for release this year.

There’s going to be a lot of competition for peoples time this year, but I doubt any will knock Halo from it’s throne any time soon.

Presentation – 8.5
Halo3 is a straight forward shooter that stays true to its roots while throwing in some new weapons and environments to spice things up

Graphics – 9
The use of HDR in this game is second to none and the vibrance of the environments is truly appreciable when you can pause and take a closer look from any angle

Sound – 9.5
The sound on the game is fantastic, and the voice overs are blockbuster movie quality. The score is something people will be humming or hearing in their heads for years to come

Gameplay – 9
The multiplayer custom games, variety of environments and all the other small additions make this an enjoyable game to play.

Lasting Appeal – 9.5
The ability to play this over and over in Campaign mode alone and still find value in playing it makes this one of the most replayable titles for the 360 released to date. The Multiplayer should top Xbox Live for a long time to come.

Crave Factor – 9

Out of 10 (Excellent)

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