Voice Module








In Memory
Sean Pettibone


Halo 3
(Xbox 360)

Halo 3 has arrived on the heels of a massive amount of publicity and hype, but the question is whether the game delivers on its promise is quickly answered once you play the game. It's single player mission is excellent crafted and delivers some solid gameplay but, its in the robust multiplayer modes where the game truly shines. Innovative features such as the Forge mode and an elaborate replay system show unprecedented depth and polish. Halo 3 isn't completely flawless, but this epic FPS is one of the most immersive and exciting titles on the Xbox 360 yet.

Halo 3 is the best game in the franchise to date, and delivers on the massive waves of publicity and anticipation with a title that offers a solid single player mission that offers a sense of closure while opening up one of the most impressive online experiences to date. You can find fault with some of the game's elements, but take a larger big picture view and Halo 3 is probably the deepest and most accomplished title in the series yet. The game picks up directly after the events of Halo 2 and creates an engaging and immersive storyline that presents some interesting plot twists while never feeling rushed - you won't leave empty handed this time. Those players who were disappointed by Halo 2's somewhat incomplete ending will finally see the completion of this story arc in Halo 3 and it's nice to see that Bungie has listened to their fans this time. As you begin the game, there are some elements that will seem immediately familiar, and this allows veteran players to jump right into the action with little effort. Halo 3 gives players a familiar set of weapons to use including the Master Chief's standard assault rifle, sniper guns and the familiar set of grenades and charges. There are a couple of new weapons including more types of power weapons like bazookas that allow you to clean out an area quickly and effectively.

In addition to these standard weapons, you'll also discover a variety of cool new items, such as the bubble shields. These are pretty cool additions to the game that add a new strategic layer to things. While you are inside the bubble shield, you are impervious to enemy fire from the outside, but your own shows can bound off the walls which means you're limited offensively. These bubbles are also quite permeable, since you can move in and out of them, it means your opponents can as well. Halo 3 also includes many of the famous vehicles from the first two games, along with some cool new variations, such as the Warthog buggy, but the coolest addition are the new vehicles that the covenant forces can use. The best of these are the Brutes' new motorbikes, which have been designed with sharp teeth in the front of them and makes them dangerous to anyone on foot. Many players complained about the balance in the first game, and the smarter AI makes the opposing forces much harder to kill. They'll move out of the way the moment a grenade flies in their direction and play it much smarter when it comes to finding cover and strafing.

This smarter AI leads to some fairly extended battles where you have to stay focused on them and slowly flesh them out from their fortified positions. This gives the pace of Halo 3 a much greater sense of urgency and danger than Halo 2 and helps to make the gameplay feel even more intense this time around. This is especially true when you play at the harder levels of difficulty, where you can't automatically duck into cover for a few seconds and wait for Master Chief's suit to recharge. Halo 3's structure also feels a bit more open this time around, with larger levels and less predictable enemies that make the gameplay feel more fluid. Also helping you along are the human soldiers, who can issue cover fire at times, drive vehicles and even trade weapons with you, they aren't always as sure-footed as a Spartan, but they can definitely help you along the way. You'll also be accompanied by the Arbiter in many areas of the game and his presence can be useful when you face a particularly tough opponent, just don't rely on him at all times, since he's not always as sharp as you'd think. This approach to the game adds more depth to each battle. These additional strategic elements create a much more challenging and exciting title this time around. While most veterans should be able to complete the campaign in a few hours, Halo 3's single player campaign can be absolutely brutal on the hardest difficulty settings. The hardest skill level is nigh impossible, and most players will have a great deal of difficulty beating and locating all the secrets in these stages unless they've got some serious skill and experience under their belts. Halo 3's overall level of difficulty isn't as high as some other shooters on the market, and its this balance between accessibility and challenge that makes the game so appealing. Bungie deserves a lot of credit for making a game that should appeal to a wide cross-section of gamers, from newbies to veterans.

Despite the fact that the single player campaign is a little bit on the short side, and is a bit linear to a large degree, the main thrust of Halo 3 isn't these missions, but it's incredibly robust online modes that go above and beyond the game's heightened expectations. This is probably the most ambitious and impressive online experience seen to date and includes the traditional co-op, deathmatch and flag capture modes which remain as exciting and visceral as ever. There are loads of maps in the game this time around, with more than a dozen playable initially, along with the flood of player-created levels to come, should make for plenty of replay value. While the graphics in these modes aren't quite as robust as in the main game, they're definitely much improved from the maps seen in Halo 2, and look solid in their own right. Most players won't spend a lot of time looking at the scenery anyway, they'll be too busy fragging their opponents to worry about these issues. In addition to the standard online modes, which have been tweaked and rebalanced to make them even more addictive, thanks to the improved weapons and better maps, the game offers a number of new, completely different modes that extend Halo 3's online depth significantly.

The first of these new modes is an extensive cinematic mode that allows you to save and replay your games online from different angles and viewpoints, which is cool in and of itself, but you can also upload your replays to Halo 3's online servers and share them with other players. This allows you to create your own machima episodes easily and effortlessly, in either single or multiplayer modes. They don't take much effort to create, but they add tremendous replay value that will keep players engaged for hours. The cinematic mode is smartly implemented, easy to used and should give Halo 3 users an almost endless palette within itself to create and share their own Halo 3 mini-games and episodes. It's an impressive idea and should make the hardcore Halo community even broader than it's ever been. This feature alone would be quite impressive, but Halo 3 also gives the player and almost limitless sandbox style of play in it's Forge mode, where players can build and use their own custom levels by placing objects and other items in any of the included maps. This doesn't sound impressive until you start using it and realize that the options and play styles are almost limitless. You can set up different game rules and modes, arrange objects to create virtually any type of game you want, save and use these maps for other players to use. Forge is actually a fairly robust world editor and it's interface is remarkably easy to use, most players should be able to jump right in and start editing right away. Adjustments are easy to make on the fly, which allows you to tweak and balance your levels, change obstacles and make things easier or harder on your opponents with little effort. Between these two modes, Halo 3 delivers many engrossing hours of fun and entertainment online and making this an absolutely indispensable part of the experience. The extensive work that Bungie has put into these modes is quite impressive on a number of levels, and the game's polished gameplay mechanics make Halo 3's online experience one of the deepest and most satisfying seen on any console FPS to date.

From an aesthetic standpoint, Halo 3 does an excellent job in immersing you into its world. Every element of the game fits together seamlessly, and the upgraded visuals look excellent in HD. Some of the environments feature breathtaking views of levels ranging from a desolate, conquered future earth to alien landscapes with incredible massive objects in the sky. The animations in the game are excellent as well, with both Covenant and Human forces displaying more than what you'd expect them to. Several other old friends re-emerge as well, but we won't ruin the surprise here. Halo 3's levels range from huge open battlefields to claustrophobic areas that have you running through dark corridors. The game's pacing is excellent, and the plot has a definite balance between action and expository elements which helps to make Halo 3 feel like a science-fiction epic. As you might have guessed by now, the third game ties up many of the loose ends and brings the story forward towards a satisfactory climax that's both effective and satisfying. The music is superb, with the famous Halo theme echoing throughout the levels, embellishing the action with a quasi-religious feel that fits with the game's themes expertly.

There will doubtless be many comparisons made between Halo 3 and other top titles in the marketplace, and Halo 3 disappoints to some degree when it's placed in this context. While it's a solid installment in the franchise, there is a distinct feel of déjà vu at certain points in the game that's both unavoidable and disappointing. There are also other games which match its quality, but only in certain areas, not the total package. For example, last year's Gears of War featured better graphics, though it's gameplay wasn't nearly as smooth and the game lacked Halo 3's epic feel, engaging storyline and interesting characters. Bioshock was a superb game in its own right, and featured many gameplay innovations but its lack of a multiplayer mode and relatively short single player quest were drawbacks. Taken on its own merits, however, this is the crowning achievement for this blockbuster franchise, and Halo 3 is by far, the best Xbox 360 FPS on the market in terms of overall play value. While it's single player campaign is relatively short, the game more than makes up for it with its amazing online play that is currently unmatched. You can criticize the margins, but taking a larger view of Halo 3's main narrative and plotline shows an intense, engaging end to what has been an incredible story arc. While its not as perfect, flawless and groundbreaking as the first two Halo titles seemed at the time, Halo 3 is an excellent conclusion to the story that brings things to a satisfying close while also adding robust online features that will keep you playing long after you've seen the end of its campaign modes. - Michael Palisano

Grade: B+

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Halo (Xbox)
Halo 2 (Xbox)
Gears of War (Xbox 360)
Bioshock (Xbox 360)