September 24, 2007 12:10 PM PDT

Review: 'Halo 3' an amazing package

Review: 'Halo 3' an amazing package
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Regardless of how you felt about its cliffhanger ending, there's no denying Halo 2 was a gigantic success that raised the bar for what we, as a game-playing society, expect out of a good console-based first-person shooter.

In the years that followed, plenty of games attempted to duplicate the Halo formula, with varying degrees of success. But there's still nothing quite like the genuine item. Luckily for all involved, Halo 3 is a positively amazing package that offers extreme satisfaction across all of its different parts. Maybe now you can finally retire your Halo 2 disc and really move into the next generation of games.

Halo 3 is an interesting mix of established protocol and intriguing new stuff. For example, the gameplay doesn't stray too far from Halo 2, which, in turn, didn't exactly reinvent the original Halo. Don't take that as a negative, because it means that Halo 3 plays extremely well, with the same types of light tactical considerations that have made the series stand apart from other, faster-paced shooters.

'Halo 3' at a glance

The Good:
•  Satisfying story line provides closure while making you wonder what happens next.
•  Four-player online co-op is lots of fun.
•  Forge mode map editor lets you do crazy, unexpected things.
•  Web integration makes sharing new maps and custom modes easy.
The Bad:
•  Rewinding saved films doesn't work as expected.
•  AI-controlled marines can't drive to save their lives (or yours).
•  Inevitable flood of prepubescent players could hamper enjoyment of the online modes.

The balance between your guns, your grenades and your melee attack has always given Halo a unique feel in the genre, and those same considerations apply today, both in the campaign mode and in multiplayer. You'll also have new weapons and items to consider, such as a host of Brute weapons. One example is the spiker, which is an exciting automatic pistol that fires quickly and decimates opponents.

Another is the mauler, a one-handed shotgun that can level enemies up close. You'll even find weapons so huge that your movement speed slows when you carry them. When you use these weapons, the camera pulls out to a third-person perspective so you can see your missile pod, plasma cannon or flamethrower as it fires. And then there's the gravity hammer. Originally shown in Halo 2 (where it wasn't usable by the player), the gravity hammer is a large melee weapon that will wipe out most regular enemies in one swipe. Needless to say, it can be especially fun in multiplayer settings. The end result is gameplay that feels wholly familiar without retreading the same ground too heavily.

The campaign is structured in much the same way as past Halo games, with multiple chapters and effective streaming that ensures you'll see load times only between chapters. There are also lengthy vehicle sequences to break up the on-foot action. You'll pilot the classic Halo vehicles, such as the Ghost, a hovering one-person craft that's fast and deadly, and the Warthog, a dune buggy with a turret mounted in the back. You'll also see new vehicles, such as the Brute Prowler, a two-person vehicle with turrets. Like in previous games, the vehicles are fun to use. Also similar to previous games, the artificial intelligence can't drive very well, so if you're playing alone, you'll usually want to grab the steering wheel rather than the weapons.

The concept of "equipment" is new to the series. These deployable special items have a variety of effects. The most obvious example is the bubble shield: You (and your enemies) can walk through it, but bullets and explosions bounce right off. It's especially entertaining when your enemies use it, given that you can just walk through and bash them with the butt of your gun. You'll also find items that make your shields regenerate more quickly, and others that drain enemy shields and stop their vehicles dead in their tracks. These items also show up in multiplayer, where they're a little more interesting.

Halo 2's ending was widely criticized for being too much of a cliffhanger and leaving players with no sense of progress or resolution whatsoever. It's good news, then, that Halo 3's story doesn't suffer from that problem.

Halo 3 images

It opens immediately following the events of Halo 2: The Covenant is on its way to Earth, continuing its religious zealotry and attempting to activate the floating space weapons known as Halos, which could destroy civilization as we know it. The Master Chief and the other Earth forces of the UNSC are in hot pursuit to stop them, with newfound allies such as the Arbiter coming along for the ride. We'll spare you the specifics because they're quite compelling and should be seen firsthand. All you really need to know if you're on the fence about Halo 3's campaign is that it's a delicate balancing act that manages to provide satisfying closure for the trilogy, make perfect sense of all the cryptic events in Halo 2, and leave you filled with anticipation for more adventures set in the Halo universe. Not bad for a game that will take most players between 10 and 15 hours to finish on one of four difficulty settings.

But you'll probably go through the campaign more than once, thanks to the inclusion of a strong co-op mode. Previous Halo games have let two players go through the campaign; Halo 3 ups that number to four players and lets you do the whole thing over Xbox Live, if you so choose. This is a really fun way to experience the campaign's nine chapters, and you can choose to go through them in any order, provided you've already played through it alone.

Furthermore, this method of play (which you can also do alone) lets you turn on scoring in campaign mode, in which you earn points for kills and lose them for dying. This adds a sense of competition to the co-op, and there are also achievements associated with finishing chapters with high point totals. You can also customize the experience a bit by turning on a series of unlockable modifiers that open up as you collect hidden skulls. The skulls are stashed around the game, and some of them do things like increase the amount of damage you'll need to deal to take an enemy down, remove the heads-up display and make your weapon invisible, and so on. This gives the story-driven section of the game some more replay value, although it doesn't get significantly more difficult as you scale up the number of players. Consequently, finishing the game on legendary difficulty is a breeze if you're rolling through with three experienced fellow triggermen.

CONTINUED: More to customize this time around…
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Great, now bring back Myth!
Dwarves like to blow things up.
Posted by ElmoKajaky (55 comments )
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Disappointing after GoW
My son and I play on split screen. In Halo, that means 4:3 (Gears of War is 16:9). Why, Bungie? Why?
Posted by MasterRanger (3 comments )
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