Halo 3 Review - 20/10/2007

It’s finally here! Check out TGSN’s definitive review of the decade’s biggest game and the title that could define the Xbox 360's role in video gaming history. You might need to be sitting down for this one...

After what seemed like an eternity of ‘what, no 4-player co-op? I hate you Frankie!’ and ‘Brutes suck the big one’, we here at TGSN were growing steadily anxious for the fate of Bungie’s epic space saga. We poured over screenshots, shot-up the beta, and bantered till we could banter no more, but it’s arrived; the gold version of Halo 3. So, our thoughts? Ah, we had faith in the Master Chief all along...

Bungie are famous for having passionately ravenous fans. In a different league to the imdb forum lurkers, Halo 3 fanboys share the kind of gaming addiction that would manifest itself in a blood-written letter if anything so much as a flamethrower particle was out of place. And too right. The first two games haven’t achieved mass and critical success on the backs of a few moderate fanboys. Nor have they come this far, (two Halo rings, a Covenant mothership and a whole lot of alien-arse) to fall short of the fans' unbridled expectations.

If you’ve been keeping up with the news that has been slowly and agonisingly drip-fed to the waiting public since E3 06, (and quite frankly, if you’re a gamer then there’s no excuse for missing it), then you’ll be aware of the sheer amount of content that Bungie have poured into this game. Claims of the developer's ambitious ideas being stunted by the limited hardware of the Xbox are gone here. Frankie, Bungie's ‘community guy’, has been quoted as saying this is the game the team had always wanted to make. With Forge, four-player online co-op, the ability to save films, and a campaign which doesn’t force you to be anyone else but the man/robot on the box, this is the game I’ve always wanted to play.

Probably the most eye-wateringly special feature lies in the tools Bungie have installed to bring out your creative side. Complaints of unbalanced maps and matches, (or ‘omg dis map reex of hax! for the more colloquial tongue) are long gone due to the new map editor, Forge. No, you can’t create maps. No, you can’t change existing map geometry. Yes, you can tailor a map to suit your needs. Yes, you will like it. Whilst the more serious players can tweak levels by moving spawn points, choosing available vehicles and setting the ammo that comes stocked with each weapon, light hearted fun can be had with your avatar. You can play this mode in a competitive match as 343 Guilty Spark, and while your teamates get their combat on, you can drag boxes in front of them for cover, or drop fusion cores on the heads of opponents. However, these ideas all came from my un-educated brain. Think of the possibilities that you, the passionately ravenous fan (or merely the casual class clown) can think up. Once you’ve edited a map to your liking, you can upload it to a server where anyone can download your design. There’s even a chance of your creation being brought to serve on the frontlines of matchmaking for the whole world to play on through the miracle of file share. Although it’s been done before in Crackdown’s ‘Keys to the City’ mode, as well as numerous downloadable mods for PC titles, this is the first time such a mode has been given to a console first person shooter, and as such, it’s undoubtedly more refined than any mod you can find on some dodgy server. Believe me when I say, this mode is neat, and offers a whole other experience to the joys of campaign and Live multiplayer.

And then there’s the ultra-secret campaign mode. Cradled and kept under a blanket like the son of a certain king of pop who shares the same name, only a limited batch of screenshots have been seen so far. This shows signs of the love and care that just didn’t feel included in the same mode of Halo 2. It feels dishonest to even call it the same mode. Where Halo 2 had endlessly repeating corridors of gloom, tedious circle-strafing battles with like-minded opponents, and overpowered enemies, Halo 3 has fun, fun and fun. This time, the brutes, (replacing the elites as your main enemies) aren’t bullet sponges like the previous game, but smart elites in gorilla clothing. Whereas before they’d charge at you until they ‘soaked in’ enough bullets to make them go down, now they order grunts out as cannon fodder and work in packs to dismantle your marine buddies. Battles are on a much larger scale as well; almost to the point of being a whole different experience from Halo. That is to say, it still feels like Halo, but just larger and more vibrant. I mean, you can circle strafe all you want, but when you can use radar jammers to flush out enemy jackals, or blind-throw spike grenades to clear narrow passages before you progress, why would you want to? And quell your heretic tongue from speaking of ‘limited level design’. Wide open maps littered with the remains of fallen space stations, organic levels filled with wildlife and vegetation, and those old favourites, the ‘Flood levels’, requiring you to make use of your torch (and your ability to keep claustrophobia at bay) are all here. This is the most polar Halo experience yet, (and not just because there’s a snow and a desert level), it’s epic.

Although a lot of praise can be splashed all over the campaign, ugly (but necessary) criticism lies beneath. It’s a shame Bungie never got around to including the level we all wanted to see: a last stand on earth, humans repelling wave after wave of Covenant, (you know, the one that the ‘Believe’ adverts was based on; the one that got us all hot and bothered). You see, instead of using classic Halo environments, Bungie seemed to have developed entirely new ones. Whilst they might have been given a fanboy-flogging if they re-used their back-catalogue of Halo settings, I can’t help but long for the classic green Master Chief battling NON-english speaking elites as they prepare to invade earth. No matter how well done an abandoned highway is, it just doesn’t feel like Halo (saying that, there is one AWSOME level near the end of the campaign that mirrors the best Bungie moments (wide open plains and warthog sections), but it’s one level out of 9, and it only serves to heighten the fact that no experience mirrors it elsewhere on the disc).

The ability to save films and screenshots in this mode (and all for that matter) is a blessing when it looks as good as it does. Pause the game during a particularly delicious moment, control the camera in first person and fly it around until you find a nice angle, and then snap away. If you choose to upload it onto Bungie.net, you can log on later and download the file to your computer. Although it might not be the first time you’ve had a brute on your desktop (if you know what I mean) it is the first time, again, that the feature has made its way into an FPS. The same process goes for the saved films feature, and although you can’t actually download your saved film files to your computer, you can log on to Bungie and tell your 360 to copy it onto your console's hard drive. When you next log onto Live, you’ll be one step closer to witnessing crazydude66’s crazy Jackal crotch-shot. Unlike Skate and Tony Hawk, you can’t edit your videos, but then again, Master Chief has feet and a machine gun, not wheels. This feature again ramps up what is possible in Halo3, and apart from Forge, could be the feature that will keep Halo 3 fresh long after the magic seal is broken.

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