Halo 3 Beta Impressions
Halo 3 box art
System: X360 Review Rating Legend
Dev: Bungie Software 1.0 - 1.9 = Avoid 4.0 - 4.4 = Great
Pub: Microsoft 2.0 - 2.4 = Poor 4.5 - 4.9 = Must Buy
Released: Sept. 25, 2007 2.5 - 2.9 = Average 5.0 = The Best
Players: 1 - 16 3.0 - 3.4 = Fair
ESRB Rating: Mature 3.5 - 3.9 = Good
Hype machine

by D'Marcus Beatty

May 16, 2007 - Without a doubt, Halo 3 is the Xbox 360's cash cow. Gamers everywhere are waiting in anticipation for the opportunity to "Finish the Fight" that Master Chief started in Halo: Combat Evolved. With the recently announced release date of September 25th, Halo 3 isn't as far off as most people had anticipated. However, the long awaited beta makes that wait even more palatable. Gamers everywhere are logging on (or attempting to…Sorry Crackdown owners!) to the Halo 3 beta to find out if Halo 3 lives up to the hype. The answer will depend on your expectations.

The first thing you notice when the game actually boots up after loading are the improved visuals. Halo 3 is definitely a step up from Halo 2. The lighting effects are especially impressive, and the foliage and snow all look great. However, a lot of people were probably expecting graphics that rival Gears of War, and Halo 3 sadly falls short in this respect, at least in the beta. Bungie has stated that the visuals in the beta aren't going to be indicative of the final product, so it's entirely possible that they have a surprise coat of paint to throw on the graphics before final release. In addition to the improved visuals, the sound is also extremely well-done, especially the weapons fire and vehicles. You can almost tell how far away a firefight is by listening to the weapon reports.

Initially, you are able to select from a either a matchmaking lobby or a theater lobby. In the theater lobby, you can view saved films from your Halo 3 exploits, and of course the matchmaking lobby sets you up with other gamers for matches. In the matchmaking lobby, you can choose to either attempt a ranked playlist game to build up your scores or a social game to hone their skills. Each of these playlists are also divided between solo and team games, so there's no trouble finding the game you want to play. There's even the added convenience of being able to veto the map and game that you're joining. With a majority veto, the game is automatically cancelled, so you don't have to wade through a bunch of matches you don't like.

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One of the most important elements of any FPS is the weaponry, and the beta doesn't disappoint in that respect. Old favorites return, many of which are largely unchanged like the battle rifle, shotgun, rocket launcher, SMG, beam rifle and carbine. The plasma pistol isn't much changed, but a shot from it can stall vehicles now. The needler is much more powerful to the point of actually being useful, although you can no longer dual wield them. Finally, the sniper rifle has an LCD screen that you can observe even when not zoomed into your unwitting targets. Sadly, (or perhaps to heighten anticipation) the favored pistol is nowhere to be seen.

Now for the new weapons. The missile pod and the turret are both massive weapons that the Spartans carry two handed, with the screen even pulling out to give you a view of your character for aiming purposes. Although we've seen stationary turrets before, we've never been able to carry them with us before the beta. The missile pod is even more powerful than the rocket launcher, although carrying it slows you to a snail's pace. The spiker is a gun that looks like a big pistol. It doesn't pack much punch, but is really effective when paired with another projectile weapon. Finally, the Spartan Laser is a powerful one shot kill weapon that erases your life, but must be charged between uses. Also, in addition to old faves like the frag grenade and the plasma grenade, Bungie has introduced the spike grenade, which can be imbedded in walls and objects and even fellow Spartans.

The new gadgets are fun to use as well. The portable grav lift acts just like it sounds, creating an area where gravity is negated. The power drainer creates a field where shields are negated, creating easy kills if used effectively. Trip mines are set to explode when someone gets near them, although a beeping noise alerts players to their presence. Finally, the bubble shield offers a new defensive mechanic to gameplay, creating a shield around you that can't be penetrated by enemy fire or grenades, although enemies can walk through it with no trouble. Use of these items creates a new strategic element that hasn't been present in Halo games before, and when used right, adds to the gameplay tremendously.

The controls are as good as they've ever been, although they've been altered slightly from what fans are used to. The X button deploys the new gadgets, and reload is performed by pressing the bumper buttons, which lets you reload weapons independently. The bumpers also are used to pick up weapons. When the Spartans jump around, they aren't as floaty as before and feel as if they have more weight to them. For the most part, if you've ever played a Halo game before, you won't take long to get used to the new controls.

Maps usually make or break the gameplay, and Bungie has provided us with a nice mixture of stages to kill each other on. High Ground is my favorite and probably the most used map, with an asymmetrical design that has a base on one end and a beach on the other, along with tunnels on the side and an exposed turret to fend off base raiders. Snowbound is a more open, snow covered map with a maze of force field shielded underground caverns. With so many passages and so little cover, you never feel safe on this map. Finally, Valhalla is the stage that I've played the least. It has more symmetry than the other stages, with a base on either side and a river winding through the entire map. This stage is most conducive to vehicular play. Overall, Bungie has done a good job of giving us a variety of stages to play on for different gameplay experiences.

One of the best things about the beta has nothing to do with Bungie at all. Since the beta is exclusive, almost everyone is a good sport. I haven't had a bad experience with another player the whole time that I've been on the beta, which is more than I can say if I were to jump on Halo 2 right now. This will probably change when thousands of players have access to the game this September, but for now, it's great to be able to play and cheerfully kill other good sported individuals.

Does Halo 3 live up to the hype? It depends on what you're looking for. The game is undeniably fun, and if you enjoyed any previous Halo then you'll probably enjoy this one as well. The balancing in the weapons is great, the new gadgets increase strategy, the people are fun to play with, and nearly everything is improved. However, the Halo 3 beta is not revolutionary by any means. It feels like Halo, and Halo is one of the most popular FPS games of all time. Log onto the beta expecting to be entertained and not blown away, and you'll enjoy it. But even if you're expecting more, you'll still probably enjoy the experience. Just remember that this is the beta and not the final product, and that Bungie still probably has some tricks up its collective sleeve for September.

By D'Marcus Beatty
CCC Co-Site Director

Screenshots / Images
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