The original Halo has been called the game that sustained the original Xbox. Due to the fame and popularity of the Halo franchise and the unexaggerated idea that Microsoft’s foray into gaming may have failed without Halo: Combat Evolved, the Halo series has become something like the money-making child star for Microsoft. The problem with most child stars, however, is that they cannot continue their success when their cuteness wears off. This analogy translates over to video games, where few games can continue to generate and sustain a following throughout various iterations. Halo 3, however, bucks this trend by giving gamers nearly everything that they could hope for in the finale of the Halo 3 trilogy.
Halo 3 picks up where Halo 2 left off, following Master Chief and his team as they attempt to defeat the Prophet of Truth and his Covenant followers. This time around, the Arbiter, the surprise co-protagonist from Halo 2, is also along for the ride, although his role is completely secondary. Master Chief and friends must battle their foes to recover Cortana, who was captured in Halo 2, and protect that galaxy from the threats that arise to endanger life everywhere. Without getting too in depth and revealing anything, fans of the first two titles will know what to expect. There aren’t too many surprises where the story is concerned, although the trilogy is given the decent sense of closure sorely missing from Halo 2. However, anyone jumping aboard Halo for the first time will be completely lost by the story’s close, so if the narrative is an important part of the game for you, consider getting backstory before starting.
One area of concern for most gamers since the beta released were the visuals. The graphics in the beta failed to impress many gamers who were expecting Halo 3 to rival Gears of War in its presentation. However, those concerns can be laid to rest as the graphics have improved considerably from the beta. There is an incredible level of detail in the environments and characters from the start of the game to the finish, and it feels great to see the characters that we all know and love given their next-gen upgrade visually. The appearance of the cutscenes has improved as well. There is a lot to appreciate as well, as the environments in the game are varied, running the gamut from a trek through the snow to the lush, green jungles that your team starts in.
The controls are probably an area of concern for the purists of the franchise. The control setup, which has been fairly unchanged since the beginning, has seen some of its biggest alterations to date. Actions have been moved to the bumper buttons, so you now press right bumper to open doors and activate switches as well as reloading the right hand weapon. Left bumper switches the grenade type that you have equipped or reloads the weapon in your left hand. This setup allows you to reload your dual wielded weapons independently of each other and also frees up the X button to deploy the new equipment. While the setup takes some getting used to for those who’ve religiously played the first two, it feels eventually begins to feel like a natural evolution of the series. Inevitably, there are going to be some that don’t like the new control scheme and are either unable or unwilling to relearn their controls, but those willing to take to time to readjust won’t regret it.
The sounds in the Halo series have also always been among the best, with an orchestral score instantly recognizable to most gamers. Halo 3 also doesn’t disappoint in this respect. Each of the voice actors in the game does an excellent job in reprising their various roles and the playful banter between the marines is as realistic as ever. The soundtrack is still incredibly done and rises and falls appropriately, giving the game a cinematic feel as the correct times.
The gameplay also doesn’t disappoint, giving the player an epic experience from start to finish. Most of the game you’ll have a team with you, but the bulk of the fragging is done by Master Chief. There are times that you’ll feel as if you’re really in the middle of a battle with your team rallying behind you as you charge the Covenant teams with the scale of and types of battles shift throughout the game as well, keeping the experience fresh. You’ll find yourself battling Scarabs on more than one occasion, which will give you to opportunity to take out the vehicle from Halo 2 in a non-scripted and more satisfying fashion.