Sorry but it just isn't good enough for me. Try again Bungie.
So today I tackle one of the best selling games of the year, Halo 3. First off I should come clean on my expectations and experiences with the series in the past in case anyone missed my previous statements on the series. As stated in the linked article I was never blown away by the original Halo aside from the fact that it managed to save the original Xbox from failure in a lot of people's minds. The game was an incredibly polished console FPS but it wasn't all that innovative in my sad opinion. Personally I always felt that its best aspect was the story and system-link mulit-player. Then came Halo 2 which was just an upgrade in more multi-player madness with a severely disappointing single-player action. Naturally with the trilogy's story coming to a close with the latest edition, and jumping to the Xbox360, I fell into the trap of getting all pumped up once again. I expected a solid wrap on the single-player campaign and hoping for some solid multi-player experiences (although I knew it wouldn't live up to Halo 2 addition of Xbox LIVE play). Sadly all was not delivered upon and no I don't feel that it was just a case of expectations that were too high.
Let's get right to it, the bulk of a FPS whether it be single- or multi-player based, the gameplay. Bungie, as well as everyone else on the planet, realized that the basic gameplay components in the previous two iterations were spot on and decided not to mess with them. The controls are as tight as ever, although I did keep throwing grenades by accident since I was no longer acclimated to that not being a zoom on my weapons. Sadly I can't blame that on Bungie, it is simply my own inadequacy.
Any good FPS sequel needs to add in some kickass new weapons to keep things fresh. While the standard issue Battle Rifle is as capable as always, nothing comes close to the newly usable melee weapon the Gravity Hammer. Whenever I saw an enemy wielding this I knew that the incoming battle was not only going to be tough, but incredibly rewarding once I dispensed of the Brute holding this puppy. The Gravity Hammer is easily my favorite new item hands down.
That brings me to the other major thing that Bungie added to spice up the gameplay, the equipment option. For those three people whom own a Xbox360 and haven't played Halo 3 yet or those like my friend whom are waiting for the PC version of the title, the equipment I speak of are just glorified power-ups. The equipment ranges from a simple shield that you can use for on-the-fly cover all the way to campaign-only restricted invincibility and cloaking items. By all means these objects aren't anything to be laughed at. In fact well timed invincibility, regenerator or trip mine drops can be the difference between a deadly firefight and an easy victory.
While the additions of new weapons and the introduction of equipment managed to spice things up the use of another Halo staple come off as lacking to me. Bungie did introduce a few new vehicles into the mix but to me the overall vehicle experience is done poorly. Instead of slowly introducing the vehicles into the story as players move on the developers decided to instead cram all the vehicle play into the end of the title. This may be a matter of personal opinion but what is the reasoning behind having a simple ATV to ride so late in the game? This vehicle could have easily been sprinkled throughout the game, even as early as the defense of Earth, to make the vehicle play seem less clustered together. Aside from the complaint of the divided gun-versus-vehicle play I also came across some spotty A.I for both allies and enemies.
The allies tended to just be stupid, running into fights only to die instantly or not fighting at all. Slightly annoying yes, but really Master Chief is a superior being anyways so how how much could they help relatively speaking. What really upset me is the amount of enemies that never attacked me. Instead I would run into them as they stood there waiting to be murdered like the cockroaches they were. Oddly enough the problems with the enemies generally came only from members of the Flood. I can't recall the Covenant ever doing something retarded like pathing into a wall or being clubbed to death without turning around, guess the Flood really ARE lesser beings.
Visuals & Level Design
Although the graphics components of a game and the level design may not be thought of as related, in Halo 3 they compliment each other perfectly. The developers really used the added power of the Xbox360 almost exclusively on the ability to extend the draw distance in levels. With this fact in mind they made numerous areas for gunplay and vehicular combat that allowed one to see for miles ahead, all in incredibly awesome detail and without any choppiness. This single feature alone made it possible for Bungie to show and have battles going on out in the distance, allowing player to see the firefight that was screaming for their help as they attempt to reach it, making one feel as if they really are part of some futuristic struggle for survival.
Naturally since one could now see AND shoot across the map accurately there weren't many endless repetitive corridor levels that we came to know and hate from the original Halo's campaign and so many other FPSs. The draw distance wasn't the only graphical feature to get a tune-up but it was by and large the most noticeable. While things such as global lightning, bump mapping and all those other graphical buzz words are supported by the engine, nothing comes off as stunning as the wide open ranges one is allowed to play in. In the end I felt that the new technology added to the engine just wasn't comparable to that singular aspect and it made me feel as if I was playing Halo 2 just on wide open spaces.
I mentioned above that I was upset with the way they introduced vehicles into the single-player campaign and that isn't all that I was disappointed about. Halo 3 was supposed to be the closure of the Master Chief trilogy but sadly it wasn't a very good send off. I will just come out with the biggest issue, the campaign is GOD AWFUL SHORT. I managed to beat the campaign on the hard setting in just a few sittings. My girlfriend actually managed to do the same thing in three sittings, although she did kind of camp the TV/Xbox360 for hours at a time.
Now seeing as the game was so short, just how could they get a nice story going? The simple truth is that they didn't. The story came off as very canned and very predictable. I am just disgusted to even have to relive it while I am trying to write the review. Its certainly worth going through to put some closure on the series, with an ACTUAL ending (looking at you Halo 2) but its over before it really got to begin.
For those Achievement whores out there there is plenty for you to do. There are those Golden Skulls that you can collect in the campaign, although I won't be scouring the campaign for them. The real bread and butter of replayability comes from the multiplayer, which is no shocker since Halo has always had solid multiplayer. The maps for MP also take full advantage of the high draw distances and even employ a Mancannon that can launch a player across the map as a way to cut down travel time. This new mode of teleportation does leave one vulnerable to sniper fire and such so it shouldn't be taken on a whim.
Again Bungie managed to add a few more features to the multi-player mix including a very well put together level editor. Back in Halo: Combat Evolved I felt that the multi-player levels weren't really up to par. Even though they are now it doesn't matter because their editor would allow me to create whatever I wanted, say 'Stack' from Goldeneye 007. The other added feature is really just plain butter. It offers no impact on gameplay whatsoever but it is ripe with potential for gloating. The video save feature will basically make the act of tea-bagging the most recorded thing on the planet, and from multiple angles and zooms! This is one full featured addition that will surely be abused.
So if you have been following so far you probably realize that I have had some mixed feelings about the final chapter in this Halo trilogy. Its safe to say that I give their new technology a thumbs up for sure. Although their standard graphical updates didn't blow me away the highly extended draw distances and use of this new feature made up for that. Also Bungie focused a good deal on adding some replayability even to the awesome multi-player experience with the level editor and video capturing tech.
But this was supposed to be the closure of the epic battle of Flood vs Humanity vs Covenant and in the end it wasn't all that epic. The story was mediocre and uninspired, not to mention incredibly short. I didn't specify it before but the campaign isn't much longer than the Gears of War campaign, but at least that had a fresh storyline going for it. Regardless of what I say, Halo 3 will continue to be a huge seller, possibly taking over the Madden series as the best selling game of the year. And once the sales start to dip all of a sudden we will start to hear that the PC version is near completion, just garnering that much more hype. For those few people who haven't already purchased the title I personally wouldn't bother until the price drops a bit. The exception to this would be if you are a big multiplayer gamer, if so then by all means pick up Halo 3 because that is all it is excellent at being. Start the flames.
-Good technology added on all fronts
-Great level design and mixture of level types in single- and multi-player
-Closure on the trilogy
-Under performing and short single-player experience
-Some broken AI
-Gun & vehicle play in single-player is clumped together and divided
-Closure on the trilogy