Halo 3: Combat Re-Reviewed

Microsoft’s prize-winning cash cow certainly provided when it took in $170 million worth of sales on its first day. It smashed its own record of first day sales, beating Halo 2 which made $125 million. Gamers everywhere rejoiced…then many of them shouted in arms as hatred for the Halo series returned. Everyone has something to moan about in regards to the game, but it’s just so damn addictive! So here we are, about to take a look back at Halo 3. We’ll also be charting the evolution of the multiplayer game including a review of the recently released Heroic Map Pack.

Campaign

The single player portion is disappointing. While Halo 2’s story gave you stuff to moan about in comparison to the original, you’ll learn to appreciate Halo 2 after making your way through Halo 3’s 8-9 hour campaign. Yes, I said 8-9 hours. It’s hardly an epic send off to a much beloved trilogy. And while we know Bungie can’t do everything right, looking at Halo 3’s story; it’s hard to see how they couldn’t have fitted much more in.

It’s very hard to appreciate the storyline. It seems very lazy, and hasn’t been greatly thought out like the other games. The variety of levels is kind of dull when compared to the previous games, yet the gameplay still manages to make each battle interesting. The story will keep you glued to your screen, but you probably will wonder why when you finish the game. That being said, the ending is almost perfect.

Halo 3 is missing the mystery that the previous two games had; in particular, the first game. There are no real surprises here and it is disappointing when you compare it to the great joy had un-ravelling Halo 1’s story. The Covenant story arc from Halo 2, which received many mixed opinions, is almost completely dropped from the proceedings, as the Arbiter merely becomes an AI buddy. Even though most players did not enjoy the Arbiter’s playable levels in Halo 2, most players were again on the bandwagon to complain about how cheap it was to see The Arbiter as merely AI. It’s a big disappointment. Halo 2 kept it interesting with dual storylines; yet here, we just pretty much have the one. That being said, all the characters are back. Master Chief still kicks ass, Sergeant (Major) Johnson is still a badass and Cortana is still a hot blue AI…thing. Although, her Halo 2 look is by far the best. The same goes for Johnson.

In actual fact, the graphical style is weird. While Halo 2’s graphics were very cinematic and the faces of the main characters were very good; in Halo 3, they look a bit gormless. Johnson and Miranda Keyes both look different, as well as Cortana. Thankfully it’s not that bad, and the graphics do deliver.
In HD, the game looks great. Okay, it’s no Gears of War, but let’s face it… Bungie wasn’t setting out to deliver a graphical powerhouse like the previous games were. The graphics deliver fantastic lighting effects.

Halo 3 features fantastic lighting effects

In HD, explosions look gorgeous when against both light and dark backdrops. Without giving too much away, you’ll blow up something big which will result in a beautiful ka-boom! What must be remembered is that Bungie made the game using a modified Halo 2 engine; which makes sense as it does look like Halo 2 in proper HD at times. Although, the native resolution for the game is below 720p – 720p was promised by the folks at Bungie. But unless you are a complete graphics whore, this shouldn’t bother you in the slightest as the game is simply scaled up to 720p.

Audio-wise, the game is a mixed bag. A lot of the sharp AI dialogue isn’t really prominent in the game. Although, we did love the ’password’ sketch from the Red vs. Blue guys – you’ll find it on the second level if you look hard enough. The cutscenes also lack the spark of truly intellectual dialogue. There was plenty to quote from Halo and Halo 2 soon after their releases. But we’re left with next to nothing that we found worthy of a memorable quote within this game. The voice acting, though, is superb as always. But a couple of actors have not come back to reprise their roles; those being the actors to the characters of Miranda Keyes and the Prophet of Truth. While you won’t notice the change in voice actor for Miranda, you’ll most certainly hear the difference in the Prophet of Truth. Although we do love Terence Stamp as an actor, he doesn’t sound anything like Truth’s previous voice (which was played by Michael Wincott).

But the big names such as Ron Pearlman (Lord Hood), Keith David (The Arbiter) and Robert Davi (’Half-Jaw’/Spec-ops Leader/Shipmaster) are back to reprise their roles, as well as the smaller names. Adam Baldwin is the stand out name in the AI marine cast, which also features John Di Maggio (Bender from Futurama and Marcus Fenix from Gears of War). The music is pretty much made up of remixes to classic suites from the first two games. While it is again superb to listen to all these tunes again, we would have liked to have heard some more prominent themes made for the game. The sound effects are still great. All the weapons and vehicles you know and love have the same tune to them; while the new weapons, vehicles and equipment also sound great.

The gameplay is pretty much the saving grace of the campaign. Halo 3 marks the return of the Assault Rifle, which is obviously one of your main starting weapons. It’s a good gun and you can easily take out a group of Covenant if used properly. While there are a few new weapons, none of them really stand out in the single player game. There are a couple of new grenades though: Spike grenades and Incendiary grenades. Spike grenades actually turn out to be better easier to stick than Plasma grenades due to their zippy speed. Yet plasma grenades dish out better area damage than Spike grenades (they provide hardly any); though it’s the Frag grenade that is still definitely the go-to grenade for when you are rushing the enemy. Incendiary grenades only feature towards the end of the game, and they are few and far between. Still, it’s awesome trying to create a ring of fire around the enemy. We reckon Johnny Cash would have been proud.

Equipment is the brand new feature to Halo 3’s already strong gameplay component and, thankfully, it is integrated very wisely. You are allowed to pick up one piece of equipment which includes: Bubble Shields, Regenerators, Trip Mines, Power Drainers and others. The equipment adds a bit more variety to the single player, without unbalancing it in any way. All equipment, minus the trip mine really, eventually runs out. So if a Brute Chieftain decides to plant down a Bubble Shield, you can either wait for it to run out or run in there and take out the enemy. You can, of course, make use of the enemy’s equipment against them too.

“Okay Chief, that was your kill…”

Also included within the Campaign, is co-op mode, though this time, you aren’t restricted to one Xbox. You can play online with up to three other players. The host takes control of Master Chief, while the second player becomes The Arbiter. The other two slots are filled out with a couple of Elites. We could tell you their names, but… it’s like a native English speaker trying to pronounce a Russian name while under the influence. Also, we can’t actually remember their names and don’t really care to be honest, since they are irrelevant to the story. Co-op is good fun for a while, but these days it has lost its appeal. Perhaps Bungie could make use of the 250 extra gamerpoints that they are allowed to hand out through downloadable content, and give some incentive towards more co-op play?

Another feature to the Campaign is a meta-scoring game. Players can either work together or work against each other in four player co-op to see how many points they can get together or how many points they can get ahead of their fellow players. Points are handed out for kills (the bigger, the better) and the way in which they are killed (aiming for the head brings bigger rewards). Skulls can be found in the single player levels, which can all be turned on from the Campaign menu. They all have certain effects and can multiply your meta-game scores when turned on. It’s all very nice, but the shelf life for such a feature as co-op isn’t very long – especially when the single player isn’t as outstanding as the previous campaigns in the series.

That being said, Halo 3’s Campaign mode is still a blast. You’ll enjoy it, but you’ll also feel like there could have been so much more to the game. Click the next page for a review of the Multiplayer portion.

Multiplayer

In contrast to Halo 3’s campaign mode, the multiplayer mode is a better evolution of the series. The whole matchmaking process has been fine tweaked and really makes the online experience a lot more enjoyable and smoother. The multiplayer is, as always, up to 16 players and is similar to Halo 2’s online play. But, of course, there are still issues with this portion of the game.

First off, the multiplayer maps are quite poor. Halo and Halo 2 had memorable maps such as Sidewinder, Blood Gulch, Coagulation (Blood Gulch remake for Halo 2) and many more. Whilst Halo 3 has a remake of Halo 2’s Zanzibar (named ’Last Resort’), it is missing the beautiful sandbanks of Blood Gulch. While objective-based vehicle map Valhalla does share many of its traits with Blood Gulch, it doesn’t have the same structure. For example, there are no portals at either side of the map. Other vehicular heavy maps from the original Halo 3 selection include High Ground and Sandtrap. High Ground is an asymmetrical map perfect for objective games. Sandtrap, on the other hand, is pretty much great for anything.

It is almost symmetrical in its style, but not fully symmetrical. The flag or bomb must be taken from or planted, respectively, inside the opposite team’s Elephant. No, we haven’t gone mad. There’s no ’Dumbo’ in Halo 3, but there is a slow moving, hunk of metal on tracks known as the Elephant. There are two on the map, and they both serve as mobile bases. They include a few turrets (one that isn’t detachable) to repel enemy attacks. The map is great, especially for custom game shenanigans, and is extremely creative.

Unfortunately, there aren’t any other vehicle wielding maps from the original selection (outside of Isolation’s few Mongooses and Ghost; plus Snowbound’s Ghost). The best of the smaller maps is most certainly The Pit. It’s a symmetrical map that includes a mad dash for the rockets and invisibility at the start. You are guaranteed action, and most games tend to be very close due to the symmetry of the map. Another mid-to-small sized map worth mentioning is Guardian. Its design reflects the Halo 2 maps of both Ascension and Lockout. It comes together very well to create a great team slayer map.

Isolation: Here, it’s not the madness of being isolated that gets you…it’s the boredom

The worst maps from the original group are most certainly Isolation and Epitaph. These maps are just bad. Epitaph, in particular, as it involves too much reliance on power weapons and the closed-in nature of the map makes it very hard to reclaim such weapons from the enemy. There are also too many shields too hide behind, making it hard to get to enemies with close range weapons. Isolation, on the other hand, isn’t as bad…but it still isn’t up to the Halo standard. This map is fairly symmetrical and really is just a bit boring. As soon as a team claims the rocket launcher, they can hide in a base and camp it out. One neat feature, though, is the fact that both underground bases face each other and have slits so you can see into the other base. This can create some fun grenade battles or one quick rocket slaughter…depending…

Gameplay requires more thought since you are obviously facing human opposition. Equipment (like in the campaign) fits in rather nicely. It’s classic Halo 2 multiplayer on new maps, with a few new weapons – and the equipment feature manages to make a difference without changing the game. Power drainers and bubble shields are the most important for taking down enemy shields and protecting yourself.

Some new weapons have entered the fold very well. The Spartan Laser makes sure that the vehicles don’t completely take over some of the bigger maps, while it proves to be an effective counter sniper to the Beam Rifle on Snowbound. The Rocket Pod, though, isn’t that great a substitute to the Rocket Launcher’s target tracking from Halo 2; which has been removed. It’s very slow, but it can prove effective against the flying Covenant Banshees. The trick is to shoot at vehicles from distance to give the rockets time to track. If you fire too close range while the vehicle is moving, then the rockets will lag behind and probably hit the ground. Unless, of course, you are right behind the thing, on top of a slope…in which case, expect a double kill…

The whole matchmaking experience is heightened by the choice of playlists. You can easily choose between ’Ranked’ and ’Social’ matches. It’s organized neatly in contrast to Halo 2’s system where it just listed all Ranked and Social (unranked) playlists together. Social is thankfully no longer the place for the reject game types. Most of the playlists in Ranked, have a counterpart in the Social playlists. Though, we are missing a Ranked Big Team Battle – but Bungie has confirmed that this will be coming after the New Year.

The guy in the middle picked up the ’Manga’ Power-up

All of the playlists work well, and Bungie is keeping it up-to-date. Just this week, two new ranked playlists have appeared: Team Hardcore (enemies don’t appear on radar. Also includes map variants) and Team Control (previously removed objective based games such as Territories, Land Grab and King of the Hill). Bungie has also recently changed all of the playlists so there is a chance of starting with the Battle Rifle as opposed to the Assault Rifle. Each playlist brings something new to the table. From the un-ranked mayhem of Rocket Race, to the strategic play of Team Tactical; there’s something there for everyone. Although it does have problems…

In Team Doubles, for example, if a team takes the lead they can then kill themselves when they spawn until the end of the game without incurring a penalty on their team’s score. This is quite a ridiculous oversight on behalf of Bungie and we hope to see it fixed soon. But Bungie, thus far, has been quick to fix any playlist problems.

As well as having a skill level for each individual ranked playlist, Bungie has introduced ranks. By winning, drawing a game or being an MVP on the losing side (in some playlists), you gain ’EXP’ points. These experience points level you through military style ranks. From Apprentice/Private to General. Each of these ranks also has different grades. At the higher ranks, you must get beyond a certain skill level in a ranked playlist before you can receive that rank (confusing). For example, in order to be a Brigadier you must have 500 EXP points and have been level 45 in, at least, one playlist. If you do not get to level 45, then you simply continue to be a Colonel but have to get to 600 EXP for your next rank: which is Colonel Grade 2. It’s a very good system for tracking who’s good and who’s not. We know we’d rather have a Two-star General on our side as opposed to a Staff Captain…

Overall, Halo 3’s multiplayer is great. Although the maps seem to be lacking, the rest of the package makes Halo 3 one of the few stand-out, multiplayer gaming experiences in console history. Check out the next page where we finally round off by reviewing the Heroic Map Pack, the ’Theatre’ feature and ’Forge’ mode.

Heroic Map Pack

The Heroic Map Pack includes 3 new multiplayer maps for roughly the price of $10 (£6.80/EUR 9.30). The maps are called ’Stand Off,’ ’Rat’s Nest’ and ’Foundry.’ Our first impression was…can you guess? Yeah, we thought it was a rip-off too. Charging that much money for just a few maps isn’t a good deal for the consumer. But we’re sure Microsoft is not complaining about the millions in revenue they have garnered; especially with the first day numbers that were playing the Heroic DLC playlist in Matchmaking…although, we have heard a few players comment in matchmaking that they are going to wait until Spring to download the maps for free.

Ground control to Major Grade 2 Tom…

’Stand Off’ is aesthetically beautiful. It features Jodrell Bank style telescope dishes scattered through the background scenery of the map. The first thing to strike us was the sheer beauty of the background. The sun and the moon in the sky at the same time over this dusty landscape, really makes it stand-out as a perfect place for a Stand Off. Even in the sky, a couple of, what look like, jet streams pass are visible and moving. As for the action, it’s intense. Whoever controls a warthog, controls the fate of the game. It’s a very small map made to look bigger than it is. There aren’t that many places to hide outside of the base, which makes it quite the skirmish. Stand Off is especially enjoyable in, surprisingly, Territories. The style of the map is suited for such objective style games.

’Rat’s Nest’ is very much two maps in one. There is a vehicle side to it all, and an interior middle that runs between both bases. This makes it very different to any other Halo map, as you may find it just as fast running the flag home rather than riding it home. The map features an oval style raceway around the interior plus a couple of Warthogs, Mongooses at each base and a ghost in the middle. The map is pretty much symmetrical and it’s good for objective games such as capture the flag and assault. Although, it doesn’t appear to have the lasting appeal of the other Halo 3 maps.

Finally, ’Foundry’ is pretty much a blank canvas. Made by the Bungie team with Forge in mind, it’s a maze of crates and boxes with weapons scattered everywhere. The beauty of this map is that you can remove everything that makes the structure, and be left with a blank warehouse room. This is probably its only redeeming feature, as the actual map is rubbish. A confusing mess that doesn’t seem to suit any game type. It’s different…in the bad sense. It’s just not suited towards Matchmaking.

To conclude this part of the review, these three maps are not really worth the value at all – especially with Bungie changing the playlist every so often. You’re best to wait until Spring to discover these maps for free. If you don’t have the maps, get cracking on your Team Hardcore level.


Theatre

To add even more replay value to this great game, we also are treated to ’Theatre’ which acts as a replay mode. Yes, you can replay any of your last 25 games and see that amazing stick or absolutely rubbish death that the game seemed to make up…for you to find that it was a grenade that you threw off a wall beside you by mistake…theatre is your proof of great feats you have achieved; and great injustice done against you.

You can also go into replays and save certain clips from the whole game. For example, if you get a ’Killtacular,’ you can save the 20 seconds you spent getting it, as a small film clip. Then you can upload it to your ’File Share’ (which holds up to six movies/screenshots) and let other players download it. Oh, and you can also take screenshots from a game. Campaign mode allows films and screenshots as well. It’s a revolutionary feature that really adds value to the game.

That Brute’s actually holding a Katana out of view. He just sliced through that Marine all anime style…look! He’s doing the one-knee thing too!

It’s also a great way to work out tactics for a map. If a team just destroyed your team, you can see what they were doing differently by selecting them. The game actually saves the game assets rather than record the movie, which allows you to see it from any other players’ perspective. This is because the feature is reusing the game assets to re-create the game. Therefore, sometimes the game does lie as it can’t really show lag from a player’s perspective.

Still, the ability to roam around the map, fast forward, look at other players’ perspectives and view the game from first or third person makes Theatre a fantastic feature.


Forge

Finally, we end the review on Forge. In this mode, you and seven other players can go around the multiplayer maps as ’Monitors’ (I.e. the “light bulb” from the trilogy, 343 Guilty Spark). As a monitor, you can drop in weapons or vehicles and change tons of things. You could even have two teams, with a monitor each, and play out a strategy game. Three players on each team plus one monitor giving the strategic overview. Forge is full of possibilities.

You can edit maps in many ways and then save them under different names. This writer recently turned ’Last Resort’ into ’Two Spawns’ by removing all of the spawn points except for two. And then added turrets by the beach wall to counter the base turrets. It’s Bungie’s way of showing that they do love the mod community – even if they strictly aren’t mods, but just different map variants.

We prefer Foundry this way…

You can even add Scorpion tanks though! We thought they were a myth in Halo 3’s multiplayer until we saw that (*cough* hintBungie *cough*)! Bungie also recently released completely blank maps of each of the 3 new maps onto ’Bungie Favourites’. So you can download these maps and create your own version of each. Of course, Foundry being the main draw. Of course, you must have purchased the new maps to do that.

Already users have created great custom maps that suit the hardcore and the casual alike. Adding two ’goal nets’ to Foundry, a ’Man Cannon’ in each corner and a giant soccer (football for non-Americans) ball makes for an interesting gametype…

Forge is an interesting mode that will appeal to some people in a big way. Others, won’t enjoy it so much. But if you’re itching to sort out problems you see in a map, then fix it in Forge.


Conclusion

Halo 3 is absolutely fantastic value for money. Not only are you getting a high production campaign and multiplayer game; you are also getting a replay mode, great editing features and online campaign co-op. It’s everything that we’ve ever wanted from a Halo game, but it’s also lacking at the same time. The campaign is a bit of a letdown, but is still great to play. The multiplayer is fantastic. The co-op is also great, whilst Theatre and Forge just add onto the replay value. If you’ve already got the game, then you know it is money well spent. If you don’t, then you probably haven’t cared much for Halo. If that’s the case, then wait until it comes down in price and you shall be thankful you paid the money to see what everyone on your friend’s list will still be playing in months to come.

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