Halo 3 Review

Millions of gamers worldwide spent hours in line waiting to pick up their copy of Bungie's final chapter to the epic blockbuster space opera while Microsoft undoubtedly was already celebrating. "Halo 3," one of the most anticipated games of this decade, was dropped on the world this past Tuesday. Master Chief has returned to Earth and he's ready to "Finish the Fight."

Unfortunately for me, Best Buy in Folsom was not open at midnight so I could not go pick up my special edition double disc as early as I wanted to. But after a long day at school, I finally got my hands on it Tuesday afternoon and popped it into my Xbox 360. Once the game loaded, I began my "Halo 3" odyssey.

The campaign begins with Master Chief crashing on Earth and being found by Sgt. Johnson and a company of marines. They revive him and stick a gun in his hands; no rest for the weary. Before you know it, you're firing hot bullet rounds into grunts and brutes as they attack you in the dense foliage of an African jungle. Aside from various African locales, you will also find yourself in deep space about mid-way through the game where yet another Halo-ish space structure houses the ability to destroy all life in the galaxy.

The most frenetic level takes place in the Covenant's citadel, now overrun with the Flood. It's probably the most disgusting level in the whole game, which is a good thing.

The level designs are fun and exciting for the most part; the biggest problem with some of the levels is backtracking. You will find yourself going somewhere only to find that once you achieve the objective there, you have to turn around and head back the exact way you came. This happens quite a bit in "Halo 3" - more so than in either of the other two games. While this didn't bother me too much, it might seem a little cheap to reuse parts of level to make them longer.

The short length of the game is another issue. On heroic, the second hardest difficulty, I beat the game in 7-8 hours, and I have some skills, but I'm not a totally insane play-every-day type person. So if you're good, play legendary mode for a challenge. If you play co-op, which can be up to four players, the game will also be a lot easier. Despite the campaign not being the best it can be, there are some great things about "Halo 3."

For instance, the new weapons and items are really cool. The brute spiker is a powerful close-range weapon that can be duel-wielded for deadly effect, the flamethrower looks pretty as it toasts opponents, but the coolest is watching the Spartan laser tear through a Warthog truck with its blinding red beam and laying waste to all who were the unfortunate passengers.

There are many new items to "Halo 3." Most will add another dimension to game play by throwing things off. The power drainer disrupts vehicles and drains shields, making it easier to die. The bubble shield is cool because it blocks all projectiles including grenades, but anyone can walk inside and melee you in the face, so be careful. One of the most annoying items is the flare which causes any player's screen that goes near it to turn bright white, eliminating visibility. It makes for some crazy happenings when you can't see who you're shooting at.

The graphics are pretty stellar. While not quite on par with "Gears of War," things still look amazing. This is definitely the "Halo" we've been waiting for when it comes to looks. Water effects are amazing, much like those in "Bioshock;" environments are shiny, gritty and detailed. One of the best displays of the graphical power is in the explosions. When going into the saved films feature - more on that later - you can pause and see an explosion's different pieces: smoke, light, fragments and fire, all looking sharp and clear. Of course, if you want to see the graphics at their best you'll have to buy a really expensive HDTV. There are some slowdowns occasionally, but nothing serious, and you have to expect it when so much is going on in the game.

The real meat and potatoes of "Halo 3" - more exciting and fun than the campaign - is the multiplayer. Sure the campaign is the first option on the main menu, but seriously, who will be playing the campaign regularly a year from now? This will be what keeps people playing for years instead of just months.

There are 11 maps with promises for more through download later-on down the road. The huge maps like Sandtrap, a large desert themed map allowing big team games, and smaller ones like High Ground, a linear hill based map with a beach at the bottom and a base at the top with plenty of hiding spots and secret passages, act better for closer four-on-four team games or rumble pit action.

Matchmaking (online multiplayer) has been greatly improved upon. As before, you can play ranked and unranked game types, but now they are split up into two separate menus, "ranked playlists" and "social playlists" respectively, making it easier to distinguish. There's also an overall rank that everyone builds as they play more and more. You can advance from a private to a corporal to a sergeant and so on. The best part however, is being able to veto an unwanted map and game type. If there is a majority of vetoes from the players, the game will randomly pick another map and game type.

Aside from the online game, which we had in "Halo 2," there is also the Forge and the Theater. Both features are new to "Halo 3" and are very welcome additions. The Forge allows you to go into any map and edit everything from weapons to vehicles to spawn points. Then when you make a really cool map that you feel like sharing, you can post it online at Bungie's site and people can check it out.

What's cool about the Forge is that you can play as if you were in a normal match, running around shooting your buddies, but then you can push up on the D-Pad and become a flying robot with the ability to move things and add things to the map as long as you don't go over your budget. So you can't have 400 rocket launchers but that would be unnecessary anyways. It makes for some very interesting game play.

The Theater is also very cool in that it allows you to save films of your game play from either campaign or online play. So if you've ever had a cool story about how you "fragged" all four of the other team at once, you can actually prove it now. You can also detach the camera from your character and follow other players and see what they did. In this way, you can grow as a player (or simply steal ideas), and find out how that person racked up more kills than you. You can also pause the playback as it's going and take snapshots. These can, in turn, be saved online where you can do things like post them on MySpace or e-mail them to friends. Imagine, you can put your best kill on your computer desktop and see it every day. It's very cool indeed.

While the "Halo 3" campaign is fun, it is not completely original. The online multiplayer has been improved a lot, and with the addition of the Forge and Theater, the possibilities are endless. There are also all the new weapons, items, and vehicles which have been added, making the game even more fun. This is a game that should be bought if you have an Xbox 360, and it is a game that makes every penny of an Xbox Live Gold account worth paying for. This game is a must have. "Halo" fans rejoice! The game of the century has arrived.

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