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|Subject: Halo 3* (360) Sat May 10, 2008 5:36 am|| |
Regardless of how you felt about its cliffhanger ending, there's no denying that Halo 2 was a gigantic success that raised the bar for what we, as a game-playing society, expect out of a good console-based first-person shooter. In the years that followed, plenty of games attempted to duplicate the Halo formula, with varying degrees of success. But there's still nothing quite like the genuine item. Luckily for all involved, Halo 3 is a positively amazing package that offers extreme satisfaction across all of its different parts. Maybe now you can finally retire your Halo 2 disc and really move into the next generation of games.
Halo 3 manages to feel familiar while also packing in a good amount of new material.
Halo 3 is an interesting mix of established protocol and intriguing new stuff. For example, the gameplay doesn't stray too far from Halo 2, which, in turn, didn't exactly reinvent the original Halo. Don't take that as a negative, because it means that Halo 3 plays extremely well, with the same types of light tactical considerations that have made the series stand apart from other, faster-paced shooters. The balance between your guns, your grenades, and your melee attack has always given Halo a unique feel in the genre, and those same considerations apply today, both in the campaign mode and in multiplayer. You'll also have new weapons and items to consider, such as a host of Brute weapons. One example is the spiker, which is an exciting automatic pistol that fires quickly and decimates opponents, especially if you're holding a pair of them. Another is the mauler, which is a one-handed shotgun that can level enemies up close. You'll even find weapons so huge that your movement speed slows when you carry them. When you use these weapons, the camera pulls out to a third-person perspective so you can see your missile pod, plasma cannon, or flamethrower as it fires. And then there's the gravity hammer. Originally shown in Halo 2 (where it wasn't usable by the player), the gravity hammer is a large melee weapon that will wipe out most regular enemies in one swipe. Needless to say, it can be especially fun in multiplayer settings. The end result is gameplay that feels wholly familiar without retreading the same ground too heavily.
The campaign is structured in much the same way as past Halo games, with multiple chapters and effective streaming that ensures you'll see load times only between chapters. There are also lengthy vehicle sequences to break up the on-foot action. You'll pilot the classic Halo vehicles, such as the Ghost, a hovering one-person craft that's fast and deadly, and the Warthog, a dune buggy with a turret mounted in the back. You'll also see new vehicles, such as the Brute Prowler, which is a two-person vehicle with turrets. Like in previous games, the vehicles are fun to use. Also similar to previous games, the artificial intelligence can't drive very well, so if you're playing alone, you'll usually want to grab the steering wheel rather than the weapons.
The concept of "equipment" is new to the series. These deployable special items have a variety of effects. The most obvious example is the bubble shield: You (and your enemies) can walk through it, but bullets and explosions bounce right off. It's especially entertaining when your enemies use it, given that you can just walk through and bash them with the butt of your gun. You'll also find items that make your shields regenerate more quickly, and others that drain enemy shields and stop their vehicles dead in their tracks. These items also show up in multiplayer, where they're a little more interesting.
Halo 2's ending was widely criticized for being too much of a cliffhanger and leaving you with no sense of progress or resolution whatsoever. It's good news, then, that Halo 3's story doesn't suffer from that problem at all. It opens immediately following the events of Halo 2: The Covenant is on its way to Earth, continuing its religious zealotry and attempting to activate the floating space weapons known as Halos, which could destroy civilization as we know it. The Master Chief and the other Earth forces of the UNSC are in hot pursuit to stop them, with newfound allies such as the Arbiter coming along for the ride. We'll spare you the specifics because they're quite compelling and should be seen firsthand. All you really need to know if you're on the fence about Halo 3's campaign is that it's a delicate balancing act that manages to provide satisfying closure for the trilogy, make perfect sense of all the cryptic events in Halo 2, and leave you filled with anticipation for more adventures set in the Halo universe. Not bad for a game that will take most players between 10 and 15 hours to finish on one of four difficulty settings.
But you'll probably go through the campaign more than once, thanks to the inclusion of a strong co-op mode. Previous Halo games have let two players go through the campaign; Halo 3 ups that number to four players and lets you do the whole thing over Xbox Live, if you so choose. This is a really fun way to experience the campaign's nine chapters, and you can choose to go through them in any order, provided you've already played through it alone. Furthermore, this method of play (which you can also do alone) lets you turn on scoring in campaign mode, in which you earn points for kills and lose them for dying. This adds a sense of competition to the co-op, and there are also achievements associated with finishing chapters with high point totals. You can also customize the experience a bit by turning on a series of unlockable modifiers that open up as you collect hidden skulls. The skulls are stashed around the game, and some of them do things such as increase the amount of damage you'll need to deal to take an enemy down, remove the heads-up display and make your weapon invisible, and so on. This gives the story-driven section of the game some more replay value, although it doesn't get significantly more difficult as you scale up the number of players. Consequently, finishing the game on legendary difficulty is a breeze if you're rolling through with three experienced fellow triggermen.
You can earn the campaign achievements in co-op mode, which makes the legendary difficulty a lot easier to manage.
In addition to the four-player co-op action, you can also play competitive solo and team-based multiplayer matches with up to 16 players on 11 different maps. There's a lot of depth to the multiplayer modes, ranging from simple stuff such as deathmatch and team deathmatch (still referred to as slayer and team slayer here), to more objective-based gameplay such as capture the flag. Another similar mode is called territories, in which the two teams fight to defend or attack various control points around the map. You'll also find a mode called infection, where a percentage of the players start as sword-wielding zombies and must convert the members of the other team by killing them, until only one non-zombie remains. Each of the maps can handle any of these game modes.
Like in Halo 2, you can customize these game types, and there's more to customize this time around. You can change things like starting weapons, the weapons that appear on the map, whether the motion sensor is active, the force of gravity, the game speed, whether the players all have active camouflage or not, and much, much more. The multiplayer is as strong as it has ever been thanks to the addition of new weapons and tweaks to old ones. Swords have been made much more interesting this time around: If two players run at one another with energy swords and attack at the same time, the swords clash and the players bounce off one another. This makes all-swords matches totally wild. The gravity hammer is also big fun in multiplayer matches, both because it crushes enemies that are foolish enough to get too close, and because you can smack incoming rockets to bat them away, which makes for an interesting game of baseball.
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