Halo 3 Review
|Genre:||First Person Shooter|
|Release Date:||September 25th, 2007 (UK)|
|Reviewer:||Duncan Lawson (sinna01)|
The entire gaming population has been waiting for Halo 3 for some years now, analysing each and every press release and teaser movie with an intensity and fervour that would make a JFK conspiracy loon uncomfortable.
Few sights can stir the soul with its majesty and splendour like a row of parka clad fanatics; standing outside HMV at ten to midnight and rubbing their hands - partly to keep out the damp cold and partly with glee. Each has stockpiled crates of Red Bull, Relentless, Buzz or other accelerant beverage of choice to roar through the third instalment in one sitting. Some will no doubt have already had their monitors flanked by the action figure, the posters, the coffee mug, the key fob, etc. The key fobs actually serve to illustrate how much of an impact Halo 3 is having on the uninitiated sections of the public. A couple were standing in my local Game Station unaccountably admiring the big carousel of rubber tat. It seems they had decided on one of the commemorative key fobs for Halo 3, despite not having a clue what it was meant to look like. They eventually asked the shop attendant, who pointed out the little red tube with a copper head was a shotgun round. Find me one even partially dedicated gamer who couldn't tell you what gauge the round was, let alone what it was in the first place. These people couldn't - but they knew this much: Halo 3 is huge, and they wanted in on it.
"It's better to do something right than something original" will no doubt be inscribed on my tombstone, precious advice too late after my disastrous attempt to create the world's first badger powered fusion reactor and panini press. Halo 3 is a fine example of this, with not one essentially different feature from its original progenitor, and hardly any from its immediate predecessor. This familiarity is to the experienced gamer - as I'm sure we all are here - both the strength and weakness of Halo 3.
Anyone who played through Halo 2 will have no need to touch the manual, as the controls, game mechanic, arsenal and bestiary are all instantly familiar. The addition of more frequent mounted weapons, an extra pair of vehicles, and a deployable device feature frankly won't rock anyone's world or change the face of gaming forever. Halo 2 was a great game, despite some occasionally unpopular plot devices, and its successor picks up exactly where it left off. It is as similar to its precursor as Half Life 2: Episode One is to Half-Life 2, despite the fact that the folks at Bungie no doubt spent millions and at least one marriage in creating unfathomable never-seen-before digital alchemy.
This is of course largely a good thing. Just imagine how much mischief those parka wearing queue-dwellers all hopped up on caffeine and Doritos could have caused if they popped open the box to find an innovative and challenging isometric turn-based card captor game entirely in black and white set inside a dream of Spartan 117's childhood. (Legal Notice: I have patented that idea, Bungie, so you will be hearing from my lawyers if that turns up in the sequels). Halo 2 was great, so by exactly the same token 3 is every bit as good, at least in terms of core gameplay and engine.
Plot was never exactly Halo's strong point after the first game. The initial introduction of the Halos themselves, the homogenising swarm of The Flood, an ecclesiastical alien menace, the chipper AI dressed like a stripper at a nerd's stag party, and the jolly green giant himself - all made their big showy entrance in the first title. Certainly, the following games upped the stakes in terms of character development and the scale of the set, but like the first Star Wars, Halo had the sheer punch of being the first and the original and no amount of clever camera work is going to be able to replace that. In all three games Bungie clearly grasped the concept that the purpose of plot is to give you a passable excuse to shoot bug eyed aliens in a variety of different theatres - no one shoots the aliens in order to advance the plot. In the execution of this, Bungie has put what is (for want of a less over-used term) cinematic moments in the gameplay, rather than in actual cinematics.
The cut sequences are undeniably pretty, and clearly have been actually directed rather than just cooked up by geeks and a graphics engine, but they are not at all where the game's heart lies. You could contrast this with, say, latter day Final Fantasy titles where the bulk of the love seems to go into the amazing animated sequences. (Yup - I can use FF as an unfavourable example because the only people who play them are girls and myopic potato men with suspicious doll collecting habits. Complaints and lawsuits to the editor please). These moments are not just of the 'Yee Haw' flying the millennium falcon out of an exploding death star type, but actually in the layout of the maps. This is one of those rare titles where you will actually give a rat's ass about who the Artistic Director actually was. Simple moments like rounding a corner, ducking under a log, sunset over the battlefield, are composed with such care and artifice to make you want to pause and hold hands with your Arbiter buddy. It is the psychotic attention to detail of the set, choreography and each map that really distinguishes this title and does indeed make it great, and Bungie wisely eschewed innovation in the pursuit of this.
And it's just as well the cinematic quality of Halo 3 is so strong, as the lack of any sort of game play innovation came close to hamstringing the play. The Halo titles have never been overly long, fairly short and sweet in terms of hours, and this might be the shortest and sweetest of all. All those queue-dwellers really didn't have to bump the stocks of the caffeine peddlers, as Halo 3 is short enough to be finished with naught but a medium cinnamon latte for fuel. It is defiantly too short - which could be interpreted as high praise - but already started to manifest itself as annoyance in many gamers the following morning. As far as I can tell, this is down to two factors. The first being as part of a trade-off for the cinematic direction: if you want to have a heart-pounding, bullets and lasers flying, harder than Die Hard sequence, you can't have the player hitting the restart button too frequently, as it would ruin the flow of the action. The second element is that most gamers have by now been in training for Halo 3 for a very long time, against both the AI and on-line. The correct weapon choice, the parabola of the grenades, the handling of the vehicles, tactics - by the time Halo 3 was spinning up to speed in the drive, we all just about were Spartan 117.
Normal mode would only be for beginners, and excited gamers who quite logically started on the default difficulty have in a way been robbed of much of the game experience, having finished the whole show far too quickly without ever encountering a challenge. I'm not exactly possessed of ninja thumbs when it comes to the FPS, but even I breezed through it in one sitting with only four or five restarts. Even in hard mode, when the AI has a few more tricks and reinforcements, the gamer is just too well versed in the correct tactics. Getting charged by a couple of squads? Grenade to disrupt, put a couple between the eyes of the commander to shatter the grunts' moral (not to mention the commander's braincase), then mop up the survivors. Rinse and repeat. Even the previously dreaded super heavy Hunter units that caused 117 no end of grief in Halo 2 can be briefly peered down the barrel of a rocket launcher and never thought of again.
The single truly bad aspect of Halo 3 is the completely inexplicable Artificial Stupidity of your computer controlled squad mates. Halo 3 nicely keeps up the living battlefield illusion, with dogfights overhead, explosions in the distance and a sense of general direction in the war. Part of this is frequently having a squad of allies fighting alongside you. On a flat area, these guys probably wouldn't fare too badly - and they hop into spare vehicles and scavenge weapons admirably. Unfortunately, as soon as there are hills or trees or enemies involved, they freak right out. Look - yonder lies a convenient Warthog with mounted chain gun, with three positions for driver, gunner and passenger. Pleasingly, if you hop into any of the seats, the AI squad will take one of the other two seats. The trouble really arises if you decide you fancy a turn on the big shiny chain gun and let Gomer there take the wheel. Less than a minute later the three of you are standing around admiring the smoking remains of said Warthog with the enemies closing, all because Gomer here drove smack fucking dab into a tree or rolled it right over a cliff.
The intelligence will later be found charging Hunters with a pistol, sticking grenades to doors, and generally making a menace of himself with the rocket launcher. Given that Halo 3 does not provide an open-ended battle environment, and that all the maps are (whilst masterfully crafted) essentially one way tunnels of violence - why can't the AI handle them? If the theatre was as open as Farcry, then this lack of judgement might be explicable, but in such a closed environment it is such stark lazy programming that it becomes even more jarring and infuriating next to the rest of the superb production values. Hopping in the same car, with the same AI driver, will again and again see Gomer rolling it over the exact same rock. I began to hope that an elaborate plot device of suicide-programmed alien shape shifters was involved. Just the smallest bit of script tweaking could have avoided this, and it is utterly maddening.
And then the multiplayer. Crikey, so this is what Bungie have been working on and refining. It would have been all too easy to rest on the laurels of history and brand power, churn out a competent multiplayer, light a smoke and chill out with Valve and Blizzard, discussing the total domination of online gaming. But no, those heartless bastards at Bungie have gone and actually improved and tweaked their digital crack.
Besides the now standard co-op campaign mode, Bungie have thrown in an astounding map line-up, and a few nifty features. By far the most impressive is Forge, an editing tool and game mode that allows gamers to actually insert objects into maps. This is all done in real-time, so one second you can be running away from a foe, the next he's got a goddamn tank to contend with. It's absurd, and utterly brilliant. With up to eight people running around as futuristic Dungeon Masters, battles become truly unique experiences. Of course, you can simply edit spawns, weapons, cover and vehicles by yourself, then upload for the world to play on Xbox Live.
And the file sharing isn't limited to a few maps made by some pasty youth who's decided that the gaming world needs yet another 'world's best sniper-camper map.' No, on top of map editing there's movie recording & editing and screenshot upload. Suddenly the Halo world feels a lot bigger, and it's apparent that time not spent on the short single-player will no doubt be frittered away composing your own brand of tutorials and videos for those who absolutely must be taught How To Play. It's a staggering concept, and serves to illustrate how complete this game is. Just get ready for a whole new wave of Halo 3 nerds flexing their cinematic skills.
Halo 3 is exactly the fix the 360 gaming community has been waiting for. Halo 3 is by no means ground-breaking, but there has likely never been such a lavishly produced title, with such slavish attention to detail and outright love for the franchise itself. It does not possess the vision or the genius of the Half-Life titles, but it is without doubt the shiniest, biggest exploding Hollywood game title your 360 can spin to date.
- Jaw dropping visuals
- Unprecedented production design
- Superb multiplayer
- The pinnacle of popcorn gaming
- The reason why you bought a big screen for your 360
Not so good stuff
- Single-player is too easy and too short
- Occasionally terrible AI
- By no means an evolution on the last title
- Uninspired plot (so Spartan 117 isn't Keiser Soze - what did you expect?)