Halo 3

Halo 3 may be the most important video game of all time.

Note that that is “most important,” and not “best”. Halo 3 is doing something for the video game industry that is far more important and wields far more impact than how good or bad the game is.

The marketing blitz for Halo 3 has bordered on surreal. Mountain Dew cans, NASCAR cars, 7/11 slushies and Burger King french fry wrappers all bear Master Chief’s likeness. Even Radio Shack, which doesn’t sell video games, is going to carry the title. One would think that Halo 3 was Hollywood’s next big blockbuster, not a mere video game. The game has already gone gold prior to release, selling one million copies (via pre-order) in North America alone. Many Halo fans lined up before midnight on Monday just to get the game as early as possible. Halo 3 is — without doubt or hyperbole — the single most hyped video game ever. It is probably one of the most hyped media releases ever.

That being said, there is no way a game this built up could live up to the massive expectations put upon it. Anything less than immaculate will in fact be seen as a failure to many.

For those unfamiliar to the series, Halo is a sci-fi action story that takes place in the year 2552. The story revolves around a faceless, futuristic armor-clad hero named Master Chief. The Chief has to save the world from a hive-minded alien race (the Flood) infesting the universe. The plot isn’t anything thought provoking, but it does the job of keeping the game interesting and the action flowing. But most people don’t play Halo for the compelling plot.

They play it for the frenzied action.

Halo 3 delivers this action through a variety of futuristic, over-the-top gunplay scenarios and vehicular mayhem that all spans gorgeous landscapes. Players will take on a myriad of alien races ranging from the hulking, simian-esque Brutes to the disgusting reanimated corpses that are the Flood.

Classic first-person shooter action…

On a purely aesthetic level, Halo 3 is a stunning game. Pools of water reflect sunlight and respond to steps through them. Trees and grass wave in the wind while enemies and allies alike have detailed facial expressions. It is one of the best looking Xbox 360 games available, probably trailing only Gears of War and Bioshock in terms of sheer visual beauty. The musical score and voice acting is also spot-on, especially for an action title. The orchestral score swells up at appropriately tense moments and takes a back seat when necessary. The voiceover work is particularly well done. Whether it’s a nameless marine or Master Chief’s sidekick, Cortana, the voice work is consistently solid throughout.

Halo 3 has a copious amount of weaponry at the player’s disposal. Standbys such as the sub-machine gun, grenades and shotgun are back, each with a few tweaks in appearance and clip size. New additions such as the Spartan laser (capable of cutting vehicles in half) and the gravity hammer (capable of sending opponents flying) are a blast to play with and will keep Halo 2 veterans on their toes while they learn new tactics to accommodate to the changes.

New to Halo 3 is the equipment. These items won’t dish out punishment, but can be invaluable in combat situations. Their effects range from forming a shield around the player that is immune to gunfire (Bubble Shield) to slowly draining enemies’ health (Power Drainer). The equipment adds another wrinkle to the game without feeling unfamiliar or forced.

Vehicles in Halo 3 have also received a lot of attention from the developers. The newly added Mongoose (a two-man, four wheeled ATV perfect for capture-the-flag) and Hornet (basically the human version of the Covenant Banshee) are a joy to drive in solo and multiplayer games alike.

Speaking of multiplayer, it has always been the crux of the Halo series. Sure the campaign mode is enjoyable, but the game’s value truly surfaces when multiple players are involved. Like its predecessor, Halo 3 supports Xbox Live as well as system link multiplayer, with a ladder system that allows up to 16 players in a single game. The game comes with a number of brand new maps that have been meticulously thought out to stand up to hundreds of thousands of frenetic matches.

…with a few new tricks in tow.

One of the new features of multiplayer is the Theatre. In it you can watch replays of your last two dozen or so games, complete with the ability to pause, fast forward, and slow-motion the action. You can then save screenshots or record miniature clips of something awesome you did and share them with your friends, or better yet, your enemies. There is also a map editor called the Forge in which players can change locations of weapons, vehicles or almost anything else on any of the game’s multiplayer maps. Although not a true map creator like those featured in other titles, the Forge is deep enough to keep ambitious players tweaking maps for hours and hours, adding new twists to familiar maps. The Forge also supports Xbox Live, allowing players to share their maps with players around the globe.

It’s creative and forward-thinking content like the Forge and the Theatre that separates Halo 3 from other console titles.

Although Halo 3 isn’t necessarily the perfect game it was hyped up to be, it is extremely enjoyable and anyone who calls it a failure would be remiss. The single-player campaign is better than Halo 2‘s and wraps up the trilogy in a definitive and satisfying manner. The multiplayer is superb, as is expected from a Halo title. New additions like the Forge, Theatre and graphical and weapon upgrades solidify this already spectacular franchise as one of gaming’s all-time greatest.

Underneath all the hype and marketing lies a truly wonderful action video game. Anyone who bought and played either the original Halo or Halo 2 will thoroughly enjoy Halo 3 for quite some time. Those new to the party, well…this is the reason you’ve been looking for to buy an Xbox 360.

RATING 9 / 10