Review: Halo 3 is impressive

Blogger Andy Moon was one of the privileged few invited by Microsoft to preview <em>Halo 3</em> before it was released. He breaks down the good, the bad, and <em>teh awesome</em>--and shares an entirely gallery of hi-res preview pics--in this Geekend game review. New weapons, new maps, new vehicles, new game features, Andy breaks them all down in detail. Only Master Chief knows more about Halo 3.

The good:

Fantastic graphics, extremely smooth gameplay, compelling campaign storyline, and enough multiplayer customization options to choke a Brute.

The bad:

Campaign is just a little short, 2-3 second freezes in the last third of the campaign.

Images: We were provided with a wealth of images from the game. I have posted every image I received in a gallery and I will post select images here on TechRepublic. Section I: Campaign

As the final chapter in the Halo trilogy was getting ready to start, I reflected on the years since I first grudgingly said to a game store clerk, "OK, I'll try Halo, but I want to be able to bring it back tonight for full price if I don't like it." I hadn't played a first person shooter since I played massive numbers of hours on Wolfenstein and Doom. I had never found one that was truly engaging and that would allow me to compete against other players for anything more than a high score.

While I watched Master Chief blazing as he plummeted through the atmosphere like a meteorite during the opening cinematic, I thought that there was no other single game that had taken up more of my time than Halo (though Civilization would be close behind). I also secretly hoped that the campaign wouldn't suffer from some of the flaws that I noticed in Halo 2, particularly the repetitive nature of many of the encounters. I would not be disappointed.

When the game gave me control, I was in the jungle with a bunch of Marines (useless, or so I thought based on my Halo 2 experience) and the Arbiter, and was pleasantly surprised at how smooth the controls were. Of course, I only noticed that after dropping my jaw at the stunningly realistic graphics. It felt and sounded like I was actually in the jungle amidst lush vegetation, with water dropping from the trees above and even squishing sounds as I ran through the mud.

The first combat encounter brought chills as I realized that I actually was playing Halo 3 and at the same time, I found out that the Brutes were even a little tougher than they were in Halo 2. There is a visual indicator that you are doing damage, as pieces of their armor fly off, but I found out quickly that when they go into berserker mode once their armor is destroyed, they are very fast and extremely intent on delivering their own fatal blow.

Then, something happened that I did not expect. I got caught up in the storyline in a way that I hadn't since Halo:CE. I didn't even realize how immersed I was until I "came to" about four hours later with my stomach rumbling and a mild (lack of) caffeine headache because I hadn't even stopped long enough to wet my whistle with my Live Wire. As I wolfed down the taco salad they catered in for us, I actually started to feel relief that I wouldn't have to write an article panning one of my favorite games.

I finished the game in just under 11 hours, minus breaks for the catered lunch and dinner, which I felt was a little short. To be fair, I was playing on Heroic, have played a lot of Halo over the past five years, had a competitive fire playing against professional game reviewers (I finished third in the group I was in), and was sitting there for the express purpose of playing the game through.

Halo has grown an incredible amount in this version. The environments were massive and I never noticed even a reloading pause until about 2/3 of the way through, after which the game froze for 2-3 seconds three or four times before the end of the game. Otherwise, load times were extremely short and I was impressed with the way the cinematics blended into the gameplay.

The enemies are smarter, but keep in mind that so are your friends. You fight alongside the Arbiter and Marines through most of the game and both are actually quite helpful. The Marines are excellent shots, though their driving leaves something to be desired, so I played driver most of the time while my gunner mopped up snipers, tanks, and ghosts. When I commandeered a Brute Chopper, they were right there to take over the Warthog duties so that I could explore the new vehicle.

The Chopper is a vehicle that is considerably larger and slower than a ghost, but is able to splatter enemies and smaller vehicles, and has a boost that lets it keep up with a Warthog. The dual cannons are powerful, but you want to keep moving forward because maneuverability and speed are practically nonexistent if the chopper is going in reverse. However, I did not take significant damage from the front when riding due to the armor and the power of the cannons.

Another limiting factor is the lack of ammunition for any particular weapon. If you are playing on Heroic or Legendary, you will need to be extremely weapon agnostic. If your favorite gun is running low on ammo, pitch it as soon as you come upon anything else. You will need the firepower for the large groups of Brutes and will be able to pick up more weapons after each battle. Keep in mind that the Needler is extremely effective since it was powered up, the Covenant Carbine is also extremely effective, but any weapon with ammo is better than one without.

Though I am still contractually constrained from giving many of the plot points until release, suffice to say the story feels complete once it is over. The story really engaged me and by the end, I was as rapt as I have been for any motion picture. If the campaign was the only part of Halo 3, it would be well worth the $60 for the base product. The Limited Edition, for $10 more, includes a DVD with several special features, including an interactive TV and stereo tuning cinematic.

However, even in Campaign mode, there is more. You can now play cooperatively with up to four people over Xbox Live, which is extremely fun with four really good gamers on Legendary. We only played through four levels before one of the foursome dropped, at which point we learned that if one drops, the game ends and the others have to start back up again. That was OK with me, because the other guy dropped when Frankie announced it was time for multiplayer, which is the reason I play Halo.

Section II: Multiplayer