Wednesday, November 7, 2007


You’ve seen the ads: “Halo 3. Believe.” I’m here to tell you to listen to the message. No really, you should believe…the hype, that is.

Having never played a Halo game, I was somewhat puzzled by the loyal following the series has generated over the years. Despite that, the advertising blitz had me anticipating the arrival of my copy like a child does Christmas presents. I felt like Ralphie Parker and the Official Red Ryder Carbine-Action Two-Hundred-Shot Range Model Air Rifle in "A Christmas Story." I had hope because of the possibilities, but still prepared myself for the potential disappointment.

When my game arrived, I popped it into my 360 and was greeted by a fairly bland main menu. I started a single-player game and was taken to a transitional screen featuring what I assumed to be a representation of the famed halo. So far, there was nothing to erase the skeptic in me.

The first cinematic clip popped up and grabbed my interest. Was it enough to convert me to a believer? Not yet, but it was enough for me to start believing this was going to be, at the very least, a quality title. When the gameplay started, I took a little tour of the area around me, trying to get a feel for the controls. What I saw was impressive. Looking down and seeing the movement of objects I walked into, having the ability to go anywhere, noticing the detail in the surrounding environment – it was all like shiny wrapping paper that immediately catches your eye. But would I find my Red Ryder if I peeled away the paper?

After getting used to the controls, I set off on my mission to save humanity. I was taken to several environments during my travels as the famed Master Chief. I encountered a seemingly endless string of blood-thirsty enemies. The array of vehicles available was quite impressive. And the weapons…oh, the weapons. Everywhere I turned there was something new, something different, to help me on my quest.

Ultimately, when I peeled away the pretty wrapping, I didn’t find a Red Ryder bb gun. But I wasn’t upset. No, I was actually very happy about that. A little toy like a Red Ryder wouldn’t have had any effect on the creatures I had to battle. So I was elated when I opened up my present and found a Needler instead. And, thankfully, I didn’t shoot my eye out!

GAMEPLAY: For those not used to first person shooters or those who prefer using the pad to move, it may take a little time to adjust to the controls. Once you do, however, your character responds well. Controlling the vehicles (of course you can be a passenger or be on the gun in some vehicles) is pretty much the same. It can be difficult at first, but you'll get used to it after a little time at the wheel.

The game flows nicely, mixing up the pace and the objectives. Some games make the mistake of being a top speed free-for-all, never allowing you to catch your breath. Halo 3 gives you plenty of crazy, intense battles, but also allows you to gather yourself so you don’t lose your mind. Sometimes this is done with cinematics, other times it’s through a less stressful mission. Regardless, the creators found a great mix.

I have heard some complaints about the length of the game. Oddly, some have said it’s too short, while I have heard others argue it’s a touch too long. For me, it turned out to be a strange mix of both. After playing through several levels, I found myself thinking, “I hope I’m getting near the end,” although that thinking was probably fueled by the curiosity over what the big ending would be. Of course, when I finally got there, I was somewhat disappointed that it was over. I guess that probably means the length was just right.

GRAPHICS: You can lose yourself in the false reality of this game, in part because of the attention to detail found in the environments. Whether it’s the leaves on the trees, the damage on the vehicles, the scurrying rats, the footprints in the sand or even the fish swimming in front of you in the water (no, I didn’t make up that last one), it seems everything was covered. Sure, there’s an occasional area that may not reach the level of excellence that the overall look of this game has, but it’s rare and doesn’t take away from the experience.

AUDIO: Movie fans will tell you that a soundtrack can often make or break a movie. Think about how the Indiana Jones and Star Wars films use music to not only capture the emotion of the characters and, to some extent, the audience, but to also further the story. Halo 3 provides the video game equivalent. (OK, so maybe not quite on the level of the legendary John Williams, but you get the point.)

Sometimes the music gives you the feeling of being in the middle of a bumping club, albeit one with aliens, monsters and lots of things blowing up around you. Other times it makes you feel like you’re having a religious experience. The soundtrack for this game is done as well as, if not better than, any game I have ever played.

The sound effects from the battles, as well as the chatter from troops (allies and enemies), also add quite a bit to the experience. The explosions, gunfire and sounds of equipment all make you feel like you’re right in the middle of the battlefield. Pump it through surround and you might actually dive for cover a time or two.

ADDITIONAL: The characters in the game are terrific. You play as the Master Chief, with The Arbiter as your main sidekick. This is probably more meaningful for the Halo faithful, but it’s still a pretty cool combo for a newcomer (even though The Arbiter gets filled with alien lead quite a bit). Other characters of the alliance are good, although none seem to have any unique effect on the actual game. The bad guys, the Covenant Species, are a bunch of ugly, nasty, relentless creeps. They are done extremely well and you immediately have the urge to blast them off the planet.

The assortment of weapons is amazing, with my personal favorites being the Needler and the Gravity Hammer. You also have the chance to use a plasma pistol, a rocket launcher, a sniper rifle, a carbine, an energy sword, and several other futuristic weapons. You can even rip guns off a turret in order to go mobile with their outrageous power. As if that’s not enough, you can also toss three types of grenades.

Getting around on foot can get a little old, so it’s a good thing you have the chance to hop into several different vehicles. You can zip across the land in a variety of 2- and 4-wheel rides, as well as take to the air in a hornet. While some of the vehicles are limited, they all provide enough to the game that their inclusion isn’t just for the sake of adding things.

As stated before, some feel the base game is a little short. Don’t worry. With all the added games – such as VIP, Slayer, Capture the Flag, and King of the Hill – the replay value is great. Plus, the real joy of this game is jumping on-line for some multi-player campaigns. That should guarantee countless hours of fresh, new experiences.

A pretty neat feature is the ability to save and share video from your battles. Did you pull off a move that your friends won’t believe? Well, seeing is believing and now you can simply save the video and show it to them. This is similar to the ability to save highlights in games like Madden, only it has been taken up a couple notches.

OVERALL: This is a game that is a sure winner, whether among the faithful followers or the Halo virgins. I had no experience with the series and was hooked once I entered into battle. The graphics, the actions, the sound, the replay factor – it’s all top-shelf stuff. It’s possible to nitpick little things here and there, but that’s true with any game. And I suppose there are some people who just absolutely do not enjoy shooters, so maybe that small segment should pass. But for anyone on the fence about this game, do yourself a favor. Go drop the jack and get Halo 3. It’s going to be a great value, especially considering you’ll be able to play it over and over and over, while still having it stay fresh.

GRADE: 93%

Just like the motion picture industry, the video gaming world has a rating system. While some don’t like it, it’s there for a reason. Halo 3 carries a Mature (17+) rating that should not be ignored. It’s a brutal game, full of violence, and really is not suitable for the younger crowd. Obviously some parents may feel their kids are mature enough to handle this game, but that’s an individual choice. As a general rule, this isn’t a title for children.

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