Halo 3 (Xbox 360) review
"But if asked to sum up what Halo 3 is without the narrative poise, itís still an easy answer: itís just like Halo 2."
There's this awesome moment in Halo 3 where you FINALLY get into a damn tank.
Encased in armour, you drive along until you come to the mouth of a tunnel. There's a Ghost platoon waiting and you, of course, blow the hell out of them all before they really know youíre even there.
The marine sitting on the side chuckles and yells "Tank beats Ghost!"
So you roll on; the dilapidated Ghosts blow up in a shower of bright blue plasma as they're crushed beneath the tankís caterpillar tracks, the resulting explosions hurling them into the rocky walls. Within the tunnel you find [easily quelled] pockets of resistance forcing you to engage in light skirmishes before two metallic giants clad in seven-inch thick armour and armed with ion cannons appear. You nuke them.
Another chuckle from the ranks. "Tank beats Hunter!"
Eventually, you emerge and find yourself outside in this huge open area. I mean, really, it's bloody mammoth, easily the biggest area I've seen in an FPS to date. And it's crawling with targets. Which you shoot. It'd be rude not to.
"Tank beats EVERYTHING!", booms smugly from your speakers.
I was asked what I thought of Halo 3, and the above is the little story I told to illustrate that I love it -- but there are many more to share.
Like the time I used a sniper rifle to scan around a huge basin carved in the middle of a mountain and spotted a convoy of Grunts making their way down a narrow pass. Etiquette demands that I blow the brains out of the leader, and Iím not one to stand in the way of protocol. With the perfect headshot executed, the target sprawled into a boneless slump. "They killed him!" exclaims one of the survivors in a squeaky voice, ďmy best friend is dead!Ē. "Run away!", screams another. The convey turns tail and does just that, flailing their little arms around in panic as they flee. They are never to be seen again.
Or when, in the middle of a huge raging fire-fight, I forgot I wasnít playing Halo 2 and pressed X to reload. Instead of inserting a fresh clip into my assault rifle (the same that Halo 2 wrongly dropped, now reinstated as the spawning weapon) I instead threw a shield generator into the ground and produced a huge bubble that plasma fire slid off effortlessly. It was while I stood mocking my foe with an impromptu dance in the middle of a raging war that a huge, hulking Brute in ceremonial armour charged in and smashed me with a seven-foot hammer, sending my corpse sailing, almost serenely and carefree, about half a mile into the distance. Plasma swords are a thing of the past: Brute hammers are the melee weapon to be seen with this season.
But if asked to sum up what Halo 3 is without the narrative poise, itís still an easy answer: itís just like Halo 2.
Thereíre new touches added to the final chapter of the trilogy, sure. Everything looks like a fresh coat of paint has been slapped on; Master Chiefís iconic armour looks dented and scratched, the arenaís new draw distances are breathtaking and the updated foes (especially the Flood, now less generic zombie-like creatures and more uniquely grotesque mutants) are, well, updated. It doesnít have the graphic sheen of, say, Gears of War or The Darkness, but it doesnít need to.
Nor does it reinvent the genre. Youíre a one-man army with the ability to pick up and fire anything that looks like itís going to cause more that a light irritation. Needlers return (although they canít be dual-wielded, despite the fruitless minutes I spent trying to pick up a second) to provide a pink mist of death that tracks retreating foes. Short-range shotguns, explosive rocket launchers, streaming plasma rifles and just about anything from the last chapter you can recall all reappear. Yes, there are new guns like the Brute Spiker, a duel-wielded, rapid-firing machine-pistol and the Spartan Laser which makes up with pure, unbridled destruction what it loses with an uncomfortable charge-up time, and you can tear mounted machine/plasma guns from turrets. Itís nothing spectacularly new, but it doesnít need to be.
Because itís hard to notice the graphics arenít the best the system has to offer and the lack of any real evolution is the very last thing on your mind when youíre frantically back-pedalling from an entire screen full of enemies that are charging head on into the panicked spew of bullets and grenades you launch at them. Itís not the topic of the day when youíre watching a large room fill with winged Drones spitting out waves of green plasma blasts, and itís really very hard to care when the Flood have just killed your back-up troops and infected their corpses which get back up, their flesh bubbling disturbingly, and plough plasma into your backside.
Jump away from all this and venture online and youíll discover battles rarely short of epic thanks to the Matchmaker system never placing you in frays several shades above or below your level. You can team up with up to four people to fight the campaign mode in co-op or just head right off to the multiplayer death matches which are enjoying a liberating jack-arse free period (set to change around Xmas when the pre-teen American crowd get their hands on a 360). Only the other day I pulled off a miracle shot while being catapulted across the landscape from the aptly-named Man Launcherô, performing a perfect headshot on someone who was unlucky enough to be passing beneath me with my trusty sniper rifle and was promptly congratulated on a fine kill. Itís such a far cry from the immature jibber jabber the previous Halo suffered that I was dumbstruck for several seconds -- just enough time for someone to run me through with a plasma sword.
And should you stumble upon a pocket of idiots online, use Matchmakerís best new feature and switch your headset so you only communicate with those on your team.
It just keeps on giving. Thereís a theatre mode included that lets you re-watch missions, and a forge that allows you to edit and remake multiplayer arenas as you wish. You can rack up points in online co-ops from adding multipliers by grafting in handicaps that you unlock by finding hidden skulls in the campaign mode. It has intelligent foes and smart-arse marines that argue amongst themselves about passwords needed to bypass locked doors; that mock beaten foes, ploughing a few more bullets into their corpses while laughing in that special way that says ďthank God thatís not meĒ. And they really love that tank.
They sit on its side, cheering me on as I blow up Banshees and Wraiths. They follow through derelict space crafts, long forgotten constructions and the blistered remains of Earth. And they cheer as the tank fires shell after shell in the hulking form of 30-foot-high Scarabs, blasting at their tower-block tall legs until they fall. They watch an amazing adventure unfold.
But you get to play it.
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