Halo 3 (Xbox 360) review
"Halo 3 has plenty of amazing moments, but one of my favorites occurred in the game’s first half as I was fighting off Covenant defenses in war-torn Africa in a desperate attempt to destroy that thing our adversaries are digging up, that mysterious thing that the Covenant have managed to uncover from beneath the Earth’s surface, that thing that we all saw in the game’s announcement trailer a couple of years ago. I led my team of marines into a garage where we were able..."
Halo 3 has plenty of amazing moments, but one of my favorites occurred in the game’s first half as I was fighting off Covenant defenses in war-torn Africa in a desperate attempt to destroy that thing our adversaries are digging up, that mysterious thing that the Covenant have managed to uncover from beneath the Earth’s surface, that thing that we all saw in the game’s announcement trailer a couple of years ago. I led my team of marines into a garage where we were able to test drive one of Halo 3’s new vehicles, the Mongoose – a two-person ATV. I equipped my passenger with a rocket launcher and then took the driver’s seat, leading my Mongoose pack into what appeared to be a dried-out lake. We split up and took out all of the Covenant artillery without much trouble, which meant that we were caught even more off guard when “it” arrived.
Lumbering over entire buildings and allowing nothing to stand in its way, the enormous hulking figure of an enemy Scarab approached. Remember the Scarabs from Halo 2? Remember how one of them tore up New Mombassa? Remember how the only way to defeat it was to jump onto it from a higher building and single-handedly take out all of its inhabitants? In Halo 3 you fight them, actually fight them. I took my Mongoose in close and hovered directly beneath it so as to avoid its deadly plasma cannon. I wove in and out to evade its massive stomping feet as my passenger pounded away at its leg joints. Eventually, its limbs weakened and its body slumped low enough for me to board it. I snapped up my teammate’s rocket launcher and hopped aboard, fighting through various foot soldiers until I found myself at the Scarab’s engine core. Two rockets did the trick. I leapt off the metallic purple beast and watched gloriously as the great Scarab burst into an eruption of blue plasma and charred steel.
It was at this moment that I stopped and thought to myself, “Jesus Christ! Could this game get any better?”
The polar opposite of this sensation came to me near the end of Halo 3’s disappointingly short campaign. To say where I was or even what my objective had been would be a spoiler, but let’s say the mission I’m referring to is essentially one long, winding tunnel, where you’re confronted with wave after wave of, yep, the Flood. Whereas the classic Covenant forces are always a joy to battle because they’re so smart, the zombie-like Flood are ever a pain in the ass because they’re so dumb. They’re only ever challenging to fight because they appear in impossibly large groups, and that’s never more evident than in this one level, this horrible level that I’m referring to where you must venture through hallway after repetitive hallway killing wave after repetitive wave of the same boring enemies over and over again. The level is difficult because it’s painful to endure – hack game design of the highest order.
It was at this moment that I stopped and thought to myself, “Jesus Christ. Could this game get any worse?”
I thought I loved Halo 3 until I realized only about half of it is particularly good.
It’s strange how much acclaim the Halo series has earned over the past six years when in fact it’s sort of become known for its redundant level designs and overuse of the Flood, whom I hate with a boiling, scorching vengeance. And you know what? I liked Halo and loved Halo 2. I thought that in both cases the good outweighed the bad, and that the mostly terrific level structure and ultra-intelligent enemy AI made up for a few sucky moments here and there. I was willing to forgive such flaws once, twice even. But by now, Bungie should have realized that recycling the same two rooms over and over again doesn’t cut it. They should have figured out that the Flood simply aren’t fun to fight. Now let’s stop pretending this series is better than it really is.
I recently played through portions of Halo 3’s co-op mode with a friend. This friend had never played a Halo game before, and one of the first things he noticed was the enemy AI. He was talking, of course, about the Covenant, who are fewer in variety now that the classic Elites are your friends but are still a joy to battle simply because they’re so damn smart. My friend made note of how they ran for cover, how they tried to outflank us, how they used their numbers strategically. Then we played the level "Floodgate," which comes about halfway through the campaign and marks the Flood’s entrance in Halo 3. He shut up pretty damn quick.
The Halo games often feel like they’re split into parts that were designed by completely different people, and comparisons between the Covenant and Flood are a good example. You could play a Halo game and instantly be impressed by the enemy AI, which Bungie nailed perfectly back in 2001 and which some developers STILL can’t get right. The Covenant feel like real-like alien adversaries… But then you’d start battling hordes of Flood and witness the exact opposite: Predictable, generic opponents who aren’t intelligent, who bum rush players and function more or less as fast-moving zombies. Zombies! Even the Resident Evil games have moved on from those, and that series was known for its zombies.
The same awkward juxtaposition can be found in level design. Sometimes it’s fantastic, sometimes it sucks. My favorite mission in Halo 3 is set in a gargantuan desert, where I start off on foot but eventually get the chance to pilot a number of the game’s best vehicles, including the classic Scorpion tank. A canyon raid is topped by an epic second battle with a Scarab, followed by a fantastic showdown against a group of merciless Brutes. This mission is the perfect example of quality FPS design: Constant action, mixed use of weapons and vehicles, variety in level layout, lots of great “water cooler” moments… I loved this level because it exercised everything I’m looking for in a terrific FPS.
But then other times you’re trudging through repetitious environments that add no color whatsoever to a fantastically flawed title. The second mission in Halo 3 had me wandering through a military installation picking off random groups of invading Covenant forces, often backtracking or wading through rooms and corridors that looked remarkably similar to rooms and corridors that I’d already been to. The level is one big bore, and feels like the same one gunfight recycled over and over again until it qualified as a full-length level. And this was before the Flood even made their grand entrance! To give credit where it’s due, it seems as though Bungie did tone down on Flood appearances throughout the game, but that might just be because the campaign is far shorter than it should have been.
(It kind of sucks when you come to that realization, by the way. The game’s last mission has a distinct “end of the game” feel to it, where you think, no, this can’t be the end already, it’s too soon! And then, yep, it’s the end.)
Halo 3 is really the very definition of “more of the same.” You can see it in the graphics, which look nice in HD but really haven’t evolved much and still carry the look of Halo 2. You can hear it in the soundtrack, which is every bit as wonderful as you’d expect based on the standards the series has set for itself. You can experience it in Halo 3’s multiplayer mode, which is still quite fun despite being identical to that of the last game, with the exception of the “modding lite” of the new Forge. What matters to me most, though, is the game’s single player mode, as that’s what I’ll be spending the most time with. And in the case of this new campaign, “more of the same” means unrealized potential.
And what has that potential produced? Three games that have all disappointed me in some way or another. Needless to say, this is getting pretty fucking ridiculous.
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