Sunday, April 3, 2016

Halo 3 review

    Halo month continues with my experiencing the third of the Halo series on the Master Chief Collection, which is a steal at 30 bucks right now. Halo 3 isn't the sort of game you should play without having done the previous two entries in the series as it is a direct continuation of their plotlines. It's a testament to Microsoft they were willing to release their first major Xbox 360 release based on the build-up from two (admittedly ungawdly successful) Xbox games. I think more video games should be trilogies, even if it lessens the pick-up value since it favors deeper storytelling and characters.

    There is, unfortunately, a downside to this as it becomes impossible to separate the individual game from the larger series. I'm playing Halo 3 as part of The Master Chief Collection so the near-incoherent plotlines of 2 as well as its massive cliffhanger doesn't bother me the way it did gamers in 2007. Taken as a whole, the trilogy presented is a 10 out of 10 work and one of the best collections of video games ever made but it is more than the sum of its parts.

    Individually, I'm not sure how good 2 and 3 are as they actually feel like two halves of the same game. Newcomers are, of course, going to be able to buy both at once but I feel like I should clarify this before the rest of the review. If I'd reviewed the games back when they first came out, I suspect I'd have been far more critical but they really do compliment each other immensely. 

A return of old friends does automatically buy the same some slack.
    The premise, for those unfamiliar with my previous reviews or the series, is a cybernetically enhanced supersoldier called the Master Chief is teamed up with an A.I. named Cortana and they represent humanity's last best hope against the alien Covenant. Having successfully destroyed the galaxy-destroying Halo and denied the Covenant another one, they must journey to a super-structure called the Ark to prevent all of them from being activated at once. Unfortunately, Cortana is presently under the control of the eldritch abomination known as Gravemind and Earth is being invaded by not only the Covenant but the sentient fungus zombie-plague known as the Flood.

    The game makes very little attempt to catch up readers on the preexisting plot with the summary of events being, "The Covenant are attacking Earth. They're looking for something. You need to stop them before they kill us all. Go." Unfortunately, parts of Halo 3 read like rehashes of 2 with the beginning and middle Acts being essentially a retelling of Halo 2. They could have put the final third of Halo 3 on Halo 2 and the game would have made every bit as much sense. I didn't mind this because the levels were fun but journeying back to New Mombasa for more Earth vs. Covenant action made this all the more blatant. We couldn't defend, say, Belgium or New York?

At one point in this game, I blew up one of these dropships and it was GLORIOUS.
    The gameplay remains largely unchanged from the previous game with dual-wielding, easy-changing guns, regenerating shields, and a variety of grenades to hurl at the enemy. Halo 3 also introduces equipment which is useful for making your enemies' lives more difficult but, honestly, I didn't have any difficulty with continuing my previous strategy of just moving around the levels shooting my enemies.

    I should note I'm not a multiplayer gamer so I can't comment on one of the most popular elements of Halo. I will note the majority of gamers have since moved on to Halo 5: Guardians by this point but there's a fan community for it thanks to, well, the re-release of previous games in The Master Chief Collection. Even so, I can't help but feel like I'm part of the peripheral demographic being primarily a solo campaign and story-focused Halo fan.
I really came to like the side-characters. Which is amazing given how little they appear.

    Halo 3 has beautiful graphics but they're not quite as well-done as the Anniversary Editions. This is noticeable because player characters are going to go from the previous remastered editions only to have a noticeable downturn in facial quality for the character models. I think they should have redone Halo 3 for The Master Chief Collection even though this is otherwise an extremely good purchase for the money it costs. I also regret the absence of animated terminals which were one of my favorite parts of the

    Unlike in the previous game, there's no opportunities to play the Arbiter save in co-op, which is a shame. Instead, the Arbiter plays the second banana role to the Master Chief and accompanies him on numerous missions as backup. Despite this, the Arbiter still has several memorable moments like when he confronts the Prophet of Truth over the latter's decision to commit genocide against the Elite race.

This is one of the iconic moments of the series for me as a sci-fi fan.
    The enemies are excellent with the Brutes toned down a bit from their bullet sponge status in the previous book. I also love the introduction of Scarabs which, while one appeared in Halo 2, actually become some of the most memorable bosses in Halo 3. Nothing is more fun in Halo, arguably, than blowing up gigantic spider-tanks. Admittedly, the game seems to realize this as not only does it happen once or twice but four times throughout.

    The characters in the game are memorable and give great performances with Guilty Spark, the Arbiter, Cortana, Gravemind, Miranda Keyes, Sergeant Johnson, the Prophet of Truth, and others all being entertaining in their appearance. The fact some of the good guys don't make it is surprising but handled well within the cutscenes. Nothing is cheesy about the deaths and they're genuinely moving. Okay, there's a little cheesy about some of the deaths but they worked, dammit!

Blowing up Scarabs never gets old but they repeat it, perhaps, a few times too many.

    Level-wise, I think Halo 3 is a big improvement over Halo 2. The levels have a lot more maneuverability and variety than the previous game. There's an underground 20th century military base, jungle, plains, alien temples, mountains, an alien hive, snow peaks, and more. I find that mobility to be a key part of Halo's appeal and worked very well.

    The relationship between Master Chief and Cortana is perhaps my favorite part of the game. The mission to rescue her from the Flood's mucus-filled ant-hill-like base is perhaps my favorite part of the game and has a really strong emotional climax. Whether they're mother and son, comrades-in-arms, or romantic-they have one of the best relationships in video games.

    The emotional high point of the game isn't trying to prevent the Covenant from destroying the galaxy or the betrayal of the Flood but Master Chief invading Gravemind's starship in hopes of finding Cortana. The fact Master Chief frequently hallucinates about his lost A.I. companion helps drive home how important she is to him as well as how lost he is without her guidance. Some of these hallucinations were rather annoying but they never interrupt combat and occur only intermittently. Cortana's suffering at the hands of Gravemind really tugs at the heartstrings by the time you finally catch up with her.

Cortana is, as ever, awesome.
    My favorite level of the game is probably the Crow's Nest near the beginning as you get to fight off an entire Covenant army invading your old 20th century United States-built nuclear bunker in the middle of Africa. I'm fairly sure nothing like that was ever built but its evocative and the concrete architecture and antiquated equipment make a great contrast to the aliens as well as super-soldiers currently fighting in it. I also was very fond of the Gravemind's starship which is like fighting in a zombie-filled anthill and seems utterly wrong. It is a vision of the future should you not be able to stop the Flood.

    Vehicular combat has improved this game with the extensive sections you play all being enjoyable except for the final mission where you once more have to use the damned Warthog to escape an exploding Forerunner installation. At least this one possesses checkpoints and isn't timed, though I was about ready to throw the controller across the room. The Warthog remains, without a doubt, one of the worst vehicles in video games and yet it is an iconic part of the franchise now.

Call me when you need me again.
     As a finale to the Halo trilogy, this is a great game and ends the major plot points in a thoroughly enjoyable game. Halo 3 serves as the benchmark for these sorts of trilogies, being better at wrapping up things than Assassins Creed 3 and Mass Effect 3. Plus, you get the option for firing a Halo ring so I give the game props for that.


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