Halo 3 Reader Review
The Halo franchise has become increasingly schizophrenic with each episode. Whilst the online multiplayer has repeatedly set new standards, the solo player campaign has lacked any form of cohesive narrative and features an increasingly flimsy plot. How you judge the quality of Halo 3 will depend on how much importance you apply to gameplay and long-term value, verses the Halo story and artistic merit.
In terms of story, plot and storytelling the Halo series has deteriorated severely. There are many parallels with the Matrix series of movies. The first had all the original good ideas: a cohesive world; a beginning, a middle, and end; fleshed out characters; and a twist in the tale. However, subsequent episodes introduced unnecessary politics, fragmented storytelling, no real plot and a lack of viewer/gamer engagement. Halo 3 goes someway to address these issues, by a least sticking to one character and attempting to provide some closure, but it is still told in a haphazard way -through cuts scenes- with no reference to what has gone before and no illumination to why. In fact, so emotionally detached from story is the game that the levels you play through could be anywhere. Kenya, High Charity, Halo,...it really doesn�t matter and often you can�t remember, or don�t even care, why you are there at all. It doesn�t help that the cut-scenes often have the soundtrack drown out what is being said, so any vague recognition of plot is lost in the inability to hear the dialog (in addition to the terrible and corny script). To be quite frank, Halo 3�s story telling, although an improvement over Halo 2, is still an abject mess and Bungie�s writers would do well to get a job on a remake of the A-Team.
Fortunately a poor story/plot/narrative however, does not ruin the game as the gameplay elements are honed to absolute perfection. In many ways, each level in Halo 3 is so beautifully crafted and balanced -on all difficulties- it annoys me even more that they screwed the writing up so much.
The campaign plays like a series of massive multiplayer maps populated by pockets of gaming brilliance and fiendish AI. Each encounter, particularly the Brutes, is so cleverly designed, balanced and executed that you can really appreciate every bit of quality and effort that has gone in to make it. In terms of memorable and enjoyable battles that can dramatically play out differently based on difficulty/co-op/modifiers, Halo 3 has no equal - Halo 3 is the best designed FPS to date.
The competitive online co-op, with the scores and skull modifiers, is absolutely brilliant and really adds a huge amount of depth and replay to campaign - expect to see this feature creeping into other games next year. The difference in tactics and balancing of the AI at each difficulty also sets new standards - no longer does �Legendary� just mean having to fire 3x the bullets, but actually encourages different strategy and thinking.
The level designs are not without fault. The ugly spectre of backtracking appears more than once, whilst the penultimate level is unwelcome slog without the fantastic subtlety of earlier levels. The driving levels also feel a little bit like �here�s the vehicle of the day� with each one �introducing� a new vehicle, only to never use it again.
The competitive multiplayer has always been Halo�s ace card. The integration into XBL is, once again, a new benchmark. Not only do we have the only working rank system, but now we have videos, screenshots, infinitely customisable game types, Bungie.net and Forge - the online co-operative map editor. Whilst live Forge sessions seem to descend into chaos, I can see the potential for creating new and interesting game types and playing them with friends - this alone makes Halo 3 a big leap forward.
The initial levels provided for MP are once again a lesson in perfect design. No matter what game type, size or options, each map seems perfectly designed for the purpose and carefully balanced with the weapons system to avoid the more unfair scenarios presented on Halo 2. Played with friends, Halo 3 is pure unadulterated fun and for this reason sits right at the top of the MP gaming tree.
So, how do I score a game that should be perfect, but is let down by elements that don�t really effect the gameplay? It is tricky? The best thing I can say is that I have not enjoyed an online FPS as much as this for a very long time. It might not be my favourite game this year, but it is certainly one of the very best.
For: Awesome overall package; perfectly balanced gameplay in SP and MP; huge fun online; fantastic AI; high quality (except perhaps the writing!)
Against: Poor plot, story, and narrative; generic environments
Gameplay: 10 - perfectly balanced on and offline.
Presentation: 8 - some jaggies and bland environments - earth/halo/HC looks the same; dialog volume issues; great soundtrack
Design: 9 - some backtracking on solo; penultimate level is a low point; huge feature set
Story: 7 - Plot, story and narrative a shambles; MP and co-op give Halo very �long legs�
9 / 10