Version tested: Xbox 360
Let's cut the crap. Cut the platform advocacy, cut the ranting of Internet storm-troopers on behalf of multinational corporations who don't care if they live or die. Cut the agonised wailing and gnashing of teeth over whether something is "game of the year" or just "really good".
Let's cut the crap, and talk about Halo 3, the videogame - not Halo 3, the monumental "event". Let's talk about the next instalment in one of the most likeable and well-crafted science fiction shooter series ever created - the third part of a trilogy which, despite its occasional wrong steps, has held our attention for six years. Let's talk about that.
Halo 3 picks up exactly where we left off at the end of Halo 2's abruptly terminated narrative. Returning to Earth to "finish the fight", the Master Chief dives through the atmosphere and makes a right mess of a nice stretch of jungle - and it's there that we pick up the controls, only minutes after the end of the previous game.
It's not just the story which continues directly from Halo 2, either. Pretty much the entire single-player game is a direct continuation of the winning formula we saw in the Master Chief's second outing. Bungie clearly thinks it perfected the much-vaunted "thirty seconds of fun" in the previous game - so why change the formula radically now?
We'd struggle to come up with any grounds for disagreement. If Halo 2 had flaws - which it certainly did - then they weren't with the basic heart of the game. The fundamentals of run-and-gun gameplay, pure and unadulterated, were close to perfect in Halo 2. The problems came instead from the context in which those gaming moments sat; the truncated storyline, the unsteady pacing, the graphics engine that pushed a little too hard at the Xbox hardware.
Halo 3, then, will be an instantly recognisable experience to any veteran of the previous Halo campaigns. From the lovely piece of design at the outset where the game determines your look-inversion preference in-game (a staple since the original Halo, and still no less wonderful for it) through to the physics of the world and the majority of the weapon arsenal, almost everything is familiar.
Even the biggest set-pieces have a homely feel to them. The highlights of the game's encounters include taking down the massive, four-legged Scarab tanks by boarding them and wiping out their crew, and frantic battles against Gravity Hammer wielding Brute leaders, both of which are lifted directly from Halo 2 - but are no less dramatic and enjoyable for it.
None of which is to suggest that Halo has stagnated, by any means. In spite of the overall familiarity, there are new touches and tweaks in evidence at every turn. Minute alterations to the weapons balance are obvious from early in the game, including the reintroduction of the first game's assault rifle - and a vital rebalancing to ensure that dual-wielding isn't the ultimate solution to any combat situation any more.
The most obvious change is the addition of Equipment - a class of item which is held independently of other gear (you can only hold one piece of equipment at a time). Equipment can be dropped at any point to create an area effect, and essentially creates new options for you in any given encounter. With a portable Gravity Lift, for example, you could create a bounce pad to hop onto a higher area; or you could erect a Bubble Shield and pop out from it to snipe at foes, sitting inside to regenerate your own armour.
These new items spice things up in the campaign, certainly, but it's a fairly modest change to the single-player gameplay. Their true role in the campaign is simply to introduce you to the various equipment items, which go on to serve a vastly more important role in multiplayer matches.
More important for the single-player game, arguably, is the ability to rip rocket launchers and chainguns off gun emplacements and carry them around with you. This pops the camera back into a third person view and slows down your movement speed, but turns you into a devastating walking death-machine - one of our favourite types of machine, we might add. Superb for clearing areas fast or taking down vehicles, it's an option which adds to the slightly more tactical, considered approach that Halo 3 quietly encourages.