I finished the single player campaign in Halo 3 this weekend. There is almost no point in writing anything about the experience because the game has taken on a life separate from normal critical evaluation. There is really only one thing you need to know about Halo 3 and it is this: Halo 3 is Halo, only bigger.
I was going to deploy the standard Spinal Tap reference at this point, but I’ve already used that line too much and it would be ironic to repeat myself in this context. Still, the statement applies here probably more than anywhere else. Everything about the game is really just more Halo with the knob turned higher:
The set pieces are set on bigger platforms with more enemies shooting more bullets at a faster rate as you frantically try and find any tactic that will keep the fight in front of you. Instead of throwing grenades into groups of two or three grunts, you instead toss them into a group of five or six who then fly though the air, all their limbs flailing independently. Where you might have fought one or two banshees at a time before, you know how to deal with half a dozen at once, plus a couple of extra tanks.
There are more vehicles to drive over more extensive pieces of terrain. There are bigger tanks to defeat, and you are rewarded with fatter, more satisfying fireballs when you do so. There are more frenetic runs through burning structures that are on the verge of total collapse. They seem to know instinctively that we love that shit.
There are more brutes. More Flood. More backtracking. More identical hallways (except at strange angles, you’ll see what I mean). More multiplayer modes. More annoying and confusing checkpoints. More more more. There is more of everything, except flying. There isn’t more flying, because flying sucks, so they got rid of some of it. That’s good.
There are more cut-scenes, but fewer well-written lines of dialog. The game ties up the plot in a reasonably satisfying fashion, but the level of the narrative never quite makes it past High School Comic Book. On the other hand, this is a video game, so what do you expect (hint: Bioshock didn’t do it either. We can argue about that later).
What shines through it all is the same excellent combat engine. When you are really tuned into the game, you circle strafe and bunny hop and shoot and beat down your foes in a beautifully rhythmic dance. Then you chuck a grenade into the fray and watch the stragglers scatter and start the whole thing over again. The reward for your work is hearing your enemies scream in pain and then watching them fall on the ground accompanied by the occasional limb flying through the air. This is what I play the game for, and this is what Bungie has delivered.
If you love Halo, there is more to love. If you don’t really care, there is nothing here that will make you care. The game is not the best game EVAR. Neither is the game just a shallow refinement that is more like an expansion pack than a standalone game. The game gives you more Halo goodness without ruining anything that made Halo good. I think this something of an achievement given how many other games have tried to follow the “better graphics, bigger everything” formula and failed miserably to preserve the core gameplay (I’m looking at you Madden Football).
The bottom line is that the graphical improvements, the cool new features (online co-op!), the movie capture mode, and the refinements to the multiplayer all add up to a fantastic upgrade to a game that was already one of my favorites. There does seem to be a contingent of the “Gamez R Artz” crowd who like to gripe that Bungie didn’t try to push the gameplay or narrative in some different directions. I think these people are delusional. As I said before, the Xbox and the people who play Halo do not need Haloshock or Halo 6: Mexican Tactical Combat. We just want Halo, but with more Haloness. This is what Bungie has delivered and for this they should be congratulated.
Here’s hoping it’s really finished. I’d love to see where Bungie could go given the freedom to actually try something new.