Saturday, September 29, 2007

Halo 3 single-player campaign

I've had Halo 3 a short while now. Overall, it's a good game, though it certainly has its flaws. In fact, part of the reason I decided to write this review is because of how much the hype has slanted other reviews. I'm not going to bash it. I just want to balance the good with the bad. In fact, this isn't meant to be a full review so much as a taste of both the game's successes and its failures.

I'm just going to cover the single-player experience, because I haven't had a chance to play co-op with anyone and I only enjoy fragfests when my fellow players are in the same room and are good friends.

The variety is incredible. I'm always pounding the table about dynamics, and Halo 3 delivers. There are so many weapons, weapon combos, grenade types, new types of equipment, vehicles, and so forth that there's a lot of combat replay value. There's a lot to experiment with, though I've found that my favorite tactic is one that I carried over from Halo 2: bashing people in the face with the bladed end of my Brute Shot. Of course, the good AI is much of what makes any Halo game fun.

Being able to break most turrets off their mounts and walk with them... priceless!

In one level, I'm in a Brute Chopper. I'm using its guns to shoot enemies out of their own Choppers, or using the speed boost to ram them and watch their Choppers explode. Occasionally, a Wraith starts lobbing mortars at me, so I drive straight up to it, exit the Chopper, leap onto the Wraith's front, toss a grenade down the hatch, then leap off and watch the fireworks. But the best part comes when all the enemy vehicles are down, I'm back in the Chopper, and some little runt starts firing at me from a turret on top of a large boulder. I ease up to the sloped side of the boulder, hit the speed boost... rocketing me up to the top of the boulder where I ram the turret, taking it out.

The dialogue, as usual, is excellent. Character personalities are interesting and well-delivered. More importantly, there are many more things characters (both fellow soldiers and enemies) can say on-the-fly. Many of the NPC remarks can really get you laughing and keep the gameplay fresh.

Before the game's release, I didn't think the graphics were different enough from Halo 2's to really matter. But there were some moments when I felt the need to stop running and take in the scenery. For graphical elements like enemy models, I really think the AI and animations have a much greater effect, but there's some great work all around. I noticed that as I am from right to left with a rifle, I can see the Master Chief's arms and shoulders bending and twisting realistically. I bet that a number of graphical upgrades like that improve players' immersion without us even noticing it.

The variety is great, but it's a little daunting to players who haven't touched a Halo game in months. I suppose this isn't such a big deal though, considering that you get to immediately retry from a recent save-point any time you die.

I can't count on one hand the number of times I went the wrong direction during my first time or two through the campaign. The levels are big, and there's often a number of areas that the player can go down but lead nowhere. It's easy to pass up a door, take the wrong corridor, or drive down the wrong path. The level design is great in some areas, and leaves much to be desired in other areas.

On a couple occasions, the game saved my progress at a ridiculous moment in the game. The first time this happen, I drove off a cliff (thinking that I was just jumping over a hill, which is half the fun of driving a Warthog). The game saved a checkpoint as I was going over the edge. Over and over, the game would start me off in the vehicle already rushing over the edge, where I would die again and the situation repeated. I had to start the mission over to get out of the loop. The second time I experienced this problem, the game saved me at half-health just a moment before a Wraith ran over me and killed me. This time, it only repeated the experience 4 or 5 times before starting me at an earlier position. I have a feeling I can expect this sort of thing to happen from time to time.

I see a gun I like, so I pick it up or trade my fellow soldier for it. Then I reach a checkpoint, and the game automatically gets rid of the weapon I just had and replaces it with the standard assault rifle. I don't want the damn rifle... that's why I traded it! A minor annoyance, for sure, but one I can count on happening every time.

The final level is ridiculous. I won't spoil it, though I will say it's very similar to another Halo ending. The past experience that it expands on was a lot of fun. This level, on the other hand, is more annoying than anything else.

The Halo theme-song is legendary, but there was a time or two in Halo 3 when the music caught my attention and I thought "what was he thinking?". In particular, there's a song that starts to a rock drumbeat that feels completely out-of-place.

The story is delivered fairly well, with much of it occurring in gameplay rather than during the cutscenes (which there are a lot of). But the story itself doesn't impress me. Each scene is well-written... it's the big picture, the main story arch, that seems pretty lackluster to me. Some of it, like the Master Chief - Cortana relationship, is interesting, but a lot of it's pretty standard fare or begging for backstory which isn't there.

Overall, I'm glad I bought it. I'm really looking forward to trying out the co-op gameplay sometime, but the single-player experience has a lot of replayability (though I wish more of the story could be skipped the Nth time through). It's a great game... worthy of most of the hype, though not all.

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