Halo 3: further improvements in the art of friendly bloodshed

By Brian White

It’s really difficult to get a handle on what Halo 3 is. After six years of record-breaking success, the Halo franchise is not just a series of video games. It has become a commercial and social phenomenon. On its opening day, Halo 3 outsold the openings of both Spiderman 3 and Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix. Halo is the first game to push video games from the realm of obscurity to a popularity formerly occupied only by movies, books, and TV. If nothing else, Halo will be remembered for making video games a truly bankable and mainstream medium. So there was no surprise that the hype surrounding Halo 3’s release was huge. But after all this waiting and all this anticipation, did the game really live up to expectations?

The answer is a firm and resounding yes. Playing Halo 3 is like playing with liquid fun. The game never swings out of balance, is rarely boring, and lends itself to millions of interesting multiplayer battles. If you’ve played either of the previous Halo games, you’ve probably experienced exactly what I mean by an “unbalanced” set up. It’s not exactly cheating when someone picks up the rocket launcher and racks up half a dozen kills, but it’s just not a lot of fun to play. Halo 3 takes everything that was fun about the first two games, tunes down the overpowering aspects, and tunes up the underpowered ones. You’re left with a game that is fun no matter what weapon you’re stuck with, unless of course it’s the Needler, which is still so worthless that the game actually rewards you for killing enemies with it.

If there’s one area that Halo 3 has improved the most on, it’s the organization of the multiplayer maps. The weapons are chosen and placed perfectly so that you don’t have to deal with starting with a worthless weapon and then suffering for the rest of the game. Any multiplayer game on Halo 2 definitely suffered when a person would secure a powerful weapon and an unassailable position on the battlefield and rack up too many kills. In Halo 3, every position has its weak points, and the weapons on every map are arranged so that it’s hard to create a commanding advantage. The game has focused precisely on what makes it fun: outfoxing and outplaying your opponents. So many first-person shooting games seem to think it’s right to reward a player for knowing where the most powerful weapon on the map is located, but Halo 3 rewards you for being cunning and deadly, and nothing else.

While the multiplayer option is endlessly fun, the campaign is something of a throwaway. The plot progresses along roughly the same lines as the other two Halo games, and the last two levels are at times almost unplayable. Anyone who was expecting a campaign as cool as the Halo 3: Believe series of commercials will be sorely disappointed, as the commercials are only tangentially related to the actual game. The Brutes, the Flood, and basically everything that was bad about Halo 2 have been fixed to be more fun to play against, but the plot itself fails to put any weight behind the gameplay. The Halo universe had a lot of potential to create a compelling story, so it’s a shame that the newest game is essentially a recycled version of the first two. But while “finishing the fight” may not be as fun as you thought it would be, Halo has always been more about starting fights with 16 of your friends. In that area it succeeds marvelously, so no one’s complaining.

It’s easy to criticize Halo 3 for being too similar to the first two installments of the series, but if something isn’t broken, you shouldn’t fix it. Halo 3 is essentially Halo version 2.5, but there’s nothing wrong with that. It is a spectacular game that is a significant, if sometimes imperceptible, improvement over its predecessors. And compared with any first-person shooter released recently, Halo 3 comes out far ahead. No matter what problems there might be with the campaign, this is probably the most flawlessly designed game you will ever play.