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Videogames-To-Flix #43

VIDEOGAMES-TO-FLIX is a JoBlo.com column showcasing reviews of videogame translations of Hollywood films (or games soon-to-become Hollywood movies). With both industries getting closer and closer, and videogames, in general, getting so much more popular, you knew it was just a matter of time before we hit that stuff!

HALO 3

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Developer: Bungie Software
Publisher: Microsoft Game Studios
Systems: XBOX 360

INTRODUCTION:

How do you critically evaluate the most anticipated game of the year (if not, decade)? You can either dive in and nit-pick it to death or just tape a ten to the wall and walk away. I'm not planning on doing either of those things.

To break from tradition, I've decided to write two reviews:
  • 1) a traditional campaign (single player & co-op) review
  • 2) a multiplayer review.
First up is the campaign review and the multiplayer review will follow next week. Also, bear in mind that HALO 3 is an incomplete game. In the world of Downloadable Content and expansion packs, the campaign levels and multiplayer maps can be added to at any time. This is a review of how the game is today.

HALO 3 is the third chapter in the HALO Trilogy. In the single player game you portray Master Chief, the last of an army of human super soldiers. You fight alongside (or in co-op, as) The Arbiter, a former foe that has seen the light and taken up arms against The Flood and the Prophet Hierarchs. Major NPCs include Cortana (a female AI construct), Gravemind (the second coming of Mother Brain), Sergeant Johnson, and 343 Guilty Spark (another silly robot). The story told here is complicated and won't make sense to many new players. To fully understand all that is happening, you'll need in-depth knowledge of previous chapters. Additional info from graphic novels and books would also lend a hand.

Currently, this game is only available for the XBOX 360. If it follows the previous releases in this trilogy, expect a PC port within 3 years. Also, all of the pictures in this review were taken by friends using Theater. Thanks to Xtempore, GBone77, AHAB K1CK455, DEADLY KILL3R, Dachozen0ne, and big j!

GAMEPLAY:

Without hesitating, the controls in HALO 3 are the best in the genre. When a console game can convince PC gamers to wrassle with a controller, you know something is right. The analog sticks precisely correlate with motion, button mapping just makes sense, and melee timing guarantees a visceral frenzy. Anyone with fleeting experience in the HALO universe will take to these controls like a nerd to STAR TREK.

There are some new gameplay elements that add variety without complicating things too much. While equipment drops add some spice to gameplay, they are not the revolutionary element hyped for months. In campaign mode the only options I found useful were the bubble shield and the regeneration pod. Other new elements that drastically affect gameplay include the Gravity Hammer and the Mongoose. The Gravity Hammer in particular bumps up the fun factor as you can enjoy a three dimensional whack-a-mole like experience. Incendiary weapons are also new, however, they don't appear to have that prominent of a role in your arsenal.

The addition of hidden skulls and meta-scoring add some replay value that the short campaign needed. A game like HALO 3 is best experienced in one sitting and you can definitely do that. The single player campaign can be completed in under ten hours your first time through, and, depending on how much detail you're looking for, even quicker. Searching for hidden skulls and attempting to top your metascore makes repeated efforts worth your while and might suck you away from multiplayer for a day or too. However, these will never make up for the brief initial run-through that is called a campaign.

The real scene stealing addition is the inclusion of online co-operative play. Enjoying the campaign experience with a friend living continents away is an amazing technological feat. It makes the game a bit easier for beginners, encourages teamwork, and provides players with more replay value. Unfortunately, I have two qualms with the game. One of which is that unlike GEARS OF WAR, HALO 3 isn't designed around co-op. Co-op works, it just doesn't require a ton of coordination. The other issue is that the game shows some graphic stutters in co-op, especially when you have three or more gamers playing. Perhaps these will be fixed in time, but for now they can be an annoyance.

My only other issue is the game's dependence on using a Checkpoint save system. Just as in HALO and HALO 2, HALO 3 saves at pre-decided areas in each level; this allows players to sprint past enemies instead of really fighting. This is a common practice in crap games like ERAGON and is easily manipulated by lazy gamers - like me. Games like BIOSHOCK and QUAKE 4 allow the player to save wherever and whenever. I like that flexibility and it forces me to actually beat enemies instead of jumping past them.

Overall, the gameplay in HALO 3 is the best there is. Sure, it has some freckles, but that's all they are, small discolorations that can be used as message board fodder. It isn't easy to explain why things work so well; they just do.

Gameplay: 9.9/10

GRAPHICS:

A common insult thrown HALO 3's way is that HALO 3 is just a high resolution version of HALO 2. Master Chief hasn't changed very much and neither have a lot of the other characters. Looking back at HALO 2 makes you realize that Master Chief was near graphic perfection before and didn't need much to make his way to the next generation. What is missing from this equation is that the real glory of the graphics is in the details of the levels.

Huge levels envelope you with minimal load times and intricate details. Want to enjoy crisp rippling water like in TOMB RAIDER LEGENDS? Check. Want to run around in a snowy terrain like in LOST PLANET? Check. Want to still fall in love with the interiors of HALO and HALO 2? Double check. You can chide the graphics all that you want because they aren't as shows any stylized as other titles (GEARS OF WAR or PROJECT GOTHAM RACING 4), but the clean look is still outstanding.

The coup de grace in the graphics is in the Theater. Players can go back into any campaign (or multiplayer match) and take screencaps and clips to share with friends or even use as wallpaper. All of the images in this review were taken with this feature and if you see the original, non-compressed, versions you'll see that the graphics are actually up-res'd in this feature. Not only can you relive your greatest kills, they look better than they while you were playing. The bar has been raised thanks to this feature and won't likely be eclipsed for some time.

Graphics: 9.6/10

SOUND:

If you think HALO developers Bungie Studios spent all of their time on Graphics and Gameplay, you'd be quite mistaken. Understanding the importance of audio in video games, Bungie delivers (again) one of the greatest game scores ever. Like with the physical appearance of Master Chief, they didn't try to recreate the wheel. A lot of the music either borrows from previous works or echoes them. That's just fine by me. I'd rather they maintain greatness than try to shoehorn in something silly. The score is a huge selling point and is the best way to suck players into the gameplay as well, of course, as the story.

The only weakness in sound design is the hit-or-miss voiceover work. Video games often suffer from problematic voice acting and HALO has never been an exception. It's definitely not as engaging as the work heard in BIOSHOCK and is just a few notches below GEARS OF WAR. The voiceovers failed to sell the story well enough and only seem to exist as a surface element for the gameplay. HALO 3 provides neither the integrated storytelling of BIOSHOCK nor the Hollywood stylization of GEARS OF WAR.

Sound: 9.4/10

FINAL VERDICT:

Overall, the campaign in HALO 3 includes the best gameplay to date, the best musical score to date, and some amazing online capabilities. A majority of gamers will love the experience and want to revisit it for decades to come. However, it still has issues that a minority of us might not drool over. In particular, I find the storyline strange and disengaging. A lot of stereotypical genre devices are obviously borrowed and might seem trite. I hate to say this, but to enjoy this game I had to ignore the story and focus on everything else that makes this game fun. This won't be a first for the medium, nor will it be the last.

Final Verdict: 9.6/10

STATUS OF THE MOVIE:

Dead as a doornail... for now.

MY XBOX GAMERTAG:

FRIEND ME!

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