I'm no Halo hater, nor am I a fanboy. With the first two games it always was like this for me: they began feeling somewhat alien to me (no pun intended) but half way through the game they grew on me and I ultimately enjoyed both gameplay and story and was always left wanting more. So, I wasn't worried when I kind of disliked the first level of Halo 3 ... and the second ... and the third ... The first half of the game story is so bland and forgetable that I just was blasting through the missions on auto-pilot, killing everything that moves and moving to the next room ... provided I could find it (more on that later). Sadly, mid through the game the story didn't get much better, it became somewhat more exciting but never built on that ... and it ended just like that - uninspired and uninteresting. It doesn't feel epic nor dramatic. Oh, and as always - it's short. Matrix syndrome? Then again, Halo 2 was great.
Gameplay / level design
Now, Halo 3 doesn't disappoint in this department most of the time. It's Halo 1 + Halo 2 + a few minor tweakings.
+ Auxilary pickups like a shield, invisibility, invincibility or a minu-turret add for more tactics
+ Some very nice new weapons + all old favourites
+ Good amount of driving sections + some great new vehicles
- Some lame new vehicles
- Is it me or shields take forever to recharge? Gotta replay Halo 2 to compare. Chaotic difficulty, sometimes too easy, other times you have to die many times till you get it right.
- As always, Halo has a rather narrow field of view, BUT ...
- ... now enemies have a nasty tendency of appearing from behind, this sometimes ends in frustration
- - - Biggest issue of all which wasn't present or wasn't apparent in other Halo games is that many areas are too open wide and the right direction is far from obvious. Sometimes you have to go round several times before you see the right way. Waypoints help a lot, but they for some reason appear only at certain points through the game. Some leves have a nice sense of flow and direction and that's when Halo 3 is most fun and enjoyable, other levels are like big multiplayer arenas where the purpose is to go round in circles. Leves designers get no kudos for this one - overall disappointing. If you ever thought that the Library level from Halo CE was a pain, think again ... in Halo 3 there is a similar but a much worse one towards the end: confined spaces, uneven terrain, never-ending flood waves, low ceilings, no sense of orientation, you just get lost and move along by intuition, not thanks to the game. What's even worse - you will then have to backtrack.
So, yes, I have a big issue with level design in Halo 3, if it wasn't for that, gameplay wise it would be great.
Visuals / Sound
Halo 3 is solid overall graphics wise ... if a bit TOO repetetive. There is little variety in environments and small details are non-existant, at times areas fell way too empty. Sound is Okay, but nothing especially new. Gunfire effects seemed a bit too low to me, like silenced. Halo 3 came out only a couple of months earlier than Mass Effect, but the latter outshines the former in most aspects: character animations, facial animations, level of detail on characters, etc. Bungie didn't bother to up Halo's productions values.
If the purpose of the game is to be player over XBox Live, then please put: "Multiplayer ONLY" on the cover box. Single player portion of Halo 3 has a few bright spots, but it looks like Bungie didn't feel inspired at all when making it. Still a good game, but far from what it should have been provided it being last chapter in trilogy, coming out on X-Box 360 and having plenty of development resources.