The Book of Covenant
Hail, oh Halo 3, you have come. Yea, the prophecy foretold that there would be another, the most holy third coming, and so we have abided.
[image1]And now triumphant, propped up in displays of glorious laminate cardboard, you stand sort of slantwise in the display windows of that one store, you know, that one next to the Starbucks? No, the other Starbucks. Now we will receive you into our homes, insert you into our machines, and gaze unblinking at your radiant glow for many days. We will humble ourselves before your majesty, and in tones of reverential thanks we will chant together: pwnage.
And we, your humble haxorzzz, are in your eternal matchmaking lobby of debt, for you have come to us with more magnificent graphics, with solid multiplayer advances, and with a final chapter to a three-year cliffhanger. But with trepidation, we approach you in a crouch position to offer one meek question: is there really nothing more?
Oh, chosen disc, do not strike us down with a Spartan laser. Do not curse us with a case of the Flood, for we have just prevailed over that ringworm we picked up in gym class. We acknowledge your greatness, and we will count the ways.
First, you have once again made first-person combat as balanced as a four-foot tall girl with a 34-inch waist. In addition to all of the weapons of the last Halo, you have added many others including the assault rifle, a mid-range automatic weapon, the Spartan laser, a heavy-duty chargeable cannon, and the nifty Mauler – a one-handed shotgun that can be dual wielded. There are also a few new vehicles, including a helicopter-like Hornet and the swift ATV “mongoose.” But even with a new mix of weapons and vehicles, combat still feels solid and equally distributed between shooting, melee, and the holy handgrenade.
But verily, not everything is as it was. New tactical devices, like the bubble shield that forms a transparent bullet-proof dome and the power-drain that makes any players in its radius vulnerable, can be used in inspired ways to tip the balance of the game. Throw a power-drain device in the path of an enemy vehicle, and it shall blow a gasket. Throw a regeneration device on a position you are defending, and thy attackers will be unable to kill you. Most of the time.
[image2]Enemy A. I. is improved, with enemies seeming much more aggressive than in previous versions. But, alas, this upgrade in intelligence did not carry over to the friendly computer-controlled characters. Many times Master Chief hath looked disapprovingly at the computer-controlled Arbiter as he runs in obsessive-compulsive circles. And never, ever, shall we let the computer drive our vehicles again.
Second, you have ended the story. Sort of. We, your chosen noobs, have created an entire Halo mythos, made up of paperbacks and fan fiction, and although your characters—the featureless Master Chief, the humorless Arbiter, and the assorted trenchant marines—are as dry as the arid deserts of level six, at least the convoluted mess of an epic is finally over. There are twists and sacrifices, there are pretentious religious speeches, and there are many orders to go arm bombs and to deactivate shields. We cared not how you did it, oh chosen disc, but any ending was better than the trailing off at the end of Halo 2’s last sentence. So what if the story is basic juvenile action-adventure of the lowest variety? We are the lowest variety.
Third, you have once again let us sip from the grail of perfected online multiplayer. The entire campaign can now be played online with up to four friends. Matchmaking for online battles is quick, sorts by skill, and tracks all kinds of stats. The same multiplayer modes return, with an even mix of deathmatch and team deathmatch-type slayer games and objective-type capture-the-flag variants. Even better is the added ability to record matches, edit the clips, and save them to our profiles. And you’ve corrected the Halo 2 matchmaking gaff that separated players after every match. Now we can “party up” with other players following a match, ensuring that bosom buddies like TrUtH V3NoM and giantrection will not have to leave each other’s side.
[image3]But the biggest change in the multiplayer combat is in distance. Since all players begin matches with the mid-range assault rifle, not the short-range SMG of Halo yesteryear, gunfights occur over greater ranges. Maps are larger, even the ones imported from Halo 2. Thus, the best maps in Halo 3 are the ones that take advantage of distance, like the sprawling Valhalla valley down which a river meanders or the giant desert map which doth feature giant mobile bases.
But since both modes and maps have size restrictions, each mode is associated with only a few maps. If one plays a lot of the ranked team objective games, for example, which are limited to eight players, he will never see the giant desert map. Instead, the same three or four maps that support eight players will be recycled over and over again.
But in your glorious prescience, you have foreseen this and have added an ingenious, but dare we say hobbled, “forge” feature to allow us to customize our own maps. This is not, however, a complete level editor, for all we can do is change the position of spawn points and items on a map, but it is, like everything else you do, polished and smooth. While in “forge” mode, any player in the map can turn his avatar into an editor, pick up an object or spawnpoint or vehicle, and put it somewhere else. He can even add new vehicles and weapons, so there are many opportunities to build unique matches. But playing them requires friends.
Do you intend for us to make friends, oh glorious oval? Even with those who doth teabag? Why else did you make it impossible to search for custom games, including “forged” games, some of which are the most promising in the game? In the custom games menu are gems like “infection” in which one player begins as a “zombie” (a black Spartan with a sword), and converts the others by killing them. We have long awaited such a mode, but why can we not search for them in matchmaking? The only way to play them is to have a lot of friends or invite a lot of trusting strangers. And neither are ever in abundance on Xbox Live.
[image4]But the lush graphics and rich sound effects are bountiful. Draw distances are amazingly long, and the bright color palette is reflected in the polished sheen of impeccable surfaces. The only hiccup might be in the character faces, which seem doughy in contrast with the slick environment, but the most paramount Master Chief has no face, so, no problem.
Gunfire, explosions and voice work are all similarly perfect. The sound of distant gunfire reverberates through canyons, and the noises of battle are mixed well with the comic mumblings of your computer companions. The most that can be said for the pretentious soundtrack, like the august intonations of Halo prophecy, is that it takes itself very seriously. While we dig the return of the Monk-like choir, we cannot say the same for the rock drum backbeat over the symphony orchestra.
And in closing, we meekly submit to your intimidating presence this tiny flower of criticism: is there no bigger change than the graphics and the tweaks in devices and guns? Halo set a new standard when it arrived, offering a huge exciting and solid first-person shooter. Halo 2 took that formula online, where it grew into a most puissant cult. But where lies the big innovation in the third iteration? It looks better, and plays about the same, but it doesn’t take many chances—the “forge” system and the new custom games are excluded from matchmaking, and the neat theater option isn’t really an upgrade to the gameplay.
But still, we applaud you, for in giving us more of the same, you have given us exactly what we wanted. And, lo, the tiny flower of criticism we mention we have already smashed . . . with a Gravity Hammer.