September 25, 2007

New Goodies Heighten ‘Halo 3′ Thrill Factor

By Victor Godinez, The Dallas Morning News

Halo 3 isn't the greatest game ever made.

Heck, it might not be the best game released this year.

But it is a lot of fun to play, and I've got the haunted, sleep-deprived stare to prove it.

Millions of gamers, thanks to a bevy of midnight store openings in the Dallas area and nationwide, already know what I'm talking about. The game is out today.

Stupendous hype aside -- and it's hard to put that colossal campaign aside, but we'll get to it in a minute -- the game delivers all the epic action you could want.

First, the single-player mode.

Finish the fight

This is the meat of the game, the conclusion to the trilogy that started so magnificently with the original Halo and, let's be honest, stumbled with Halo 2.

Halo 3 almost literally picks up right where Halo 2 left off, with our favorite jolly green giant, Master Chief, plummeting to Earth to finish the battle against the alien Covenant armada.

In fact, the story begins so abruptly that if you haven't played Halo 2 in a while -- it did come out three years ago, after all -- you might have forgotten some key elements.

Such as, a civil war has broken out among the aliens, and one faction has actually allied itself with the humans.

So don't shoot the aliens that are trying to help you. Not good for our intergalactic reputation.

Eventually, you'll figure out what's going on, as you regroup with your soldiers and work your way through the game.

Halo 3 still suffers mildly from some of the tangled plotlines and seemingly arbitrary missions that nearly crippled Halo 2's single-player mode.

But even if the dramatic arc is a little muddy, the gameplay is not.

In addition to the standard rifle and plasma-grenade horseplay, there's a host of new toys.

You can rip heavy machine guns from their tripods and traipse around like Jesse Ventura from Predator, you can mount new vehicles such as the Hornet fighter jet armed with missiles and machine guns, and you can even hoist a flamethrower.

Hardware upgrade

Ah, the flamethrower.

While the Spartan Laser -- with its slow charge rate but near-instant kill power -- is the most ballyhooed new hardware, the flamethrower is much more fun.

You can cook the Covenant and bloblike Flood in a glorious barbecue, and watch the gelatinous Flood burst as they fry like giant oozing popcorn.

Plus, the fire effects are some of the best ever put to disc.

Too bad the flamethrower is such a rare commodity.

Graphically, Halo 3 is exceptionally well put together, but not in the ultrarealistic way many graphics fans have been pining for.

Instead, the developers put the 360's horsepower to use in creating massive, open landscapes in which to do battle.

Many of the outdoor levels are so immense and wonderfully designed that you can spend hours examining the lush jungle canopies, sweeping deserts and craggy mountains.

Well, you could spend hours if you weren't constantly getting shot in the head.


Halo 3 is a fast game.

Once the bullets and lasers start flying, duck and cover isn't really an option.

The aliens will sneak around, flank you and tear your eyeballs out from behind before you know what's happening.

So even though venturing out from behind your rock sounds insane, jumping and dodging and tossing grenades and firing is going to serve you much better in the long run.

Multiplayer -- which I was able to test only briefly this weekend as the servers weren't up until Sunday night -- is even more frenetic.

Your average life span -- well, mine, anyway -- measures about 30 seconds.

That won't come as a surprise to Halo 2 veterans.

What is new from the second game, though, are the variety of tools to let you edit and review your matches.

Forge is a program that lets you edit in vehicles, weapons and other goodies on the fly during multiplayer matches, which should be a blast.

I'm less excited, though, at least initially, about the video-review tool that lets you watch a recorded video of your recently completed matches.

You can pause and rewind and even capture screenshots of your dramatic kills and embarrassing blunders.

But the camera controls are clunky, nowhere near as intuitive as the instant-replay controls found in sports games such as Madden.

I haven't been able to test out the online cooperative mode yet, where up to four players can fight through the main story together, Band of Brothers-style.

And I'm still curious to test out Forge's capabilities.


In the end, the megamarketing doesn't mean much for gamers -- although Microsoft is certainly hoping that Halo 3 will be the title that finally pushes its game division into sustainable profitability. But there's no doubt it will be hard to hear about anything other than Halo for a good while.

This has, predictably, spurred a minibacklash among the hard-core gamer crowd, and "Halo is overrated" has become the battle cry of a niche of players.

But if all the hoopla seems a little absurd, don't punish yourself by ignoring a game that delivers a fantastic good time.

Ignore the hype, if you have to, ignore the backlash, ignore your dog, housework, dinner plans and annoying friends and neighbors.

Get Halo 3, pick up a weapon and head into battle.

You'll be glad you did.

Halo 3


For Xbox 360. Rated for ages 17 and up. $59 for standard edition, $69 for limited edition, $129 for legendary edition


Halo 3 is hard to miss, right now:

Marketing: The marketing is everywhere, from Slurpee cups to Burger King french fry cartons to NASCAR sponsorships.

Formats: The game is being sold in three formats, the $59 standard version, the $69 limited edition and the ridiculous $129 "legendary edition" that includes a small plastic Master Chief replica helmet.

Midnight release: GameStop, Best Buy and other stores -- more than 10,000 locations -- put the game on shelves at 12:01 a.m. today and opened their doors to accommodate what some analysts have predicted could be as much as $200 million in day-one sales. That would be, by far, a single-day sales record for any entertainment industry. Halo 2 sold a then-record $125 million in the first 24 hours after launch in 2004.