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Retro – Review: Halo 3

The final instalment of the original story arc was always going to have to be something special and it delivered. Personally I have found memories of the games release in 2007 as a friend and I hooked the Xbox 360 up to my dad’s projector and surround sound system. The hours of gaming that followed as we ran through the campaign on heroic always comes to mind any time I play the game. So what made Halo 3 almost the perfect shooter…

Game play

Like Halo 2 the major format of game play remains largely unchanged from the original but adds a couple of new elements. The inclusion of “support weapons” made it easier to take down large groups of Brutes or vehicles. Extra firepower comes at a price as caring the two handed weapons prevents you from using grenades and slows movement. Limited ammo in “support weapons” means that you can’t hang on to them forever which prevents the game from getting easy.

The other major addition to overall game play was the introduction of deployable equipment which includes grave lifts, energy drains and different shields among other things. These items can be picked up and swapped like weapons depending on your tactics. This new feature is helpful in campaign but really comes into its own during multiplayer due to the faster pace. While some equipment is clearly more useful then others it does provide players with more opportunity to change their strategy which for me has always been important to the success of Halo.

Multiplayer

Along with the general game play additions Halo 3 introduced a couple of new multiplayer features which allowed it to capitalise on the strength of Halo 2. The most revolutionary element of the game is the introduction of Forge a personalised multiplayer map system which allows players to change the location of vehicles, weapons and items. Historically I haven’t been a massive online gamer and have only briefly tested this out but I can definitely see its appeal.  Considering this It’s not surprising that 343 have promised to add Forge to Halo 5 with an update.

Personally, my favourite multiplayer option has always been cooperative normally on a split screen. Halo 3 unlike most games didn’t ignore this method of gaming as it introduced online cooperative for the first time and to capitalise on players’ competitive nature this included a points rank system. This feature provided a lot of potential which is set to be recognised in Halo 5 as players all had original characters; Master Chief, The Arbiter and two elites. Unfortunately, in Halo 3 game play is the same for all characters which is where Halo 5 will take the next step.

Storyline & Setting

The main campaign starts from where Halo 2 unceremoniously left fans hanging and picks up the story with Truth’s forces occupying part of earth. The first part of the game sees the Chief hook up with some old friends to regroup before moving to attack. At first it’s a bit odd playing through Halo without Cortana’s usual commentary but we are constantly reminded of her presence due to some quick flashes.

Despite your best efforts the Chief can’t stop Truth from reaching the Ark but before he can follow the The Flood crash High Charity into the remains of the city. Thankfully this gives the Chief the opportunity to keep a promise and save Cortana before traveling through the portal to stop Truth and The Flood.

Unlike Halo 2 the campaign is hugely satisfying as it incorporates customary Halo twists where the Chief finds himself temporally allied with different enemies and more importantly an ending. The storyline even works on character development with the forming of a friendship of sorts with the Arbiter and a clear progression of the relationship between Cortana and the Chief which becomes central to Halo 4. In the main storyline Halo 3 even gives homage to the original which gets the nostalgia really flowing and is a real payoff for diehard fans.

Overall

Halo 3 is the most complete game in the series as it continues to develop game play in small ways while retaining the formula that has made the series a success. In addition, it builds on the strengths of Halo 2 while clearly making an effort to improve open it’s weakness through a well developed central storyline. If this is the way the world ends, I’m cool with it.

Game play: 9.5

Multiplayer: 9

Storyline: 10

Overall: 9.5/10

Jono

Retro-Review: Halo 2

After the success of Halo it was only a matter of time before Microsoft and Bungie released a sequel. The wait was infuriating! Catching glimpses and news in gaming mags just made me more impatient. Thankfully with a 2004 release it wasn’t really that long and boy did it deliver. Before getting stuck in it’s worth noting that a sequel is unusual in shooters as most successfully franchises like Call of Duty don’t have any continuing storyline which is more often seen in action RPG’s like Mass Effect, making Halo a unique oddity.

Game play:

Unsurprisingly Halo 2 was never going to deviate too far from the “golden trinity” of it’s predecessor but it did make a few noticeable improvements to the formula. Most notably was the addition of dual wielding at the expense of grenades and mêlée attacks. Like the two weapon restrictions introduced with Halo: Combat Evolved this meant that players had to think strategically about there load out based on enemies and terrain. My personal favourite combination has always been the plasma rifle and SMG which helps bring down shields while also having a good balance of ammo. Duel wield was the most obvious omissions from the original so it was a really welcomed addition and unsurprisingly has become a mainstay of the franchise since.

Earth bound and duel wielding the Master Chief in Halo 2

The second major addition was the ability to hijack enemy vehicles. Not only did this open up a new range of tactics in campaign to deal with wraths but it was also a great feature for multiplayer. I no longer even need a shotgun to take out a ghost, I’ll just kill them with their own. One other element here that probably goes unnoticed is the increased vulnerability of vehicles especially the Scorpion which meant that players needed to act quickly to preserve their asset rather then laughing at the army of Ghosts providing a futile light show.

Of course Halo 2 also introduces new enemies, weapons  and vehicles all of which have an impact on overall game play. Whether it is the Semi Automatic Battle Rifle or the Carbine the introduction of these mid-ranged weapons definitely had an impact on my load out. I always try to have at least one since they compensate for the rarity of a Sniper Rifle and are easier to use in close quarters. At the same time what might initially seem like just an expansion of the Covenant and a means of adding variety to game play, the introduction of the Brutes, ended up being a key plot point that impacts the rest of the saga.

Multiplayer:

This is where Halo 2 really distinguishes  itself from the original as it introduces online multiplayer via Xbox Live for the first time. Hardly the first online shooter experience one of the games largest developments was the revolutionised playlist method of match making. This combined with a skill matching system meant players could quickly find games and weren’t put off by long wait times. Matches themselves used a variety of regular formats like slayer, king of the Hill and capture the flag but online play adds that little extra difficulty as you can’t see your opponents screen. This coupled with the style of Halo’s game play meant that matches are often very intense especially on smaller maps with grenades flying everywhere. Considering this I’m not surprised that Halo 2 remained the most popular game on Xbox live until the release of Gears of War in 2006.

Storyline & Setting:

A sequel was always going to challenge developers to build on the original while trying to broaden the Halo universe in a way that engaged fans. Towards this end the game introduces us to the Arbiter, the Covenant commander embarrassed by the Master Chief’s destruction of halo. These alternating missions does make it easy to include more detail about the Covenant’s hierarchy and beliefs which are central to the overall plot as it explains their fascination with the rings. Playing as the Arbiter is jarring at first as the first stage seems to jump backwards from the Master Chiefs defence of earth.

This improves once the Covenant fleet arrives at the newly discovered Halo ring just in time to witnesses  the Master Chief’s defeat of the Prophet Regret. ‘The Library’ in Halo 2 brings back a few memories but the overall design demonstrates that developers have learnt from the original as the stage is far less repetitive and offers more variety of game play. Experiencing the conflict from both sides does raise an interesting problem, what happens when the two protagonists meet?

Like the original, Halo 2 solves the problem by tipping the Halo universe on its head. The introduction of the Gravemind refutes any previously held beliefs about the Flood as a simply unintelligent parasite and is the catalyst for a temporary alliance. Stemming from this and the Prophets betrayal the outbreak of civil war between the Elites and the rest of the Covenant sets up the games climax and the progression of the plot for Halo 3.

Unfortunately, these plot twists does mean the campaign has an unfinished cliff-hanger which left me really unsatisfied the first time I clocked it on heroic back in 2004. Combined with the length this made me just wanting more. Not necessarily a bad strategy for developers already working on the a third title but it does noticeable detract from the overall experience especially when back then I was primarily a solo gamer.

Final thoughts

A quick mention goes to the audio team which also didn’t rest on their achievements as the addition of electric guitar to the main theme worked wonders. Anytime the action is a bout to kick up a notch the heavier theme kicks into gear and helps getting the adrenaline pumping. In fact since Halo 2 the iconic riff always comes to mind when I think of the Halo series rather then the earlier version.

Halo 2 delivers everything I expect from a sequel with improved game play and a broadening of the Halo universe. Additionally, Bungie showed their willingness to continue to innovative with the introduction of online multiplayer which has become the centre piece of the Halo franchise since. The only real criticism I have of Halo 2 is the length and conclusion of the campaign but after a few years and the ability to jump straight into Halo 3 I’ve gotten over the sour taste.

Game play: 9.5/10

Multiplayer:  9.5/10

Campaign: 8/10

Overall: 9/10

Check out my look at Halo: Combat Evolved or stay tuned over the next few days for my take on Halo 3.

Cheers,

Jono.

Retro – Review: Halo – Combat Evolved

Less than 10 days out from the release of Halo 5: Guardians I thought it was the perfect time to look back on each chapter of the Master Chief’s journey so far, starting with the game that started it all way back in 2001. Back then after a Nintendo 64 I was tossing up between a PS2 or jumping on board Microsoft’s new Xbox. Not invested in any PlayStation titles due to my previous experience with the N64 Halo was one thing that helped me reach a decision, one I have never regretted. This is all easy to say but what has made Halo, one of the most successful franchises in gaming and allowed it to revolutionise the first person shooter?

Gameplay

In the late 90’s the first person shooter was dominated by Rare’s Goldeneye and Perfect Dark with an overflowing bag of weapons with multiple firing modes, duel wield and different level objectives. Halo was a departure from this formula as for the first time it introduced a two weapon cap on players which means you had to think about your load out, ammo and the terrain. The addition of grenades and mêlée attacks without holstering your weapon enhanced the speed of combat making it more intense than other shooters at the time. This combination, Bungie’s “golden trilogy” is a large part of Halo’s success as it added strategy to the well-established run and gun experience.

Halo never just relied on the traditional FPS format however as after the first stage the straightforward “The Pillar of Autumn” players are quickly introduced to more open environments with a range of more complex objectives. Once the Chief crashes on the ring the game takes on a whole new life with the addition of a range of vehicles from Warthogs to Banshee’s. Not only does this continue to add diversity to the campaign but vehicles have become a key element of the multiplayer experience. I will never forget taking out a guy in a Scorpion with a shotgun and then repeating it with his brother in a Ghost, priceless.

This diversity is definitely a highlight of the first part of the game whether it’s the covert start to “The Truth and Reconciliation” or the playful beach combing of the “The Silent Cartographer” the game just draws players in with the combination of elements. Unfortunately, the only criticism I have is that some of the later maps just can’t keep this up and become a little to repetitive. In part this is because you are in fact back tracking at times through the same environment while fighting the Flood. Even so Halo’s game play developed a winning formula which has now redefined the way gamers approach first person shooters since the old Rare days.

Storyline & Setting

Being the first entrant into the Halo universe the game needed to introduce gamers to the Covenant, the UNSC and their ongoing conflict without trying to bore us with long explanations. The opening sequence with Captain Keyes does this really well as we know that humanity is at war against a more advanced Alien species and the ship you are on has been trying to escape. Aside from this you are introduced to Cortana and set out to kill some Covenant while trying to escape the besieged Pillar of Autumn.

During game play Cortana is actually able to build your knowledge of the Halo universe whether it is through intercepted Covenant communications about the ring, an analysis of the artificial weather or simply warning the Chief of incoming ‘Hunters’. This is extremely well-done as Cortana’s dialog works within the context of the game to assist the Chief yet teachers the player almost subconsciously to be able to recognise different types of enemies or build their knowledge of the wider backstory. It is through this ongoing communication that we first learn that Halo holds some form of religious significance for the Covenant as this is never mentioned in any of the games cinematics which like the opening tell you enough while avoiding explorations by focusing on the development of plot.

It doesn’t take long before the universe you thought you were getting to know gets thrown upside down with introduction of the Flood. Quickly you find yourself trying to work out this new enemy without Cortana who is temporarily replaced by 343 Guilty Spark thanks to a well-planned series of events that find you a companion who is in a position to give the same style of hints about this new enemy. Lesser games and even poor quality movies would just say that Cortana has hacked a console to find the information rather than providing 343 Guilty Spark to fulfil the role in “The Library”. The monitors betrayal and the revelation of Halo’s true purpose is the final twist that sets up the games conclusion as you fight your way through the Flood, Covenant and the installations drones to destroy the ring.

The main plot is engaging and has always been successful at drawing gamers in to the Halo universe but it is the cultures and history it alludes to that has allowed the franchise to build over the next decade. A mention of the destruction of Reach has grown into its own game and numerous books while the Forerunners are currently being explored in the latest additions to the Master Chiefs story. All of this is ultimately the result of the world presented to us in this original master piece.

Audio

Normally, I wouldn’t comment on the sound of a game as while it is perhaps the most important element that allows gamers to leave their living room and become engrossed in another world it is never usually that memorable. Again this is where Halo is unique like the James Bond theme or the opening to TV shows the score is cemented in our minds and can conjure memories of playing the game. I cannot think of another game with a similar effect and its testament to the strength of the composition to inspire a sense of wonder.

Since 2001 Halo has rightly been recognised as one of the greatest games ever made as it revolutionised the genre and gave fans such a rich world to explore. It is definitely responsible for the success of the original Xbox and Microsoft’s continued presence in the console business. Personally, what still sets Halo apart for me is the well-crafted and non-predictable storyline which is something absence from most shooters.

Gameplay 9/10

Storyline 10/10

Audio 9/10

Overall 9.5/10

Check back in a few days as I take a look at Halo 2,

Jono