FBT in good Halo game shocker
Can’t say I was keen to fire this one up. I wasn’t impressed with Halo CE or Halo 2, I found them light on gameplay and heavy on hype. I’m expecting more of the same from Halo 3, even if it’s noted as one of the Greatest Games of All Time - just like Halo CE and Halo 2. Three GotY of All Time in a row? That’s just showing off. Is this going to be three retrospective disappointments in a row too?
Much like every other game of the era (and since), H3’s marketing created a Cultural Phenomenon. It was indulgent and smug, with that ridiculous Diorama trailer (hilariously parodied in Bulletstorm’s teaser), videos directed by Neill Blomkamp and produced by CGI heavyweights Digital Domain and Weta Workshop - and it worked. H3 was a behemoth, becoming the US’s highest selling action game of 2007, beating Mass Effect, Bioshock, CoD 4: MW, Assassin’s Creed, Crysis – but those games are still referenced a decade later; who still talks about Halo 3? Was it really an All Time Great or All Time Hype?
In Halo 2, the Covenant’s Elites discovered the truth of the Halo structures and sided with the humans. To reassert their control, the Covenant now redouble their efforts to switch one on, still refusing to believe it’ll spell doom for all organic life. They focus on something known as The Ark, from where all the Halos can be activated at once, triggering a race against time as the humans and Elites try to reach the Ark before the Covenant unleash Armageddon.
There’s something a bit annoying about fighting a stupid enemy. Most have evil plans, intent we don’t agree with or are misguided but fighting someone being stubborn in the face of all the evidence is irritating - it’s like the Covenant boss is an Anti-vaxxer. It’s firmly established that a long-dead race created the Halos to contain the Flood, basically a singular parasitic consciousness who wants to eat the universe, but the Covenant believe the race were Gods and turning on a Halo grants enlightenment, not lunch. We’re 3 games in, get on board. But, now that the Elites are allies and the Brutes are the primary villains, and we’re closing in on shutting down the Halos forever, Halo 3 feels a lot more epic and meaningful than CE or 2 - drama-wise, its closer to the hallowed ground of Mass Effect 2 in that creeping sense that this is bigger than any of us and victory is going to come at a price.
We still have those annoying little Grunts rushing about flailing, but the Brutes look and act like serious threats and the AI has been tightened up, and the Flood look like something out of The Thing and throws some nightmarish shapes. In short, for the first time in a Halo game I feel threatened and focused. As we fight toward the Ark it feels a lot like a war movie, with MC dusting himself off for one more scrap so we can all just go home.
The Arbiter is back but doesn’t have a lot to do, functioning as little more than an AI buddy ready for some Co-Op. He and MC are largely joined at the hip but very rarely if ever talk to each other, and it’s a rare Halo 3 misfire to not have them banter and find a common ground - they were both essentially created for war.
It’s clear this time around Bungie had a sense of direction. While production on H3 was as fraught as the previous games, here they were able to distil it down and emerge with a clear sense of ‘end it’. Gone are the long periods of spinning our wheels while the cut-scenes got all dramatic - this is a tight, fast shooter where action and cut-scenes feed off each other and ramp up the desperate race - save Cortana, save the world.
Since Cortana was a prisoner of the Flood at the end of Halo 2, her involvement in H3 is reduced, appearing as flashes in MC’s visor making vaguely threatening comments. Having Cortana reduced to a damsel in distress sucks; she’d become a force to be reckoned with and a double-act with MC, and you expect more than what amounts to a ‘what took you so long’ rescue mission. Still, when MC says he’s not leaving until he’s got her back you’re totally on board. Their relationship is the best thing of the Halo series, she’s more than a video vixen - although, by Halo 3 she’d not be out of place in a Mötley Crüe video.
Other elements do stumble a little, as does MC – his slow-ass jog really doesn’t help in the ‘escape before it explodes’ moments - him dragging ass just drains tension, and it’s one of those games where nothing stands in your way, not even 10ft high metal crates which we all knock flying, and I’m getting sick of that two-weapon limit; one late mission had me take on two huge Scarabs, and I’d scavenged every body on the field looking for a round or two to weaken them. I resorted to meleeing a 100ft high super-tank.
And for some reason the Covenant have learnt English, yelling “yikes” or “that ruined my day” when I shoot them which just feels out of place. Not that the marines are much better, at one point one yelled ‘it just killed one of our dudes’. Totally bogus, bruh.
The AI of the marines, the Elites and even occasionally Arbiter can be janky - not as crappy as H2 but they’re masters of getting in the way and then moaning when you shoot them. One time I exited the Warthog to grab some ammo and another marine jumped in and just drove off, leaving me to snail-pace it to the next fight.
In the end, while the plot is fairly generic, Cortana missed, and the Arbiter underused, it’s a really exciting blast-fest that feels earned as we race toward the ending. But the game hasn’t ended. Admittedly there’s a lot H3 needs to pull together, but what follows is a whole drag of a sequence that puts Xen’s padding to shame as we dig through the bowels of The Flood while it taunts us in an attempt to distract us from how boring its intestines are, followed by another fight that feels unnecessary - and then an admittedly fun race as everything explodes. And then a poignant cut scene, followed by another. It’s like the Lord of the Rings of game endings, like the Fast & Furious franchise – just end.
But, I was honestly taken with Halo 3. I really didn’t expect to after Halo CE and 2, but Halo 3 did it. It’s worth just watching Halo CE and 2’s cutscenes on YouTube then playing this. It’s not reached the level of love I have for other games of the era, but it’s pretty damn good and worth an afternoon’s time. Amazing really, when you consider that Diorama trailer.