(Very) Late to the Party: Halo 3

(Very) Late to the Party: Halo 3

READ THIS FIRSTWe all love reviews- they give you an early sense of a game, comic, movie, or tv show, and let you know if it’s worth your time and hard earned money. Most reviews are for products that have just come out. What if you missed it, though? What if, like everyone sometimes, you were late to the party? This column is for you. For the gamer that’s still interested in that game from a year ago, you just never got around to picking it up. Maybe it’s in the bargain bin now, or a “greatest hit” that can be found at a reduced price or maybe you can get it on the cheap used at your local Gamestop. However you go looking for it, we’ll get you up-to-date right here.

Oh Halo Wars, what have you done to me?

Orbital, a Mythic Map Pack addition

Last month, I found a new addiction, in the form of Halo Wars. One of the surprising things about the game for me was how much I enjoyed the storyline. The unlockable timeline told most of the rest of the story from the Halo universe, too, but really just served as a teaser. I made the decision: I would finally play Halo 3.

My history with Halo is a bit weird. I was a huge Bungie fan way back; I have played through all the Marathon games probably upwards of a hundred times each. I played the first Halo with friends while on deployment. When I got Halo 2, though, I played it for awhile, never really getting into it. I didn’t have LIVE on my original Xbox, so I didn’t get that aspect of the experience, and sold the game without ever finishing it. My enjoyment in general of FPSes had dropped quite a bit, and I happily moved on.

That brings us to now; my fun with shooters has been renewed by the excellent crop last fall and this spring, and my desire to learn more about the story in the Halo universe had me getting the game and playing it through.

The Campaign was quite confusing to follow at first. I was lucky to have some seasoned Halo veterans playing with me, explaining what I’d missed in Halo 2 and any of the little details I would’ve missed. If this was your first game in the universe, though, you would absolutely not understand a like of this story; it was a game clearly made for people who were already fans, but it would’ve been nice to have a short recap in the beginning or something of the sort. Nonetheless, the story did progressively get more engaging, with the final two levels being intense. It actually managed to tread some new ground in the “Space Marines” genre, which is difficult to do at this point. The voice acting and score were top notch, as well, providing some very real personality to these scifi staples.

Birds-eye view of Sandbox, another Mythic Map

The campaign gameplay was very easy to pick up, though the control scheme strays from what most shooters are doing now (a problem with it being 2 years old, obviously). There are cool vehicles, a few cool weapons (though the really cool ones you only get for about half a level each), and it’s just challenging enough that you can play with friends in co-op and not get bored or frustrated. It’s easy to see how some of the things they had in this game were innovations when it came out, and it’s amazing how quickly successful innovations become conventions. It’s like looking at a parent of a model. You see where she got her looks, but they still plainly look better on her.

The lifeblood of this game, though, is the multiplayer. It’s even the excuse I’m using to write a review of a game quite this old, as the new Mythic Map Pack came out on April 9th (for the general public; some players had it early). I have friends that have poured days or even full weeks into the multiplayer of this game, and it is easy to see why, now that I’ve played for myself. From the outside, it looks like just another FPS; the requisite modes are there, like free-for-all deathmatch (Slayer here), Team Slayer, King of the Hill and other variations. When you’re behind the controller (and preferably headset) though, the experience completely changes. It is a hard thing to quantify. It’s not the fastest gameplay, in fact, it’s markedly slower than many shooters. There are some cool unique weapons, like those in campaign, that you get to play with some more. There are less opportunities for “camping” and sniper points than in many other shooters, which serves to even out the pace. Most of all, there’s a gigantic community; people help new players along, showing them the ropes more than in any other online game I’ve played. Yes, there are the stereotypical players who curse and taunt (and are usually under the age of 16), but a simple click mutes them. There aren’t classes or a lot of customization to worry about, which can be a relief after the more customization-heavy shooters. Halo 3’s multiplayer may not be easy to describe or pin down, but there is something there that just makes it a good time, and the community is definitely a large part of that.

As for the new maps offered in Mythic, they are varied, and focus largely on the multi-tier environments that provide a lot of the fun of multiplayer. Orbital, a relatively small map with two overlapping U-shaped hallways, is easily my favorite of the 3-map pack. There are great points for virtually every kind of player, whether you like to run and gun, shoot from afar, use power drainers and frag grenades, there’s a point on this map that is made specifically for your play style. Assembly has a lot of layered walkways in a medium circular layout, and while there are rocket launchers in the map, it’s also very easy to accidentally kill yourself in the often close quarters combat of it. Sandbox is essentially two bases and a bunch of other stuff to hide behind, and the all-out assaults that can be had in Team Slayer on this map are a lot of fun. All three clearly add to the experience and build off what Bungie has learned both internally and from their fans to make the maps as conducive to a fun experience as possible.

Assembly, the final Mythic Map

I am still not one of the (many) devout faithful Halo 3 fans. However, I do “get it” now; I see the appeal of the game as a whole, and especially the multiplayer experience. It’s not the ultimate pinnacle of FPSes, though I can see how it may have been when it came out, and it’s definitely providing, even now, one of the best online gaming experiences out there, even supporting the fanbase with new maps and the upcoming ODST expansion game. After this long of being out, that shows an amazing dedication by the developer and rewards the amazing dedication of the fans. This game is definitely now on my regularly-played list, and I don’t see it leaving that any time soon.

Halo 3 Mythic Map Pack is available now on Xbox LIVE for 800 points; Halo 3: ODST is due out fall 2009

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