Graphically Halo 3 is slightly disappointing. If you completely detach yourself from the gameplay and just evaluate the visuals, you’ll notice that compared to say, Gears of War, Halo 3 looks a little rough. Facial models in particular are far from convincing, especially when compared to staggeringly realistic faces in the forthcoming Xbox 360 title, Mass Effect. But once you start playing the game, once you start finding yourself immersed in the combat and the story, once you find yourself nailing Brutes and Grunts, then diving behind cover to recharge your shields, you won’t even notice the slightly primitive graphics engine.
Don’t get me wrong, Halo 3 doesn’t look bad by any stretch of the imagination, it just doesn’t look quite as good as some recent Xbox 360 titles. Bungie has still thrown in some nice eye candy though. There are some lovely particle effects as sand blows across the desert, while the HDR lighting adds significant atmosphere to proceedings.
If the graphics are low key, the sound is first rate. Halo games have always had superbly orchestrated scores, but Halo 3 moves the game on. The music really does set the scene and drive the action, drawing you further into Master Chief’s world. Likewise, the sound effects are work brilliantly, and are often key to finding your targets.
Fans of Master Chief’s primary weapon from Halo 1 will be glad to hear that the assault rifle makes a return, having been left out of Halo 2. Also, the all powerful pistol from Halo 1, which had its punching power significantly downgraded for Halo 2, now doesn’t even have a sight, making it a last resort weapon, rather than a weapon of choice. But it’s the energy sword that steals the show, proving to be the most effective killing tool in Master Chief’s arsenal.
As with all the Halo games, Master Chief is often accompanied by computer controlled companions. This time around he fights alongside the Arbiter and his Elites as well as Space Marines. The random dialogue from these characters often helps drive the story, as well as entertaining the player. Oh, and any Firefly / Serenity fans will be chuffed to hear Mal’s voice barking at them in the middle of a fire fight.
Great though the single player campaign is, it’s only a small part of the Halo 3 experience. Just like Halo 2 before it, Halo 3 pushes the boundaries of console based online gaming. First up, Bungie has addressed one of the major omissions from the Halo 2 online feature list – co-operative play over Xbox Live. In Halo 3 you can get together with up to three of your friends and play through the campaign missions together. This really does add another dimension to the campaign, and will no doubt have players battling through the entire game several times at every skill level.