New to the franchise? Want to know which games to get first? This series is for you.
With Halo 5: Guardians' release imminent, I thought I'd take the time to make a weekly series, in the vein of Wilc0's Halo 101, reviewing each of the Halo games up to this point, and then top it off at the end with a review of Halo 5 itself. Starting with Halo: CE, it will run right through to the 8th of November, by which time I will have played enough Halo 5 to give it a fair review. Finally, on the 15th of November (which, coincidentally, is my birthday) I'll top the series off with a top 10 list of the best Halo games of all time.
Some games will be grouped together, such as Halo PC and Halo: CE. Additionally, graphics will not be discussed in these reviews (art styles and framerates may, though) because we're reviewing retro games here - the original Xbox couldn't handle 1080p. While this series is mainly for those who either cannot play these games due to lack of time or money (or those who (rightly) don't trust review sites), feel free to read and share your thoughts if you have played. Oh, and don't worry: I haven't been paid by Microsoft to give good reviews, these are all my honest opinions.
Halo 3 was the first Halo game released on the Xbox 360, and in my opinion, the best. As well as having an excellent campaign, it also provided a balanced multiplayer with some brilliant maps that could rival Halo 2's. In essence, Halo 3 combines the legendary multiplayer of Halo 2 (albeit with better weapon balancing) with an epic campaign of Halo: CE proportions.
The first thing I'll talk about is the story. It continues (almost) exactly where Halo 2 left off, and brings us back to Earth for a bit of fight-finishing action. From a lore standpoint, the so-called 'prequel levels' in Halo 3 (all the ones set on Earth) feel slightly stretched, another result of Halo 3's story being the second half of what was originally going to be Halo 2's. They seem like they were extended, to give the game a longer campaign, but ultimately keeping us away from the Ark, the true destination after Halo 2's The Great Journey. Nevertheless, unless you knew about the fact that Halo 3's story was supposed to be part of Halo 2, you'd never notice - Joseph Staten's excellent writing makes sure of that. Furthermore, once you actually reach the Ark, it was well worth the wait. It perfectly captures the awe of Halo: CE without blindly repeating itself. I won't spoil what happens at the end, but it's emotional, shocking and above all, awesome.
Art styles and music are something that are of critical importance in the Halo games. In all of the Halo games up until this one, both have been phenomenal - and Halo 3 is no different. Martin O'Donnell reuses sections from parts of his older tracks, giving the music a sense of familiarity but also finality. For each scene and setting in each cinematic and level, there is an O'Donnell track that fits. Additionally, every square inch of every level is interesting, with many lovingly-crafted hidden details. The designs of characters and weapons are low-res by today's standards, but iconic nonetheless.
I mentioned in my Halo 2 review that it lacked much variation in how levels. There were no sections solely for sniping, no Warthog runs, etc. Halo 3 took this common criticism and ran with it. Every section of each level, particularly once you make it to the Ark, has a distinct feel and playstyle, and yet still retains the trademark freedom of Halo's gameplay. At the beginning of the Ark, you're given the perfect spot to snipe from, but you can still go in guns blazing with your Battle Rifle if you feel so inclined. Some parts even forced you to reevaluate how you took on certain enemies (looking at you, The Covenant, Rally Point Bravo).
The Multiplayer follows up Halo 2's well. Its weapon balancing is superb, with all weapons filling their own niche in the sandbox. The 2-hit-kill melee works much better than Halo 2's three-hit kill, and each weapon is more useful in Halo 3 than in Halo 2. However, dual-wielded weapons did suffer from being under-powered once again. Halo 3's map design at its best could rival Halo 2's, with maps like Valhalla, Guardian, High Ground, Longshore, Narrows and The Pit making it onto many a 'Best Maps of All Time' list. However, the map design didn't always deliver such classics. Maps like Snowbound and Isolation are, while not terrible, nothing on the level of Sand Trap.
So, the verdict?
|This game is damn near perfect. If you're looking for an awesome, galaxy-spanning campaign or multiplayer that's great fun (you can still get games, even today!) pick this up as soon as possible.|
|Brilliant writing, with an interesting but not intrusive narrative.|
|The 'Golden Triangle' of gun, grenades and melee remains, and equipment adds an interesting, if under-used, twist.|
|Stunning multiplayer with great level design and equally great weapon balancing.|
|Fitting music and a great art style.|
|Vastly expanded customisation options.|
|It has a very weird difficulty curve. Everything's about right up until Cortana where it suddenly spikes up to Halo 2 difficulty.|
|Horrible online hit detection.|
|No Sergeant Johnson motivational speech. Seriously, this game is so good that that is what I've resorted to as a negative.|
Halo 3: ODST
Right from the start of this series, I anticipated Halo 3: ODST to be one of the hardest games to rate (alongside Halo: TMCC and Halo: SA/SS) due to its lack of a multiplayer. After a long deliberation on my part, I've decided to rate the game on what's in it, not what's not. Therefore, Halo 3: ODST will not lose points for not including a multiplayer (excluding Halo 3: Mythic) however, this will not excuse things like limited customisation in Firefight, etc.
'I hope it doesn't come off like we've screwed the pooch on this one'. No. No you did not.
Halo 3 is a hard act to follow, and initially Halo 3: ODST wasn't meant to do that - it was intended as an expansion to Halo 3 itself. However, as it grew it got more and more expansive until it was its own game. And what a brilliant game it was. I remember a ViDoc quote from the lead-up to ODST's release: 'I hope it doesn't come off like we've screwed the pooch on this one'. No. No you did not.
Halo 3: ODST's campaign story is my favourite in the entire franchise. Its characters are deep and relatable, and its story was brilliant. One of the best aspects of the story is that you didn't know it. In many detective games/books/films, they show you what happens first, and then you have to figure some detail out. In ODST, even your mission is unclear until the end. They went for a 'film noir' style and achieved it perfectly. From a level design standpoint, it's great too. While it couldn't quite achieve the bombastic warthog races of Halo 3 in the relatively-quaint setting of New Mombasa, they did their best.
From an art and music perspective, it - in my opinion at least - supersedes all of what came before. While the character and weapon models are mostly the same from Halo 3, the setting is dramatically different and more detailed. Thanks to level, sound and music design, Mombasa Streets is the single most moody level in Halo history. Yet, the bright, high-octane action sequences still nail the dramatic tension and fun present in previous Halo games. While previously, I have not yet mentioned the sound designs in the game, I'm going to make an exception here, and for good reason. From an objective point of view, rain was impossible in the Halo 3 engine, and yet it rained all over New Mombasa in Mombasa Streets. Why? Aside from the occasional rainclouds in the distance, it was the sound design. The faint pattering, the slappy footstep sounds all contribute to this. As far as music is concerned, Martin O'Donnell out-did himself. The solo 'smoky' saxophone nails the sad, isolated feel of the game, and the flashback sequences still gave their dramatic, exciting music.
Firefight is ODST's replacement for multiplayer. It is a brilliant concept, but at the time of Halo 3: ODST's release, it was not fully realised. While it is still great fun, it lacked proper customisation options, both for your player and your enemies. Additionally, the maps were just copy/pastes from the campaign. Some were still great fun, but others didn't shine so much.
Now for the verdict:
|For any campaign fans, buy this game. Buy it now. If you're here for the multiplayer though, Firefight isn't a great replacement for competitive multiplayer, so only get it if you're looking for Halo 3: Mythic|
|Excellent writing, relatable characters and an interesting story.|
|You feel under-powered. Why is this a positive? Because it was intentional, and adds to the game's atmosphere.|
|Health is back, which adds an extra layer to the game.|
|Award-winning music (yes, it really won an award) and fitting level design and art.|
|Firefight is still finding its feet, but that doesn't mean it's not fun.|
|Slightly shorter than the previous games, if you take the direct route all the time. Granted, you're encouraged to explore in the Mombasa Streets level, but not every player will...|
|No custom games options for Firefight.|
|Limited customisation options (understandable, but still a minor negative).|
|No competitive multiplayer (this doesn't detract from my overall verdict, as stated earlier, but it's worth mentioning for the multiplayer fans' sake).|
And thus concludes the portion of this series where I shower every aspect of the games with compliments...
Seven days. Seven long days... That's how long you'll have to wait for my review of Halo Wars.
13:31, September 20, 2015 (UTC)