Halo 3 is here.
The wait for the most anticipated game of all time is finally over. The fight is about to be finished. And right now, across the world, the hopes and happiness of millions hinge on the answer to one simple question: Is it good? Or perhaps, Is it as good as we want it to be?
We won't leave you hanging a second longer. The answer to both is yes - a huge and resounding yes. Every type of Halo fan, from the hardcore to the casual to the brand new, will find something to satisfy them in Master Chief's third adventure. Rest assured that no matter what you expect out of this series - epic single player, massive multiplayer, insane coop, robust community and editing tools - you will not be disappointed. Halo 3 is an overwhelming success.
Emphasis on overwhelming. In fact, the game throws so much goodness at you in so many different areas that it's difficult to know where to begin the praise. Instead, let's just get the criticisms out of the way, shall we? Halo 3 is not absolutely perfect. To begin with, the storyline is a confusing and convoluted mess. (Editor's Note: Prepare with our quick catch-up guide, Halo: The Story So Far. Trust us, you'll need it. ) We never understood exactly why and what we were fighting at any given moment, only that it usually involved blowing something up.The ending, while satisfying, is far from conclusive. And the second-to-last mission in the game is destined for as much frustrating infamy as the Library level in the original Halo. (Our advice? Just run.)
Even with these shortcomings, however, the campaign in Halo 3 is still the best of the franchise. Hands down. Everything you love about the first two games is here, perfected and amplified by 100. The frantic gunplay? Faster than ever. The alien enemies? Smarter than ever. The vehicular combat? Explosively enhanced. The split decision strategy of weapon, grenade and melee combos? Gloriously restored.
What's most impressive about Halo 3's single player, though, is the sheer and awesome scope of it. The linear hallways and freeways of the previous games do make an occasional return, but for the most part, you'll be waging the war for Earth across battlefields so vast, so open and so packed with action that it's honestly a miracle the Xbox 360 can render it all without melting.
Remember the adrenaline that pumped through your veins when you first took on a Scarab in Halo 2? Now multiply that scene, and that excitement. Imagine fighting not one, but two Scarabs simultaneously. Imagine attacking the building-sized behemoths with anything you choose... guns, grenades, rockets, turret-mounted jeeps, laser-firing tanks, missile-launching hoverjets... and seeing a dozen other AI-controlled soldiers making their own decisions around you. Imagine moving from the ground to the air to the alien-infested inside of the Scarab itself, all within the span of a minute.
Yes, that scenario is an actual example of gameplay from Halo 3, but it's only a single instance. You'll experience many more like it, each of which can play out completely differently depending upon your personal combat style and decisions.
Yet the campaign missions, as thrilling as they are, serve as mere appetizer to the extravagant and never ending feast that is Halo 3's multiplayer. Trust us - the beta barely scratched the surface of what's available to you in the full game. Heck, we've played nonstop for three days now and still don't feel like we've come even close to experiencing everything.
What can we say? The developers at Bungie are proven masters of this stuff, whose skills and instincts have only improved in the years since the last game. The 11 maps are beautifully crafted and incredibly diverse, each with an entirely unique appeal. The dozens of match modes include every time-tested favorite you love, as well as several instant classics you're about to love. All the weapons, both old and new, feel just right.
Above: Footage of Halo 3's explosive multiplayer in action. For more videos, click here.
Right out of the box, you can combine the multiplayer choices in Halo 3 to create an endless number of options. A capture the flag match across the base and beach of High Ground is absolutely nothing like a deathmach through the haze and spore-infested tunnels of Isolation. Sniping and creeping amidst the dark gloom and thick vegetation of Guardian cannot prepare you for rocketing full speed across the white hot deserts of Sandtrap in a Mongoose with Spartan laser beams singing you on all sides.
Then you start playing with the generous customization tools the game provides and your mind boggles. Want a swords-only duel? Sure, you can try that. Want everyone to spawn with grenades and Gravity Hammers? Yup, that too. How about a bizarro battle in which one team flies alien aircraft through checkpoints in the sky while the other team, equipped with super powers like invisibility, weightless jumping and sonic speed, tries to bring them crashing down? Hey, if you can dream it, you can probably do it.
And still - somehow - there's more. With the new Forge tool, players can tinker with the game's maps (including the locations of weapons, vehicles, architecture, respawn points and more) until they're almost unrecognizable. Tweak the game's rules using the same menus and you might invent Halo Baseball, Halo Kart or Halo Counterstrike. Or, if careful building's not your thing, an equal amount of fun can be had simply experimenting and goofing off with friends.
Likewise, the Saved Films engine is not meant solely for would-be machinima directors. The freedom to detach yourself from a straightforward replay and guide the camera anywhere - no, seriously, anywhere - is a wonder to behold both visually and technologically. Unsatisfied with Halo 3's graphics? You won't be once you've circled 360 degrees around a plasma explosion or zoomed within inches of the bullet that's about to bury itself in your opponent. Plus, searching through Saved Films of your past campaign heroics can actually make hunting for hidden Skulls enjoyable.
Four-player cooperative mode also rocks, transforming the solitary story missions into wild online parties full of score keeping, trash talking and nonstop vehicular mayhem. Beat the campaign by yourself to absorb the cut scenes, but do not miss out on the team experience afterwards. You'll discover strategies that only work with a group, vehicles that only dominate with three friends riding shotgun and secrets that only reveal themselves when four pairs of eyes are looking for them. Besides, how else will you finish on Legendary?
What's left to say? The single player is bigger and brawnier than anything that's been attempted on a console before. The multiplayer, which already shadowed the competition, has improved to the point of ridiculousness. The new features - Forge, Saved Films, Coop - are frighteningly addictive. And if you don't like any of that, you're always welcome to edit it until you do.
The wait is over. The anticipation was justified. Halo 3 is here.