Once the campaign ended, we’d experience it again in a whole new way, as four-player cooperative play made its series debut in Halo 3. Other Halo games featured co-op campaigns, but this was the first time each player fit their own role in the narrative, rather than just being clones of Master Chief. While the story remained the same, playing through it became more than just following the cutscenes, as we would discover new strategic approaches, try to keep score for a competitive edge, and even drive around like idiots because we could. There were many times where one of us would finish the stage for the rest of us who had died, garnering loads of praise and “you got lucky” quips that only Halo 3 made possible.
We’d be remiss if we spoke of Halo 3’s excellence without mentioning the countless hours we devoted to online multiplayer. Sure, we all played the campaign, but we knew when we purchased the game that we’d be in it for its online experience. Halo 3 offered us a ridiculous amount of gameplay options right out of the box; an overwhelming selection of options that to this day is hard to replicate. Hundreds of different scenarios were possible, as we could customize everything: initial loadouts, gun drops, available power-ups, power-ups enabled from the start, and the list goes on.
However we decided to play, the arenas that hosted our online battles were diverse and perfectly crafted. Some were made as a homage to the classic maps of the previous games, like Valhalla’s Blood Gulch-like “two bases in a long valley” or Guardian’s winding walkways a la Halo 2’s Ascension. Each map served as a perfect backdrop for the madness that would ensue, and that’s all we needed them to be.
Even though the main game modes were sufficiently meaty, we haven’t even touched on the extra features available from the moment the disc touched the Xbox 360. Forge mode took the customization we mentioned above to a whole new level, allowing us to completely morph one of the multiplayer maps into whatever we wanted. When we had created our masterpiece, we could invite friends to fight on it, record the entire match, then go back and watch it using a completely free-moving camera that we could control. No longer did we have to watch our match through the eyes of our Spartan, and at the time our minds were blown.
Halo 3 allowed us to finally finish the fight, but we had a feeling we wouldn’t see the last of Master Chief. At the end of the game, Chief enters a cryotube, matching the one he emerged from way back in the beginning of the original Halo, and gave Cortana one final order:
“Wake me when you need me.”