What's wrong with Halo 3?

On the previous page we said "everyone else" is thinking what we're saying, that Halo 3 is good but more of the same. The vibe we've received is that our Friday night coverage was more negative than anyone else's, even though some people did concede that much of the gameplay felt familiar and reused. That night, at the beta unveiling, the murmuring big story was all about how this was the same damn game we played three years ago. The graphics were better, the textures were high-res and shiny as hell, but when you boil all that away, it's more of the same. Well, it truly is. Some will love that, some will be instantly tired of a game they burnt themselves out on some time ago and others will poke in, say "meh" and look for a new experience.

The sameness present in the Halo 3 beta was so overwhelming that mere hours into the massive unveiling people were walking away. They were more interested in Justin.tv or free drinks or, somehow, in downloading Centipede from Xbox Live Arcade. Granted, a lot of those attendees went home to play from their couches, but it's sad when a party for one of the biggest games of the decade can't hold people's attention for eight consecutive hours.

The new additions, like the portable grav lift, are hardly notable differences from the last game. Is it changing the way you play? Is the bubble shield really that innovative? Do we really need the mongoose? These are all fine plusses to have, but they're the stuff of downloadable goodies, not a numbered entry into one of the most powerful franchises in the industry.

Casual Halo players will also love to hear that the same expert snipers, map-memorizing fanatics are already crawling all over the three available maps. For those who can't play until the final version ships, be ready for hundreds of ace Spartans stomping all over you or picking you off from across the entire Valhalla map. These gamers will hound the maps relentlessly to the point that anyone coming in on launch day stands next to no chance of climbing the ranks. Clan members are already making their mark. For some that's great news, others, not so much, as the search right now tends to group everyone together instead of by skill level.

On the other hand, it's still fun. No one's saying it's not. When everyone first arrived at the beta event, people were gleefully passing controllers around and reacquainting themselves with a game that's been AWOL for years. Yes, it's the same but if it worked so damn well before, why try to reinvent it? Nostalgia is nice (just ask Nintendo), yet we can't help but ask for an evolution - this is "Combat Evolved," after all. We're not looking for something so new that it's technically not Halo anymore, but relying on the name alone is the first step to franchise laziness. Bungie is anything but lazy, but a rehash is a rehash, and right now, that's what Halo 3 feels like.

Regardless of anyone's thoughts, Halo has indeed become its own entity. It can exist solely on its name, one that's powerful enough to make FPS fans salivate over an RTS just because it's called Halo Wars. It's almost like Star Wars or Gundam at this point, so buoyed by evergreen fans that it'll never go away and no amount of negative press or lackluster showings will change that. We'll be in the beta like madmen, as will many of you, but we're also holding out hope that something down the line will make Halo 3 the next-gen experience it ought to be.