Microsoft’s marketing slogan for “Halo 3” is “finish the fight,” but it could more appropriately be “don’t mess with success.” With the exception of an amazing new feature that lets players create videos out of their gameplay, this third installment in one the best- selling videogame franchises of all time is remarkably short on innovation. While out-of-the-gate sales will undoubtedly be huge, fans won’t still be buzzing about “Halo 3’s” play a year down the road as they did with its two predecessors. If this game has a legacy, it will be in the tools it gives users to create their own Master Chief shows.
Though “Halo” has a remarkably detailed, “Star Wars”-esque mythology behind it, the story-driven campaign mode has never been the games’ main selling point. “Halo’s” plot is simultaneously too complex for most players to follow and too removed from the actual gameplay to care about. Playing through “Halo 3,” it’s not hard to understand why Fox and Universal failed in their attempt to develop a coherent “Halo” movie with broad appeal.
The main character, Master Chief, is essentially an ass-kicking space marine with no characterization or motivation. A series of beautifully animated cut scenes in “Halo 3” explain that he’s leading an expedition to stop an alien alliance called the Covenant from activating a device buried in Africa that could destroy all sentient life in the universe.
While subplots abound, from the conflict between factions in the Covenant to Master Chief’s attempt to rescue an artificial intelligence program with an alluringly sexy voice, those details are never relevant to the gameplay. Essentially, Master Chief runs, drives or flies through levels trying to find something and kill all the aliens who get in his way.
The major advance in “Halo 3” comes in the ability to customize and share the multiplayer experience. A powerful new feature called “forge” lets players edit their own maps, placing weapons and vehicles and items where they wish, and then set their own rules for gameplay. Though “modders” have been making their own levels of games like “Quake” for years, it has never been this easy before, or available on a console.
Casual players may not have the time or interest, but millions of hard-core gamers will have a field day creating the exact version of “Halo” they’ve always dreamed about. And everyone can benefit from their work, thanks to the ability to download user-created maps.Even more impressive than customization, however, is that “Halo 3” lets users record and edit videos of their gameplay themselves playing, which they can send to friends. Call it the YouTube-ization of videogames.
After any game session, whether online or alone, players can watch a recorded movie and cut together the highlights. Most amazingly, developer Bungie has built in the ability to move the camera anywhere on the map at any angle, thus turning millions of videogame players into amateur directors, who can then upload the best clips from last night’s game.
Everything about “Halo 3’s” technology, from the sharp graphics to the immersive sound to the fast loading times, is top notch. But there’s not much creativity in their application. Environments are generic outdoor or spaceship settings that could be used in any sci-fi action game. The gameplay mechanics and art design are almost identical to “Halo 2.” Given how far recent shooters like “Bioshock,” “Gears of War” and “Rainbow 6 Vegas” have pushed the genre, it’s disappointing to find that “Halo 3” is, by and large, “Halo 2” with some cool new weapons and hi-def graphics.
Many players, however, will ignore “Halo 3’s” plot and just use the “campaign” mode, in which they play through the story, to hone their skills for the meat of the “Halo” experience: multi-player. While the original “Halo” broke new ground in its intuitive first-person controls and epic sci-fi story, “Halo 2” far outsold its predecessor primarily based on its use of Microsoft’s Xbox Live service for competitive multi-player matches. “Halo 3’s” online mode offers new maps and a few fresh gameplay options, but doesn’t stray far from its predecessor. As with the campaign, developer Bungie Studios focused on giving players more, and not much that’s different.
What’s different will ultimately come from “Halo 3’s” players, whose best adventures — and advances — can now be shared with millions.