Halo 3 - Halo 3 on Xbox 360: The Verdict.

Daniel Smith 00/00/0000

Any remaining skepticism regarding the mass acceptance of computer games as a culturally valid medium was dispelled, when the penultimate installment of the Halo series finally hit stores this September in a blaze of glory, and a plethora of broken sales records. It took more, in terms of net profit on its first day than even the fabled final Harry Potter book. Failed pop star come Big Brother guinea pig, 'H' even got in on the festivities, reportedly dressing up as the Master Chief for a lavish launch party, of the type normally associated with the latest Hollywood blockbuster, in London. All of this media attention considered, it's obvious that Halo series has succeeded in its mission of knocking Solid Snake off his Playstation-shaped pedestal, and crowning itself the premier console action series. But will the series go out with a bang, or a whimper? Well, GIITTV has spent the past ten days glued to it's Xbox 360 feverishly scrutinising what will probably be this Xbox's defining moment, to in an effort to find out.

Halo 3 has far more in common with its direct predecessor, Halo 2, than with Bungie's legendary firstborn. Almost all of the features introduced in the second outing, even some of those that where met with disdain by Halos sanctimonious online fan base, have been retained. But this isn't to say that Bungie has completely ignored fan feedback; thankfully the developers much maligned decision to force players to play as The Arbiter for much of Halo 2's single player campaign has been overturned for this final installment. So rest assured, it's the Chief from start to finish, although he doesn't look as good as one had hoped he might given the '360's additional horsepower. All the trademark next gen effects are there; motion blur mimics the shifting focus of the real eye, and edges anti-aliased to within an inch of their lives, but the overall approach to the linear 'a to b' environments is decidedly last gen.

The combat that makes up the bulk of the game remains largely unchanged, but it is as addictive and satisfying as ever. The Covenant's arsenal of hardware, in terms of both vehicles and weapons has increased exponentially, as has the Chief's; he can now carry one of a small number of utility items at a time such as portable shields or trip mines, and has a handful of new weapons at his disposal including the almighty Spartan Laser. The roster of hardware may be feeling a little cluttered in single player (some weapons only appear once or twice in the entire campaign) but this will undoubtedly add much to the diversity and longevity of the multiplayer game.

And of course, this will make up the meat and potatoes of the game for many Live-enabled Xbox owners. The list of online options is impressive, including an intuitive map editor with the facility to share home-grown creations online, and the long awaited ability to play co-operatively through the campaign online with up to four other players. The performance online thus far has been solid but its early days and cheating on Halo 2 was rife so the proverbial jury is still out on that one. One thing is for sure though; pound for pound this is by far the best multiplayer Halo so far, because frankly, there's just so much to keep you entertained when playing with others.

Those without Live will have to make do with the single player missions. The mission objectives therein aren't varied by any stretch of the imagination (never once deviating from 'get to here to advance the story', actually), but shooting your way through hordes of enemies to get to the next checkpoint is so much fun that you almost won't care. That is, until the games final thirty minutes. The last section of the last level, a lazily put together homage to the first game (you'll know it when you see it), leaves a bitter aftertaste. And the payoff for this almighty test of endurance, an uninspiring plot finale, gives rise to a feeling of disappointment by the time the credits roll, and screams 'looming deadline'.

So, it's a mixed yet still very enjoyable bag, but have we seen the end of Halo? Bungie may claim so, but the short answer is; not bloody likely. Microsoft already have three spin offs in the works for this generation Xbox alone. The first is a prequel RTS, Halo Wars, the second, what has been described as a 'storybook game with an open ended plot structure' and the third, an unannounced project (Halo Online, anyone?). Even if we experience a relative Halo drought once all these are out the door, it's difficult to imagine Microsoft releasing the '360's successor without the Master Chief's blessing. Indeed, your correspondent doubts that there will ever be an Xbox without Halo. But, for now, at least, we bit adieu to the Master Chief, saluting his latest effort but remembering him most fondly for his first foray into the breach.