Halo 3 released today

When last we left Master Chief, he was headed towards Earth, determined to stop the Prophet of Truth and his cadre of Brutes from destroying the universe in a blaze of zealotry. Cortana had been captured by the Gravemind, a disgusting creature intimately tied to the Flood. The Arbiter and his Elites, once bitter enemies of humankind had made an uneasy truce in order to conquer a greater evil. Frankly, things didn't look so hot for Earth and its inhabitants. For three years fans have been waiting to find out what comes next. Most won't be disappointed, as the story eschews some of the ambiguity of Halo 2 and tells a more straightforward narrative. Events play out like a sci-fi action blockbuster.

This is a good thing. Ambiguity is not very endearing to gamers who want closure, not the promise of having to buy the sequel.

It should be noted that the difficulty level is a bit out of whack, though done purposefully. Bungie has to service an enormous casual crowd who (let's face it) suck at games. There are millions who will play Halo 3 and only Halo 3 this year. All they want is to finish the fight and take a nap on the couch. But at the same time, there are an equal number of hardcore gamers who have become immensely skilled at Halo over the past six years. For these folks, the single-player version of Heroic and Legendary difficulties has been ratcheted up just a tad. Many will immediately jump into Normal difficulty, and never see the more aggressive AI that calls in reinforcements and makes better use of its weapons and equipment. Frankly, Normal on Halo 3 is too easy for the average gamer and that lack of challenge may actually bore some.

Casual difficulty is a good thing. Heaven forbid they make the game like the Devil May Cry series, where pretty much only the hardcore need to apply.

While Heroic and Legendary single-player offer a good challenge, the same can't be said for co-op. A decent Halo player can get through the campaign alone on Heroic in 10-13 hours. Four decent Halo players can burn through Legendary in 4-5 hours easily. Unlike Halo 2, you aren't penalized for having a teammate die. As long as you aren't amidst a swarm of enemies, your dead buddy will respawn, whereas in Halo 2 if either player died, you were forced to restart from the last checkpoint. But don't worry, Bungie has set up an interesting system to add a bit of challenge and replayability to co-op for those who don't want to be able to obliterate the enemy with ease.

I'm glad to see CO-OP mode back again. CO-OP mode is something many games could use. Not everyone that plays online wants to deathmatch all the time.

If you don't dig the layout of a particular map, you can make some adjustments with the Forge. This new addition to the Halo series will keep these eleven maps fresh for years. While you can't alter the geometry of the level, you can make any other adjustments you wish in the Forge. On your own, you can hop into any map using The Forge and rearrange the placement of objects, weapons, power-ups, spawn points, and objectives. You can also access a Counter Strike-style menu and spend money to drop new vehicles, equipment, objects, and more anywhere you like in the map. Then you can save the new map you've created and upload it to Bungie.net for others to check out.

Audience participation....yeah!

By now you're frothing at the mouth thinking of the thrilling battles in the campaign, of blasting people online with all the cool new weapons, and mucking around with the Forge. Now imagine if you could keep a visual record of everything you ever do in Halo 3. It's not only possible, it happens automatically. Every time you play Halo 3 -- be it a campaign level, Forge, or multiplayer -- the 3D game data from your match is saved to your hard drive or memory card. The file is only a few megabytes, but you'd never guess it from the replays you witness.

Giving the PWNZ crowd one more tool to be obnoxious and flaunt their e-peen.

The campaign, which is very good, is Halo 3's weakest point. It doesn't capture the cavalier spirit of the original Halo, but you'll still have fun playing through it. There's no first-person shooter on 360 that can equal Halo 3's blend of cinematic action, adrenaline-pumping shootouts, and male- (and female)-bonding gameplay. Look beyond the gameplay and you have a rich feature set unlike anything ever delivered in a videogame. The Forge and the replay functionality raise the bar for console shooters so high, it may never be surpassed this generation. There will be plenty of aspects for fans to nitpick, but it's hard to argue against Halo 3 as the most complete game available on any console.

Too bad it won't be available on the PC for another two or three years, and even then only on a Vista machine. Ah well, I guess a working Vista beats a "red ring of death" X360 anyday. :)

EDIT: With any popular gaming series, you sometimes have to deal with the rabid fanbois out there. Hopefully, an apology to the fanbois for apparent grievances will be good enough.

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