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"Halo 3" Retrospective Review: Withstanding the Test of Time

Analytical, because It's interesting. Interesting, because it's analytical.

The Master Chief (center) Arbiter (left) Johnson (right) Guilty Spark (top right) in the final mission "Halo".

The Master Chief (center) Arbiter (left) Johnson (right) Guilty Spark (top right) in the final mission "Halo".

Overview: Impossible Odds

Discussing the merits of a critically acclaimed video game is akin to discussing the failures of an anticipated one. Everyone knows its famous, for better or worse, because of the popularity and what generally constitutes as gameplay. However, understanding why something is unanimously great isn’t the same as the opposite, in which it is taken more or less for granted. So, when Bungie and Microsoft released Halo 3 in 2007, it isn't an overstatement to say that it became a landmark in not only the gaming community, but also the world. Halo 3 earned a massive revenue and appreciation from the masses adding to the player base, cementing Microsoft as a strong contender for the battle for the console generation.

Competition is vital for success and video games are no different. 2007 brought with it a powerful surge of critically acclaimed and beloved franchises. One of which brought multiplayer games to the mainstream, gaining respect and worldwide reception that changed the face of gaming into the modern era, one whose affects are still being felt today. To me however, Halo 3’s greatest success was that ‘3’ meant something more than a sequel. It was the culmination of the previous games assets that resulted in the best possible outcome Bungie would want for their smash hit franchise. One that Microsoft had jumped on the band wagon and started to implement into other mediums of entertainment.

But none of this is really new information, so you might be thinking why I’m even taking the time to write this. Well, hopefully I can tell you why an 11-year-old Sci-Fi shooter is still relevant today and whether or not it deserves to stand the test of time.

Gameplay: A Formidable Opponent

‘Deserve’ sounds harsh and probably the wrong word to use, relevancy is much better as when analyzing the gameplay of Halo 3, what first comes to mind isn’t how quickly video games adapt and change to the innovations other titles impose. It’s how what is implemented is still noticeable from today’s perspective. Halo 3 is undoubtedly a fun game and the reason why is because it is so smooth in transitioning from the moment to moment gunplay. This results in a highly accessible shooter that rewards an aggressive approach to its stellar level design. The game wants you to take risks to assess the situation and utilize the equipment each level provides. The fluidity of the campaign is a treat with both narrative and level design contributing to the overall prowess of the super-soldier fantasy as you mow down your enemies with tactical precision.

What is memorable about the campaign isn’t the constant onslaught of enemies tightening their grasp on humanity in all-out war (one which your losing), its how each level raises the stakes whilst providing just reasons to do so, transitioning to a larger objective each time. This concept is explored very effectively in not just creating bigger targets that require bigger weapons, but by making the transitioning to these ‘bigger’ objectives different. Different how? Take driving a tank as you begin to turn the tide of the battle, facing down a scarab, or piloting a hornet as you rush towards the finish line. Halo works best when you, the player, are venerable when you don’t use the equipment provided. Which said equipment empowers you, the player, in taking down the foray of enemies.

Speaking of enemies, Halo 3 utilizes the best and the not so great . . . the best it can. The Covenant provides what The Flood tries to be, which is diversity. Each class/species of The Covenant operates differently which allows a reasonable amount of challenge to the firefights allowing you to methodically exploit their weaknesses. This simultaneously being a formidable opponent that can cause trouble, especially on a higher difficulty. The Flood, however, apart from adding to the weight of the narrative, doesn't offer the depth The Covenant do and result in charging and shooting. To its detriment it tries to add a variety on its own kind but comes off as rather annoying as the fundamental flaw with The Flood is that they do not provide player expression other than running to or from. It’s not that they are bad, and to its credit, the game does know when to use them sparingly, but overall, ironically, they exist as a weaker villain compared to the main threat.

Context: "Were It So Easy . . . "

Let’s put this straight, Halo isn’t going to win any awards for having the most compelling of narratives. However, what it's not lacking are style and scale. There are some nice metaphorical touches centred around the dangers of religious fanaticism and for the most part, it does a good job of telling a story most science fiction falls into “The end of the god damnnn worrrrlllldddd!” Whilst not that complex, it does involve the player as the narrative works you towards a fulfilling pay off that does evade, to the best of its ability, cliché tropes. However, that being said, really the only fleshed out character here is the Arbiter—Chief is given a lot to do as the fate of everything rests on his shoulders, but as a character you inhabit, you’re just waiting for his next one-liner to get that “Oh yeah!” moment.

The pacing is solid and that is mainly due to the impeccable level design, with some rushed characterization towards the end that is as contrived as they come. For the most part, this is forgivable and doesn’t subtract from the overall experience. Overall, the story supports the gameplay and with the amount of expectation riding on this thing, that’s all Bungie would have hoped for. In short, it is a success for its ability to keep focus, a fitting end to a stellar trilogy.

Conclusion: Bungie's Best

Compared to its predecessors, Halo 3 only improves on what came before. Finishing the fight with an additional refined multiplayer at the turning of an online age. Providing live services with community tools bringing the playerbase together which extend the lifespan of the game. Halo 3, in its entirety, set out to perfect its concept of tactically aggressive combat, which still today is implemented, iterated and improved upon. Even with its diminishing popularity, it will be remembered as one of the greatest’s, if not this game, then the series as a whole.

Thank You!

If you have read this article, then I thank you. If you have played this game recently, or you have something to contribute, then I'd like to know your thoughts and opinions. Do not hesitate to get in contact.

Thanks again, reader!

© 2019 Tom Oliver Hargreaves