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Halo 3

Platform(s): Xbox 360
Genre: First-Person Shooter
Publisher: Microsoft
Developer: Bungie
Release Date: Sept. 25, 2007

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Xbox 360 Preview - 'Halo 3'

by Andrew Hayward on Aug. 3, 2007 @ 9:24 a.m. PDT

Halo 3 lets gamers experience Master Chief's greatest battle as he launches an epic mission to stop the Covenant, destroy the impending Flood threat and ultimately save mankind.

Genre: FPS
Publisher: Microsoft Game Studios
Developer: Bungie
Release Date: September 25, 2007

With the multiplayer beta giving Halo 3 all the bonus buzz it would need to keep gamers at bay until September, Microsoft opted for low-key presentations at E3, keeping the game in a dark room for the huddled masses to watch (but not play). Much like the Fable 2 meeting, this was not meant as a comprehensive overview of the game — not only is Halo beyond such things, but Bungie is also attempting to keep a Grand Theft Auto level of secrecy around the narrative of the single-player campaign.

While we were able to watch a solid chunk of campaign gameplay, Bungie had neutered the experience, starting one-third of the way into a mission to avoid showing cinematics and giving away story details. Sierra 117 at Rally Point Alpha brought us into a winding jungle setting, which opened up to a canyon with ramps that led to a series of ledges. Much of the action took place in this large, open environment, with Master Chief and the Arbiter taking down a heap of Grunts and Brutes as the protagonists ascended toward the path that would take them to the next part of the mission. Though the music had yet to be implemented in the game, the frenetic firefight showed off the amusing quips that will be bandied about during battle, with the high-pitched screams of the Grunts being particularly memorable.

Exiting the canyon, we saw the Chief wander through a puddle-filled cave before emerging near a river, where Covenant ground forces were battling a Pelican ship hovering above the water. After dealing with the Brutes, we saw a Covenant Phantom ship swoop in and fire on the Phantom, which crashed off in the distance, leaving a trail of smoke in its wake. The updated objective was then to locate Johnson's crashed Pelican, but before we had a chance to see what happened to our downed ally, the single-player demo concluded. Without context, it's tough to analyze what we saw, but it's safe to say that fans won't be disappointed. While many aspects of the experience have been carried over from the previous games, it's unlikely to be a point of contention for the card-carrying members of Halo nation.

When the multiplayer beta finally hit in May, even the Halo faithful grumbled about the game's visuals, as they hardly represented a significant improvement over those of the Xbox-powered Halo 2. Bungie assured fans that the beta visuals were not necessarily final, and sure enough, the single-player portions we saw looked a fair bit better than the beta. It's not like the game is running on a markedly improved engine; rather, the sparsely populated maps chosen for the beta didn't have a whole lot to offer, visually. The jungle setting of Sierra 117 displays varied terrain at every turn, from the pint-sized foliage to the massive tree roots. Yet, it still can't quite compete with the similar settings portrayed in Uncharted: Drake's Fortune, as the clean, angular look of previous Halo games enriches every aspect of the visual experience.

While the single-player showing was kept deliberately ambiguous, Bungie's Frank O'Connor and Brian Jarrard unwrapped the goods on Halo 3's versatile Saved Films feature. Every multiplayer match and single-player campaign mission in Halo 3 will automatically be recorded, and at the end of a match/mission, players will be able to flag which films they would like to keep for modification and sharing purposes. Unflagged films will automatically be overwritten with time, but it's not as if you'll kill the hard drive saving replays. Each film is merely a batch of game code that is then executed by the game engine, which means a four-minute film should only take up about 5MB of space.

After a brief introduction, they loaded up a film they'd recorded the week prior, which depicted a Team Slayer battle on Sandtrap, which is said to be the largest Halo map to date. Sandtrap is a fairly self-explanatory setting (it's a desert), and its great size is due to its intended emphasis on vehicle combat. As the film began, we saw members of one team manning the Brute Chopper, a motorcycle-like hovercraft that serves as one of the new additions to the already-robust vehicle assortment. Because of the focus on off-foot combat, vehicles on Sandtrap will respawn with great frequency.

Controlling the camera in a saved film is similar to flying a Banshee, as the analog sticks allow players to freely move the lens to focus on any part of the match. Pressing the A button pauses the action, and the developers used the opportunity to showcase the location-specific audio effects. As we moved closer to a static Chopper, the whirring sound grew much louder, and rotating around the vehicle shifted that sound between the various speakers in the room, creating a highly immersive effect. While paused, players can also take high-resolution screenshots that, like the saved videos, can be shared via Xbox Live.

Match-length films can be pared down to any size, as players can place start and finish markers at any point and extract that segment from the larger film. Extensive camera controls will allow amateur filmmakers to choose a fixed perspective from which their films will be viewed, even on other consoles. Such controls have been implemented to further support the massive machinima movement that surrounded the first two games in the series.

Before ending the demonstration, O'Connor revealed that players will be able to acquire many different kinds of helmets, chest armor, and shoulder pads that can be mixed and matched during online play to greatly vary one's appearance. No word yet on how those parts will be earned (perhaps through the ranking system), but again, it should result in added flexibility for the machinima community.

And that's about as much as they gave us at E3. Due to the staggeringly high profile of the franchise, information on Halo 3 will likely continue to come through a sieve, with only the small bits making their way to gamers' ears. Looking for the big chunks? September 25th, folks. September 25th.


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