If you had an Xbox 360, chances are you probably had Halo 3. But as the 10 year anniversary of the game draws near this September, I wanted to take a look back at, what I believe, is the best game in the franchise. This is an unpopular opinion with some including the other co-founder of this site, but between the campaign and the multiplayer features, this is the game I’ve put the most time into in the series.
Let’s talk about what led up to Halo 3. No, I’m not talking about the unfinished ending of Halo 2, but the marketing campaign. “Finish the fight.” Master Chief is in the desert with a corrupted Cortana periodically chiming in. “I am your shield, I am your sword.” Chief emerges with music that still gives me goosebumps. Covenant crafts are flying toward a massive excavated site where a seemingly Covenant artifact is being activated. Cortana ends it with, “This is the way the world ends.”
Unlike Halo 5’s marketing campaign which was awesome but led to little to no payoff in game, this ad did the opposite. You found out what that artifact was and why so many Covenant ships were flying toward it. You discover why Cortana is sounding off for lack of a better term. This will forever be burned into my memory as one of the best and most hype-inducing video game ads for myself ever.
Finally getting to the game itself, it takes place shortly after the events of Halo 2 with Chief crash landing only to be found by Sergeant Johnson. Then comes the first big twist in the game. As Chief slowly regains consciousness and stands up, he sees a subtle movement the same as a Sanghelli (Elite) warrior who is using active camouflage. In order to save Johnson and the other marines, he leaps over to stick a pistol between its mandibles only to find out that it is The Arbiter. Not only is it The Arbiter, but he is fighting with humanity after discovering the lie of The Great Journey over the course of Halo 2.
As a huge fan of the games and the expanded universe, I was overjoyed to see him there. He had become one of my favorite characters and to have him fight alongside Chief for most of the game was the Halo buddy cop game that I never knew I wanted. Is his AI great? I would be stretching it if I said it was good, but it was far outweighed by everything surrounding it.
I want to talk about some of my favorite levels and moments in the campaign, so spoilers for an almost 10 year old game incoming. The aforementioned revelation about The Arbiter ranks up there as well as him ending the life of the High Prophet of Truth with the iconic energy sword. Another moment that made my jaw drop on the first playthrough was the level The Covenant which also happens to be one of my favorite levels in the franchise.
The time comes when you have to stop Truth from firing the rings. As Chief and the Arbiter are on their way to face off with the Covenant leader, they gain an unexpected ally: the Flood. Actually fighting my way through the level side by side with these monstrosities that I have been struggling to survive against since the original game was a surreal experience. No one was shocked when they quickly turned against you, but those brief moments of working together made me feel unstoppable.
Those were a few highlights out of many more that I could list, but let’s move on to the levels themselves. Tsavo Highway had a great mix of vehicle and on foot gameplay with quite possibly my favorite vehicle in the franchise, the Brute Chopper. Boosting directly into another vehicle and watching it explode has yet to get old for me. Then The Storm reintroduces the Scarab from Halo 2 with a much improved design that towers over you. While the initial reveal of The Flood in the original Halo is one of the most iconic sequences in video game history, the level Floodgate in Halo 3 is actually the best Flood-centric level in the franchise with Elites dropping in and helping you achieve your goal as well as a great transition from outdoors to indoors. Lastly is my favorite level in any Halo: The Covenant. You start off fighting down a beach only to eventually fly a Hornet and take out ground vehicles. Eventually you duel with two scarabs before the aforementioned Flood teamup and Truth-kabab.
Although, the campaign obviously is not perfect as there is the level, Cortana. This, along with The Library from Halo 1, are widely considered to be the two worst levels in the franchise and I can’t disagree. The Halo 3 level pits the player against a seemingly endless amount of Flood pure forms. The idea of what the Flood would look like as advanced beings without taking over another creature was an interesting idea, but they made the bullet sponges that were the Brutes in Halo 2 seem like a bunch of Grunts, especially on Legendary difficulty. Not to mention that since everything is covered in Flood biomatter, getting turned around and lost in the level isn’t an if but a when scenario.
Besides that misstep, I thoroughly enjoy the ending as well as where we leave the Chief and the state of the galaxy. Overall, while the first game is a classic, it was also light on story which worked for it to add a sense of mystery. But with the six years of previous material including games, novels, comics and more, the impact of the final entry in the Bungie trilogy was solidified in my mind.
In terms of the multiplayer, those of us who bought the criminally underrated Crackdown got to try it out early and it was beautiful. Once the complete game was released, I was surprised by how many of the multiplayer levels that I loved: High Ground, Guardian, Valhalla, Sandtrap, The Pit, Last Resort Avalanche, Foundry and Narrows were all fantastic. Yes, I even liked Snowbound! In addition to the traditional multiplayer modes, Forge was an amazing surprise. Between recreating Rainbow Six Vegas’ LVU Campus in Foundry, custom gamemodes like the incredible Grifball and Rocket Race, and the main competitive multiplayer, Halo 3 might be my favorite multiplayer game of all time. The core gameplay is so solid that Forge and the custom games that you can play such as baseball with a Gravity Hammer and rocket launcher opened up so much room for experimentation. I’ll never forget the memories I had with my friends throughout my time with Halo 3.
For all of these reasons, this game is not only my favorite in the franchise, but top five of all time. It has its missteps, but it is one of the most complete games I have ever played.