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It must have been pretty scary to be Bungie a scant few weeks ago. Just mere days away from releasing Destiny, a new IP, with publishing from Activision, a company who nowadays only deals in absolute blockbusters. It is a daunting task for sure, but it is not one that’s entirely new to them.
I don’t know how clued in to the whole gaming world you were back in 2007, but that was a pretty landmark year for the industry. Tons of now established franchises saw their first releases in 2007. Assassin’s Creed, BioShock, Mass Effect, Portal, Uncharted and a whole bunch more arrived that year to much fanfare, similar to Destiny. The biggest weight, however, was on Bungie’s shoulders. They had to deliver Halo 3, the newest installment in one of the biggest gaming franchises ever, come September 25th (side note: Ever since Halo 3 every Bungie game has been released in September. It has become their lucky charm to an extent). To put the public expectation for the game into context you only have to look at the accomplishments of it’s predecessors.
The first Halo arrived alongside the original Xbox in late 2001 and it flat-out defined that console in it’s early days, as well as defined the console shooter in general. The Xbox was the first console from Microsoft who were, at the time, a new face in the console manufacturing world. It desperately needed a killer app to help prove the worthiness of it’s existence, as well as help drive sales. Halo was that game. Not since Goldeneye for the N64 had a game done so much to make the previously PC-dominated first-person shooter genre palatable for the average console player. Streamlined controls, tightly designed combat and a well thought out universe as well as flexible LAN multiplayer support made it a huge hit. It’s legacy is as inextricably to the Xbox as Super Mario Bros. legacy is linked to the NES.
Halo 2 came along three years later with understandably huge expectations. Single-player wise it was as tight as ever (although with an infamous cliffhanger ending) but the true showstopper element this time around was it’s online multiplayer. Just as the first Halo helped Microsoft demonstrate the worth of it’s console, Halo 2 helped Microsoft demonstrate the worth of it’s then new Xbox Live service. It was not the first game to support Xbox Live but it was an early adopter and undoubtedly the first do it just brilliantly. It pioneered the concepts of Matchmaking, parties, and playlists that have since become mainstays across all popular multiplayer games.
Halo 3 was announced as the final installment in a trilogy of games focusing on the Master Chief (Worth noting that although this statement seems silly now considering Halo 5 is coming out next year Bungie did actually keep up their end of this bargain. Every Halo game they made after 3 did not feature Master Chief in any capacity other than a small winking reference. It wasn’t until the franchise transferred to 343 industries that the Master Chief returned full time). With this in mind Bungie set out to send the big guy off with a bang by creating a game that simultaneously summed up and perfected everything they had started back in 2001. And boy howdy did they nail it.
Every element of Halo 3 is on top-form, or at least close to it. The graphics are gorgeous and, most importantly, vibrant and colorful, something not a lot of games back in 2007 were particularly bothered about. For sure there was also a pretty big kick to be gotten out of seeing the established Halo characters and design style in pretty-pretty HD for the first time. Now, I wont sit here and pretend the entire story in Halo 3 was airtight excellency. I will say however that from the standpoint of this being a big going away
Gameplay was a great mix of old and new with a scale that took full advantage of the power of the new consoles. Combat encounters were bigger than ever with a couple of truly show-stopping encounters with Covenant ‘Scarabs’, massive four-legged bastards that were seen from afar in Halo 2 but were now the focus of full on set-pieces in Halo 3. Blowing one of those guys into a million pieces never gets tired.
The weapon roster specifically was also my personal favorite ever in a Halo game. Returning after being missing from Halo 2 was the classical Assault Rifle, the Needler was strengthened to make it an actually worthwhile weapon, and new weapons such as the Brute Hammer, the Spikers and two new grenade types (Incendiary grenades and the delightfully satisfying Spike grenade) all of which slotted in seamlessly to the rest of the arsenal. However, the big new inclusion was the concept of ‘Equipment,’ which can range from a portable gravity lift, allowing the player to lift himself into the air, to a bubble-shield, which will spawn a clear, protective bubble around whomever throws it down. These added a whole new layer of options to consider in combat and was especially gratifying in multiplayer.
Speaking of which, let’s get down to it. I love the single player in Halo 3, I could pick it back up at any time have a complete blast with it, beginning to end. With that said, I somehow adore the multiplayer even more than that. Matchmaking and the core formula of what makes Halo multiplayer great is still there, chugging along underneath the hood along with an outstanding selection of maps. My personal favorites (excluding DLC) being ‘Valhalla’ and ‘High Ground’. What was really special about this game’s multiplayer though was the unprecedented focus on encouraging creativity through customizability and user generated content, particularly for a console game.
First off there was Forge mode, in which any Halo 3 owner can completely customize every map in the game to their liking. He or she can alter vehicle, weapon, fusion coil and equipment placement, in fact just about everything the player can use and interact with on a map can be moved, tweaked, and adjusted. Once a player is finished in Forge mode their creation can be put on the player’s file share and uploaded to Bungie.net where other players can download, comment, tag, and share their work. Forge hit it’s peak when Bungie released the DLC map ‘Foundry,’ which was essentially a blank slate in the form of a large room which players could fill with anything they liked. This led to some properly impressive maps coming out of the community.
On top of that was Theater mode which allowed for the viewing and saving of previously played campaign missions and multiplayer matches in video and screenshot form. Additionally, the camera in Theater could be unattached from a specific viewpoint and moved to any player or free-floated anywhere in the map, allowing for interesting angles and screenshots. Bungie regularly promoted user-created maps, game types, films and screenshots through the ‘Bungie Favorites’ section on the menu, a tradition they kept up for years after the game’s release. Right up until the moment when they ceased working on the franchise. This right here is indicative of how committed they were (are) to fostering inventiveness among the community that forms around their games. It’s a special thing and all developers would do well to follow their lead.
As you’ve no doubt guessed, I could go on about Halo 3 for days, but the bottom line is it was just amazing fun to play alone or with a few mates. I’m playing Destiny right now and enjoying it quite a bit, not as much as Halo 3, but that’s OK. I can count the amount of games that have matched or came close to matching my love for Halo 3 on one hand, so it would be unreasonable to expect anything of the sort. I’m giddy that thanks to the upcoming Master Chief Collection people who haven’t played the game before will get the chance to give it a go amongst a newly revitalized community. Maybe I’ll see you in there come November.