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Finishing the Fight – Halo 3 Review (Xbox 360)

Halo 3

No more holding back, as it’s time to finish the fight! The near three-year wait for Bungie’s second sequel to Microsoft’s prized “Halo” franchise is over, and gamers all across the globe have been lining up at stores in order to pick up their copy of the highly anticipated “Halo 3” for the Xbox 360. But how does the game actually compare to it’s predecessors? Did the franchise successfully jump the generational gap?

If you’ve been living under a rock, the Halo franchise has been both Bungie’s and Microsoft’s most lucrative gaming venture. The series, which kicked-off in 2001, has sold nearly 12 million copies with “Halo 2” being one of the most popular multiplayer titles on Xbox Live. One would argue that the popularity of the Xbox 360 was mainly due to the eventual release of Halo 3.

Halo 3 kicks-off moments after the controversial Halo 2 cliffhanger ending in which our hero, Master Chief (who is boarded on a recently jettisoned Forerunner spacecraft on it way to earth) explains to Fleet Admiral Lord Terrence Hood that he’s “finishing this fight” against the evil alien conglomerate known as the Covenant. Gamers are soon dropped in an African jungle setting aided by a group of soldiers lead by Sergeant Major Avery J. Johnson and the newly allied Arbiter. From there on, our hero embarks on a final mission to rid the world of the Covenant and the parasitic Flood.

The game does a fairly good job of telling the apparent final chapter in the Master Chief story arc. The story itself is not ground breaking in any sense, but it’s enough to keep gamers hooked through the campaign’s nine levels. Extended replay value also comes in the form of the heroic and legendary modes (the game’s artificial intelligence in these modes make it worth the challenge).

Graphically, Halo 3’s single-player campaign looks stunning. It might not be the best looking title on the Xbox 360, but it still manages to stand out with its great visual appeal. The game’s graphical prowess can be attributed to its fantastic lighting effects and impeccable level design. The game’s extra attention to detail makes everything from its character models to its environments look more defined. The levels are colourful and vivid giving the game modern HD sleekness. Halo 3 also manages to maintain a smooth and constant frame rate from start to finish.

For many gamers, the Halo franchise is all about multiplayer gaming, and Halo 3 won’t disappoint as it delivers on all fronts with a strong ambitious Xbox Live multiplayer presence. Gamers can compete in nine different game types that include fan favourites such as “Slayer” and “Capture the Flag” blended with new modes such as “VIP” and “Infection”. Also returning is Bungie’s critically acclaimed matchmaking service that groups players with similar skill levels, thus creating balanced matches for everyone to enjoy.

Another entertaining aspect of the game is its co-op feature which lets you play Halo 3’s campaign with up to three friends locally or through Xbox Live. The co-op mode also includes a scoring option that keeps track of kill counts, weapons used and various in game stats (also available in single-player). The scoring option adds some extra competitive depth to the co-op experience.

It is now possible for Halo 3 users to capture screenshots and movie clips of their online gameplay and save them to the game’s dedicated file sharing servers where they can be shared with others. This is a great feature that gives gamers an opportunity to relive those glorious online gaming moments with friends and family. Sadly, a copy of Halo 3 is necessary for others to view your media.

The most interesting aspect of the multiplayer mode is the addition of Forge. Forge is essentially a map editor that lets users tweak objects on any of the game’s multiplayer maps. You can edit the game in real-time while playing with friends. Forge will open up endless possibilities and let gamers add personal and unique touches to familiar multiplayer maps.

In the end, Halo 3 is a great title that is fun to play from start to finish. But on the down side, the game doesn’t do much to improve on the Halo 2 formula. In some respect, one could argue that the transition from the original Halo to its first sequel was more dramatic. Halo 2 gave gamers new gameplay features such as dual wielding and vehicle hijacking, which was enough to give it an edge over its predecessor. But in Halo 3, the improvements all seem to be cosmetic. It’s hard not to get the “been there, done that” feel after a few hours of gameplay.

Halo 3 is definitely worth adding to your Xbox 360 library. The game has enough content to keep hardcore gamers captivated until the next Halo iteration. With Halo 3, the Halo franchise remains the definitive console first-person shooter, which makes it enough for gamers to warrant an Xbox 360 purchase. Halo 3 is the must have title for people looking for a fun single player campaign that’s loaded with a strong multiplayer component.

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Mutant Storm Empire XLA Title of the Week

Mutant Storm Empire

The sequel, or update, to one of my favorite Xbox Live Arcade titles from the Xbox 360 launch window will be released on Wednesday Oct. 31. “Mutant Storm Empire” will be hitting screens in a few days for a mere 800 points. Here’s a blurb from the press release I’ve received earlier today:

Just in time for Halloween, “Mutant Storm Empire” is packed with sci-fi action as players crush gangs of robots, smash swarms of UFOs and demolish massive enemy bosses. “Mutant Storm Empire,” the latest shooter from PomPom games and the sequel to “Mutant Storm Reloaded,” features 16 unique levels spread over four richly detailed and varied worlds. The game offers a seamless experience where players move from room to room without having to enter a loading screen, in addition to offline co-op and multiplayer LIVE support for two people.

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Puzzle Quest to Grace Xbox Live Arcade

Finally “Puzzle Quest: Challenge of the Warlords” arrives to Xbox Live Arcade on Wed. Oct. 10, ’07 (for 1200 Microsoft points). Here’s the official quip from the folks at Microsoft.

“Puzzle Quest: Challenge of the Warlords delivers classic puzzle-game action paired with an epic story of good versus evil. The Xbox LIVE Arcade version of Puzzle Quest: Challenge of the Warlords contains all of the content found on other platform versions, but is now optimized to take advantage of a widescreen, HD display and LIVE features like camera support, Achievements, leaderboards and Gamerscore.

Additionally, the game includes some minor rebalancing and gameplay tweaks to enhance the gaming experience. Developed by Infinite Interactive Pty. Ltd., Puzzle Quest: Challenge of the Warlords is available for download worldwide on Xbox LIVE Arcade for 1200 Microsoft Points.”

I’ve personally never played Puzzle Quest, so I am anxious to try this one out and see what all the fuss is about.

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Enemy Territory: Quake Wars Now Available

Quake fans rejoice! “Enemy Territory: Quake Wars” is now available at retail (Xbox 360 and PC) and via download (PC). The folks at Valve sent us a quick note saying that the game is currently available for download:

“Enemy Territory: Quake Wars, the new id Software multiplayer combat game developed by Splash Damage and published by Activision, is now available in North America and throughout the world via Steam.

To date, Enemy Territory: Quake Wars has won more than 15 awards and has been named one of the most anticipated new titles in 2007 by nearly a dozen publications. Available now via Steam for $49.95. For more information please visit www.steamgames.com

I’ll definitely be giving this one a whirl. One must wonder if this game will end-up buried in the slew of holiday releases.

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Portal, Half-Life 2: Episode Two Pre-Loading Now

Valve announced that “Half-Life 2: Episode Two” and “Portal” are now pre-loading on Steam for those who pre-ordered. Here’s the official word:

“In preparation for launch, Valve has begun pre-loading both Portal and Half-Life 2: Episode Two to those who have pre-purchased The Orange Box. The pre-purchase campaign, available via Steam and at participating retailers, grants gamers access to the Team Fortress 2 beta and extends a 10% discount off the regular price of $49.95.”

I’m anxiously awaiting “Half-Life 2: The Orange Box” for the Xbox 360. This “should” be the definitive gaming package for the holiday season.

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