Halo 3 - the Game to be

By: David Branco

Once upon a day, I panhandled my wallet to provide me with, roughly, sixty dollars for a fun, sandbox game, Crackdown. After countless hours of upgrades, explosions, and unfortunately a few deaths, it was time to visit the marketplace for a few expansions; but wait... what is this? Halo 3 Beta has been released? Sweet monkeys of underwear gnomes! Quickly, fighting through the congestion of anticipation, I initiated the download whilst clearing my schedule for the week. World of Halo, watch out, there's a new, poorly-skilled, player in town, DaveTheAve.

I began my Halo 3 exposition with an Xbox Premium system, a 20.1" 16:9 5ms HD-Monitor, and secured by my network's custom Smoothwall firewall/routing system. Loading up this development-level software, a blue-tinted journey though Halo's new level, Valhalla, can be found playing in as the main-menu's active background video. First thing any-player will be tempted to do is click "Play The Beta"; however, I urge you not to do this, set up your profile first. To configure your Halo 3 Beta profile, press the start button on your controller, opening up the Profile window, press right on the D-Pad and play around with the settings to tweak your experience to its peak. Be sure to configure your colors and change your Service tag to a more suitable alternative. The Service tag feels to be a feature that is under-utilized in the game, due to the fact mostly everything still refers to the GamerTag and not Halo's Service Tag.

Once your Profile has been customized, we're able to enjoy the World of Halo, along side its other millions of beta-testers, by clicking "Play the Beta" on the main-menu. Now we find ourselves in the "Matchmaking Lobby"; however, before we begin we must familiarize ourselves with the game modes: Ranked vs. Social, Rumble Pit, Team Slayer, and Team Skirmish. Halo 3 introduces a system of leveling that is achieved two ways, skill and number of wins. As your skills improve it becomes tracked and you are given a skill-level number that is placed alongside your name. The new matchmaking system for Halo 3 uses this skill-level to place you alongside other Xbox Live players with similar gaming performance, making your over-all experience more enjoyable. On the other hand, as you increase in skill you're destined to win more matches. With the inclusion of the new ranking system, for every match you win, you gain a RP, or Rating Point, these points determine your experience status to be publicly expressed as a military medal near your GamerTag.

Having decided the type of play-list you wish to get your game on with, you're left with deciding your gaming mode. Rumble Pit can be best described as a normal Halo Slayer match, or, to the Halo illiterate, a free-for-all without any teams. Secondly, we're given a popular favorite amongst many gamers, Team Slayer, a two team match were the only objective is for your team to make 50 kills first. Lastly, we have a rather general game category called Team Skirmish, here you must choose between two teams. Too win at this game mode, your team must be the first or the most productive at the task assigned.

Once you have successfully chosen your play-list and game mode, you may begin playing by pressing Start Matchmaking. At this new window, Searching for Match, is where the new skill levels are put into effect. Initially looking for active players at your skill, gradually widening the search criteria as needed, you are placed among players that are ether too easy or too experienced. This feature, while taking longer at times, is a blessing for the inexperienced or newer players, providing them with the proper opponents needed to help them learn the game. An additional feature that to some may seem new, to others modified as needed, would be the Veto system. One annoyance in past Halo games would be joining a match while the match was being set up just for some person to keep pressing the countdown delay button. With the introduction of the Veto system, now the countdown does not stop unless the majorities of the players veto, or say they don't wish for the current match settings, allowing for a much less annoying match feedback system.

When I had my first chance to download Halo 3, I'm afraid to say I was away from my house and was faced with just a 254/64 DSL connection sadly. While this obviously was a detriment on the time it took to download Halo 3 Beta, unexpectedly it wasn't for game-play.

Surprisingly, throughout the hours of gaming I never experienced lag, with the exception of walking too close to another player. On top of that, I was even more surprised on how lag-free and clear voice communication was playing. Even when multiple people were communicating on their headsets at once, I heard all of them; you'd never know they were talking if you didn't have sound. Before I get off the topic of headsets, I would like to mention that team-only communication is possible along with easy muting of players, providing strategies and war-zone updates vastly helping your team's performance.

It's obvious that if you play a FPS, First Person Shooter, you're going to get shot, if you don't, play tournaments; you'll make some good money. Thus, you'll want to know how the new armor works. I can happily say that not too much has changed this time when it comes to your shield; however, it seems to deplete faster now that weapons are much more powerful. To makeup for this inconvenience, your shield completely regenerates in about eight seconds of no damage. Oh... and to all you over-shield users, you might be out of luck; there currently is none to be found in any of the three maps provided. Fear not, however, with the introduction of the bubble-shield, you have a portable sphere of translucent protection from explosions and bullets. While I'm on the topic of portable objects, let's discuss the new grenades and similar objects. Luckily, the original two grenades, Spartan and plasma, are present and accompanied by a third grenade, which upon explosion fires shrapnel similar to today's claymore mine. Unfortunately, I feel that Bungie wishes to make its players develop more precise aiming and thus limited the explosion radius and effect and even lowering the auto-aim system for most weapons. The three types of grenades and the bubble-shield are not the only objects you may carry, portable gravity lifts, shield drainers, and proximity mines are also readily at your disposal.

What kind of Halo won't include weapons? In fact that's probably one of the most questioned areas of any game, and Halo is no different. While, hopefully, not all the weapons are presented in the Beta, many, if not all the weapons are either new or have been modified from the prior Halos. By now most of us, depending on your interest in Halo 3, know that turrets may now be dismounted and used as a normal weapon. Unfortunately, I advise you not to dismount a turret to carry unless you must; once a turret has been dismounted from its tripod, it drastically reduces your movement speed and begins to have an ammo capacity. Several older weapons that have been modified and included in the beta include: Plasma rifle, SMG, Sniper, Plasma pistol, Needler, Shotgun, Battle rifle, and Assault rifle. Due to the fact I really haven't been using plasma rifles, I didn't notice too much of a change. Fortunately, they're still dual-wieldable and it feels to be they have a small increase in damage and fire a little faster. SMGs have a new, or at-least improved sound, fire-fast, and do more damage within a decent range from the target; they are also still dual-wieldable. The sniper, on the other hand, has been noticeably modified. No I'm sorry it's not dual-wieldable but it has a better rate of fire. It feels like the damage given to a player has been reduced, but headshots are still a one-hit kill. Plasma pistols are still available and dual-wieldable, and if you read the in-lobby messages while waiting for a match, they can do a number on moving enemy vehicles.

Now for a weapon that has been placed into the hearts of many beginners for its per-bullet homing ability, the Needler. I'm sad to say, the Needler is no longer a dual-wieldable weapon; however, it's no longer just another weapon to push aside. The homing ability has been reduced, but in return the given damage to an enemy is inversely proportional, making it a strong choice in those soon-to-be close-range assaults. Which bring us to the weapon most popular among the anti-sniper types, the shotgun. While not much has changed here, the gun is in fact still available and seems more powerful in close-range combat. Furthermore, the Battle rifle has been given a newer model, a better scope, and gotten a damage upgrade. If you ever find yourself sniper less needing one quick, might I suggest a Battle rifle? Just get in place, get into scope mode, and once you line up the head of the target and red dot appears, fire! Finally that leaves us with the last of the older weapons, the Assault rifle. Being the beginning weapon for most game modes, you'll find this weapon to be one of the most commonly used in the game. Damage given with this weapon is fair and the firing rate is pretty good but prepare to have to reload in the middle of a battle with its small clip. By now you must be familiar with the new Spartan Laser that has been included as a new weapon. Let me be the first to say that it is not as good as you might think. Yes, it is a one-hit kill weapon capable of killing multiple targets at once; however, having it wait roughly eight seconds between shots, it's just as slow as it is strong. Apparently the Magnum pistols were not on Bungie's better side, not anywhere in the beta are they found; on the other hand, a new pistol, the Brute spiker, can be found in almost any mode. These are dual-wieldable and in the right hands, deadly in close and long range and are accompanied by a good firing rate. Unfortunately, the Magnum pistols were the only things replaced, the rocket launcher has apparently been replaced with a two-handed version that's damage has been decreased and can only hold eight rockets; as if that was not enough, this new version also makes movement just as slow as walking with a turret.

The beta was and continues to be great; however, because it is a beta, a version released to public for the sole purpose of testing the software and feedback, the version I have reviewed, and many others are playing and enjoying, is in no way to be thought of as complete and to be used to judge the final, retail product. Having said that, I do wish to target a few areas that were lacking or need improvement from the beta version standpoint; I also understand they may be already fixed in the current development build of Halo 3. First off, while the graphics themselves are impressive, clean, and crisp and show little pixilation around edges of objects, I must say I had higher expectations. I really can't pin point exactly what I would have liked to see but it wasn't there. Don't get me wrong, the water was great, looks and acts real, but I'm failing to see the possibilities of next-generation graphics; possibly more HDR, High Dynamic Range lighting, or Bloom would be nice. While I'm on the topic of lighting, I would have liked to see a flashlight feature on some on the darker maps. The maps themselves are great, though the idea of 16 people on a singe map, start to seem small and too congested.

With a new mode of transport, the Mongoose, I agree is a nice addition, however, I feel that the player should be able to run down enemies similar to the way the Warthog can. A seemingly common bug amongst the Beta players would be the random ends to a game or round right in the middle of the match, making the battle continue while they stare at the battle scores and wait for the game to let them play again.

When the match finally ends, hopefully you're the victor; you're given the choice to save a replay of the video in your 32mb Halo 3 file-sharing account. I'm sorry but I don't see the purpose of this feature; if it is to remain in the game, I hope it will be developed further making it more worthwhile. Finally, I'll end with a little idea to provide the players with bragging rights, providing awards for solders at the end of matches such as MVP, most kills, survived longest, most deaths, etc. I figure this would go right along with the interesting medals that can be won during matches.

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