I Saw Halo 3
I’d like to say I kicked ass in this, but I most certainly did not. Poor old red team lost the first match, which was on Guardian. I’ve heard this map referred to as a Lockout remake, but I didn’t think once of Lockout while playing it. That may very well be because of general disorientation; it did indeed have an open central area with structures surrounding it and corridors underneath.
Our team didn’t stick together at all but I couldn’t blame us – I know I was more interested in looking around and trying out new weapons than actually winning. That’s my story, anyways.
The next map was Sandtrap, which we were winning until half of us had to leave. This one is unlike any Halo / Halo 2 map that I’ve played. It’s a vehicle map, laden with hogs, mongeese, choppers and pretty much everything else. It was my first taste of the enormous Elephant, a moving fort with turrets and enough space to pack other vehicles inside.
It struck me that being on foot in Halo 3 whilst there are vehicles about is no longer the death sentence it was in Halo 2. Perhaps this is because of the design of the level, where there is cover to be had and always a turret on hand; but I’m pretty sure my grenade sent a warthog airborne, which was not something that happened a lot in Halo 2. Then again, I could have thrown a tripmine by mistake, who knows.
This is what I was really excited about. Sure, there have been articles online about all the levels I saw, even the odd bit of shakycam footage. But nothing beats seeing it in person. Not even reading about it, which is what you’re doing, sucka!
The first level we were shown was Sierra 117, an early infantry level (well, the part we saw was all on foot). Steve was playing solo, but the Arbiter comes along anyway – indication that the story involves the two characters’ collaboration. The setting is jungly, with an all-percussion score from, I assume, Mr. O’Donnell. The level begins with a large-scale battle between Pelicans and Phantoms, as well as ground forces. The Chief and Arbiter stay to the edges and flank the enemy.
After a bit Steve quit out and showed us a saved film of what we had just seen. That sounds repetitive, but since you can pause and fly the camera anywhere on the level, it let you see parts of the action you couldn’t while in the first-person view. He dollied right in on a pelican to reveal Sgt. Johnson manning the turret. I’ve already gotten into how important I think this feature might become, so I won’t repeat myself.
Next we saw “The Storm”, from later in the game. It seemed much harder. The mission is to take down a scarab, a Godzilla-sized spidertank. The Arbiter is no longer riding shotgun, but there are many marines about, as well as pelicans etc. It’s yet another setpiece battle. At first, Mr. Scott charged at the scarab solo-style, falling inevitably to the massive green gun that just don’t quit. This was a clever trick to demonstrate how the game allows many possible approaches to a problem, as he next hopped into the driver’s seat of a mongoose, and let a marine hop on the back seat and fire rockets at the scarab’s legs until it fell to its knees, allowing the Chief access to its innards. After conveniently failing again, Steve pointed his Chief at a nearby building, which turns out to be swarming with marines firing at the scarab. You can get up top and walk along some overhanging scaffolding to drop down on the scarab from above, if you time it right. Shortly thereafter, the beast was erupting in a massive explosion.
After that level, we got Tsavo Highway, which I had read about before as the level that introduces vehicular combat. The chief starts off in a destroyed building, must rally the marines and lead them out in a convoy of hogs. You pass through a flare-lit tunnel before emerging into the kind of wide-open space you’d see so often in Halo 1. The remnants of the destroyed space elevator lie in the background, and soon you’re driving through them. Again, the sense of massive scale.
So what was it like? The graphics look better than multiplayer, and much better than the multiplayer beta, with great detail and atmospheric effects, but still not mindblowing. It appears Bungie threw the new horsepower at their disposal into other areas: scale, sound, AI. All three levels communicated that you were taking part in an epic war. Oddly enough, they did this much more than say Call of Duty 2 (I played a bit of this recently so it was fresh in my mind). This actually relates to the graphics: by staying away from pretty but vision-limiting dust clouds and light beams and suchlike, Bungie allows you the viewpoint to see, as it were, the big picture of the unfolding war: huge airships pounding each other, the scarab, the space elevator. So, to me they made the right choice, since all these other elements wind up being immersing you in the world much more than graphics alone could ever do.
The sound blew my mind, and it was just the built-in speakers on the HDTV. The marine dialogue is outstanding. At one point, the Chief threw a grenade that took out a gang of grunts; a nearby marine remarked, “they go quicker that way, don’t they.” There were repeated instances of the marine AI reacting to the gameplay with an unending torrent of dialogue fragments.
Our Bungificent host remarked that it’s not just the dialogue system that has improved, but the marine – and enemy – AI, a statement borne out by what I saw. Brutes, when stuck with a plasma grenade, will lunge forward at you, trying to take you out with them. So the enemies are harder, thus having marines around is even more important. If their winsome remarks don’t make you want to save them, the tactical advantage their presence can give you surely will.
I’m going to post this now and then add some freeform notes later.
UPDATE: Now it’s later! Also, I corrected the text above with Steve’s name.
- I didn’t get to see the Forge, the not-really-a-map-editor feature that lets you add (or take away?) weapons, vehicles, and objects to maps, even while playing. When I first heard about it I was all ‘meh’ but really, it could really blow up gameplay into something entirely new. Karim and I were into Crackdown for a while and we’d often just use the “spawn items” feature that was part of the downloadable content to do crazy shit. A favourite was exploding dominos on the freeway with long strings of exploding barrels, or sudden heaps of cars everywhere. To do that in Halo, potentially while engaged in team play, could be super-excellent. Can’t wait to drop a tank on someone’s head!
- The Storm level, against the scarab, demonstrated a strength of the mongoose, or rather its only strength: speed. The goose was simply faster than the scarab’s beam, so if you didn’t hit an obstacle or turn too hard, it couldn’t hit you.
- Do the rockets auto-lock in Halo 3? They weren’t locking on the scarab, but they may not always work that way. If they never did, that would be a good thing, especially with the vehicles apparently easier to damage / grenade.
- you die from long falls!
- the brutes have a big jumping melee attack that does substantial damage ( > half shields)
- I think that’s it. I’m hoping Nadine will also post her thoughts on the multiplayer as she was on red team, too, and thus must shoulder some of the blame…