Halo, Halo, it's good to be back, it's good to be back...
When a sequel offers little in the way of innovation or stops short of a major revamp, wed normally deduct a couple of stars in the name of tardiness. But this is a Halo game, and what makes it console dynamite isnt so much whats new, whats different, or even what happens as you play - instead, its all about how it makes you feel.
Within an hour of starting the game youll be leaping onto futuristic motorbikes and ripping the alien driver from his seat, then flipping the bike around and mowing the monster down with his own ride. In tight spots youll be snapping stationary gun turrets from their mountings, then wading into the chaos of battle as your chunky cannon shreds legions of shrieking invaders. As you go ever-deeper behind enemy lines your allies will dive for cover when firefights turn to stalemate, compelling you to steam into impossible situations and sort them out with not much more than a pea-shooter. And when it finally comes to switching off your console and going to bed at night, finding the will to sleep will be impossible as youll still feel ten-feet tall and able to punch holes in solid concrete.
Thrilling action aside, Halo 3 is also one of the best-looking games on the shelves and surpasses all expectations; from the slick, Hollywood-quality movies that flesh out the story and introduce cannon-fodder characters you cant help growing attached to, to dense forests where you can spot enemies fleeing through the undergrowth as trails of saplings get pushed aside, Halo 3 boasts an epic sense of scale and keen eye for detail, its stunning art direction helping to create breathtaking worlds that are a joy to explore and the perfect stage for tense and imaginative shootouts. The new battle gadgets and retooled Covenant enemies - each of which look more terrifying than before, especially when youre standing toe-to-toe with a Brute Chieftain intent on caving your skull in - also make this instalment absurdly exciting, and the fact you can stick with Master Chief throughout rather than being forced to control a crappy alien like in Halo 2 will be enough to tempt back players who were disillusioned by the last game.
But while the single-player adventure doesnt disappoint, Halo 3s biggest draw is its multiplayer carnage. As well as the traditional deathmatch clashes where players can tear their buddies limb from limb, Halo 3 boasts a selection of Xbox Live cooperative challenges, allowing players to hook-up, choose from a quartet of unique characters, then work through the entire single-player quest as a team. The sprawling online mode also features clever matchmaking options where youre paired with other players of similar skill across the world, avoiding the frustration of becoming the whipping boy for a gang of experienced nutjobs.
While a tangible sense of déjà vu pervades the whole adventure, Halo 3 does what it does extremely well, and what it loses in originality it more than makes up for in stellar production values and delirious, balls-out blasting. And while players looking for a solo shooter may find BioShocks bleak atmosphere more intriguing, Halo 3s blistering blend of anarchic battles and team-based challenges make it worthy of the game of the year tag so often thrust upon it.