September 2007: Millions of Xbox 360 owners – myself included – are queuing in front of their local game store or waiting for the postman’s arrival to get their hands on their copy of Halo 3.
Halo and Halo 2 were absolute masterpieces, and we waited for the new Halo like the messiah on the Xbox 360.
Microsoft was well aware of it and spent millions to promote their game. Right in the middle of the RROD scandal, failure was not an option, and ads like the following were multiplying on TV and the internet.
The hype was incredible.
At the time, Bungie declared that Halo 3 was, without a doubt, the best game that they had ever created.
And it was.
In 2007, Halo 3 turned out to be so good that it totaled a grade of 94% on Metacritic (8.2/10 from the players).
Today, Halo is available on the Xbox 360, Xbox One (via the enhanced backward compatibility and the Master Chief collection), and PC. This review mentions both the Xbox 360 and MCC versions.
Did Halo 3 live through the ages? What is it worth today?
Answer in this late review of Halo 3.
I strongly recommend that you listen to the game’s soundtrack while reading the review
Halo 3 starts right where Halo 2 ended
Gameplay aside, what makes Halo games iconic is their world, atmosphere, and scenario.
Playing Halo 3 without any prior knowledge of the events of Halo Reach, Halo, and Halo 2 will be a very confusing experience. The game won’t bother explaining any of the previous events (who’s the Arbiter, why is he helping you, what are Prophets and why are they trying to activate the rings, what’s the Flood, who/what is Cortana, etc.). For this reason, you’ll find minor spoilers in the form of references to the previous episodes in the next paragraphs. You are warned.
Alternatively, you can also watch these two short videos from Comicstorian Gaming to catch up.
4 minutes recap of Halo: Combat Evolved & Halo: Combat Evolved Anniversary
4 minutes recap of Halo 2
Back to Halo 3.
Halo 3 begins as the Master Chief crashes on Earth, leaving Cortana behind on a covenant spaceship infested with the Flood. The Flood is the invasive parasite whose very existence is the reason why HALOs – mass destruction weapons spread across the galaxy designed to eradicate all living things – were built in the first place.
At this point, things don’t look great at all as the Blue Planet has become the epicenter of the conflict between humans and the Covenant Alliance.
The adventure begins deep in the jungle as Sergeant Johnson, a few UNSC soldiers, and the Arbiter gather around your landing crash zone. And our Covenant buddies are right there too.
Just like its predecessors, Halo 3 will take you to different corners of the galaxy, where you’ll eventually fight your way through covenants and parasites to finish the fight and put an end to the war.
The “round-trip” flaw
Without being breathtaking, Halo 3’s storyline is interesting and coherent with the rest of the Halo universe.
However, it is flawed by an annoying detail. On five occasions, you’ll have to take a round trip – meaning you’ll literally have to retrace your steps. And believe me, playing through a level to achieve one goal, to then learn that you have to go back and cross the same rooms and areas, somehow repopulated with different enemies, is a bit annoying.
What’s more, the game sometimes abuses a dramatic process that’s maybe intriguing at first but quickly becomes a pain in the bum. I’m referring to a series of flashes — obstructing your vision and slowing you down — involving a tortured Cortana.
I’d say that your appreciation of the storyline will depend on whether or not you have played previous Halo games or not. If you haven’t, you’ll be confused. If you have, you’ll enjoy it.
Play the campaign with up to 3 friends in the epic co-op mode
You should also know that you can play the campaign with up to 3 friends on both the Xbox 360 and remastered versions.
4-player co-op campaign playthrough is now a standard for the Halo franchise, but Halo 3 was the first episode to introduce the possibility.
This is dope.
Now, I wouldn’t recommend playing with more than one friend on the same Xbox 360. In co-op mode. the X360 struggles to run the game smoothly (framerate drops and fewer details in levels).
I did not encounter any problems with the enhanced Xbox One X (playing the original game via backward compatibility). And the experience was spotless on the remastered MCC.
A well-oiled gameplay
Halo 3 offers intuitive and precise controls as well as well-balanced gameplay mechanics.
Halo games can be fun for everyone. They are usually fairly easy to onboard but difficult to master. For instance, I had not touched a Halo game for at least 5 years, and it only took a few minutes for me to get back on the horse. Was I as good as I used to be? Maybe not, but that’s beside the point 👀
A noticeable difference between the first two episodes and Halo 3 is the Chief’s ability to use devices such as the protective bubble (as seen in the trailer at the beginning of this review), mines, gravity lifts, or shield power drains.
Note that you won’t be the only one to use these as the Covenants will often use them against you too. I think Bungie really nailed the implementation of those items as they don’t denature the gameplay in any way. They just make things more intense and exciting especially when playing online and/or with friends.
How long to beat Halo 3?
Halo 3’s campaign is very similar to that of the previous episodes and is divided into ten chapters. In normal mode, count 8 to 10 hours to beat the game the first time, depending on how good you are.
If you play a lot of FPS games, I recommend that you try playing in Heroic difficulty (3rd out of 4 difficulty levels, Legendary being the most difficult of them all). Playing in Normal mode, you’ll be faced with very little opposition. And this is no way to play Halo, my friends!
Easter eggs and collectibles to prolong the fun
One way to prolong Halo 3’s solo experience is to look for Skulls.
Skulls aren’t just fancy collectibles. Once collected and activated, they will change the way you play.
There are 13 skulls you can collect in Halo 3:
- Black Eye: Your shields will only recharge when performing melee attacks on enemies. Did someone say, Hammer?
- Blind: Your HUD, weapon, and arms will be removed from the screen. Yikes.
- Catch: Enemies will throw and carry a lot more grenades than before.
- Cowbell: Explosions’ range increases.
- Famine: Weapons you’ll find will have half as little ammo as usual.
- Fog: Your radar is disabled.
- Grunt Happy Birthday: Head shooting a Grunt will result in a shower of confetti, accompanied by a cheering sound in the background.
- Iron: When playing alone, dying will send you back to the beginning of a level. When playing with friends in the co-op mode (split-screen or playing on the Xbox Live), one player’s death will automatically send you back to the previous checkpoint.
- IWHBYD: Enemies and allies will get additional dialogues.
- Mythic: Enemies will be more resistant to your attacks.
- Thunderstorm: All enemies will be stronger than usual. As an example, basic Brutes will become Captain Brutes.
- Tilt: Your enemies’ weaknesses and strengths increase.
- Tough luck: Enemies will dodge your attacks much more than before.
From experience, some skulls can turn a playthrough into a living hell. So, if you’re looking for a real challenge — and once you found them all — try playing the game in Legendary mode with all the skulls activated.
Where to find the skulls, you ask? You may be able to find one or two skulls on your own, but most of them are very well hidden. Here’s a YouTube tutorial from Halo Canon to locate all skulls:
One of the best multiplayer games ever.
⚠️ Sadly, Halo’s Xbox 360 servers shut down in December 2021.
In 2007, this is where the real value of Halo 3 was.
Halo 3’s multiplayer offers 24 well-balanced maps (all DLCs included). From spacious levels calling for epic vehicle battles to much more strategic maps, Halo 3 has something to offer to all types of players.
Back then, it had millions of players.
During its last years, sadly, most online services were deserted on the Xbox 360 version, and, from what I could experience, only two modes (Social Slayer and Lone Wolf) let me play without having to wait more than 7 minutes to match enough players.
Fortunately, the Master Chief Collection on the Xbox One revived Halo 3’s multiplayer scene. The servers are populated enough, and you won’t have to wait more than a couple of minutes to start your multiplayer matches.
Fun fact. I once was pretty skilled at Halo 3. As hard as it is to admit, all those years spent away from Halo didn’t serve me well. I got my ass kicked a lot when playing online on the MCC.
Create your maps with the Forge mode
Forge is a game mode introduced in the series with Halo 3. It lets you edit multiplayer maps at will (but within reason).
In fact, it was difficult to reach the limits of the Forge before Bungie released Foundry and Sandbox – 2 maps giving players the possibility to create pretty much any structure or game mode they had in mind.
Here’s a video from Generalkidd, walking us through the Forge mode on the PC version of Halo 3.
If you have a couple of friends willing to play or discover Halo 3 with you, you have to spend time messing around in the Forge mode. You’ll create unforgettable memories. Memories you can capture in-game.
Capture your best Halo 3 moments via the cinema mode
Halo 3 lets you keep a history of the last games you’ve played (both solo and multiplayer).
You can re-watch your adventures the way you want (from the player’s perspective or with a free camera).
What’s more, your saved films will be accessible to other players (if you decide to make them public, that is).
Xbox One X enhanced features vs. Halo 3 MCC.
The original Halo 3 game still looks great on the Xbox 360 and runs on a solid and stable 30 fps (when playing alone). However, compared to the enhanced Xbox One X backward compatible version and/or the Master Chief Collection version, the Xbox 360 game shows its age, with less vibrant colors and a much lower resolution.
if you want to play in the best conditions (on a console), you’ll need an Xbox One X. Here’s a visual illustration of this:
On the One X, you can either a) play the 2160p & HDR enhanced Xbox 360 version or b) purchase the Master Chief collection and play Halo 3 in 4K at 60 fps. The latter option is the most interesting. What’s more, considering that Halo’s Xbox 360 servers closed down in December 2021, I can only recommend the MCC version.
Verdict for Halo 3: good buy, or goodbye?
Halo 3 is a must for any Xbox or PC owner.
Given that you can easily find a used Halo 3 copy for less than five bucks, I don’t see any reasons why you should hesitate to buy this legendary game today—if you haven’t had the chance to play it before.
Now, if you have an Xbox One or a decent gaming PC, you should get the Master Chief Collection. It includes 4 Halo titles (Halo 1 to 4) and can be found for less than 20 bucks (or for “free” as part of the Xbox Game Pass). Note that, unless you download the game via the Game Pass, you will have to purchase Halo: Reach and Halo 3: ODST as DLCs.
One last tip before you go: do play Halo and Halo 2 before playing Halo 3. Otherwise, the plot won’t make sense, and you won’t fully appreciate Halo’s universe.