September 2007: Millions of Xbox 360 owners — I included — were 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 boy, oh boy, it was.
In 2007, Halo 3 turned out to be so good that it totaled a grade of 94% on Metacritic. It was also one of the best-selling video games of its generation.
All that despite a critical issue raised by the press when they got to try the game in its final stages of development. Technically speaking, the comparison with its predecessor — Halo 2 — was not striking.
Something most journalists pardoned Bungie for, given that the game delivered perfectly on all other aspects.
Today, Halo is available on the Xbox 360, Xbox One (via the enhanced backward compatibility or the Master Chief collection), and PC. This review mentions both the Xbox 360 and MCC versions.
The question now is whether Bungie’s baby lived through the ages and is still worth buying today.
Answer in this late review of Halo 3.
Finish the fight
Before knowing if this opus had broad enough shoulders to claim its leader status, let me first share my thoughts on the campaign.
An epic soundtrack
Halo 3’s soundtrack is fantastic.
I strongly recommend that you listen to the game’s soundtrack while reading the review:
Halo 3 starts right where Halo 2 ended.
Besides its fantastic gameplay, what makes Halo video 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. In other words, if you haven’t played the previous Halo games, you may want to skip this part.
Alternatively, you can also watch these two short videos from Comicstorian Gaming to catch up.
Halo: Combat Evolved & Halo: Combat Evolved Anniversary
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 Bungie’s Halo trilogy.
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 have to retrace your steps in semi-revisited levels.
Yup, 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 butt. 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 the 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 co-op
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 – or you’ll have to deal with framerate issues and much less detailed levels.
I did not encounter any problem with the enhanced Xbox One X (playing the original game via backward compatibility). And the experience was spotless on the remastered MCC.
A reasonable solo lifespan for a shooter
In terms of structure, Halo 3’s campaign is very similar to that of the previous episodes.
It includes ten chapters, which should take about 8-10 hours of your time—depending on how good you are.
For a rewarding yet achievable challenge, I recommend that you try playing through 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!
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 (and therefore will) 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:
A well-oiled gameplay
Halo 3 offers intuitive and precise controls as well as well-balanced gameplay mechanics.
Many years had passed since I had last played Halo 3 — the main reason being that I did not have an Xbox at home anymore — and I have to say that I was instantly convinced as soon as I took control of the Chief.
A noticeable difference with the first two episodes 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. This is a great addition to the Halo series.
When properly used, these tools will change how the wind blows when in battle — especially when in multiplayer.
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 via 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).
The Forge mode limits were hard to reach before the addition of 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. It will most generate 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: good buy, or goodbye?
A must while waiting for Halo Infinite.
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 you play Halo 3. Otherwise, the plot won’t make sense, and you won’t fully appreciate Halo’s universe.