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AICN Games: Quint plays through the HALO 3 campaign!!!

Ahoy, squirts! Quint here. I’m a hardcore Halo fan. I was a late-comer to X-Box, mostly because I’m not a fan of Microsoft. I’m writing this on a Mac, which is my platform of choice after suffering through Windows XP for 2 years and 95 and 98 before that. I rented an X-Box one year during a particularly bad winter storm and decided to play Halo. After playing the campaign straight through twice over I was sold. I bought an X-Box the next month and had some amazing LAN multiplayer parties pre-XBL.

Last week I got a call from a friend of mine who was lucky enough to be up in Seattle playing through Halo 3 at Bungie. He apparently talked to the guys at Bungie about me coming up there to play the game early and write about if for you good folks and they were all on board. I got that call at midnight Monday night/Tuesday morning and my plane for Seattle left at 2pm that afternoon. So, I packed three Y: THE LAST MAN TBPs, charged up my iPod and caught a few hours of sleep before heading up north. Let’s start at Bungie. I arrived early Wednesday morning to a nondescript building in Redwood. For security reasons they don’t make a big deal of who they are, but there’s a big hint in their address. I’ve heard they even had to petition the city to get a change of address as the number doesn’t fit in with the rest of the area. I won’t say what it is, but maybe they feel a little guilty taking this address. After getting buzzed in by security, my co-op partner in crime, Burnie Burns (of Red Vs. Blue notoriety) and I were shown into a small room with a printed-out picture of Master Chief on the door. If you haven’t watched any RvB you really should. It’s pretty damn funny stuff. Check out their website here. The room that was to be our base of operations for the next 10 hours was a fairly typical tech office conference room except that in each of the four corners was a small shelf holding a flat panel TV connected to a 360 and a set of 5.1 stereo headphones. We came prepared with 12 packs of Halo 3 Mountain Dew (we called it “Game Fuel”) and our X-Box Live profiles saved on memory cards and it wasn’t long before CJ Cowan showed up with a pair of burned check discs for us to load up. If you were disappointed with the HALO 2 campaign and have any worries about HALO 3 following suit, I am here to tell you that those fears will not be fulfilled. The campaign is a sequel in tone, spirit and pacing to the very first HALO. It doesn’t repeat the first campaign, but there is definitely a similarity in the levels. Sometimes it’s slight, sometimes it was a direct throwback (there’s a level that feels a bit like the Pillar of Autumn opening, there’s another that feels like a prominent Halo Ring level, etc). I knew from the Beta run-through that I liked the gameplay more than Halo 2. I felt more in control of Master Chief than I did in Halo 2. I never really got ahold on the dual wielding, never got really good at it and while you can dual wield in Halo 3 the variety of weapons you can use mean that it’s not really necessary. That brings me to the weapons. I’m getting much better at the carbine, which is good because the mid to long range weapons rule Halo 3’s gameplay. There are even flood now that you have to take out with long range weapons. However, there’s a new power weapon that I really fuckin’ loved. I never could master the sword, but now there’s the Brute Chieftan Hammer. Holy crap are the Chieftans hard to kill, but it’s so fun to take out a room full of brutes with that power hammer. The graphics are great, too. The landscapes are massive and incredibly detailed. It’s not as stylistic as something like Bioshock, but if it had been it wouldn’t have felt like Halo. Here you get a look at future African landscape, war-torn and under invasion and then a little later on you get more traditional alien levels. I played through the campaign as Mater Chief and Burnie was the Arbiter, but I don’t think the game forces you to play Arbiter like they did in the Halo 2 campaign. There are sniper levels, there are heavy weapons levels, there are tank levels and there are race against time levels. I know I’m being a bit vague, but there’s no point this close to release to spoil the big twists or imagery from the game. I mean, shit… most of you have it preordered and will be picking the game up in less than 18 hours. I will say this game has a definitive ending and there are some… permanent… plot points. I didn’t get a chance to play through the multiplayer, but I caught a short glimpse of Forge (where you build your own maps) and it looked crazy. I also confirmed Infection as a gametype (a version of the grassroots multiplayer type Zombie). About an hour before we packed it in, a guy came in the room to sign Burnie’s Halo 3 Special Edition Xbox 360. Check out the bad boy below… it looks sharp up close and personal, I gotta say…

I was introduced and his name was Marty… Immediately I thought “You mean Marty O’Donnell?” but I didn’t want to geek out on the guy… “I love your music! It’s amazing, some of the best superhero theme music in the last 10 years!” and then have him go, “Um… No, I’m Marty the programmer…” Of course, it was Marty O’Donnell, the composer of all the Halo music… I didn’t get a chance to tell him how much I loved his work and compliment his new stuff in Halo 3 (specifically the Ennio Morricone-ish tribute to THE THING during a specifically horrific level), but I did get to shake his hand, so I can’t complain. After Burnie and I finished the campaign (took a little under 7 hours on Heroic) we ended up going back to rack up some achievements. During the game I picked up a few skulls… these are hidden through the campaign levels… in some really tough as shit places. But when you pick them up you get achievement points and you also get special abilities you can unlock during any replay. These aren’t good abilities, though. They actually make the game harder. They take away radar, they slow or stop shield regeneration, they make you slower, make your opponents stronger, etc. What you can do is replay any level and try to build up points. You get achievements if you reach a point minimum. You build points by killing bad guys (headshots count for more) and destroying vehicles. You get multipliers for beating it in a certain time, on a certain difficulty setting and having these skulls turned on. The more skulls you have turned on, the harder the difficulty level, the quicker you reach the level’s end, the higher the multipliers are. There are also some fun skulls that don’t really detract… we played with skulls that take away radar, makes your opponents stronger and then we had one that made it so when you scored a headshot on a grunt, the head exploded in confetti and you got a chorus of people going “Yay!!!” Seriously. I giggled like a damn schoolgirl every single time I did that… and I did that a lot… for a couple of hours. It never got old. I think that will probably be my single favorite thing about Halo 3. It just gets me. So, they’ve made the replay value even higher with these things and you can also watch and save every level you play. And this is pretty damn cool. We tested this with our first level and it was mind-blowing. This level was almost 30 minutes long and it was only a 3.8 meg file. What’s sweet about it is you can switch views, watch yourself run through the map, pause and take a snapshot which you can save, move the camera around anywhere you want and even zip ahead into the map so you watch what the bad guys are doing for a few minutes before you show up and ruin their day. How sweet is that? I’m told you can also do this to fully explore the maps and use the camera to zoom anywhere you want to find skulls. That was essentially my experience at Bungie. I got to see maybe 40 minutes of Washington state during daytime hours because I took a flight back that very night in order to make it home in time for Fantastic Fest.

I’m a Halo fanboy, so it’s no surprise I loved it. I have a Legendary Edition pre-ordered at Gamestop and I’ll be there Monday night picking it up. I enjoyed the hell out of it and I didn’t even get to explore the multiplayer, which was the strongest thing about Halo 2. There’s never a Halo talkback that isn’t filled with pissed off video gamers. We know it’s popular, we know it’s not special because the masses like it… I’m sure Half-Life 2 was waaayyyy better to you, but just keep in mind that there are people that genuinely love this series. It’s for those people that I wrote this. I want to share in the excitement of the pre-release. I hope everybody digs it, but I will say that if you don’t like the world of Halo or the gameplay this one won’t change your mind. If you were like me and disappointed with the last Halo game’s campaign, then prepare to be happy. Things are back to normal on that front and if the online multiplayer Beta was anything to go by the Multiplayer will kick all sorts of ass, too. Thanks a lot to Burnie Burns for making all this possible and thanks to the good folks I met at Bungie… specifically CJ Cowan, Luke Smith, Brian Jarrard and Marty O’Donnell. It was a pleasure meeting you folks. Thanks for letting me come up and play. Now that I’ve passed the big gallstone, I can finally refocus on my Fantastic Fest coverage and start popping out the smaller ones. I’ve seen some really good flicks in the last few days and the next few promises to bring even more goodies. Be back soon… and I’ll see some of you folks on XBL! -Quint

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