It feels a little strange coming back to Halo 3 after all these years. The Xbox 360 was my first Microsoft console and it was then that I jumped right into the third act of Bungie’s trilogy. Not being aware of the circumstances surrounding the third game, I was blissfully unaware of Chief’s mission and instead focused on the fun co-op and multiplayer sessions I had with my friend. I didn’t know what the Flood was, could barely distinguish a Brute from an Elite, and really didn’t care about what was going on with Cortana. Free from these weights, I was able to enjoy Halo 3 as a fantastic shooter and an exhilarating multiplayer experience.
Now, having played Halo 1 and 2, I feel more antagonistic towards the game. The story wasn’t very interesting and it fails to maintain the tension established by the end of Halo 2. Cortana’s rescue mission isn’t as exciting as launching a one man assault against the Covenant. At Halo 3‘s launch, the disconnect might be forgiven because of the three year gap between games. However, because the Master Chief Collection continues the story without such delay, the change in tone is glaring. Master Chief’s final rallying cry of “Finish the fight” fizzles in light of the opening cutscene of his crash landing to Earth. He then spends the entire with Cortana as his highest priority and seemingly ignores the insanity going on around him as the Covenant and Flood invade the Earth before heading to another Halo installation.
The story doesn’t fair much better with its change to a familiar scene. Once again, Master Chief encounters the Oracle who, once again, takes him to Halo control center before he, once again, betrays Master Chief. There’s also that moment where the Gravemind helps Chief and the Arbiter to fight the Covenant only to betray them, too. The game ends as it did in Halo 2, riding a Warthog through the exploding superstructure (this time, it’s a Halo created by the Flood). As an ending to their grand trilogy, the best thing I can say about Halo 3‘s story is that it is serviceable. The reunion between Cortana and Chief is supposed to be the game’s most touching moment, but because the Flood stage surrounding it can be so god damned frustrating, it’s hard to give it the emotional investment it needs.
Halo 3 is especially difficult to get into after Halo 2 because it didn’t get the same visual uplift as the two anniversary editions. In the face of Halo 2‘s gorgeous and incredibly detailed cutscenes and beautiful high resolution textures, the game’s age is almost overpowering. Transitioning to 343’s Halo 4 makes it all the more noticeable. Say what you want about Halo 4‘s gameplay, it sure is pretty. Thankfully, where gameplay is concerned Halo 3 is just as fun as the last game (moreso without the Arbiter’s levels bogging things down). The Brutes have been scaled down in toughness but there is a far greater number of them. New vehicles, and some old favorites, make tromping around the game’s bigger combat arenas a lot more fun and interesting.
For as much as Halo 3 took the wind out of my sail, I was left with bittersweet feelings of nostalgia at the end of the game. This was Bungie’s final word on Master Chief and Halo (though their final hurrah would be the amazing Halo: Reach) and that is a damn shame in light of the weak, Call of Duty-ized Halo 4 and Destiny‘s vacuous world. Both games, especially Halo 4 as I’m playing it now for the second time, make me wish for that old Bungie touch.