Game Review - Halo 3 delivers

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Game Review - There's no doubt about it; Halo 3 is one of the most fun, most addictive games to come out of Microsoft's first-party studios.

Last night, droves of gamers picked up their copy of Halo 3 at the crack of midnight to dive into Master Chief's final quest.  I have spent hours playing through the solo and online modes, and my gut reaction is that I want to just keep playing until my eyes start to bleed.

One part of the game I almost forgt about in the weeks leading up to its launch was the singe-player campaign.  While it is not a huge adventure, it is an essential part of the Halo 3 experience.  Depending on your skill level, you could complete the entire thing in just over 10 hours, and probably no more than 20 hours.

In that time, though, Bungie managed to create a masterful storyline, taking in every part of the Halo universe that was created in the last two games and bringing it all together.  The voice acting is generally top-notch and cut-scenes are rendered beautifully.

It is quite undoubtedly the best single-player campaign of the entire Halo series, and anyone who buys the game needs to run through it at least once before getting too involved with the multiplayer modes.

That brings me to the most important point of the game.  Halo 2 essentially defined online multiplayer for any console shooter.  That is no longer the case, however.  Halo 3 has brought a new definition for online battling to the table, and it rocks.

Bungie did not amaze me with the number of multiplayer maps, but there is an adequate amount, and each one has very distinguishing features.  It's better than having handfuls of maps that all act essentially the same.  My favorite new addition is the man cannon, which allows you to fly through the air for a quick trip across the land.

Sand Trap easily became my favorite multiplayer map.  It has on offer several vehicles, an overwhelming terrain that makes strategy crucial, and overall has the best "real-life combat" feel.  Other environments include Narrows, a map that pays close attention to one long bridge, and Spooky, a very nice stealth-intensive arena.

Another new feature is the Forge, which allows you to essentially create your own game.  It enables gamers to set weapons, items, and respawn locations around an entire map.  It is not all that exciting, but it is a nice addition to give games a reshuffle every now and then.

Some fundamentals were changed, too.  For example, when dueling with the Energy Sword and two players attack each other at the same time, instead of having one of them randomly killed, both will just lose some of their shield power and the fight will continue.

Let's get to the part everyone's talking about, though - cooperative play. For the first time, the solo campaign is opened to Xbox Live, allowing up to three, count 'em, three, other players to battle through the game with you.  Finally, there is a good reason to play through the story mode multiple times.  With the vast group of people that you can connect with online, cooperative online play is a feature that adds incalculable value to the campaign mode.

Not to be overlooked, the game's visuals and music are worth marveling.  It takes a huge leap forward from the original Xbox, truly showing the power of the Xbox 360.  Graphics are unbelievably amazing.  Environments are lusher than ever, battle animations are exquisitely crisp, and the characters are stunningly rendered, all in pure high definition.

The music is also unbelievable.  Classic Halo songs will appear to please series fans, and all new tracks are part of the game's soundtrack as well.  An entire symphony's worth of pulse-pounding music surrounds the game, creating the perfect texture for Halo 3.

Some might say the hysteria surrounding Halo 3 grew too big for the game's own good, but it managed to meet all my expectations, and then some.  It is undeniably the new killer app for the Xbox 360.