Halo 3 first impressions

by Saleem Khan

As most video game fans – and even a fair number of non-gamers – know, Microsoft Corp.'s science fiction action/adventure game Halo 3 is to launch in the fall exclusively on the company's Xbox 360 video game console. It's been difficult to avoid the cinematic trailer Microsoft vice-president Peter Moore debuted at the E3 interactive entertainment software conference in Los Angeles a year ago, especially after they began playing in movie theatres.

Earlier tonight I got a hands-on look at what may well be the most anticipated game of the year – the multiplayer component, anyway.

If you've played either of the previous instalments of Halo, you'll be either very happy or very dismayed to learn that the new game is pretty much the same.

Full of new high-definition visuals, new weapons and tools (like a high- powered laser and the force field impenetrable to shots and explosions used by Master Chief in the trailer), what I saw of the game when I tried it is more of a refinement on previous versions than anything innovative.

While the graphics are much more detailed than Halo 2's, on a high-definition LCD screen, every element from the characters to the weapons to the environment lacks any anti-aliasing. In other words, the edges of everything have lots of "jaggies" around them – especially in areas of high-contrast like the icy Snow Bound map ringed by robot gun turrets to keep you in the playing field, or when moving from shadow to sunlight in the boreal forest of Valhalla, or the red rock and scrub brush of Higher Ground.

It's a far cry from the super-slick cinematic we've been presented with as a representation of the final version until now. Of course, the thin slice of the game I've seen is still a beta or test version, so one would hope they'll smooth everything out in time for the launch.

The multiplayer games are available in individual and team play versions of Slayer deathmatch, and there's also a king-of-the-hill mode called Crazy King, in which a player must defend the space enclosed by a cylindrical force-field that doesn't allow weapons fire in or out.

The game-matching system can sometimes take minutes to find a multiplayer session that balances people's preferences and skill levels, but that should improve once Microsoft opens the beta to owners of Crackdown on May 16.

The online experience should also improve as more people sign on, according the Microsoft. Halo 3 uses peer-to-peer networking technology similar in principle to that which makes filesharing networks operate, they say.

New weapons range from the aforementioned heavy laser to a missile pod, to a rapid-fire spike gun and chain guns. New gadgets include the shield to an anti-gravity lift that lets you leap up a couple of storeys to an energy drainer that saps your opponent's armour.

Bungie has said they're holding back on more weapons and features for the full launch. You'll just have to be satisfied with the taste they're offering between now and then.