Finish the fight. Again.
Where were you on September 25th, 2007? If you’re like me, you spent most of the day playing Halo 3. Few games have released on the back of more hype. It was the end of Bungie’s trilogy, the conclusion of the fight that started in 2001 when Combat Evolved nearly single-handedly saved the Xbox. For all we knew, it would be last game about everyone’s favorite big green super soldier. There would be hundreds of hours of multiplayer logged; thousands of matches played; endless Forge maps and custom games; countless films and photographs saved in the theater; and we would finally learn what happened after Halo 2’s cliffhanger ending three years earlier. It’s no wonder the crowd at E3 was so loud when the game was first shown. Halo 3 was always going to be something special. And by the time launch day rolled round, the world was more than ready for it.
Halo 3’s MCC port is the first time the game has appeared on PC. The game hasn’t seen the graphical overhauls that the Anniversary editions of Combat Evolved and Halo 2, but there are some visual updates. The game supports 4K resolutions and 60 FPS and has seen a lighting upgrade courtesy of Ruffian Games, who developed this port under 343’s supervision. There are enhanced settings that you can toggle, though this setting only effects the draw distance of world objects, rendering them at farther distances. There are default and performance modes as well, but given how well the game runs, they’re not necessary unless you’re playing on very old hardware.
"The resolution bump is huge and highlights just how well much of Halo 3 holds up. Halo 3 features detailed textures and lighting, and those aspects are still impressive today. The game also shows off Bungie’s talents for creating some stunning environmental spaces."
The resolution bump is huge and highlights just how well much of Halo 3 holds up. While it’s easy to poke fun at Halo 3’s character models (particularly the human models that aren’t the Chief or Cortana) and some of its animations, I was shocked by how good the game looks. Halo 3 features detailed textures and lighting, and those aspects are still impressive today. The game also shows off Bungie’s talents for creating some stunning environmental spaces. In Sierra 117, lush forests give way to flowing rivers and old industrial buildings. The shattered concrete of Tsavo Highway opens into large plains that find a balance between vehicle and on-foot combat, while the destroyed city at the heart of The Storm provides ample space for Warthogs and Mongooses to battle with a Scarab as Pelicans and Hornets take on Banshees in the skies above. Beyond, capital ships wage war in a series of jaw-dropping skyboxes. Halo 3 has its visual flaws, but the jump in resolution and framerate highlight the game’s many moments of visual wonder. It’s particularly good looking in motion, and I often found myself admiring how beautiful a lot of the game is nearly thirteen years later. The only downside is that the PC release does not currently support HDR lighting, which is something that the Xbox One version does. Hopefully, this will be patched in with ODST’s release, which is supposed to feature HDR support.
Beyond the visual updates, not much has changed. Halo 3’s story is a fun romp that ends the Chief’s first trilogy. Sure, there’s some clunky dialogue – who can ever forget the awful “To war” line – but it’s an engaging story overall, especially if you’re already a fan of the series. Reach gets a lot of credit for its portrayal of how devastating the war is, but for my money, Halo 3 sells it better. Fighting through ruined cities alongside an army of marines and Elites, being chased out of your strongholds, holding off the Flood, and betting it all on a last-ditch mission into uncharted space do a lot to sell the game’s stakes. Halo 3 feels like an epic, and more importantly, it feels like an ending. That hasn’t changed, even though several games have come after it.
What Halo 3’s campaign does best, however, is refine Bungie’s sandbox to its peak. The Brutes, now the primary enemies since the Elites are your allies, bring several fun weapons to the party, including the Spike Grenades, Spiker, Mauler (think tiny shotgun), and Gravity Hammer. The Spartan Laser makes its glorious debut here as well. In general, the weapons you’ll face in Halo 3 fire more slowly than they do in Halo 2, giving the player more opportunities to avoid them without hiding behind cover, and new grenade types and a reduced carrying capacity for each (2 per type) help reduce grenade spam. The assault rifle returns and is a far more useful weapon than the SMG. Add in things like equipment, single-use items that deploy things like gravity lifts, regenerators, flares, power drains, and bubble shields, and you always have a veritable toybox to play with. Levels are much bigger, too, allowing you to pick and choose how to tackle situations.
"Like it’s predecessor, Halo 3 is a game that rewards map knowledge, skill, and coordination, and it’s a joy to play. Learning when to take a fight (and when not to) is just as important as your aim, your ability to strafe, and how quickly you can think on your feet. "
This is never more apparent than during the game’s Scarab fights. These enormous walking tanks are a highlight of the game, and how you choose to fight them makes all the difference. The first fight gives you a bunch of Mongoose-riding marines armed with rocket launchers, but you can also opt for two different models of Warthog (one in the area, and one you start the level with), the nearby mounted missile launchers (which, like all turrets, can now be ripped off their mountings and carried around), or to just board the thing from a high place. And that’s just one of the fights. Later levels introduce Hornets, the first controllable flying vehicles in the series, so it always feels like there’s something new around the corner.
Even the hated Flood have seen upgrades. They can now infest the living and the dead in real-time, making every fallen ally or enemy a potential threat. You’ll fight more Flood at any given time in Halo 3 than before, but you have advantages. Shooting the infection forms out of their chest will now kill them instantly, and they’re not particularly vulnerable to melee attacks, offering new ways to take them out beyond the trusty shotgun. There are even pure Flood forms that can shapeshift on the fly, presenting new challenges. These changes almost make Halo’s most hated enemy, dare I say it, fun, because you have so many ways to combat them effectively. That spirit applies to the entire campaign. Halo 3’s sandbox is all about giving you options, and it does a wonderful job of it. It’s no wonder that several of the game’s levels are among the most beloved in the series. It’s not a complete home run – Cortana (the level, not the character) exists, and it’s the worst level in the series – but the highs are absurdly good. Opinions on the best Halo campaign vary wildly, but I think Halo 3’s is much more enjoyable than 2’s, and one of the best in the series. Throw in the numerous Easter eggs, secrets, skulls and campaign scoring, and you have a game you can play for a long time. There’s even a new skull, called Acrophobia, that will let you fly.
Of course, the campaign isn’t the only thing on offer here. Halo 3’s legendary multiplayer returns in all its glory, with every map and mode you remember. While I don’t think that 3’s maps are as strong as 2’s, there’s a number of standouts here: Standoff, High Ground, Guardian, Heretic, The Pit, Valhalla, Epitaph…you get the idea. Like it’s predecessor, Halo 3 is a game that rewards map knowledge, skill, and coordination, and it’s a joy to play. Much of it is like riding a bike, but the skill ceiling here is a high one. Learning when to take a fight (and when not to) is just as important as your aim, your ability to strafe, and how quickly you can think on your feet. Mastery will require practice unless you never stopped playing Halo 3 to begin with. It’s definitely a game that’s better with friends, but there are so many ways to play it – Slayer, Capture the Flag, Assault, Oddball, Big Team Battle, Infection, Juggernaut, and so on – that you’ll be sure to find something you like even if you have to saddle up alone.
"343 has made several improvements to Forge, adding new objects, bigger budgets, object physics, rotation, coordinate snap and precision editing tools. There’s a ton of customization here if you want to dig into it, and it’s as easy as ever to share your custom maps and modes."
Forge is also here, and this update brings it into Halo 2: Anniversary and Reach, as well. 343 has made several improvements, adding new objects, bigger budgets, object physics, rotation, coordinate snap and precision editing tools. There’s a ton of customization here if you want to dig into it, and it’s as easy as ever to share your custom maps and modes. You can also use Theater Mode to view temporary videos of saved games, though there’s unfortunately no way to edit or save them without using an outside program. 343 has also used this update to improve the Master Chief Collection at large, adding new unlockable cosmetics for Combat Evolved and PVE, PVP, game-specific, and seasonal challenges for players to complete, as well, though progress is unfortunately not shared between the Xbox One and PC versions of the collection.
It’s a truly staggering amount of content. Unfortunately, it also comes with several bugs. The game had trouble tracking my progress across Halo 3’s campaign, and I often wouldn’t receive Achievements for things like picking up skulls or completing levels, which was not a problem when I did the same things on the Xbox One version. In addition, users are reporting issues with online co-op, keybindings, throwing multiple grenades or equipment items at once, and issues equipping certain cosmetics. 343 is aware of these bugs, and is working to fix them. Given how many of the issues in Halo 2’s port were corrected shortly after launch, I imagine the majority of them will be fixed quickly.
The real problem, and one without an imminent solution, is with Halo 3’s hit registration. This issue is caused by the increase in the game’s framerate. Halo 3 ran at 30 FPS on Xbox 360. In the MCC, it runs at 60 FPS. To determine how far a projectile moves in a single frame, the game divides the speed of the projectile by the “tick rate” (how fast the game logic updates, which is generally tied to framerate). The higher tick rate messes with this formula, which leads to a shorter hitscan distance for projectiles. As a result, certain guns, such as the Battle Rifle, don’t behave the way they should in multiplayer. It’s a major issue, but also not an entirely unexpected one. These are old games, many of which were never expected to run on a PC, and the fact that they do is a minor miracle. That said, this does have a significant impact on how Halo 3’s multiplayer works. 343 is aware of the bug and working on it. Hopefully, it’s something that they will figure out soon.
Most people who are going to get the PC release of Halo 3 have already made up their mind about the game regardless of what I or any other critic might say. Fortunately, this is a good port of a game that holds up remarkably well, and probably the best release in the MCC so far on a technical level. It’s not a home run: there are several bugs here, though most of them are fairly minor, and the lack of HDR support is disappointing, especially since the Xbox One version has it. But this is still a great game, and one that is very much worth playing today. It’s absolutely stuff with content, and the collection around it is improving all the time.
It’s remarkable how current Halo 3 still feels. It was a game that was thoroughly ahead of its time, packing an enormous amount of replayable and customizable content into a single package. When it came out, I imagined how the features it had – Forge, File Share, Theater, Saved Films, Photos, modifiers for campaign scoring, and an incredibly customizable multiplayer mode – would be standard on every game in the future. That hasn’t happened. In many ways, we have fewer options in our big budget titles, not more. In 2007, Halo 3 felt like the future. It still does today. It’s an imperfect game in its current form, yes, but still a great one. And thirteen years later, whether it’s your first time or your thousandth, that fight is worth finishing. See you online.
This game was reviewed on the PC.
Visual updates are good. A fun story and campaign. Legendary multiplayer with great maps. An improved Forge mode. Lots of Easter eggs to find. Campaign scoring is a lot of fun. A new skull.
Certain weapons have hit detection issues in multiplayer. Cortana is a terrible level. Several minor bugs. Some clunky dialogue. There's no way to save films in-game.
Halo 3 still looks and feels great for a game that's thirteen years old. It’s an imperfect game in its current form, yes, but still a great one. Whether it’s your first time or your thousandth, that fight is worth finishing. See you online.