Say Halo to my little friend

Riding the levels of Halo 3
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Halo 3

(Microsoft; Xbox 360)

GAMER I have a confession to make: I don't like first-person shooters. Most of the ones I've played share the following objective: "Shoot the marines-aliens-terrorists-mutants and escape from the bunker–prison–top-secret facility–warehouse full of crates." I find this a bit boring. I therefore believe myself uniquely suited to hack my way through the dense jungle of Microsoft-sponsored hype with a flaming machete. Lest you discount the following as being biased, I've gotten my FPS-playing friend Glenn Song to cover me and augment my experience with his.

In the Bungie-developed Halo 3 you play a futuristic marine named Master Chief whose mission is to destroy worlds reminiscent of Larry Niven's Ringworld. Why? These worlds are the key to setting a killer parasite loose on the universe. I'm down with anything that showcases killer parasites. Humanity is working against an alliance of religious-zealot aliens called the Covenant. Halo 3 avoids reducing the story to cliché by maintaining a linear plot but keeping narrative revelations relevant so that they don't interrupt game play, and by allowing free play over small areas.

The graphics are stunningly good. Even the crates are well textured. The environments are amazingly lush and realistic. The soundtrack is very well done as well, although I think it sometimes borders on melodramatic.

Both Song and I had big problems with the user interface of the game. It took me several minutes just to figure out which buttons to click to start a single-player game, and it took even longer to figure out how to play a level cooperatively with another player. The menus are all nondescript and not really labeled intuitively.

Several times while playing, I felt like throwing the controller in disgust and making this review. Really. Short. That's because I couldn't target any of the small, fast-moving enemies. Almost all console shooters are like this, but most console games also have a feature that allows you to lock onto your target. Halo 3 does not. The levels sometimes seem rather lazily designed. The mission on the second level involves going from point A to point B and then back to point A again. It's monotonous on one level, but subsequent levels also seem to have a lot of backtracking.

Multiplayer is where Halo 3 really shines. There are a variety of minigames along with the traditional body-count competitions, and the games are populated with 11-year-olds up way past their bedtimes. The variety of exotic weapons and complicated terrains makes for pure, exciting mayhem.

As soon as I signed into a game, some kid asked, "Hey, are you really a girl?" I would like to say I beat the snot out of the little whippersnapper, but the reality is that I got killed in the first 30 seconds. Then I got respawned and chased a guy named Tastyporkchop around with a gun that shoots needles.

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