There's no denying it - Halo 3 is the biggest computer game in history.
No other game has had as much hype, built-up fan anticipation nor the marketing push - try $10 million in marketing campaigns alone - as the last chapter of the premiere franchise in console gaming, Halo 3.
But is Halo 3 worthy? Does it live up the high expectations that gamers world-wide have set for it? We have two words for you: 'Hell' and 'Yes'.
Price of admission
Let's start off by saying that Halo 3 is worth every penny: go buy it! In fact, it's worth investing in an Xbox 360 if you don't already own one - We're willing to bet there will be more than a few gamers who line up on to buy not only the game but a console as well.
The Limited Edition Halo 3 for £44 inc VAT is the sweet spot for us. It comes with some really cool bonus features, such as Making Of documentaries and a nifty A/V Calibrator for your television. The more expensive Legendary Edition is really only for Halo fanatics who have a small cat or dog that can wear the helmet. The standard version for £39 inc VAT is just fine too if you don't care about any of the fancy extras.
Chances are, you've already conquered Halo and Halo 2, so you should be fairly familiar with Halo 3's gameplay and storyline. If you haven't, no worries. The game is easy enough to pick up if you've played first-person shooters before, and all you need to know about the story is that Master Chief is a badass and Brutes are "evil", as President Bush likes to say.
So what's new in Halo 3, besides the single-player campaign that brings the legendary storyline of Master Chief and the war against the Covenant forces to a thrilling conclusion? How about refreshing level design, a slew of new weaponry, the introduction of equipment, competitive online co-op, and a detailed multiplayer level editor called the Forge, which allows you to design levels and play them online.
We'll get to all of those things in turn but first, let's talk about what many gamers consider to be the most important element of Halo 3 - the graphics.
Beauty. Eye. Beholder.
When the first peeks at Halo 3 were released, many people lamented that it looked like Halo 2 with a hi-def facelift. Well, those complaints will quickly be abolished once gamers get a look at what Bungie has done with the Xbox 360 hardware.
The first level opens in the lush jungles of Africa. Rays of light shine through the canopy with the best HDR (high-definition range) lighting that we've ever seen reflecting off each individual blade of foliage.
The Arbiter is on the scene and his armour shines bright under the sunlight. The Brutes clad in their golden headdresses are also a sight to behold, majestic and regal yet deadly. The water effects in Halo 3 are also hyper-realistic, besting even the shimmering liquid found in the fantastic Bioshock (review here).
Halo 3 reflects every object in the environment and reacts to every step and gunshot with realistic physics. Particle effects from plasma grenades and weapons are high-definition eye candy for graphic enthusiasts.
Granted, it doesn't quite surpass the current benchmark of Xbox 360 visuals, Gears of War, but Halo 3 definitely has its high points. Where it falters in the visual department, however, is in the clay-like, low-res character models and flat geometry. Little details are missing, like Sergeant Johnson's nostrils, for instance, and the Forerunner structures are blocky, like they were put together with Lego bricks. This is especially troubling because everything else is in the game exhibits that HD-lustre.
The rest of the game is spot-on solid, though, minus a few level-design quirks with some of the later levels in the game. We won't go into any hard details - to avoid spoiling any secrets for you - but, compared to the outdoor environments in Halo 3, the indoor structural levels are lacking in detail and large-scale battles.
But overall, Bungie really stepped it up when it came to Halo 3's level designs. For the most part, the repetitive and lengthy back tracking segments like the Library levels in Halo 1 are gone. The jungle of Sierra 117 twists and turns in elevation, UNSC hangars are packed with objects to add that life-like feel, and cruising Tsavo Highway is one of the best moments in the game.
Halo 3 also boasts the largest scale environments we've ever seen. Dilapidated Halo rings the size of enormous space stations litter the off-roads of New Mombasa. Banshees battle UNSC Hornets high in the sky, and fights against the looming four-legged Covenant battle cruiser known as the Scarab are Shadow of the Colossus epic.