Halo 3 – First Impressions

I got my copy of Halo 3 yesterday on launch day. I was a bit strapped for time, but managed to get in about an hour of gaming on the new Halo 3. The first note was only played on coop mode with my Sean, so I don’t have any single player campaign impressions yet. That should occur tonight.

My first thought when I booted up the game was Wow! The game was gorgeous. Of course, this was a cut scene, but the colors were vibrant, the detail amazing and the lightening was very dynamic and realtime. Even in-game, the graphics were quite amazing. They were at least as good as any game I have seen on the Xbox 360 or PS3. I don’t understand what the folks complaining about graphics wise are seeing wrong. They want photo realistic which is unreasonable today.

The frame rate of the games was wonderful and rock steady. I didn’t notice a single slowdown even when the screen was crowded with enemies. The levels we managed to complete yesterday were all in somewhat confined forest/cave areas, so I want to see if all this graphics beauty holds up in open, expansive environments. We were playing the game on Heroic difficulty level.

My second thought while playing the game was WTF! In two person coop mode, the screen is split into two with one player on the top portion and the other player (as the Arbiter) on the bottom portion. However, the display is rendered in what appears to be 4:3 dimensions. You get these really ugly, obtrusive and distracting black bars on the each side of the screen. I have a 16:9 HDTV, so I don’t know what this looks like on old definition style TVs. I went through options setting after setting trying to figure out if I needed to change something. I couldn’t find anything to change.

I must say I was pretty pissed at this blatant loss of graphics real estate. The only reason I can think that they do this is to maintain a perfect 16×9 aspect ration for your viewing area. I am not sure its worth it. They should just increase the field-of-view. I quit out of coop and went into single player campaign to see if it persisted there or was a “feature” of coop. Sure enough, the game displayed in all its wide screen beauty, utilizing the entire screen. Going back into coop play left us with the same reduced screen usage mode. I certainly hope Bungie releases an update to fix this nonsense. After searching a bunch of Halo 3 forums, including Bungie’s, there are a lot of other upset folks too.

The control scheme seemed much tighter to me. I know you can adjust settings and things like that, but I could never get quite the fine tuning control that I could in Halo 3 last night. It was a welcome, unexpected benefit. They did remap one important button – the reload. It used to use the X button. They have remapped it to the right bumper. The X button now controls your bubble shield. I can’t count how many times I used my bubble shield when I wanted to reload. I think once I get used to it, the scheme will actually make more sense.

The Covenant AI is definitely improved. It is nice to not see the stupid grunts running around aimlessly and wildly. They actually have some smarts and you have to be careful of them. They are still the wimpiest Covenant, but they can have better weapons now and the AI means don’t completely ignore them like before.

One thing that seemed different was the abundance, or lack of, ammo for the weapons. I rarely had any instances in Halo or Halo 2 where I would run out of ammunition even on Legendary level. Last night, I was forever running out of ammo and having to drop my weapon and pick up a different one. This actually is more realistic and will require you to have a strategy on ammunition consumption where you didn’t have to before. This was a bit troublesome for me last night, because the display of when there is a weapon you can pick up was hard for me to spot. In previous versions, it just jumped out at you. Now, you have to be watching for it or you might miss the weapon. I don’t know if its just me or they made it smaller and more transparent. It might also be related to coop mode itself (size of the weapon graphic) or to the greatly reduced screen size usage that I talked about above. Hopefully, its more apparent in the single player. This is probably something that will be just fine when I get used to it.

Overall, my first impressions from the coop session were very good. The game was fun to play and very immersive. The graphics and game play were very good, though the reduced 16×9 screen usage in split screen was a very poor choice by Bungie in my mind. I am looking forward to my first single player session tonight.