An advance look at ‘Halo 3’ as Earth makes its final stand
KIRKLAND, Wash. (CP) – "You can take the Scarab out in many different ways," says Niles Sankey, level designer for "Halo 3."
I haven’t come close to finding one, however, and the huge alien attack vehicle seems to be stalking me and my soldier sidekick as we race around the battlefield in a two-man Mongoose vehicle.
Nearby, other marines exchange gunfire with smaller Covenant vehicles in the shadow of a huge factory complex. In the distance, the fight continues. And above, the battle rages in the air as well, as Earth forces fight for the survival of their planet against the alien Covenant.
But frankly it’s hard to take it all in, given I’m running for my life.
Bungie Studios recently invited a small group of journalists from around the globe to their offices in suburban Seattle for an exclusive taste of "Halo 3"’s single-player mode. It marked the first time the campaign mode had been played by non-Bungie personnel.
The Scarab conflict is part of The Storm, the fourth mission of the single-player campaign component of "Halo 3," scheduled for release for the Xbox 360 on Sept. 25.
And it illustrates how the next-generation version of the "Halo" video game franchise has grown.
The battle, just one portion of the mission, has more enemies and allies than the entire first mission of "Halo 1."
"That just gives you an idea of the scale that we’re going for. And these are not even the largest encounters in the game," explained Jaime Griesemer, whose title is Bungie’s sandbox design lead. "The size really ramps up as you go through."
The Scarab has appeared before in the "Halo" world. But not like this.
"In ‘Halo 2,’ he was a big piece of moving geometry. He wasn’t really real," Griesemer adds. "He was hand-animated and didn’t really react to what you were doing. He had a scripted path that he went on."
"But in ‘Halo 3,’ he’s an AI (artificial intelligence). He’ll chase you around, he’ll acquire targets. If he can’t find you, he’ll search for you. He’s the biggest character we’ve every done, essentially. And there are dozens of ways to kill him."
I finally find one, after dying repeatedly. I take the Mongoose up a ramp to the factory and get behind a mounted weapon. After pounding away at the Scarab’s legs, I finally disable one and the giant machine buckles.
Now I just have to race over and get on it, to take out its Covenant crew, before it recovers.
The story so far? It’s 2552 and the alien Covenant have invaded and overrun Earth. Master Chief, the last survivor of an elite experimental super-soldier program, is back on the case and once again trying to save mankind.
As the ad says, it’s time to finish the fight.
It’s the final game of the trilogy although Bungie and Microsoft have plans to mine the "Halo" world in other ways. A real-time strategy game, "Halo Wars," is being handled by another developer, and there are plans for more books and possibly a film.
"Halo 3" is the big one, however, and should answer a lot of questions about the "Halo" universe.
"We’re not going to lift the veil on every single mystery in the game but we’re certainly going to be a lot more descriptive and revelatory than we have been in the past," said Bungie’s Frank O’Connor.
"I think most, if not all of the huge questions will be answered by the time the credits roll in the game. Yes, I think people will be satisfied in that regard."
The "Halo" franchise has sold some 14.8 million games already, with gamers logging more than 800 million hours of online play.
During our studio visit, Bungie lifted the veil on the third and fourth missions of "Halo 3": Tsavo Highway and The Storm, both set in South Africa.
Tsavo Highway starts in a dark cave as Master Chief and his troops jump into a Warthog and start driving through a tunnel. Once out in the open, you wend your way through a mountain path.
The Covenant awaits.
It’s the first vehicle mission of the game and the mayhem mounts the deeper you progress. More enemies turn out, with more weapons and more cover. Eventually, you have to leave your vehicle and cross the wreckage of a twisted, destroyed highway and bridge.
More danger is just around the corner. Covenant Brutes, elite hard-to-kill troops, are lying in cover. They launch into the air, coming down with guns ablazing.
A Covenant Wraith tank fires away. Again there are multiple ways of taking it out. None come to me too quickly, although eventually I snuff out the danger.
The Storm takes you through hostile ground in a factory complex before eventually meeting the Scarab. The Covenant seems to be around every corner.
"Halo 3" players will face off against a newly improved force of Brutes, who are tough, mean and hard to handle. Their hierarchy is shown via their dress – the fancier the getup, the higher up the ladder and more dangerous they are.
"Halo 3" is packed with detail. Audio lead Jay Weinland proudly notes that as of the morning of the journalists’ visit, it included almost 54,000 pieces of audio: 1,000 pieces of music, 13,000 sound effects and 39,368 pieces of dialogue.
Not all of those may make the cut. One Bungie employee slyly asks the visiting reporters if anyone heard a Brute lament the death of an ally with the words: "He was my lover."
The game looks very good, but not jaw-droppingly great. After all, the first two "Halo" titles were pretty easy on the eyes.
But the new technology has allowed Bungie to fill its sandbox to the brim. There are new weapons – try taking out a vehicle with the Spartan laser – and vehicles galore – the Prowler, Chopper, Hornet and Elephant add to the "Halo" universe.
And there are plenty of other toys: trip mines, bubble shields, grav-lifts.
"All equipment in multiplayer shows up in single-player and the AI will use it on you," said Griesemer. "It adds a lot of uniqueness to the combat, so instead of fighting the same guys with the same weapons in different environments, every once in a while somebody will just throw something completely unexpected at you and you’ll have to deal with it."
"The main way you’re going to get equipment in the single-player game is by killing guys before they can use their own (on you)."
There’s even a "Saved Film" function that allows you to save and share clips of your game play.
On the multiplayer front, a nifty feature called The Forge allows the gamer to redesign maps by changing the placement of weapons and vehicles, as well as changing the rules of engagement.
Having already hit a home run with "Halo" multiplayer on "Halo 2," Bungie has looked to add life to the "Halo 3" single-player campaign by way of the so-called meta game.
Essentially, it allows a gamer to play for points in solo or in co-op mode once you finish a mission. The meta game rewards players for skilful play such as scoring a headshot or boarding a vehicle.
The game becomes more complicated via hidden skulls. Scattered through the game, these change the rules – for example, one skull calls for both players to die and be sent back to their last checkpoint if just one player is killed.
You can compare scores with fellow "Halo" gamers via Bungie’s website.
The ultimate task will be to finish every mission on legendary difficulty, with all skulls turned on, in a certain time limit with style.
(From MSN Entertainment)
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