Halo 3 for XBox 360 - Microsoft wants to keep the crown
Microsoft took the lead in video-game players after the introduction of the Xbox 360 in November 2005, five years after entering the business. Now the world’s largest software maker is relying on another new product to stay No. 1, Halo 3.
What is Halo 3?
Halo 3 is a first-person shooter developed by Bungie Studios exclusively for the Xbox 360. The game ends the story arc, begun in Halo: Combat Evolved and continued with Halo 2. The final version of the game was released on September 25, 2007 in New Zealand (where its midnight release made it first available for retail), Australia, Singapore, India, Mexico, Canada, Brazil, and the United States; September 26, 2007 in Europe; and September 27, 2007 in Japan. GameSpot reported that 4.2 million units of Halo 3 were in retail outlets on September 24, 2007, a day before the official release, a world record volume release.
The game features new vehicles, weapons, and gameplay features not present in the previous titles of the series. Halo 3 focuses on the interstellar war between 26th century humanity and a collection of alien races known as the Covenant, who after a decades-long war have begun the invasion of Earth. The player assumes the role of the Master Chief, a genetically enhanced cyborg supersoldier, as he wages war in defense of humanity.
The gameplay of Halo 3 largely builds upon the previous iterations of the franchise. It is a first-person shooter that, once again, follows the character Master Chief and his struggle against the Covenant and the Flood. The game’s action takes place largely on foot, but there are vehicles available for the player to use at certain points in the game.
The balance of weapons and objects in the game has been adjusted to better adhere to what Multiplayer Designer Lars Bakken describes as the “Golden Triangle of Halo”. These are “weapons, grenades, and melee”; all three of which are simultaneously available to a player at all times while on foot (unless they are dual wielding or using one of the new class of support weapons).
Most of the weapons available in previous installments of the series return with minor cosmetic and power alterations. For example, the Assault Rifle, which appeared in Halo: Combat Evolved but was absent from Halo 2 returned, redesigned to function as a more useful starter weapon. Halo 3 introduces a new-to-the-series class called “support weapons”. These are a group of exceptionally large, powerful and cumbersome two-handed weapons that, when carried, change the view to a third-person perspective and cause the player to move more slowly. The two weapons available in this class during the Public Online Multiplayer Beta were the Machine Gun Turret and Missile Pod, although a Flamethrower also features in this class as well as a new Covenant plasma turret. As a visual change to the weapons, when a player is carrying a second weapon in Halo 3, the secondary weapon will be stored on the character’s back (for larger, two-handed weapons) or on a leg holster (for smaller, one-handed weapons). This makes it impossible to “hide” a powerful secondary weapon and surprise unsuspecting foes.
A new class of usable items in Halo 3 are known as Equipment. These items have various effects and functions, ranging from defensive effects (Bubble Shield and Regenerator), or objects which blind or confuse the enemy (Flare and Radar Jammer), to ones which can actually harm and kill (Power Drainer and Tripmine). Most of these are named by their function.
Halo 3, like its predecessors, also features a strong vehicular component. Vehicles, and their countermeasures (rockets, mines, etc.), are tightly integrated with Halo gameplay. Many of the series’ vehicles are returning in the third installment. Vehicles cover a wide range of types, including light reconnaissance vehicles, large, heavily armored tanks, troop and vehicle transport craft, plus various atmospheric and spacecraft, though not all are usable by the player. Some vehicles appear in Campaign and custom games, but due to their power were removed from Multiplayer.
Seducing New Players
“Halo 3 is going to bring a lot of people out of the woodwork”,’ said Michael Pachter, a Wedbush Morgan Securities analyst in Los Angeles.
At stake is more than bragging rights. Microsoft has pledged to turn a profit in the Xbox division in the year that began in July, following $7 billion in losses since the first Xbox was sold in 2001. The Xbox division accounted for 12 percent of Microsoft’s $51.1 billion in sales last year.
For the business to make money, Microsoft has to sell enough profitable software to make up for the machines, which often lose money or break even. Popular software can in turn boost sales of the consoles.
More than 10,000 stores stayed open until midnight to sell “Halo 3,” 54 percent more than for the second installment, which brought in $125 million on its first day, Microsoft said.
As many as 6 million copies may be sold in the holiday season, compared with 6.5 million total for “Halo 2” since its November 2004 debut, Pachter said. At least 480,000 people have already played “Halo 3” online, according to the Web site of Bungie, the Microsoft studio that makes the game.
Various marketing techniques have been employed in promoting the release of Halo 3. This has included various trailers of the game; real-time cinematics, recorded gameplay sequences, pre-rendered CGI and even live action film. Throughout the course of development several “developer documentaries” were released, which explain the processes behind creating parts of the game. A large scale multiplayer Beta test was played on Xbox Live with many members of the public being able to take part and experience the game for themselves. Beginning in June 2007, Iris, an alternate reality game, began on the internet, designed to create hype for the game while involving players in slowing revealing some background information for the game.
In addition to high profile events, Bungie often talked about the game in its Weekly Update, occasionally releasing media of the game on their site. Numerous interviews with Bungie staff have been conducted by many gaming press establishments, covering a vast range of subjects. Magazines and journals also occasionally ran stories revealing new information. Pepsi-Cola have announced a new line of soft drink, a variant of Mountain Dew named Game Fuel. The packaging reflects Halo 3, sporting images of Master Chief. As Halo 3 draws nearer to completion and release the marketing drive is set to increase. Much of the advertising to date has focused on appealing to the general public, rather than just hardcore fans of the game. Microsoft announced on August 9, 2007, that pre-orders for Halo 3 had exceeded one million in North America. Some 7-Eleven stores have recently begun advertising Halo 3 and will be selling copies of the game. On September 12, 2007 the “Believe” Halo 3 ad campaign, focused on the epic nature of the story and heroism told through dioramas and third party accounts of Master Chief’s service, began with the video “Museum”. The same video which aired as the second Halo 3 commercial during NFL football on September 16, 2007.
More than two weeks before Halo 3 was due to be released, full retail copies of the game complete with photographs of the open game box started to appear on the internet auction site eBay. A week before Halo 3 was due for release, major UK catalogue retailer Argos accidentally released some of their final retail copies of Halo 3. Microsoft’s Entertainment and Devices division were quoted as being “disappointed that it happened” but that “it was just an honest mistake” and that Microsoft had no intention of punishing Argos for the error.
Months before the release of Halo 3, the game’s final testing copy before its gold release (codenamed Epsilon and confirmed by Bungie to be 99.9% complete) was leaked to the Internet. Microsoft reacted to this leak by having the Xbox Live accounts of gamers caught playing the Epsilon copy banned until the year 9999. Halo 3’s final retail copy was leaked online over a week before its official release. The 6.14 gigabyte file of the game was hacked and downloaded by “thousands” of people within 24 hours of the leak. Videos of the ending of the Halo 3, obtained from the leaked copy, were captured and posted on popular file sharing sites, such as YouTube.
On September 23, 2007, Microsoft released the game manual online, to promote its new browser plug-in, Microsoft Silverlight.
The Reaction of the Critics
Famitsu awarded Halo 3 a high “Platinum” mark of 10, 9, 9, 9 for a total of 37/40. In a leaked review of the Australian wing of Official Xbox Magazine, Halo 3 was again highly praised with a score of 10. Halo 3 was awarded by IGN in its review a 9.5. GameSpot has also reviewed Halo 3, giving it another 9.5 rating. Fran Reyes of Official Xbox Magazine has reportedly written a ten page review for the November 2007 issue. UK-based review website Press Start Online gave the game a Gold Award, the first in the web site’s history. Dan Hsu awarded Halo 3 a perfect 10 for 1UP.com; the Electronic Gaming Monthly review will be withheld until issue publication.
Pro-G in its review flatly stated, “Halo 3 transcends video games. It is a global entertainment experience. Just as Lord of the Rings: Return of the King and Spider-Man 3 brought to a close two of the most lucrative and epic film trilogies of all time, Halo 3 brings to a close perhaps the most complete, engaging and downright fun video game trilogy of all time.” Eurogamer celebrated, “The best game yet in one of the best FPS franchises of the era,” while Games Radar reported, “The single player is bigger and brawnier than anything that’s been attempted on a console before.” Of multiplayer play, IGN praised, “There’s no first-person shooter on 360 that can equal Halo 3’s blend of cinematic action, adrenaline-pumping shootouts, and male- (and female)-bonding gameplay.”
The Forge level editor and saved films features were singled out as particularly strong features, as GameSpot stated, “…It’s the addition of the Forge level editor and the saved films that give the game an even longer set of legs, legs that will probably keep you running at full speed until Bungie figures out where, exactly, to go from here.” Team Xbox claimed, “…It’s Forge and the Saved Films features that will likely go down in history as Bungie’s crowning achievements.”
GameSpy noted one of the game’s few shortcomings in its 5 star review, “[The] single-player campaign is somewhat short.” As of September 24, 2007, the MetaCritic score is 96.