You’d have to look far and wide to find another video game that received as much pre-release hype as Halo 3 did.
From the moment the very first trailer landed at E3 2006 and asked us to “Finish the Fight,” it was clear that developer Bungie was aiming high with its much-anticipated trilogy-capper. Even though Bungie wasn’t quite under the same ridiculous pressure and time constraints as they were with Halo 2 , pulling off Halo 3 was by no means an easy feat for the studio, which had revolutionized console first-person shooters with Halo: Combat Evolved on the original Xbox back in 2001.
Halo 3 marked not only the first Halo title developed for the Xbox 360 which, at the time, was still in its relative infancy as a console, but an opportunity for Bungie to address the missteps they had made with Halo 2. Despite being both a commercial and critical success, Halo 2 was riddled with problems, most notably its controversial cliffhanger ending that didn’t sit well with many fans of the series. There was never any doubt that Halo 3 would be a sales success, but if it had simply recycled Halo 2’s design and not offered much in the way of improvements, the franchise may very well not have lasted another decade and counting.
Now that Halo 3 is officially a decade old, it’s become increasingly clear to me that this remains the high water mark for the franchise and I’m really not sure if any Halo game will ever truly top it. While Halo: Reach is my personal favorite Halo game, I have to concede that Halo 3 is the best overall … and here are 10 reasons why.
10. Epic Level Design
The first Halo is deservedly considered to be a classic but the truth is that, outside of a few levels, most of its design comes down to recycled rooms and hallways that start to become tedious before long. Halo 2 took steps to rectify this with more expansive level design, most notably in the epic New Mombasa stage, but that game’s rushed development cycle contributed to the campaign feeling unfinished as a whole (see: cliffhanger ending). For Halo 3, Bungie took full advantage of the technological leap offered by the transition over to the Xbox 360 and built a campaign full of more open level design that contributed to a game that was considerably more epic in scope than either of its predecessors.
The most obvious indicator of this change was the memorable Scarab fight from the campaign’s first act. Whereas Halo 2’s Scarab fight essentially operated as an on-rails section, Halo 3’s was busted wide open to allow players to approach as they saw fit. You could drive around the huge, lumbering machine with reckless abandon before bringing down the machine and climbing aboard to take it down from the inside. While the campaign would go on to recycle this same fight in a later level, Halo 3 maintained its expansive design throughout and outside of the terrible “Cortana” mission, each level arguably stands out as a series highlight.