Pre-GC 2007: Halo 3 New Campaign and Multiplayer AU Hands-on
'Tsavo Highway' and 'Narrows' get blitzed.
by Patrick Kolan and Cam Shea, IGN AU
Australia, August 16, 2007 - Good lord; and you thought we'd reached the apex of Halo 3 coverage? You were dead wrong. Last night, IGN AU went hands-on with arguably one of the most exciting gameplay revelations of Halo 3's ongoing revelations - a never-before-seen campaign level known as Tsavo Highway. Four separate systems were linked together, allowing four players a single large screen each for maximum graphical pizzazz.
Taking place three levels into the campaign, Tsavo Highway opens with the subheading 'Full Contact Safari'; a hint at the insanity to come. Cortana's voice-over informs you to find a stranded transport team out on Tsavo Highway. A mission objective pops up on the screen, asking you to 'lead the marines away from the base' - an underground bunker with Warthogs up on platforms for repairs.
The bunker is squirreled deep inside a cave. The four players all started in the same room, with a handful of AI squad mates for backup. We made our way out of the darkly lit repair garage and into the vehicle bay, where several Warthogs were waiting. One player had to physically activate the main hangar door latch in order for us to exit, though. Tsavo Highway, according to the developers, is also the first mission in the game to feature useable vehicles.
Tsavo Highway, with Brutes taking to the air and the highway cutting through the level.
I managed to hop into the passenger's side of the Warthog while, frustratingly, the guy behind the wheel drove around like a madman. Tearing through the cave for the first time, we really got to appreciate the subtle graphical effects. The cave air is full of dusty atmosphere; cracks and fissures in the roof send glowing beams over high-resolution rock textures, showing off superb HDR lighting and very cool shadowing.
Bursting into the opening chamber of the cave, we encountered a dozen Grunts and Jackals and a couple of Brutes, holding down a small metal structure off to the right side. The usual crates and shield units were scattered around, begging to be knocked and blown to bits.
After emerging into the sun, the landscape is hilly and arid. In fact, it's quintessential Halo - a parched riverbed winds its way through the environment, rolling hills and steep rocky inclines astride it. Monstrous sections of the downed Halo - twisted, metal arches and spires - arc and rise out of the earth, reaching hundreds of feet into the air. Having a vehicle on the level is critical; the level itself is quite linear, but is spread very far from one end to the other. Thankfully, in addition to Warthogs, there also Brute Choppers floating around. These things are awesome. They tear up the soil and the twin cannons, while slow, are powerful. They also turn on a dime and the left trigger's boost-ram attack is brilliant.
Shot with FinePix S5000
The co-op campaign lobby screen with another little glimpse of the level.
We actually watched the AI put the ramming attack into practice. A Brute, having sighted another player's Warthog, chased him down, flanked his right side, and with full force, planted the massive thrashing wheel into the carriage. The Warthog exploded instantly, and the Chopper sped off. Man, Halo 3 rules.
After rounding hills and rises, blasting with plasma rifles and detachable plasma cannons as we go, we make it to the entrance to a mountainside tunnel pass-through, heavily defended by twin cannon mounts, Grunts and Brutes.
Let's talk about Brutes for a moment. These guys have gone from being bullet-absorbing wastes of digital space to some of the most interesting enemies in the game. The AI they demonstrate is astounding. We watched as they used a combination of overwhelming physical strength and gunplay, shooting grenades out of the air and successfully landing some impressive and painful sniper shots. These guys also tower over grunts and their new armour makes them look really vicious and imposing.
They're not nearly as resilient as in Halo 2, however. Amusingly, they will even kneel down in a crouch to embrace their own death if they're mortally wounded or know they're about to get run down.
Grunts are also vastly smarter, taking better advantage of squad tactics and communicating with each other and their other grunt cohorts. Watching them from afar, storming over hills and diving behind cover, you really do get the impression the AI is radically beyond most other games on the market. This is a bigger leap than the graphics, we think. Speaking of which, despite what you might read elsewhere, Halo 3 still has a ton of jaggies in 720p, running on an LCD television. We're not deeply concerned, but it is definitely noticeable. On the upside, the framerate never dips below 30 frames per second - even with a lot of action and rampant chaos unfurling.
The Brute Chopper on Sandtrap - the renamed version of Shrine.
Downed Ghosts and vehicles, as well as a Warthog-repelling shield, make vehicular travel a pain. So, ditching my wheelman, we venture inside. Small scripted events are triggered, such as an earthquake that sends debris down behind you. Passing through to the other side, we eventually arrived at the VOI Municipal Water Pumphouse, on the way to the overpass (which eventually leads to New Mombassa, some 100 or so kilometres away, according to several in-game signs). More shootouts - this time with glorious industrial set-pieces overpass. We like.
Before you can walk or drive the length of it, you have to take out a bit more Brute and Grunt resistance. Scaling hills and eventually climbing a ladder to the highway overpass level, we'd reached the end section. However, before our 10 minute demo was up, we took in the impressive detail. The highway surface was blown apart in areas, exposing a latticework of steel girders and leaving heaped mounds of cement rubble.
There were a lot of little details that we've glossed over - squadrons of dozens of Banshees flying in formation off into the horizon, for instance; this is merely a taste of things to come. For now, rest assured that Bungie's promise of epic scope has tentatively been realised. The game still feels almost identical to Halo - it hasn't lost that magic. But there's a lot more to the AI, the graphics are sharper and full of detail, and the encounters are never less than thrilling. We cannot wait for more.Multiplayer and a new map Called Narrow the Remake of the Halo PC map Gerophobia
Wow. What a great map. Bungie has stepped up to the plate with this one. Narrows takes place on a massive Forerunner structure that strafes a huge chasm. Two bases - joined by a multi-level bridge - are embedded into opposing snow covered cliffs, giving this map a great sense of scale, while still keeping most of the combat up close and personal. The bridge has two levels - a main one above, with plenty of cover objects, and another below, which 'narrows' in to a single path at the centre. Ramps and underpasses on either side mean players can quickly move between levels if needed.
Each base is comprised of multiple rooms, with paths that take you up onto the main bridge, down onto the lower bridge and around to the Man Cannon. Yes, directly opposite one another in each base is a Man Cannon, which fires players parallel to the bridge, high over a seemingly bottomless drop. It's a thrilling jump, and great for jousting spars over the gap. Plus, if two people launch from opposite sides at roughly the same time, they'll clunk into each other and fall into the inky abyss. Or, as we witnessed, they'll blow each other up in mid-air and send each other's corpses flinging off into the haze.It's a very well-balanced level and one of the more exciting maps we've sampled. The twin Man Cannons are priceless.
The set-up for our session was Team Slayer, four players a side, which was a great fit for this map. In fact, the pacing with eight players was pretty much spot on - almost constant action, but rarely cluttered. The fighting during our session tended to be spread out along the length of the upper level of the bridge, more so than underneath or in the corridors of the bases.
Firefights were almost constantly in progress in the main chambers at either end, while games of cat and mouse took place amongst the pillars along the bridge's length. As Lars told us yesterday, two of the key weapons in the map are to be found on the bridge. The rocket launcher sits atop a concrete pillar in the centre of the upper level, and while you open yourself up a bit jumping up in the middle of the bridge to get to it, it's a powerful tool on this map. Down below, meanwhile, in the narrowest section of path, lies the home of the shotgun. Narrows in action. If you can secure the rocket launcher early, you'll walk away happy. And alive.
Elsewhere, the map is packed with a great range of weaponry and equipment, while grenades are in steady supply. In addition to the rocket launcher and shotgun, you'll find the Needler, Battle Rifle, Sniper Rifle, Spiker, Brute Shot and SMG on this map. We were also able to get our hands on the new pistol/shotgun weapon, and it's damn cool; a single handed weapon, this puppy is small in size, but its massive barrel with huge rounds shows it means business. Best at close range, it packs a punch. Two close-range shots are deadly. No sign of the Spartan Laser on this map, nor Covenant weapons (aside from the Needler and grenades).
In aesthetic terms, Narrows looks great. Being a Forerunner structure, it's towering and immense, with hypnotic lines and patterns carved into the walls, while honeycomb tiles run across the floors. Each base is made distinct through colour - one base is warm and orange in tone, while the other is cold and blue. Mind you, I was generally too busy being taught a lesson in Halo to notice.
Our session with Narrows grabbed us in a way the maps in the beta didn't, and judging by many of the comments from other players, they felt the same way. With its appealing symmetry, good weapon line-up and almost constant action, Narrows is a winner. Looks like Bungie may be saving the best for last.