Halo 3 10th Anniversary Retrospective

Bungie's final entry into the Master Chief trilogy, Halo 3, turns 10 this year.

For a lot of people, Halo 3 is where the series ended, with Master Chief locked away in cryosleep, but not before telling Cortana to, “Wake me, if you need me.” It was a moving conclusion to the Master Chief trilogy, knowing that Chief had finished his mission, saved the world and the universe for a third time, and could finally get some much needed rest.

It’s been ten years since Halo 3 graced our Xbox 360 consoles in 2007, and since then there have been eight Halo games and a bunch of remastered versions, but we still remember the thousands of hours we poured into Halo 3.

“Sir, finishing this fight.”

Coming off the back of one of the worst cliffhangers in gaming history, Halo 3 finally let us finish the fight that Master Chief got himself into at the end of Halo 2. We all knew where he left off, in the back of a Forerunner spaceship heading to Earth. It was a moment of sheer ecstasy as we saw that Forerunner ship enter the night-time sky upon booting up Halo 3. Then, like some terrible nightmare, we saw a piece fall away and we knew it was the Chief.

Spartan-117 was smashed into the earth, lying completely immobile, crumpled into his own crater. “He couldn’t be dead, not after all we’ve gone through,” I thought as I watched Sergeant Johnson call for heavy-lift machinery. But then, like some metal-clad phoenix, Master Chief rose up from the dirt and started kicking ass.

The entire campaign was a blast from start to finish, and it encapsulated precisely an aspect of Bungie’s design philosophy that they’ve had from the beginning: thirty seconds of intense combat, repeated. We fought across Africa, over the face of a Forerunner Ark, and we returned to what was essentially Halo 2.0 – a replacement for the one we blew up in the first game, and then we blew it up again!

The narrative was cohesive and simple, but laden with enough twists and turns to keep it interesting. We got sweet revenge on the Prophet of Truth and bawled our eyes out when Johnson couldn’t go on any more. Even the epic driving sequence at the end was a much-needed throwback to Halo: Combat Evolved and felt entirely fitting.

We’d done it. Saved humanity and the universe, settled our differences with the Sangheili, and finally activated a Halo. It was the perfect ending to the series, so it’s no wonder it was the highlight for a lot of fans.

Matchmaking and Custom Games

It was what you did back in those days, you didn’t dive straight into multiplayer, you waited until you finish the campaign. With our Achievement unlocked for finishing the story, we dived headfirst into the multiplayer, a feature that would consume every waking moment of our lives for years to come.

Whether you were a fan of casual games, ranked matches, or even messing around in Forge, Halo 3’s multiplayer had it all. It had a ranking system, where wins and losses would shift your number higher or lower, the higher the number, the better you were. I remember fighting tooth and nail in Lone Wolves, fighting for the win I needed to reach Rank 42.

Then there was the Team Doubles playlist. This would make or break friendships. Many nights were spent next to my best friend, two Xbox 360s plugged into two televisions, fighting from victory to victory, from bitter defeat to bitter defeat, as we climbed the leaderboards.

It was the small things that would make all the difference to combat. Fleeing from the enemy while pointing your gun at the ground would hunch your head over, making it more of a difficult target. Throwing grenades at weapons would push them away from players before they could grab them. Tossing a sticky at just the right trajectory to stick an enemy as they ran across the doorway. Crouch-jumping and clicking in the thumbstick for that extra little boost to reach higher platforms. These were skills you had to learn, master, and dedicated to muscle memory if you wanted to win.

Beyond mere skills and stressful matches were the hundreds of custom maps that users had created. Forge was a game-changer for Bungie. The new feature allowed gamers to jump into a map and place objects wherever they wanted. This shifted the responsibility of content creation from Bungie and shared it with their community. Players latched onto this and turn levels into Escher-esque maps, created wild game modes, and generally did things Bungie could never have dreamed.

One of my fondest memories was playing a zombie base defence map where a giant fortress of crates sat out in the ocean of Last Resort. It was a blast at LAN parties watching your friends get slowly turned into some insanely fast zombies, all while you tried to hold them off from atop the castle.

The Gun Pointed at the Head of the Universe

But all of this would be for nothing if it weren’t for the core mechanics that made Halo 3 the standout title that it was. First of all, there was the movement, which was fast enough to allow you to get in and out of combat, but not so fast that you couldn’t gun down an opponent if they significantly misplayed. Even the jumping, though bouncy, gave Halo 3 a sense of verticality not matched in other “boots on the ground” franchises.

Then there were the guns, grenades, and melees, the three pillars of Bungie’s gameplay philosophy. Each of these fused together to create the ultimate first-person shooter experience. Even now, in a day and age where graphical fidelity has become increasingly higher, Halo 3’s gameplay experience still shines where its graphics fade.

It’s been ten years since Halo 3 first hit our consoles, but it still feels as good as it ever did. Now that Halo 3 has been added to the Xbox One backwards compatibility library, it’s the perfect time to revisit the series and remember what made it so great. What was your favorite memory from Halo 3?