It has now been over six months since Master Chief's escapades began returning to PC, and following three games, Halo: Reach, Halo: Combat Evolved Anniversary, and Halo 2: Anniversary, that one game everyone seems to be talking about has rolled in atop its royal Warthog. Halo 3 has entered the Halo: The Master Chief Collection on PC.
The 2007-released shooter began Halo's trend of skipping the PC platform and became the Xbox console exclusive series we (used to) know it as, painfully leaving Halo 2's cliffhanger dangling indefinitely without a resolution, until now. This is the Halo that has always dominated conversations around the franchise even a console generation and over a decade later, with many deeming it to be the peak that was never hit again.
Much like other games in the Master Chief Collection, Halo 3 arrives as a port, not a remake or a full-on remaster over to the new platform. There are still quite a few PC-specific enhancements attached to the project, but everything from the original graphics to the gameplay has remained largely intact, as have most of the quirks.
In this review I go over how the now more than a decade-old title fairs on the new platform, which I found out by playing through the campaign (in co-op), experiencing the multiplayer portion for many hours, and witnessing the other weighty changes that have been made to the Master Chief Collection as a whole, such as the much-awaited audio fixes for Halo: Reach.
Being one of those people that have stubbornly stuck to the PC platform exclusively and simply took the hit of not having any more of Halo after the second game, this was the first time I got to experience Halo 3. I went in completely blind, and it was an absolute blast. The story picks up right where it left off, simply dropping Master Chief into the fray as if it's a new page in a book. It accomplishes this task without fail, coolly making you forget all the years of waiting, as the Chief is back, and there's a fight to finish.
The Elites are now in the highly underrated ‘let’s not destroy the galaxy’ gang alongside the humans, and the duo is going up against the leftover forces of the Covenant and the Flood as more Forerunner ruins keep delivering trouble to the universe.
This being the end of the saga, all the surviving big players make a comeback to see the story off. Sgt. Johnson's sweet one-liners, a certain ancient intelligence's rhymes, and even 343 Guilty Spark's weird giggles were music to my ears. Of course, the classic Halo music keeps pumping the atmosphere with tons of concentrated awesome, easing in and out alongside important moments and action segments. I am also extremely glad and relieved that by Halo 3's launch on PC, the audio issues have been resolved completely. More on that later.
None of the Halo 3 campaign levels overstayed their welcome, offering terrific pacing throughout. The power of sci-fi lets you jump across to new vistas that would be jarring in any other setting, except probably fantasy. You could be fighting through a construction yard taking down alien behemoths with the help of some brave construction workers, and a quick jump through a portal into another corner of the galaxy later, you are now trading bullets and lasers on a desert underneath a purple sun. The scale and variety of environments is also impressive. At many points you could spot massive air battles happening in the distance with missile barrages and out of earshot explosions. In certain sections of the campaign, simply climbing a hill can get you a picture-perfect shot of a huge clash between your allies and the enemy forces, urging you to join in to turn the tide. Playing the hero in Halo will never be dull.
The awe in NPC soldiers' voices as they comment on the walking tank that is Master Chief supporting them - or the fear in alien voices as they see the "demon" approach - on the battlefield is a small but memorable aspect, something I've only seen repeated in the Titanfall series. The aggressive map designs from the two previous games that presented confusing map layouts have all but disappeared in Halo 3 also. This is the most well-designed Halo campaign I've gone through yet, though Halo: Reach may come in at a close second.
Four-player cooperative play is back in Halo 3, something only Halo: Reach has offered in the Master Chief Collection on PC so far. I stuck to tradition and continued with my cooperative playthrough of the saga, this time in two-player co-op. The second player takes the role of the Arbiter. Surprisingly enough, I also learned that even some cutscenes and dialog are altered when playing with co-op partners instead of just handwaving their presence aside - a really nice touch. Split-screen play is still a missing element from the PC versions of the games, though I am sure this would be a higher priority task for the developer if the demand were greater.
The campaign was completely stable during my playthrough, even weathering through a connection issue or two while in co-op. It was an impeccable experience without crashes, glitches, or anything that could ruin the presentation.
Every Halo's multiplayer feels different to play and offers new challenges to overcome if you're keen on being a competent player. Halo 3's challenge came in the form of its Battle Rifle, which took me longer than I hoped to master. A weapon that felt easy to handle in the previous titles in medium range shootouts was a mess here, or so I thought. You need to lead your shots in Halo 3, a fact I didn't know since I'm basically a newborn baby when it comes to this entry.
Going for the noggin all the time isn't so easy now, since you have to both find out where to lead while also bobbing and weaving from the opponent's bursts, which forced me to develop new aiming strategies than what I was used to. This is a similar situation to what I had to deal with in Halo: Reach's Bloom mechanic, where hastily firing off shots drops accuracy levels drastically. It is satisfying to learn the ins and outs of each of these games naturally, and see your name steadily climb on the scoreboard every round as the new mechanics become second nature.
Another batch of quality maps and modes are now in rotation in the Master Chief Collection as Halo 3 settles into the playlists, and you'd better find out where the weapon pickups are, since their importance has not wavered. Hearing the Spartan Laser charge up noise or spotting its tiny red sighting laser jittering across the air is a horror story of its own. The 4v4 rounds are fast but it's easy to get their rhythm down, so you can work with your teammates. The 8vs8 team battles are where the chaotic fun happens, with more grenades and rockets flying around than bullets sometimes, and the art of crouch spamming communications becomes more complex as time goes on.
I do wish some of the more unconventional game modes like Rocket Race and VIP had more players. That said, in any game, deathmatch popularity is hard to overcome. I have poured over a dozen hours into just the Halo 3 multiplayer so far, and mirroring the campaign, I've yet to run into an issue.
Graphics, audio, performance
Halo 3 has aged gracefully in many areas. The bright and colorful art style probably helps a lot here, presenting environments and backdrops that jump out at you in crisp detail, from the lush jungles and snow-covered mountains to the disgusting flesh-covered Flood infestation interiors.
Unfortunately, it's the human models that shine a light on just how old the game is; even though they would have looked great in 2007, it is jarring to go from beautiful landscapes, glistening weapons and effects, to seeing the almost block-headed NPCs, which as expected also receive large amounts of close up shots during cutscenes. Thankfully, Master Chief and most aliens are exceptions to this, thanks to their great genes, I’m thinking. This is to be expected from a re-release, making people look like people has been a difficult endeavor since basically forever, and I'm probably spoiled by all the cinematics created by Blur Studio for Halo 2: Anniversary.
Performance has not been an issue yet in any of the Halo games on PC, and Halo 3 follows that pattern perfectly. There still isn't much in the way of graphics options to tweak, only offering a toggle for enhanced or classic visuals, but the amount of horsepower you need to run this game adequately hovers in the minimal range. First-person and vehicle FOV sliders that go up to 120 degrees, uncapped frame rates, ultra-wide monitor support, and key rebinds on a per-game basis, achieve a more than acceptable level of customizability.
Another massive plus is the audio, a far cry from how Halo: Reach on PC launched. Every sound is clear and distinct, without any muffled or distorted tones to speak of in both campaign and multiplayer. It is a relief that I don’t have to strain my ears to make out the hilarious voice lines of NPCs, or mess with audio sliders to hear small but critical stuff like the crunch of the MJOLNIR armor's heavy boots on snow.
Master Chief Collection
Halo: Reach no longer sounds like the audio is being blasted from a cheap Bluetooth speaker. I admit I did not expect the fixes to take this long, but 343 has been open about the difficulties it has faced trying to transfer the original audio from the Xbox 360 games. After comparing the sounds through age-old videos of the Xbox 360 version, I can confirm that they are now back to their original glory, even the terrible radio voice filter. The Reach campaign is calling my name for another playthrough already.
For the creative types out there, Forge has officially entered the Master Chief Collection, offering its powerful map and game mode editing tools for PC players to conjure up whatever they have in their minds across Halo: Reach, Halo 2 Anniversary, and Halo 3. After messing around a little with the tools, I quickly realized I am not one of the creative types, though the default hotkey setup didn't help with that. But as I’ve mentioned, a quick trip to the settings menu can resolve any key binding problems that may arise.
A battle pass-style Challenges system has been implemented alongside Halo 3's launch as well, presenting another method to speed up the grind towards more cosmetic unlocks as well as giving players goals to work towards. These range from simple weekly tasks like playing a campaign mission to achieve a certain score, to more time-consuming seasonal objectives that may ask you to get hundreds of headshot kills. A problem I faced here was that sometimes when I restarted the game, the progress on incomplete Challenges would be reset. Hopefully, a fix comes through quickly. The Challenges progress notification popup has been toned down from the Insider days thankfully, making it compact and to the point.
A small option I found noteworthy was the skins toggle that has been implemented for Halo: Combat Evolved. The recently added cosmetic items for the title can be disabled altogether if you would rather experience the classic multiplayer in its original glory. I am sure this won't be extended to other games, but the option is a thoughtful one from the developer.
It has been almost 13 years since the original Xbox 360 launch of Halo 3, a game that should have arrived to PC all those years ago. But better late than never, as some would say. Although some elements like human models are showing their age quite heavily, the fantastic pacing and over the top action in the campaign make this an exceptional experience no FPS fan would want to miss out on. It is a satisfying ending to the original Bungie trilogy, and finally getting to play it on PC through a port that has treated the platform with respect is more than I could have asked for. Funnily enough, I'm of the opinion that if we had gotten a PC port back in the day, it wouldn't have carried ‘extra’ features like FOV sliders, uncapped frame rates, or anything of that sort.
As you probably gathered from my multiplayer thoughts section, the game is definitely not lacking on that front. It is a major bright spot I have had to wrench myself out of to get work done on time. This Battle Rifle rendition was a new beast I had to tame, but it was a satisfying challenge to overcome. Halo 3 also takes the crown of having the smoothest launch yet on PC, easing onto the platform without any instabilities that plagued previous releases. Even better, alongside the new game, the long-promised fix for Halo: Reach's audio has finally arrived, as if I needed even more excuses to recommend the content-packed Collection. It may not be a remake, but this is the best version of Halo 3 you can get.
Looking forward, there are only two items left on the PC Halo: The Master Chief Collection's stellar menu. At the current breakneck pace of launching a game every couple of months, 343 Industries could have Halo 3: ODST out in September and Halo 4 around November. However, considering ODST utilizes the Halo 3 engine and does not have a head-to-head multiplayer component, the next releases may be here sooner than we think.
You can purchase Halo 3 on PC through the Microsoft Store and Steam for $9.99. If you'd rather go for the full package, the entire Halo: The Master Chief Collection is also available for $39.99 from the Microsoft Store and Steam. The games are a part of the Xbox Game Pass for PC library, too.
This review was conducted using a Steam copy of Halo: The Master Chief Collection provided by Microsoft.