The AI is certainly a step up from Halo 2, although not entirely convincing. Bungie has mentioned the "pack mentality" before, and you can see what they're talking about. Brutes will stick together and tend to hang back while Grunts and Jackals do their dirty work. There's the odd occasion, usually experienced when playing on the harder difficulties, where you'll be impressed with how the Brutes have sniffed you out of cover, but most of the time being patient and not rushing in will do the trick. On the Human side, we found our AI team-mates to be much more use than in the previous games. When playing single-player the computer controls the Arbiter, and he's one hell of a shot.
Did we mention the Gravity Hammer? It deserves special attention simply because it's so sweet to use. It's not long into the game before you get to use one, and the first time you do it's a guaranteed jaw-dropper. It's a melee-based weapon that you swing like an axe, impacting a spectacular blow (including cool sci-fi sound and gravity distortion effect) that can knock rockets out of the sky, smash speeding vehicles into smithereens and sends enemies flying off into the distance. It's also a great way to show off the Havok physics engine. Enemies hiding behind crates and defensive positions have no cover against the Gravity Hammer. It makes you feel invincible, and when you pick one up you invariably charge into packs of Brutes swinging like a crazed lunatic. Think Sauron in the opening scene of Lord of the Rings.
Another great addition to Master Chief's arsenal is the ability to tear turrets from the ground and use them to tear up the enemy. This switches you to a Gears of War-esque over the shoulder view while you slowly lumber around unpacking tens of devastating rounds a second into anything that moves. It's great fun, although it does leave you exposed if you're facing multiple enemies, and again brings to mind Arnie, this time in sci-fi classic The Terminator 2.
The Assault Rifle makes a welcome return following its hiatus during Halo 2. Bungie has said that it felt dual wielding in the last game stopped a lot of players using grenades, so it has changed the weapon balancing drastically. We found the Assault Rifle to be our most used weapon through the campaign. The spray is very powerful at medium range, it's great used as a melee weapon and the clip tends to last. There are plenty of other new toys to play around with too, including the Spartan Laser, which pops up sporadically throughout the campaign and the flamethrower, which you use like a turret. The Covenant has some really cool new weapons that we had a lot of fun using, too. The Brute Spiker is kind of like the Covenant version of the Submachine Gun. The Mauler is like a Brute shotgun. A great combo is to dual-wield one of each, loosening up enemies mid-distance with the Spiker before mopping them up with the Mauler. There are just so many weapons to choose from that it's safe to say that Halo 3 is the most destructive Halo yet.
'There's tonnes of equipment out there, including trip mines, energy drains, flares and grav lifts.'
Supplementing the weapon/grenade dynamic we've all become so used to is the addition of equipment. It's because of the equipment that the default control system has undergone somewhat of an overhaul. X now deploys your equipment, which you'll get to try out fairly early on in the game. The first you'll probably see is the Bubble Shield, a small defensive dome that stops enemy fire from getting in and your fire from getting out. It's really useful when the heat is on and your shield is down, but you're not the only one clued up. The Covenent has access to equipment too, and there's nothing worse than seeing a Brute lay down a Bubble Shield when you're under the cosh. There's tonnes of equipment out there, including trip mines, energy drains, flares and grav lifts. Some of the really cool ones we didn't come across until late in the game. We'll let you discover those for yourself.
For some, it's not about the weapons, nor the new equipment. It is, and always will be, about Halo's vehicles. It's here that we really have to bow down and praise Bungie, because they've added some seriously cool vehicles to Halo 3. On the ground, our new favourite has to be the Chopper, a one-man Brute vehicle with a large front wheel and auto-cannons. It's like the love child of Mad Max and Ben Hur, and just about beats power sliding your way through bunches of Grunts on the classic Warthog. In the air, the Covenant Ghost has a new rival - the one-man Hornet. When we saw the vehicles for the first time, it was a real OMG! moment. Once you get used to the controls, the Hornets become absolutely savage fun to use. We won't spoil it for you, but rest assured there are moments in the campaign where you get to use the Hornets in extremely cool circumstances.
Halo 3 isn't all about causing havoc and beating down Brutes though. There are also little asides to the main campaign proper that make it worth taking your time as you battle your way through the game. At one stage we came across a Human soldier who was having an argument with another soldier over a password given out during a staff meeting. The two soldiers had this hilarious stand off where one wouldn't open a door, despite the other constantly moaning and banging. This was completely off the beaten track and something we wouldn't have noticed had we simply powered through the game, seeking out check point after check point.
That's another thing you'll notice about Halo 3's campaign. There's more dialogue than ever before. Soldiers will constantly be talking while battles are taking place and during down time. The enemies are chatterboxes too. In one area, we surprised a Grunt who said: "You don't look like you're here to help!" In another area, we stumbled upon a Brute leader giving out search instructions to his subordinates. It all adds to the feeling that you really are stuck in an intergalactic war, fighting for the lives of real soldiers and against a determined, intelligent enemy.