If Bungie had simply closed the can on the game there, it would have been enough to satisfy Halo's fanatical horde of fans. But it didn't. Bungie has gone one step further with Halo 3, and, indeed with the FPS genre as a whole, by adding the most comprehensive package of community features ever seen in a videogame. The first is the Theatre mode, which allows you to look back at your multiplayer and campaign games from the point of view of a free roaming camera (accessed with the Y button). Everything you do is automatically saved to the 360's hard disk (we found most of our multiplayer games were between one and two MB). You can pause, fast forward, view over the shoulder cam, switch between players and even swirl the camera 360 degrees while in slow-mo ala The Matrix. More impressive is the ability to save screenshots and clips, then share them with your friends via XBL. So you can pause the game right at the point where you fired a rocket up your mate's ass, save a screenshot, upload it to Bungie.net then download it as your screensaver. Sweet.
The potential here is obvious. The guys behind comedy machinima Red vs Blue will be dribbling with glee. Clans will also have their trigger fingers poised, as they'll be able to see exactly why they just got owned in a replay. The Theatre is a wonderful addition to the game, and unfortunately for other developers raises the FPS bar even higher.
Then there's the Forge. We have to admit, when we first heard about the Forge, we were a bit confused. Even when I heard a Bungie podcast explaining the thing, I wasn't convinced the Bungie guys were even sure what it was. This, in a funny way, is exactly what it's all about. It's a real-time map making game mode that we just can't predict the outcome of. In Forge mode, pressing up on the d-pad will turn you into this omnipotent map creator which looks like 343 Guilty Spark from previous Halo games. You fly around dropping vehicles, weapons, equipment and crates onto the map bought with a set amount of dollars. You can change spawn points, set teleporters and grav lifts, dump fusion coils and pretty much mess about with anything in any given map, bar the actual environments themselves.
There's two ways to look at the Forge. One, as a map editor and two, as a multiplayer game mode in itself, where you can instantly switch between Forge mode and normal mode, creating cover for team-mates, dropping tanks on enemies and, well, anything you can come up with. As a map editor it certainly works well, and expect to see Bungie featuring some of the better community-made ones. But as a multiplayer mode we're not so sure. It certainly takes a while to wrap your head around the fact that you can change into a flying ball when you're being hit and give yourself a Scorpion tank. We're not sure how popular it will be on XBL and with friends in your front room. Our Forge games descended into chaos, putting our differences aside to pile vehicles onto grav lifts with the odd fusion coil added for good measure. Then we fired rockets just to see what happened.
So, finally, onto the review score. Despite Halo 3 being more combat evolved than combat revolutionised, Halo 3 deserves a 10 because it's the most complete FPS experience ever released. We can sum up why Halo is great with one, simple anecdote. You may have read last week on the site that we managed to snag a retail copy of the game from Argos. It sparked something I've never experienced before in gaming. A flood of instant messages, emails and texts followed. I got calls from friends and family asking to come over and play the game. And when they did, when that unmistakable music kicked in, when the Bungie logo flashed across the HD LCD, I could feel the excitement in the air like the after effects of a destroyed fusion coil. I can't remember the last time having a game in my possession before official release did that.
Halo 3 transcends video games. It is a global entertainment experience. Just as Lord of the Rings: Return of the King and Spiderman 3 brought to a close two of the most lucrative and epic film trilogies of all time, Halo 3 brings to a close perhaps the most complete, engaging and downright fun video game trilogy of all time. There is absolutely no way any Halo fan will be disappointed by this game. You better believe the Chief has triumphantly returned. Now buy the game, cock the Assault Rifle, and finish the fight.