The original Halo was the making of the original Xbox. It looked fantastic and sounded fantastic - spent shotgun cartridge bouncing brass end against a wall and then open onto the floor, spent shell cases from the machine gun tinkling as that bounced of the stone floor. The story unfolded like a movie, and when I say "Frankly the first encounter with the flood still scares me" anyone who's played the game nods sagely.
Halo 2 was great in technology terms, graphics rendering was even better, as was character AI (Marines who would drive vehicles with you as a passenger) we had dual wielding of weapons etc. But like many sequels down the years the plot was... disappointing and as is the case with many trilogies it came to an inconclusive end. Where I'd revisit episodes of original Halo over and over ("The Silent Cartographer" and "Assault on the control room"), I've never been back to most of Halo 2. Dual wielding was all fine and good but when you had a gun in each hand you couldn't melee or throw grenades. It wasn't as good to play... except in multi-player mode. That was a triumph, and it was the making of Xbox live. But if I were marooned on a desert island with one computer game I'd take the original.
So what of Halo 3. Will the sound impress ? Will the graphics live up to the show-reel ? Will the "physics" of the elements make you forget that this is a game and make you feel like you're walking though a movie ? And when all that is mere engineering will you be desperate to know what happens next, and will the game play make me want to play it again, and again, and again. The Folks at Bungie posted a video to Xbox-live market place where they talk about that, and fine tuning the landscape to improve the play and one of them talks about making "Return of the King" the final part of Lord of the rings; the ultimate crescendo for the finale. Could they pull it off ? After playing the opening part twice now I can say yes on all counts. Much hyperbole has already been about 3, but on the evidence I've seen so far calling it a masterpiece doesn't seem unreasonable.
Steve brought his copy of Halo 3 up to Scotland where we had an X-box for the after-hours event that's going on after our roadshow. We played co-operative mode for 4 hours on a dreadfully small screen before admitting that some sleep before delivering a virtulization event would be a good idea. We played the opening a second time in the lunch break on a bigger screen (though still in pretty low res). And I know already that there are segments like the beachhead at the start of "The silent cartographer" which will still give me the same rush at the 100th playing.
Commercially... Well Halo 3 is the biggest launch in the history of Entertainment in the US, grossing more than $170 million dollars on Day One alone. In a year filled with blockbuster sequels, Halo 3 still stood out, passing both Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows ($166 million) and Spiderman 3 ($151 million). By the end of the year the Halo franchise is expected to break the billion dollar barrier across the 3 games. What can you do but be impressed ?