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SORE THUMBS: WHAT’S NEW IN VIDEO GAMING

HALO 3 (M)

Rating: *****

Microsoft Xbox 360

All week, people have been asking me about Halo 3 -- people who don’t even own an Xbox 360, people who don’t play video games and couldn’t name another game franchise if their lives depended on it. The Halo series has reached a level of public awareness that is unprecedented. If Microsoft knew way back in 2001 that Master Chief would become such an icon, they might’ve considered giving him an actual name rather than just a rank designation.

Microsoft has been pitching the Halo trilogy like it’s some Star Wars-esque epic of interactive storytelling, but the truth is that Halo 3’s campaign mode story is the weakest aspect of the game. Fans complained about the addition of the Arbiter character in half of Halo 2, despite the complexity he brought to a story which, without him, is frequently derivative of James Cameron’s Aliens. This time round, the AI-controlled Arbiter just sort of screws around in the background while Master Chief hogs the spotlight. And yet, Halo 3 is a perfect game. Why? Because what it does well is what video games are supposed to do well.

Halo 3 is about tossing down a bubble shield half a second before a rocket hits you and then smashing the launcher of that rocket in the face with a Brute hammer one second later. The game is such a refined first-person shooter, it offers a plethora of completely random combat moments that will make the hairs on the back of your neck stand up. As interactive entertainment goes, Halo 3 is a smorgasbord of innovation.

Multiplayer:

Building on the winning formula established by Halo 2, Halo 3’s 11 new multiplayer maps and their countless gameplay modes come with a greater level of customization than ever seen before. But what really steals the show is the two- to four-player co-op mode. Locally or through Xbox Live, four players can team up to tackle the campaign, which ramps up nicely in difficulty to accommodate the crowd.

Forge Mode:

It’s not a genuine map-builder, but it does offer some interesting possibilities. Without changing the physical structure of the levels, you can still decide on the placement of objects within it. By strategically dropping key weapons and vehicles in dangerous areas, you can create the perfect risk versus reward combat arena.

Moviemaker:

Remember those aforementioned moments that raise the hairs on the back of your neck? Now they’re all temporarily saved to your hard drive. You can save your favorites permanently, freeze them in time, and then navigate through the explosions, flying bodies and particle effects in suspended animation to choose your favorite camera angles. Then share your euphoria on Xbox Live.

When Las Vegas Weekly contributor Matthew Scott Hunter realized his career as a lab technician was seriously interfering with his gaming, he pink-slipped himself into a successful career as a freelance writer. Bug the hell out of him at saxmorshin@hotmail.com

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