Three Is The Magic Number (sometimes)
Number three. In Half Life terms, three is a never-ending wait for a game that can never live up to the hype. In Fable terms, it’s a terrible second half of the game, which then drags the good bits down with it. But does it always have to a bad thing? Making a third game in the trilogy means two game’s worth of practice previously, right? Some developers do get it spot on though, so here’s my take on three games that perfected the formula the third time around.
Not only is Halo 3 the best game in the franchise in my opinion, it’s one of the best games ever made. It’s nigh on perfect. It’s why I hold out no hope for Halo 4. It’s why my love for Reach was always a little white lie. With Halo 3, Bungie had perfected their craft. Whenever I look back at any of the Halo games, it always seems to me that Halo 3 was the last Halo that Bungie enjoyed making. Although Reach was a good game, it never felt like it had the developer’s heart and soul poured into it; Halo 3 was the conclusion of a story they’d been telling for some time, and their desire to do it right shone through.
Even though some criticised the graphics, I thought it looked beautiful. The jungles were lush and vibrant, the deserts were dry and arid. With two other game’s worth of weapon balancing to fall back on, Halo 3′s combat was as tight as a drum. The guns felt great, vehicle combat was awesome, and they even gave us a new toy; the Spartan Laser. I can’t begin to tell you how much I loved that gun, so I’ll stick to telling you that it’s in my top five of greatest ever video game weapons.
As good as the campaign was however, Halo 3 had a bigger reputation to live up to; multi-player. The original Halo’s LAN multi-player is regarded as a seminal moment for the FPS by many gamers, and Halo 2 was just as loved as the first, and as a result the third game had huge on-line shoes to fill. To my mind, it succeeded. Still to this day, objective based games on the Vahalla and Sandtrap maps are some of my greatest gaming memories, nothing will ever touch playing Rocket Race with friends on either of them. Saved films and screenshots, the huge amount of stat tracking – just two things introduced by Halo 3 and only now being done by other games. I could go on into a whole other article just to do Halo 3 justice, but I won’t. Quite simply, Halo 3 is the best Halo game ever made.
Mass Effect 3
Admitting this game is the best of the three is a little painful for me. After I’d finished it first time around, I spent a fair bit of time telling my gaming friends that I didn’t like it very much. Then, after many weekends spent playing the multi-player and another go at the campaign, I had to grudgingly admit that Mass Effect 3 was the best of the trilogy. With the first game, Bioware nailed the compelling storyline bit, but the mechanics were a little unwieldy. With the second game, they polished the controls, but the story was a little basic. With the third game Bioware combined the best of the first with the best of the second to produce a Mass Effect game that was almost perfect.
For a long time I let the ending overshadow the rest of the game, and whilst I still don’t like it, I have come to realise just how great the rest of the game is. Thanks to two previous games worth of back-story, ME3 takes the friendships you made along the way and gives them real emotional weight. Losing a character that’s been with you for so long really hurts, putting the others in the way of danger becomes the hardest decision you have to make. And don’t think being a Paragon in the two previous games makes things any easier, either. The “right” choices from the first two games have a lasting effect on the third, and it’s not long before they stop feeling so “right”.
It’s hard to think of another game that tracks so many previous choices and successfully weaves them in to a coherent, gripping narrative but Mass Effect 3 does just that. The fact that I and so many others had such a strong emotional reaction to the ending demonstrates one thing, that Bioware has created a galaxy full of characters you genuinely care about on an emotional level, and not many games can say that.
Gears of War 3
Why is Gears 3 the best of the trilogy? Simple, Horde 2.0 is why. Declaring Gears 3 as the best of the three based on one game mode might seem a little crazy, but not in the case of Horde mode. Have a think now, how many reviews did you read post Gears 2 that referenced Horde when describing some other game’s survival-based feature. “What’s Halo ODST’s Firefight mode like? Kinda like Horde, only with Halo…” That was what my friends and I were saying at the time, and it was a similar kind of description for Call of Duty’s zombie mode too. Other games had done co-op survival modes in the past for sure, but none of them had done it with such style.
With Gears 3, Epic Games blew the mode out in almost every direction. More weapons, more enemies, more deliciously sadistic executions.., and all playable with four other friends. In my opinion Horde 2.0 is about as perfect as a co-op mode gets. But it doesn’t stop there, for the first time in a Gears of War game you could instajib the COG too, via Beast mode. All of our Locust-loving fantasies where indulged by Beast mode, finally we could blow those filthy humans into meaty chunks by picking the Boomer Locust, we could turn them into a bloody smear on the floor by running them over with the Berserker, we could take them apart in many, many different and violent ways.
As you may have noticed, I’ve gotten this far and I still haven’t mentioned the single player campaign. That’s not because it’s bad (it’s really very good), it’s just that kick-ass multi-player has always been the game’s party piece, and with Gears of War 3 Epic Games has made one of the finest multi-player shooters money can buy.