H3 Beta Quick Report: Is It Pretty Enough?

Okay, so not everybody is in love with Halo 3. Over at the Hushed Casket, Midnight calls it "fun" and details the changes. Rapture calls it a bigger, prettier Halo 2, and it's most decidedly not a compliment. Of course you can't please everybody, and some things (like Halo) become so popular that the only way for anybody to make themselves cooler is to not like it. The guys at the Hushed Casket aren't like that, though, so if they've got a beef with the game, there's probably something to it. That doesn't mean I agree, but it means there are probably things worth thinking about.

Some people say that Halo 3 isn't pretty enough.

After playing Gears I can see where some people are not impressed. However, I think it's worth noting that there is nowhere in Gears any location that is as large as even a medium-sized Halo map. There are lots of terribly detailed textures you get to look at at fairly close range in Gears; mostly on your own characters, your enemies, and the nearby environment. The path you can travel is predetermined and there is no way to break off from it. Forget trick jumping, in Gears you can't even jump. I don't mind that, actually. In fact, I really wish Halo 3 had implemented some kind of limitation on consecutive jumps to eliminate bunny-hopping, which is an incredibly annoying tactic. The day a game studio decides to make their campaign enemy bunny hop because it's an effective and legitimate strategy, I'll drop my complaint.

To expect the same level of texture detail and lighting effects in an outdoor area like Valhalla where you can go virtually anywhere in the level at any time is simply unrealistic. Epic, in a sense, by restricting you to small rooms and preventing you from looking at thing up close that are far away, has spoiled 360 gamers for any other approach. Halo 3 is incredibly detailed. If you haven't already, download the Red vs Blue Beta PSA. It's got some Halo 2 footage of Blood Gulch right next to Halo 3 beta footage of Valhalla. If that doesn't prove that there's been a quantum leap in the look of Halo 3 from Halo 2, I honestly don't know what would.

Another thing to keep in mind is that while Gears' single player campaign is suitably lovely in its appearance and scope (even if most of it is just unplayable scenery) the multiplayer areas are also toned down. They're smaller than even the small areas of the campaign. There's nothing approaching the size of a map like Valhalla in it; that's the tradeoff that Bungie is making.



What frustrates me most about this debate, is the pure shallow nature of it. Not just about scale, or MP only, but the fact that Gears looks better than Halo by nature of basically having high poly counts and having really shiny lighting. In terms of an entire visual picture I find that it comes up way short though. There's a kind of artistry to the visuals in halo 3 that can't just be captured in a screenshot. When you look at this still screen you can' see the way a spartan bends its legs to properly walk up a hill, you don't get a sense of how blinding the light looks on the rocks when looking out from the pill box on High Ground. The look of Brute spikes cooling in the body of a dead spartan. To me those things are far better looking than anything I saw in gears. What's more, the visuals in Halo actually help in Gameplay, with enemies that stand out better in the sun, and blend in better in the shade. In Gears the enemies blend in to the landscape far more easily, other than big bright shoulder lights.

I don't get all the Gears talk. I was so underwhelmed by the visuals in Gears. They were almost all GREY! Sure the stone had really detailed cracks and the lighting was great, but that's it. There's no depth to it at all. Not to mention the game play doesn't come close to Halo's. I mean, they couldn't even figure out grenade physics. So, instead of taking the time to figure it out, they used a stupid arch overlay system. Looked to me like they spent almost all of their time working on the look and it was honestly, just meh. The fact that Halo 3 looks a lot like Halo 2 is a MAJOR compliment of Halo 2. But, even at that, just look at the grass to see the major visual upgrades that are going to be present in the newer incarnation. We have yet to see how Halo 3's campaign graphics compare to Gears, but the beta of the multi-player BLOWS AWAY the multi-player visuals of Gears. Oh, by the way. Snowbound is vastly, VASTLY, under-rated right now. It's just cool to hate on it, because High Ground is so cool and Vahalla is so Blood Gulch.