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review

Halo 3 Soundtrack Adds Epic Sound To Epic Scenes: Part One

DISCLAIMER:

First and foremost I must admit that I am not a professional music writer or reviewer and I do not habitually review music. As such I may have misused key pieces of musical vocabulary or even misidentified instruments. I hope the audience will bear with me and that in those cases my descriptions are specific enough, if misguided, to get my meaning across.

Secondly, as the Halo 3 OST itself is arranged in such a way as to replicate the sonic experience of playing the game, I have made no effort whatsoever to separate in my mind, or in this review, the experience of playing the game from the experience of hearing the soundtrack. I feel the two are designed to reinforce each other, and this article is, as much as a review, an attempt to examine some of the ways in which it does this.

Lastly, if you haven't finished the Halo 3 campaign, don't read the below-- it contains spoilers!

It's hard not to be effusive about the soundtrack for the Halo series of games, composed and arranged by Marty O'Donnell and Mike Salvatori. As games become larger and larger projects, involving not just a handful of people but dozens upon dozens of artists, programmers, designers, writers, and testers, audio and music stand alone as areas that involve relatively few people, and hinge on the efforts of very few, in an area that still has a huge effect.

Bungie made very, very good games before they were able to add O'Donnell/Salvatori music and sound. I think it's safe to say that the addition of that element is a major ingredient in what elevates them to the level of great games.

Halo 3 is no exception in this regard. While some may scoff at the familiarity of some of the material, I think the primary challenge in scoring the last segment of a sequel is blending the new with the old. Everything needs to sound like one part of a seamless whole, the new and the old, the familiar with the reinvented. For me, at least, the Halo 3 soundtrack is a triumphant success in this regard, and is in a heavy rotation on my playlist to make up for the Halo 3 I'm not playing while my 360 is broken.

With the packaging of the Halo 3 soundtrack, the approach of the second volume of the Halo 2 soundtrack was extended over both discs of a two disc set that attempts to duplicate the sonic experience of playing the game, running through the major themes and the dynamic music triggered by certain gameplay areas, from the first cutscene of the first level right through to the bitter end, with some of the music that accompanies the main menu to round out the collection.

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Ask many Bungie fans what they think makes their favorite games different than others, and you might get an answer like "addictive multiplayer". From a perhaps smaller, but no less dedicated or vocal group, you might get "the story" as an answer.

Not everyone agrees.

Dallas News technology writer Victor Godinez thinks videogame writing has a long way to go, and points up Halo 3 as an example:

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D15AV0W3D over at The Hushed Casket tries to put all three Halo games into perspective, but generally, he thinks Halo 3 corrected a lot of the issues in Halo 2:

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VVV thinks the graphical improvements to Halo 3 are nice, but that under the hood, the gameplay mechanics are still broken.

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I was certainly a bit naive to think that Bungie would somehow fix all the glaring problems with Halo 2 and at the same time not add to the problems it’s game play has. On reflection of this I should have realized what we would get simply by the fact that Halo 3 was always going to be a mod of Halo 2.

Three years in the making and I somehow can’t quite fathom what the hell these guys did with all that time, money and resources. Halo 3 looks great. It’s packed with extra features, but what good is the best looking car on the street when it runs like a Yugo.

[b]Weapons.[/b]

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Rockslider famously rejected Halo 2, preferring instead to spend six years tricking the Halo 1 engine into delivering him continually more epic "megabattles".

So, naturally, people wanted to know what he thought of Halo 3-- did it return to the roots of the original game enough to keep his interest?

Now he's provided the answer in typical exhaustive detail.

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Since before I'd even managed to finish the fight on Heroic, let alone Legendary, people have been asking... "so, what do you think of Halo 3?"

Given the thousands of words I've hurled at Halo 2 over the years that seems like a rather broad question. When pressed, most people admit what they really want to know is what I think of the ending of Halo 3.

Even that can be broken down further. There's the way the game resolves its central conflicts going back to the first game, especially those conflicts that involve gameplay challenges, and then there's the denouement that the game gives us, the little epilogue.

My short answer is that Halo 3 handles both challenges with finesse and aplomb in a way that fits very well within the framework laid down by the previous two games, calling on the best elements of both, discarding some that didn't work so well, and modifying others.

So if Halo 3 does indeed, as Frankie said, allow you to finish all the fights going back to Halo 1, what are those fights?

Warning, there are spoilers here!

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may the horse be with you

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After Halo 2, VVV didn't hold out much hope that he'd like the next installment, and he's found that the game met his low expectations. Check out his review for a counterpoint to all the pro-Halo 3 enthusiasm. He does like the game-- better than Halo 2-- but there's a bittersweet flavor to it for him.

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Vnunet gives Halo 3 credit for being a "really massive game" despite a short-ish campaign, because of all the extra features it packs, plus superb-looking cinematics.

They rated it five stars.

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Sounding quite a different note from many other reviews, Club Skill actually praises Halo 3 for having innovative new features.

They rated it 9.5 points out of 10.

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The Village Voice did find a few things to quibble with, namely that the game is too familiar, but they still did call Halo 3 the best Halo game ever, if not the best game ever.

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