Saturday, May 12, 2007

´Halo 3´ beta shows off great multiplayer, visuals disappoint

The first official footage from ´Halo 3´ has been released. The game is undoubtedly poised to become a system seller for the Xbox360 and, as such, its critical reception and commercial success will have great impact upon the console war.

Please bear in mind that the following video is captured from a beta version of the game and a slightly earlier one than the soon to be made public version at that. Bungie themselves note that "it's a bit older than what the rest of the world will start playing in the next few days."

For better viewing, you can download this video as a WMV file here.

While all journalists who have been able to play the beta appear unanimously impressed with the multiplayer gameplay, a number of articles mention that the game´s graphics are surprisingly underwhelming. Here are a number of impressions, in the familiar style of guest commentary:

The visuals are now in HD, though honestly, they probably will leave many unimpressed. But really, no one will care if Halo 3 doesn't look like Gears of War as long as it plays great. And, after an hour of playtime, I think Halo 3 might just deliver.

While the visuals are rich and beautiful, it's the audio that's really impressed us so far. The rumbling throttle of unleashing dual SMGs makes them feel incredibly powerful, and the Spartan Laser tearing past your head is as scary as you'd imagine. Audio cues are more important than ever, and the better your sound system the more next-gen this will feel.

The graphics can use some work ... They're not much different than the previous Halo. (...) They've got five, six months until release, so they'll add some polish ... When I compare it to other things in the platform, it's not standout.
Evil Avatar (via Yahoo News)

The graphics aren't groundbreaking right now, but they are a step up from Halo 2 with higher resolution models, top quality textures, fancy lighting, and pretty shader effects.
Evil Avatar

Visually, the Halo 3 beta looks impressive. Yes, it looks like a higher-resolution version of Halo 2, but the textures and details are razor sharp, and there's a lush quality to the world that wasn't there before. You'll run through fields of flowers or your body will float in a tranquil pond. The high dynamic range lighting in the game also provides a realistic look to the lighting and the world. Meanwhile, there's a smoothness and fluidity to everything now that makes battles fun to watch.

Graphics: Like we said before in our first Halo 3 cover story...looks good, but it's not that in-your-face "Oh my god Gears of War" great. But that's OK because:
1.) Halo has a different art style, and for Halo's art style, Halo 3 looks damn good. 2.) I'd rather have performance over looks, and Halo 3 runs smooth as a Plasma Sword through a tub of I Can't Belive It's Not Butter. So far, no lag in our eight-player games (*knocks on wood*)
Dan Hsu (Editor-in-chief, EGM)

Halo 3 rules. But it rules because it is so much like Halo and Halo 2. You’re not dual-wielding as much, but the weapons are very familiar. The game play is familiar. The graphics are better. The rag doll physics are good. The sound is great. It’s the little extras like the bubble shield and the ATV Mongoose that make it better.

It can be legitimately criticized as Halo 2.5. But the graphics look great and the game play is there. You can’t ask for anything but fun in multiplayer. The real twists and turns will come with the single-player campaign, but Microsoft isn’t ready to talk about that yet.
Dean Takahashi (Mercury News)

So the reaction to the visuals in ´Halo 3´ is varied, but mostly critical. Again, though, it is important to bear in mind that this is a beta version and there is almost half a year left until the game goes gold. Microsoft and Bungie are stressing the same point. The above video ends with this comment:

This is not the final content of the game. Everything seen in this video is subject to change.

Most importantly, perhaps, the gameplay has been rated as very promising by every early reviewer, it seems. However, if ´Halo 3´ cannot match ´Gears of War´ visually, as has been suggested, it certainly could take some of the steam out of the immense hype. The launch of ´Halo 3´ might not become as critical a point in the console wars as has been anticipated so far.

Let us not forget that Microsoft has chosen to market Xbox360 as a console whose unique selling point, next to an unmatched open online service, is stunning, high definition graphics.

EDIT Added two more comments, courtesy of Slashdot.

Sources: Bungie, IGN, 1UP, Yahoo News, Evil Avatar, GameSpot
Thanks to: Linkerdexin


Anonymous said...

This makes me increasingly confident that Metroid Prime 3 will compare very well on all SD TVs (80% of televisions), and with the increased interactivity will represent the bigger leap in gaming.

Anonymous said...

Even though I personally don't care about the graphics (especially since Halo 2's graphics still look great to me) I can see the hardcore crowd being disappointed. That being said, everyone plays Halo. Heck, Halo's the only game aside from Mario Kart that I've ever gotten some of my girlfriends to play. As long as the online play's as good as Halo 2's, then the graphics aren't going to have the effect you're suggesting it will.

Anonymous said...

A few points to consider:
1) The visual improvements are definitly there... the game is looking sharp and fluid. Take a look at those weapon models...
2) "Next gen" games are starting to look at decreasing returns, graphics wise. There is a lot more going on graphics wise, it just doesn't register as easily for players.
3) We're looking at the multiplayer, which by its nature is not going to be as big on set pieces as the single player... and I still expect to be impressed by the cinematics
4) As you've mentioned, there are 6 months left before it ships. That is a LOT of time to be doing polish, especially considering that the next few months are going to be crunch time for Bungie. All those little things will add up, bigtime... I wouldn't be at all surprised if we can't recognize the maps once Halo 3 ships
5) Console players are not used to dealing with beta builds of any variety, as PC gamers are. A lot of the criticism is probably going to reflect the fact that people will be looking at it as though it were the finished game. Bungie is definitly taking a risk in that regard... hence the constant disclaimers.

Anonymous said...

The beta looks fine to me. Graphically it looks as good as Halo will get because of the art style.

Gears of War and every other Unreal Engine based game seems to have an obsession with the colors brown and grey and to me that takes away from style while Halo 3 is much more vibrant and its environments seem much less bleak.

The graphics as Nintendo has shown are not that important if the gameplay is there and Halo is the definitive FPS experience on a console

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