And so finally, the chronicle of a hero ends - the epic story at a finish. We've played it. You're playing it. It's a bit good. But exactly how good is it?
Though Halo has certainly inspired passionate devotion from fans around the world, it's always had its faults. For every Silent Cartographer there was a Library; for every Delta Halo, a High Charity. Bungie's experiments in level design changed the FPS genre forever, but after exploring Halo's expansive exteriors, every trip indoors proved a disappointment. For every battle against the Elites, there was a war to be waged against the Flood, and if they weren't dull enough, Bungie threw us up against charging Brutes in the tight corridors of High Charity and expected us to like it. And we didn't.
We tolerated Halo's lows because the highs were oh-so-high. Landing on Halo for the first time and looking skywards at the curve of the ring, storming the beach in search of the Silent Cartographer, escaping from the disintegrating Pillar of Autumn - solid gold gaming moments that made us fans forever, and moments that built the foundations of not just another videogame franchise, but an entire console family and the next six years of first-person shooters. Gone is the old Doom weapon hierarchy, clunky old console FPS controls and worlds limited only to rooms and corridors.
Halo's highs are among the greatest of gaming moments and because of those moments, you begrudgingly accept that the Library and its like were inevitable design catastrophes sitting alongside moments of genius.
So, knowing before you even pick up the controller that Bungie will have delivered gaming moments you'll take with you for years and knowing that Bungie will have done so much right, the question to ask of Halo 3 is: just what have Bungie got wrong this time?
BLAST FROM THE PAST
Halo 3 references the greatest moments of the past games and draws influences from every moment that fans of the series love. When you arrive on the beach in 'The Covenant' you're suddenly back on Silent Cartographer, taking control of the Covenant-held sands for the first time. When you take control of your 'Hog on the Tsavo Highway, you're reminded of that first visit to Halo. When Halo 3's new Scarab arrives and tears its way through every Warthog and Mongoose in its path, you'll recall the time you boarded and destroyed it in New Mombasa.
That first Scarab is unlike anything faced in Halo 2 - taking it on from ground level, the sheer size is imposing even before it opens up with its half-dozen guns. Boarding it, too, is unlike Halo 2's fight - this Scarab is larger, with several floors and many more enemies. It's a fight we've fought before, but never, ever like this.
So many perfect gaming moments replicated, but each given a new twist. Halo 3's version of Cartographer is bigger and broader in scope than anything in Combat Evolved; after storming the beach and raiding the first control room, you take to the skies, battling dozens of Banshees and clearing a pathway for landing craft to drop troops outside the second control room. It's an adventure that, more than ever before, feels like an epic journey, and it's just one level of the nine.
SIGHT AND SOUND
Halo 3's stock-in-trade is in pure spectacle, with every major set-piece on every level unique and more remarkable than the last. Halo has been infamously called 'thirty seconds of fun' repeated over and over, but Halo 3 offers notably more. Every fight that appears to be similar to one you fought earlier is presented with new tools at your disposal - the first fight against a Scarab is a foot battle, the second puts you behind the controls of a tank, the third lets you take to the air, and throws another Scarab into the mix in case you weren't already intimidated enough. You've driven across open plains alone more than once before you're given a small army of flanking 'Hogs and Mongooses to keep you company.