There were two games that reignited my love for computer games. Whilst I'd never stopped enjoying them, Halo 3 and Mass Effect brought me back into the hardcore fold. Mass Effect delivered the role-playing experience I'd been waiting for since Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic, and after I moved to the south coast, Halo 3 swallowed up the distance between my friends and I, as well as plenty of my spare time.
It wasn't just Halo 3's multiplayer that captured my attention, I played the hell out of the campaign, both single-player and co-op. I replayed the Chief's adventure several times through, and can vividly remember the set pieces. From taking down scarabs to blasting through swarms of Covenant and the Flood. Whether it had quite the same impact on me as the first game did is hard to tell, even if 3 was by far the superior game, there was less of the "wow factor".
I might have played the campaign a fair bit, but those numbers pale in comparison to the hours that I piled into the game's online multiplayer. For me, maps like Narrows, Guardian and Valhalla, collectively hold some of my favourite gaming memories. Developing nuanced roles within a team of battle-hardened Spartan's over time; learning the subtle intricacies of the many different maps; pining for new content to devour in the form DLC packs; for the first time giving a shit about something as seemingly trivial as my kill/death spread.
My defining memory of Halo 3 was my personal relationship with my Spartan. I changed his appearance (via customisation options that look ridiculously limited when compared to the standard fare of today), I picked my battles, and desperately chased higher ranks so as to statistically demonstrate my worth on the battlefield.
I started out bad. Really bad. It had been years since I'd conquered the single-player campaign of Halo 2, so long before that it was nought but a distant memory. I joined a clan of players who were all firmly established and began the slow process of accumulating experience, whilst regularly being the weakest link in the chain.
I took to wikis to read about advanced tactics that I could then take to the battlefield. I practised with the BR and the Sniper Rifle. I switched control schemes to Bumper Jumper so I could maximise my ability to shoot whilst moving and jumping. I got very good at headshots. I memorised weapon drop locations and tried to keep remembering to keep track of the time between them respawning so I could grab that all-important rocket launcher or active camo.
And the sticky grenades, oh how I loved them. Is there a feeling in gaming finer than landing a blue ball of death in the face of an oncoming opponent, knowing that for the briefest second their screen is filled with the impending pale blue glow of imminent death?
Slowly, over time, I started to get better. Eventually, I became pretty decent. Never outstanding, but often solid. It wouldn't be until Halo: Reach came out that I would become truly proficient at Halo (and that's an entirely different story), but after a while, my kill/death spread started to level out, and my rank started to increase.
Gaining that rank was one of my proudest moments in gaming. I never got close to level 50, my reactions and hand-eye coordination were never that sharp, but I was crawling up the scale. Eventually, I was the third highest ranked member of my clan, a source of immense pride for me, especially considering the handicap I started with.
The multiplayer supported the single-player campaign brilliantly (or perhaps it was the other way around), and until Reach landed I played it constantly. I don't dare think of the hours that I poured into Halo 3. The brilliant story, the blistering combat, the science-fiction setting, the engaging multiplayer, all combined together to make one of this generation's greatest games, and one of my personal favourites.
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