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by MARTY DEMAREST & r & & r &

Halo 3

Rated Mature; Xbox 360 & r & & r &

& lt;span class= "dropcap " & T & lt;/span & he left joystick moves me forward, backward and from side to side. I can pan the view right or left, up or down, depending on the tilt of the joystick under my right thumb. My gun sits pointing solidly at the center of the screen, waiting for me to spin the landscape until something -- most likely a lumbering alien monstrosity -- moves through my crosshairs. Then I just need to pull one of the triggers waiting beneath my fingers.

Halo 3's control scheme -- unchanged from the previous two Halos -- seems like a revolution in this season's lineup of motion-sensitive, point-and-shoot controls for action games. Metroid Prime 3: Corruption had me waving the Wii Remote in the air in order to aim and turn. Lair required me to suspend the PS3 controller in my hands and tilt it as though it were an aircraft. Halo 3 puts the controls back under my thumbs.

"If it ain't broke, don't fix it," was a rule followed by Bungie -- the makers of all three Halo games. Halo 3 simply takes everything that they had put in the Halo universe -- multiple races, gobs of guns, vehicles to fly and drive -- and plunks it all into bigger, more detailed levels. Even the storyline is much the same, played out on epic battlefields.

These are not the borderless outdoors of Oblivion or the moody corridors of BioShock, but vast combat arenas with precipices for sniping and serpentine hallways to run through with guns blazing. The fields are expansive enough to maneuver aircraft through, firing at enemies flying vehicles just as large. There is nothing new here, just the best combat game taken to a greater level.

Vehicles still drive with controls that are as responsive as a radio-controlled model, and they flip and roll almost as easily. But this builds on the arcade feeling of free-flowing action that Halo has coasted along with now for three great games. Bungie has managed to achieve something only The Lord of the Rings has done: deliver a kick-ass trilogy without compromising it. I hope they leave Halo alone now and do something even better.

THE GOOD: This season, games are trying to distinguish themselves with gimmicks, but Halo 3 stands out for trying nothing new and doing the old stuff better than ever. Despite the absence of motion sensitivity and self-illuminating neon-bright color palettes, Halo 3 can pack a battlefield with flames, bullets, bombs and airplanes, and the combat never slows down or skips a beat. No other current console shooter can boast that.

THE BAD: Thousands of gamers bought Xbox 360s just to play Halo 3, and while they won't be disappointed by the game itself, it's not the most beautiful showcase for the machine. Lights -- from the white of the sun to the blues of electrical sparks -- don't illuminate figures as intricately or as moodily as they did in BioShock. Absent as well is the ballistics precision of Resistance. It feels just as easy to shoot across one of Halo 3's vast combat arenas as it does to pick off an enemy who's in the same room.

THE BOTTOM LINE: Halo 3 is a worthy climax to the Halo series and a summary of everything good about videogame shooters to date.

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