Halo 3 Beta Graphics Tour

We took a quick tour of the Halo 3 Beta maps to see how the graphics have evolved from Halo 2 to Halo 3.

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The Halo 3 beta isn't an official game release, but it might as well be since Halo 3 is the most anticipated Xbox 360 game coming out this year. Those lucky enough to participate in the beta will get an early look at the game's new graphics and get hands-on experience with several new or updated weapons and vehicles. The beta will run for three weeks, from May 16 through June 6, 2007. Microsoft had a "Rule of Three" promotion for beta invitations back in February, but those 13,333 invites are long gone. The only way for the general public to get into the beta now will be to buy a specially marked copy of Crackdown that includes a Halo 3 invitation. You'll need an Xbox 360 HDD and an Xbox Live gold account to download and play the beta online.

Bungie has stressed that the beta is only an early preview of the game, which means that the development team is still working on the graphics and gameplay elements. That didn't stop us from taking a few screenshots to see how the current graphics compare to Halo 2, but please keep in mind that these shots of the beta do not reflect the final game.

The default images are Halo 2 unless otherwise stated. Mouse over each image to see the Halo 3 comparison or alternate view shot. We maintained a widescreen aspect ratio for the cropped Halo 2 shots, but we had to revert to the 4:3 aspect ratio for our full-screen Halo 2 images because running the game at 720p on the Xbox 360 only produced a stretched out image.

Halo 3 Beta Vehicle and Spartan Models

Moving Halo from the Xbox to the Xbox 360 gave the developers access to more graphics power and a higher display resolution to target. Bungie has increased texture sizes and added shaders to keep the Warthog and Ghost looking good on the 360. The Warthog maintains the same familiar shape in Halo 3, but it has much finer detailing, great lighting, and uses what appears to be normal mapping or a similar 3D mapping technique to add depth effects--in the side panel grooves, for example. The shadows cast by the Warthog are also more realistic compared to the tacked-on shadows in Halo 2. The Ghost has taken on real-time reflections and it appears that the Covenant has discovered the wonders of low-cost blue LEDs. We've also included two Halo 3 shots of the new Mongoose vehicle since it doesn't appear in Halo 2.

The visors on the Spartan model also reflect the surrounding environment, but we couldn't see our own character models reflected in the visors of our enemies during face-to-face melee combat. We noticed that the left and right sides of the Halo 3 heads-up display are distorted to mimic the in-helmet view. The HUD returns to normal when the camera switches to a 3rd-person viewpoint.

What do you think of the Halo 3 multiplayer beta?

Halo 3 Multiplayer Beta Weapons

Many of the weapons from the last two Halo chapters turn up again in Halo 3. Bungie hasn't yet finalized what weapons will be in the game, but all the ones that appear in the beta have received a graphics makeover. Older weapons such as the needler and the battle rifle sport high-resolution textures and better lighting. It looks like Bungie increased the polygon counts to help round out the sharp angles on the needler, and the bolt on the battle rifle jumps out now that it has better texturing and the right shine. (Note: We flipped and rotated the Halo 3 battle rifle image to better match the battle rifle position in the Halo 2 image.)

The beta includes a couple of new weapons, including the Spartan laser and the missile pod. We've included a couple shots of the new Spartan laser.

What do you think of the Halo 3 multiplayer beta?

Halo 3 Multiplayer Beta Environments

The Halo 3 beta only includes three maps, but they all offer huge graphical upgrades over the maps in Halo 2. The Valhalla alpine-gorge-like map uses high-resolution granite textures, new plant life, new water effects, and excellent landscape design to create a breathtaking view. Bungie has also given caves and even building interiors a dramatic upgrade. Snowbound's icy tunnels have replaced harsh angles and bland wall textures with more believable curves and subtle surfaces. We got ourselves killed several times while examining the new water effects in Valhalla and High Ground. On the bright side, we've confirmed that your corpse will in fact float on top of the water for a few seconds before sinking to the floor.

The comparison screenshots have shown us that Halo 3 on the Xbox 360 has the graphics to be a worthy successor to Halo 2. We can't wait to see how the game looks when it ships on September 25, 2007.

What do you think of the Halo 3 multiplayer beta?

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