I didn’t really need to play another mission in the Halo 3 campaign today before I started writing about this port, but I couldn’t help myself. I’m just being thorough, I said to myself. A blatant lie—I really just wanted to play more Halo.
It’s been a pleasure seeing each game in the Halo series arrive on PC, running at higher resolutions and framerates than ever before. But Halo 3 is the best of them, the one with the multiplayer that many Halo fans have been waiting for. It’s the one that really needed to be great, because we’d feel the pain of Halo Reach’s audio issues, or Halo 2’s multiplayer bugs, that much more keenly in the most beloved game in the series. Thankfully, Halo 3’s PC port, its first time on PC in its 13-year history, is great. It’s the best-feeling, best-looking game in the collection so far.
I’ve spent the afternoon playing singleplayer and multiplayer in Halo 3, and performance has been fantastic. All of the previous games have offered unlocked framerates, but with some caveats. Reach suffered from bad screen tearing. Halo 1’s cutscenes were locked to 30 fps, and its bullet spread was broken at higher framerates. Generally, it was better to play the games at a locked 60 fps even though they could run unlocked.
Running the other Halos at 60 fps was still an improvement over their original forms, but it was a shame when we should be able to play them at hundreds of frames per second on a modern PC, with no worries about microstutter or screen tearing. But Halo 3 doesn’t suffer from any of those blemishes. From what I can tell, it feels perfectly smooth, even at 144 fps.
On an i7-6700K and GTX 980, I got 144 fps at 2560×1440 in the campaign (dropping to around 120 fps once or twice in demanding scenes) and the same locked framerate in multiplayer. I didn’t run into any tearing or stuttering. It’s absolutely the way I’d recommend playing.
The audio, too, sounds great, at least in a pair of headphones. I can’t speak to the 5.1 surround sound mix, but unlike Reach’s original release, which was muffled as a result of how the audio was converted from the Xbox 360’s hardware, stereo sounds great here. Better than I remember, in fact.
This is still a game from 2007—don’t expect the fidelity of modern triple-A game sound effects—but everything is crisp and well-balanced. The battle rifle sounds punchier than I expected, not as deep as the new audio in Halo 2 Anniversary but not as tinny as it was in my memory, either. If you’ve been waiting to play Reach because of its audio issues on PC, good news on that front, too. The patch that brought Halo 3 to PC also fixed Reach’s audio.
In my time in multiplayer I didn’t run into any issues with lag, even in 16-player Big Team Battle matches. Firing with the battle rifle does feel different in this PC version than it did on console, for a couple reasons. Without the original game’s aim assist when playing with mouse/keyboard, there’s no bullet magnetism, which will take some getting used to—it was fundamental to the feel of the shooting in Halo 3. There are also some complexities around how the game registers bullet velocity and impact that’s a bit different than in its original implementation, explained in-depth in the most recent community update.
The shooting feeling different was inevitable with mouse and keyboard anyway, and the important thing is that Halo 3’s mouse input feels spot-on, with no odd sluggishness or interpolation issues in the conversion from console controls. Inevitably hardcore players will analyze the hit registration and figure out exactly how it differs, but it’s good enough that I’m still having fun in multiplayer. Just remember the Battle Rifle isn’t hitscan, so lead your targets!
The Master Chief Collection remains barebones when it comes to PC graphics settings like anti-aliasing, but its FOV settings are a huge improvement over the console defaults. With Halo 3’s launch, the MCC on PC is finally starting to feel like a comprehensive package rather than in-progress versions of these games. Reach and Halo 2 Anniversary launched without Forge modes for making custom maps, but the Halo 3 update includes Forge for all three games and even adds new items and capabilities to Halo 3 that weren’t present in the original version.
The Forge upgrades include a lot of functionality around physics and connecting pieces together that were originally laborious or impossible in Halo 3 and much improved in the later games. It will, hopefully, spawn an active Forge community for Halo 3 on PC.
As with the other games in the collection, there will be small improvements to be made to Halo 3. It’ll get better over the coming months, with crossplay with consoles and more graphics settings and other long-term goals for the PC release. But with Forge now on PC and Halo 3’s PC port performing better than any of the others at launch, I think it’s safe to play right now without worrying about bugs dragging down the experience.