E3 - Halo 3 single-player unveiled

Frank O'Connor and Brian Jarrard from Bungie stood next to the recently revealed limited-edition Halo 3 Xbox 360 and an enormous high-def television. Over the next ten minutes, we saw the first public demonstration of Halo 3's secretive single-player campaign. Consider this your backstage pass!

The plot: Here's what we know. The Covenant is in the midst of a rupturing civil war, pitting Elites and a contingent of Grunts and Hunters against the remaining Brute-led forces. Thusly Elites, while not truly allied with UNSC forces, will share with them a common enemy. Master Chief, as expected, is caught in the middle of the battle and fights to prevent Earth's total destruction.

The first level: Sierra 117l, the first level of Halo 3 takes place in a lush jungle setting. We only saw one small portion of the level, but in that brief ten minutes of action we saw hovering Pelicans shot out of sky by Covenant gunships. Furious Brutes charged through the level's thick jungle vegetation (which, in a neat twist, blew and swayed with the wind and passing creatures). Playing on Heroic difficulty offers more enemies and fierce, epic battles never seen before in any Halo game. We also noticed that headshots are more important than ever, particularly on higher difficulties, an observation that Bungie confirmed.

The rest of the missions: The single-player campaign is broken up into nine missions, covering the Chief's landfall on Earth and defense of the human survivors, his journey to the gargantuan Forerunner Ark built beneath the Earth's surface, his return to the Gravemind-infested High Charity, and eventually his reprisal of the role of Reclaimer on one of the last remaining Halo superstructures.

The Arbiter definitely returns: The Arbiter, the Elite warrior voiced by Keith David (Requiem for a Dream), returns and plays a significant role in the campaign's story. He fought side-by-side with Master Chief in the level we saw, shouting out words on encouragement as Master Chief sliced through the Brutes.

Enhanced co-op play confirmed: Both Master Chief and the Arbiter join forces in Halo 3 to overcome the menacing Covenant and Brute threat. One player commands Master Chief; one player commands the Arbiter. It's a tag-team threat not even the Brutes can stand up against -- unless you're playing on Legendary difficulty.

Online co-op seems likely: Bungie wouldn't directly answer whether co-op play would be available through Xbox Live, but they didn't make much of an effort to discount it. Bungie reps did say that there would be "new features that will add depth and longevity to the game." Combine that with the presence of the Arbiter, and we'd say online co-op is a safe bet.

The Brutes are tough: Brutes comprise the bulk of intelligent enemy forces, and will be split into at least three subclasses: soldiers, captains, and chieftains. The Brutes' class designations are reflected in their armor's ornate designs, and high-ranking Brutes give orders to lesser troops, such as Jackals and Grunts. Brutes also coordinate their attacks, such as bombarding you with grenades en masse, and climb structures to gain a higher vantage point.

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