The third part of the highly influential series of first-person shooters, Halo 3 was every bit the blockbuster its two predecessors had been. Largely an evolution of the previous games kicked up to high definition on a next generation systems, the game broke sales records on its release, though the hype machine wasn’t quite as overblown as it had been with Halo 2. Considering the sales success of Halo 2 Original Soundtrack Vol. 1, the best-selling video game soundtrack of all time on its release, it was a given that composers Martin O’Donnell and Michael Salvatori would return.
As with Halo 2, Halo 3 is an extension of the series’ trademark sound: high energy electronic music, orchestral contributions from the Northwest Sinfonia, and a choir, mixed together in varying proportions. This mix is as potent as ever, and the opening “Sierra-117,” “Crow’s Nest,” and “Tsavo Highway” are perhaps the strongest example yet of the Halo sound. The Earth-bound tracks are accentuated with a light African flavor, and they offer several strong restatements of series themes (such as a magnificent “Walk in the Woods” rearrangement in “Another Walk”).
The music becomes a bit more diffuse in the middle with lengthy sections of ambient dissonance in the “Floodgate” section and, to a lesser extent, “The Covenant” and “Cortana.” This mirrors the weaker parts of Halo and Halo 2, as the Flood material is largely a reprise and rearrangement from the earlier scores. There is enough interesting material included in each suite to allow listeners to slough through, generally speaking — a sign of a better-produced album than its immediate forebear.
Sumthing Else Music Works issued Halo 3 as a single two-disc set, dropping the split albums and most of the superfluous rock songs that had muddied the Halo 2 release. Like Halo 2 Original Soundtrack Vol. 2, the music is arranged into “frozen playthrough” suites, approximating what a player would hear when beating the game. While it’s still somewhat frustrating to have to skip forward for material at the end of a suite, they are better-produced than the suites from Halo 2: shorter, more consistent, and fully labeled for anyone who wants to break them up with an audio editor. The selection of music is also extremely comprehensive, with two hours on disc representing every major cue (and even a few unreleased tracks). Only one short rock song (conveniently located at the end of disc two) is included.
While the original Halo represents the best album presentation of the music (as suites mixed with individual tracks), and Halo 2‘s expanded sound is offset by a difficult album situation, Halo 3 offers the best of both worlds: generally good arrangements of the ultimate evolution of O’Donnell and Salvatori’s sound. If fans were to limit themselves to a single Halo album, Halo 3 is the best candidate.