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Halo 3: ODST Review

October 3, 2009

Halo_3-odst-logo

Developer: Bungie
Publisher: Microsoft Game Studios
Platform: Xbox 360
Genre: First Person Shooter
Players: 1 – 4 (ODST), 1 – 16 (Halo 3)
Release Date: 22nd September 2009

Before reading the rest of this review, first consider one thing. Are you a fan of Halo? If not then its probably best you avoid this package as ODST seems, much like some nice bits in Halo 3, a nod to fans and long time followers of the series most likely in anticipation of a (hopefully) totally overhauled Halo experience next year with Halo Reach. Until then, for fans at least, this package should be providing a lot of love especially for those who haven’t followed Halo 3’s multiplayer and its flow of consistently great DLC. At £35 or less this equates to good value for money. Provided you’re a fan.

So what makes this Halo, in a way, return to roots so compelling? That whilst it is a return to the more difficult and traditional design of the first Halo its also so startlingly fresh, in no small part thanks to the fresh perspective. In Halo 3: ODST, unsurprisingly, you play as an Orbital Drop Shock Trooper, who get their name from dropping from a space ship in orbit to a planets surface in HEV pod’s, the SAS of the Halo world if you will and one step down from the almighty Spartan’s. As the slightly weaker ODST the game plays out tenser, as you cautiously have to take care of yourself in your primary role as the Rookie. After an introductory scroll explaining the situation in the covenant-human war and a brief cut-scene introducing the rest of your squad (lead by Buck voiced by none other than Nathan Fillion), aboard a frigate in low orbit over earth during the events half way through Halo 2, your soon dropped into the boots of the faceless and voiceless Rookie (though some personality shines through later in the game) then quickly loaded into your pod. Fired from the frigate in an impressive drop sequence that all goes wrong, viewing the Prophet of Regret’s carrier enter slipspace (events from Halo 2) from the window of your drop pod until hit the by the shockwave of the carrier spinning you round and sending you unconscious.

Playing as the Rookie, you wake up six hours later at night and will spend your time roaming the streets of New Mombassa in a hub world looking for clues about what happened to your squad in the six hours you were out. This hub world is the core of the game and provides lots of atmospheric exploration in the ruins of Mombassa, the dark, wreckage filled streets are devoid of life save for the eerie approach of covenant patrols and Phantom dropships overhead and make you feel truly alone and overwhelmed. It’s a very moody part of the game and expresses the suffering of the city and the loss that took place here, artistically it is very strong and the film noir feel shines though beneath the covenant occupation. Due to your weaker protagonist who no longer has recharging health or a powerful melee and jump, you have to choose your fights more carefully and navigate more precariously due to falls now being able to kill you and the weaker enemies such as grunts now being less like the fodder they were to the chief and more like packs of adequate and underestimated killing machines. Your only ally in this dangerous open world, filled with every deadly variant of covenant you can think of (including a few new ones), is the cities AI, the super-intendint who is used to monitoring traffic and organising garbage disposal but with the arrival of the covenant he’s now using his skill set to guide you around the city with typical traffic signs (take a left, slow down, obstruction ahead etc.) to avoid enemies and move towards items of importance. Clues are scattered around the city, pointed out by the Super Intendint, each one an object hinting to the fate of another ODST squad member and once you find one your hurled back to a point in time during the day that explains what happened during your absence.

Each flash back sees you playing as different characters to slowly get a picture of how gradually Mombassa fell apart and is destroyed (important moments for Halo fans) as well as what happened to your squad. These flashbacks contrast with the tense, more stealth focused roaming of the Rookie as these play out like more traditional bombastic Halo missions, each short and sweet giving you hint’s of bits of Halo past with explosive warthog rides with, helping the Mombassa police force defend the city and sniping across rooftops fighting in a variety of skirmishes. They are a great way to break up the Rookie’s hazardous nigh time investigation in the war torn city and certainly create a more personal story as you learn about the characters and get attached to everyone. The story in ODST is nowhere near as epic as the Halo trilogy, without the chief’s space opera, the story is much smaller easier to follow affair that simply revolves around your squad’s efforts to survive against the overwhelming covenant force. Each flashback keeps the narrative going, driving towards an explosive finale and contains enough mystery throughout to keep you compelled to play till the end. There is a nice dynamic between all the characters, particularly Buck and Dare, but even with this nice tale there is still a reveal that adds to the bigger picture of the Halo series as a whole and should not be missed by fans.

ODST 2

With less health and a shorter jump you get tools to match and balance the new approach, weapons such as the silenced SMG and vital Auto-mag pistol are sure favourites as well as some new covenant variants. On top of this you get the VISR mode, a night vision that highlights everything in neon lines, its most useful for the Rookie to navigate the night streets and spot clues but it is key to spotting invisible enemies or hidden snipers. On the covenant side of things, aside some new hunter and drone types as well as the now lethal grunts and invisible brutes, your also faced with the engineer (or Hargarok for the hardcore) as floating purple creatures that will be familiar to the fan’s and memorable for its great addition to the game because although it cannot damage you directly it acts as a shield boost to enemies and plays an important role in the story.

The tale is short, the campaign is easily 5-6 hours if not less but is sweet and well designed making it an exhilarating ride for fans as they play though in a fresh tale that hints at pieces of Halo’s mighty history. Besides the second disc which contains Halo 3’s complete multiplayer masterpiece, with all 24 maps released for the game there is also the new firefight mode for ODST.

Borrowing similar mechanics from Gears of War’s horde or Left 4 Dead’s survival it will be instantly familiar to players who have tried either of those modes but thanks to Halo’s extensive sandbox and game changing skulls the action is kept fresh and easily improves upon the wave after wave of enemies idea by enough random generation and room for player preparation. The mode has 10 maps which will last for months and supports 4 players and though no plans are set yet to release DLC for the mode don’t be surprised if Bungie gives us some goodies for the mode at some point in the future.

Graphically, the experience is polished and solid, great cityscapes and landscapes cover the entire game, the lighting creates the great mood and atmosphere of the Rookie’s sections and the character models are very well detailed and animated, especially the unique movements of each type of enemy, with the variety of covenant becoming each distinct amongst a group. There are also some great effects like reflective surfaces, water or plasma fire, plus the spectacle of the opening drop sequence is extremely memorable and provides some Easter eggs for fans. Whilst complaints have been levelled at low res textures, some true, and also at the faces, the main cast’s faces are great and very well animated. Overall it’s solid and sometimes fantastic but doesn’t compare with the high standards of games like Gears of War 2. Still it’s functional, and the art design more than compensates for the lacking in technical prowess but more than anything it avoids the grey dull of many shooters out there with focused and coherent colour that isn’t cartoony or excessive but unique and fresh.

ODST 1

The soundtrack to this lovely games certainly deserves mention, for the first time in my time playing video games I feel a composer has outdone themselves with Marty O’Donnell creating score that matches the greatest of video games for emotional complexity and narrative drive, fresh fantastic soundscapes and jazzy pieces surround the Rookie and night Mombassa streets. But for the flashbacks he has used more explosive and electric guitar driven music that gives the ODST’s a cool edge during combat. Whilst the soundtrack is new and fresh it echoes enough of the of familiar Halo themes to not completely lose the Halo feel. It really is beautiful stuff.

So, overall this is a great package from Bungie and fulfils its role as a huge add-on to the stellar Halo 3 with enough new and traditional elements to mix things up, creating a campaign and multiplayer experience that is a joy and thoroughly compelling throughout.

+ ODST feel’s fresh and the story structure matches with a cool noir feel
+ Firefight is a blast and will entertain for months
+ The story is matched by an excellent voice cast and fantastic soundtrack

– Very short, even more so than Halo 3
– Isn’t really different from the Halo we’re used too
– If you’ve already got all the DLC the second disc may not be worth the money.

8.5/10

[Sam Greer]

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