Release Date: 09/22/2009
Genre: First Person Shooter
Rated: M for Mature
Halo 3: ODST ended up being something more than I expected. Personally, I lost my zest for the franchise during the post-Halo 2 period. You know, when all the griefers, stand-byers & glitchers were running rampant on matchmaking. I thoroughly enjoyed the story, but detested the multiplayer enough that it made me want to scream at my mom for another glass of chocolate milk (anyone who played MP during that time will get that joke). Don’t get me wrong though, I was still a fan of the series. I dutifully pre-ordered my Legendary Edition of Halo 3 the same day it was announced. I would have attended the midnight launch event at my local Gamestop had I not needed to work the next day (seriously, those events should take place on a Friday night, not a Monday night). Once I was home after picking up my pre-order, I popped the disk in & played as much as possible throughout the weeks that followed. But, it still didn’t hold that same oomph that Halo 2 did. That spark that I lost during my Halo 2 matchmaking days was still gone. Since neither Halo 3 nor Halo Wars was able to bring it back, I had pretty much written it off. Then, I got my hands on ODST…
It’s odd that what was initially announced as an expansion to Halo 3 ended up being the game to revitalize my enjoyment of the series. Granted, it grew beyond the level of an expansion pack & ended up launching as a full retail package, a move that many gamers don’t agree with. While I won’t try to debate that point in full, I will say that I think ODST stands on it’s own just fine in comparison to a lot of the other $60 games out there on store shelves. Bungie’s 2nd to last Halo-related release provides a 10-hour campaign (on Normal) & the new Firefight mode (which is essentially the Halo equivalent of the Horde mode from Gear of War 2), both of which can be played with up to three other teammates in co-op. Along with the 10 Firefight maps, it also has all 15 Halo 3 multiplayer maps plus 3 new ones. So if you missed any or all of the Halo 3 DLC, ODST will fill in the blanks for you.
Anyway, I kind of got off track there. What did ODST bring to the table that Halo 3 didn’t? I can sum it up in one word: fresh. It made changes to the now humdrum Halo formula. Sure, health packs have been done before. So has flashback story telling & “Horde” or “Zombie” mode multiplay. But, the way Bungie applied it to their flagship franchise is what made all the difference in the world to me. Nothing dramatic, mind you, just small stuff. All the changes were subtle enough that it still felt like I was playing in the Halo universe, yet it felt new & different.
The tale rolls us back in time a bit, taking place right after the African super-city of New Mombasa was invaded by the Covenant. While Master Chief was jumping out of space ships & taking naps in the African jungles, you’re battling Brutes & Grunts in the decimated streets of New Mombasa. You’re The Rookie, the newest member of a 5-man squad of Orbital Shock Drop Troopers (ODST), the UNSC’s elite troops second only to the Spartans. When your mission is changed in mid-drop, all 5 members plus the Captain Dare from the Office of Navel Intelligence are scattered across the city. You awaken 6 hours later & begin your trek through the city streets to locate your missing squadmates. As you find clues to each member’s whereabouts, you’ll flashback & play as that member, telling the story of how the clue got there.
This is what did it for me right here. The story-telling was just wonderful! The levels where you play as your squadmates are bright, fast action & high pace. In some cases it gets downright frantic as you’re swarmed with Covenant forces like Grunts, Jackals, Brutes & the occasional Hunters. You get a real sense of the frantic fight as what’s left of the UNSC forces battle it out with the alien invaders. You’ll assist them out as you attempt to regroup with the rest of the squad. On the other hand, the stages where you’re playing The Rookie are dark, desolate & quite. The city is almost barren, devoid of all life except the occasional Covenant forces you encounter. Here’s where Marty O’Donnell’s score really shines, imparting & enhancing the feeling of abandoned solitude. As The Rookie, you’re assumed to be inexperienced & you’re utterly alone. Yet, you carry a quiet gait about you that imparts a sense of wisdom, as if you know a lot more than we first thought. The differences in both presentation & sound between the two vastly contrasting settings almost makes it feel like your playing two separate stories. And not once did it feel like like I had played it before (such as the case was when I played Halo 3). During your search, you’ll also come across various audio logs, telling the tale of a civilian named Sadie. It really drives home the chaos the city felt during the initial stages of the attack & why the city looks & feels the way it does now.
Once you’re done with the story, there is still the Firefight mode along with the regular multiplayer maps to mess around with. So far, developers like Epic, Treyarch & now Bungie have all done a great job keeping the “Horde” style of multiplayer from getting stale. The 10 maps included are varied (especially since Bungie threw in the Skulls to change things up a bit) & the difficulty can really knock you through a loop. Legendary is by far best played with 4 people, although you can go solo if you want (as always, there’s no bots). Unfortunately, Bungie has shifted all their development efforts toward their next (& final) Halo title, Reach. So, no more maps will coming through retail or DLC. It’s not surprising though, as ODST was always said to be more of a filler piece between Halo 3 & Reach. No doubt we’ll see Firefight or something like it show up in the next game. You’ll have 47 achievements to get, with some of them tied to Microsoft’s Halo Waypoint Avatar Awards (Waypoint is available through the Xbox 360 Dashboard). The vast majority of them are pretty easy to get with the rest I’ve consciously chosen to wait & grab during some 4-player co-op Legendary sessions.
In the end, Halo 3: ODST surprised me. I was expecting more of the same & instead I got a lot of new & fresh. With health packs, the submachine gun & pistol retuning (from the first Halo) along with the lack of overshields, this plays different from Halo 3. The voice cast did a fine job (which I expected considering it was led by Nathon Fillion from Firefly & Tricia Helfer from Battlestar Gallactica). The environments were improved & in this reviewers opinion, Marty has outdone himself with the score. I’ve finally found my Halo spark again! Sure, it isn’t perfect. The campaign could be a bit more fleshed out & most of the multiplayer options were already available with Halo 3. I didn’t find the ending to be anywhere near as challenging (or satisfying) as previous efforts (even though you can see it’s been hugely influenced by Firefight). I would have liked to have had some new enemies to shoot (no, the Engineer doesn’t count, as they aren’t necessarily new since they were in Halo Wars & they’re more like achievement components than they are anything else). With all that said, I still loved the game. The story telling alone was a vast improvement over the Halo formula & I was completely engulfed by it. Once I started, I couldn’t put it down until I was done. Filler or not, it was the right move as far as I’m concerned as now my anticipation for Halo Reach has tripled!