Halo 3: ODST
Halo 3: ODST started as a simple expansion to Halo 3, good for a couple of hours and perfect to close the gap until Halo: Reach would arrive in 2010. The idea, however, grew out to become a full game, and the only question that remains is whether the Orbital Drop Shock Troopers can stand their ground without the help of that 2 meters long Spartan: Master Chief.
The story isn’t about the superhero anymore, but instead we’re put in the boots of a more “normal” ODST, called The Rookie, and his mission to kick the Covenant out of occupied Mumbassa. The assignments, however, goes a bit less well as expected. While you and your squad members get dropped the Covenant take a ship and flee through slipspace. This causes an electromagnetic pulse which makes all electronics, including your MP3 player and drop pod, to go dead. Six hours after that failed insertion you wake up in night-time Mumbassa and start searching for team members that have survived and try to find out what has happened in the few hours you were knocked out.
The search you get to do with the newcomer is an original setup for a Halo game. You no longer play mission after mission but walk around in an environment that isn’t only more open than you’re used, but also bathes in a unique, solitary-feeling atmosphere. While wandering around you find tips about your squad which activate some sort of flashback and place you in the skin of that ODST.
So, you not only play as The Rookie but also get to work with Buck, Dutch, Romeo and Micke. Sneaking through streets is quite unique and a lot less intense than the seperate missions. You have the necessary, but all in all quite short, combat against the Covenant, but what impresses most is the film-noir style and beautiful orchestra music in the background. Dramatic and refreshing, but all Halo.
ODST’s are the elite soldiers of the future, like the rangers or Deltas of today. Each member of a squad has his own speciality. Dutch is the macho with a Spartan laser, Romeo the unhandy sniper while Mickey is the explosives guy. At the head there’s the all-round leader Buck. Still these people are a lot more vulnerable than Master Chief. Due to their smaller size the Brute is suddenly a giant, a Grunt can take some more punch and bullets suddenly do hurt.
The health system was taken over from Halo: Combat Evolved, but with new colors. The screen flashes red when you get hit and taking cover is a clear suggestion at such a time. When taking more enemy fire your health more drops quickly and if you lose it you better search for oldfashioned health stations.
It remains quite an adaptation to suddenly kick the Covenant’s butt as a normal human. The ubermighty dual-wielding is gone, Grunts are suddenly not so impressed with you anymore – unless you kill a Brute with a head shot – and also storming at the enemy isn’t a tactic you’ll be using a lot. The use of stealth is advisable and the continuous use of cover important, especially on the higher difficulty degrees. Stealth is also easier to use than in the previous Halo games. Where Master Chief would draw all the attention – even with marines in the neighborhood – it’s now the marines that attract attention as long as you stay out of sight and don’t attack. On top of that you also have some sort of night mode that not only looks impressive but also gives you some necessary information in the most darkest of hours like enemies with a red glow around them. The completely different style of playing needs some adjustment but certainly is fun and after a couple of minutes you’re again completely absorbed by the game.
Next to the six to eight hour campaign, available in off- and online co-op, there’s also the new multiplayer mode Firefight. This can best be compared to Gears of War 2′s Horde mode. You fight with a maximum of four ODST buddies in a closed arena where hordes of Covenant are dropped. It all turns out in a fragfest with results that are turned into bonusses comparable with the other Halo games. Intense and immersive, and ideal for the hardcore gamers amongst you.
Still this mode has some disadvantages: everything looks a bit like the singleplayer because you keep playing in the same surroundings, the only difference being the multiple waves of enemies. The biggest disadvantage, however, is the lack of matchmaking. The option is only playable through an Xbox Live party with friends, systemlink or split-screen. Although playing with friends is nicer, a function like matchmaking can perfectly help when your friends aren’t online. Hopefully Bungie will see the light and release an update to resolve this issue.
Those that get Halo 3: ODST get the Halo 3: Mythic CD for free. A disc with the multiplayer part of Halo 3 and all accompanying DLC. A very nice extra for those that haven’t bought Halo 3 and all DLC, less interesting for the fans that no doubt have this already.
Halo 3: ODST has a quite pleasing story, but despite a couple of spectacular set pieces (think of a “Best Of” of the previous titles) many will find the story a lot less immersive. Although ODST brought us a lot of gameplay fun it can’t compete with the epic feel of the previous episode. Not playing Master Chief and the open environment brings refreshment but not enough innovation. A fine game that repeats the strong points from its bigger brother and puts them in a new and understated jacket, but doesn’t offer enough extra to earn the same score.