Halo, Hold the Master Chief
When Halo 3: Recon, ODST’s original title, was announced it was thought of as little more than a short stand alone expansion to Halo 3 that would serve almost no other purpose than to tide fans over until the immanent 2010 release of Halo Reach. As such, many speculated that the price would be lower as a reflection of the included content, coming in around the forty dollar mark. After some extra development time, added content and polish, and a name change, Halo 3: ODST has finally hit the market at the full sixty dollar price tag associated with complete new games. Fortunately, the game is excellent and there is easily enough included in the package to make ODST well worth the asking price.
I consider myself a fan of the Halo series but have never really found myself enthralled by the overarching storyline of Master Chief and his exploits. While there is no debate that Master Chief is one of the most beloved and recognizable characters in gaming, he’s never been more than just a mute, physically gifted suit of armor that is fun to shoot aliens with to me. This is one of the major reasons that I’ve found myself loving the campaign in ODST so much. Instead of just another “Master Chief saves the universe” outing, ODST places characters in the shoes of a series of Orbital Drop Shock Troopers (ODSTs) trying to survive on the mean streets of the Covenant-controlled New Mombasa following the events of Halo 2.
This decision is a great one as it allows for a far more down to earth, realistic-feeling experience than is found in previous entries in the series. ODSTs by nature are inferior to Master Chief in almost every respect. They can’t dual wield weapons, jump as high, fall as far, run as fast, or take nearly as much punishment before croaking. While you might think that this type of frailty or loss of ability would hinder the gameplay experience, the opposite is true. Instead of feeling like a super-soldier easily capable of dispatching anything that comes your way, any firefight could honestly be your last. This makes for a much more interesting outing that forces you to plan out your actions rather than just running and gunning through the entirety of the campaign.
The campaign itself is broken into two distinct portions. Following your squad’s crash landing in New Mombasa, the team has been scattered and the Rookie has been knocked unconscious. Waking up six hours after the crash, the Rookie finds himself seemingly left behind by his squad and must search for them in order to have any chance of making out alive. When playing as the Rookie, you’ll be roaming the city’s open streets at night looking for any clues as to your team’s current whereabouts.
This portion of the game is different than anything found in previous Halo titles. The entire city of New Mombasa is open to the player and can be traversed in any way you see fit. Sure, the game will give you a radar blip to go towards in order to find your next objective, but you can just as easily explore the city in order to find weapon caches or Bioshock-esque sound files that tell Sadie’s Story which is set during the Covenant invasion. Feeling more like an old detective story than an action FPS storyline in these segments, the story in ODST comes off as rather unique and interesting.
However, once you come upon any relevant clues, the game will pull you into a flashback and put you in control of the ODST who left the clue behind. Not only does this help the player gain insight into the various characters in the game, it also serves as a switch between the searching, detective portions of the game and the more straightforward, action-packed levels one would expect from a Halo title. There is plenty of classic Halo action to be found in these portions ranging from straight firefights to vehicle-based combat. The only major difference comes from the ODST’s health gauges that use stamina rather than an overshield and require you to find health packs after receiving too much damage once your stamina has run out.
The mix of the Rookie segments and the action-packed ODST potions worked rather well and kept me interested in seeing what came next the entire way through the campaign. Although the game grew in scope since its initial announcement, the campaign still rounds out at only about six hours. This may seem like a letdown to some but honestly, the shorter run-time has allowed for a well-paced, tight experience that lasts long enough to be enjoyable and rewarding but doesn’t overstay its welcome and become tedious. In any case, the Halo series’ longevity has always been found in its multiplayer and ODST is no exception.
Halo 3: ODST comes packaged with two discs. The second disc in the case contains exactly what it says on the box, which is “the complete Halo 3 multiplayer experience.” Aside from the original maps included at the release of Halo 3, ODST’s second disc comes complete with the Heroic, Legendary, Cold Storage, and Mythic Map packs as well as three new maps. These new maps are Longshore, Citadel, and Heretic, which is the updated version of Halo 2’s Midship that fans have been begging for since Halo 3’s release. Everything on this disc functions exactly the same as it would if you were playing it using the Halo 3 disc including video sharing, matchmaking, and Forge customization. Thankfully, ODST also comes with the remaining Vidmaster achievements that finally make it possible for every player to score the once exclusive Recon Armor for use in multiplayer.
While having the entire spread of Halo 3 multiplayer maps in one place makes a great multiplayer package by itself, there is an additional surprise tucked away on the campaign disc of ODST. Scrolling past the campaign you’ll find a Firefight mode, which is a new take on Halo multiplayer. That’s not to say it is a completely new idea, as the concept has already been seen in Gears of War 2’s horde mode and to a lesser extent in Call of Duty: World at War’s Nazi Zombie mode. Firefight consists of one to four players controlling ODSTs and struggling to survive against ever-increasingly difficult waves of enemies with very limited supplies or time to seek shelter. While it may not be the most original idea, it is incredibly fun and has a distinct Halo flavor to it. To further spice things up, certain rounds will even have differing conditions, such as not being able to recharge stamina until you melee an enemy, thrown in just to keep players on their toes. The only real downside to this mode is that it lacks a matchmaking feature, meaning if you wish to fully enjoy it, you’ll need to have some friends ready and willing to play with you.
With the overabundance of multiplayer goodness combining with a somewhat short, but incredibly well done and interesting six hour, single-player and/or co-op campaign, Halo 3: ODST’s sixty dollar price tag is more than justified for newcomers to the series. However, if you’ve already paid for most of the included multiplayer maps it may be a little harder to get past the game’s price tag. Even so, the new Firefight mode, three new multiplayer maps, a Halo: Reach beta invite, and an excellent six hour campaign should definitely be more than enough to make any Halo fan happily slap down sixty dollars for ODST.
RATING OUT OF 5 RATING DESCRIPTION 4.5 Graphics
The Halo 3 engine is beginning to show its age, but the newly done art assets keep ODST looking great. 4.6 Control
Everything feels as it should including the slightly floaty jumps Halo fans are used to. 4.8 Music / Sound FX / Voice Acting
A great musical score and fantastic voice work, provided in large part by several members of the classic sci-fi Firefly television show, make ODST a joy for the ears. 4.6 Play Value
While ODST is my personal favorite Halo single-player campaign to date, it is a tad short at only six hours. Luckily, it is still excellent despite its length and has a ton of great multiplayer content to fall back on for replayability and longevity. 4.6 Overall Rating – Must Buy
Not an average. See Rating legend above for a final score breakdown.