Review by ScifiNutter

"New Halo installment = great. But..."

I'm not going to lie; I bought and have played all three Halos through on every difficulty. I've played through them enough to more or less memorize exactly where everything is in Campaign. I have my katana. I almost have all the achievements for Halo 3 and I know where every skull is on Halo 2. I even figured out what the 3 and 7 mean for the IWHBYD skull for Halo 2.

I have thoroughly enjoyed every previous game in the Halo genre, besides Halo Wars, and have found that ODST holds true to the standards of its predecessors. The new weapons, while different, have not been useless, the gameplay has remained challenging, and it retains replayability.

The story, of which I will give no spoilers, is developed just enough to be mildly interesting. As you might have guessed, you are playing as an ODST, an "Orbital Drop Shock Trooper". These are basically the guys crazy enough that they don't drop onto a planet in a ship, they drop in these small, self-contained pods with minimal brakes. They have some of the highest casualties during drops, considering there are no backup brakes for their pods, but they are the best of the best and crazy as bats.

You are a rookie in an already-established squad. You are the stereotypical faceless, nameless mute who has no backstory. The other characters have barely any more story to them and rely on the player to take their actions and personalities at face value. The squad leader has his typical love-interest, who happens to be a superior officer and an Intelligence spook to boot. The other characters are so generic that they don't even stick well in my mind, other than the lot of them are so typical.

Everyone is dropped into New Mombasa around the same time that In Amber Clad and the Covenant carrier make their extremely explosive Slipspace jump over the city. Your pods are hit by EMP and everybody crash-lands. You wake up in the middle of the night, your pod door pops off, and you set off looking for your squadmates. Storytelling revolves around finding clues as to what happened to them and having these "flashbacks" in which you play as one of the other characters for a mission. While not the most elegant or original of storytelling techniques, it gets the job done and provides a reason for your character to be meandering aimlessly around the city, killing everything in sight.

Since you no longer play as the Master Chief, combat becomes slightly different and more challenging. Stamina replaces shields but is significantly weaker in its protection. The health bar makes a reappearance, requiring the player to periodically find health kits. VISR mode is a welcome addition for dark places; what it does is amplify light a little and outline everything in sight with a color-code. Green is friendly, red enemy, teal weapons and usable things, and everything else is yellow. The cloaked Brutes become somewhat more visible in VISR mode, so they're not quite as stealthy. Strangely, ODST's can carry one more of every grenade than Spartans can, but that's the Corps for you.

Firefight is a game mode I'd been hoping that Bungie would add for a long time. Players, holding their own against unstoppable odds, had been proven a fun formula with World at War's Zombie mode. It's a great addition and makes the game extremely replayable.

But, with all of the great things, some things were not good. Your AI allies are stupid as ever, literally charging strait into a barrage of plasma grenades or into your field of fire. The co-op that can be played on any one console has been reduced to only two people, which really annoyed me. What really got to me, what has always gotten to me in the Halo series, is the fact that the characters in the game are completely and utterly bland. It wasn't the voice acting, it was that there was really no depth to any of them. They are cookie-cutter people, with about as much emotional connection to the player as AT&T's cell phone service. As I played, I realized I couldn't care less if they lived or died. That, to me, detracted from the overall campaign.

But don't let that get to you (necessarily). ODST is fun. I enjoyed playing it, character issues aside. I will probably be playing it until November when Modern Warfare 2 comes out. I might even be playing Firefight modes from now until this time next year. The Halo 3 multiplayer disc is a nice addition, as is the invitation to the Halo: Reach beta when it comes out. But with the promise of a new game's beta comes a recurring question: what from here?

What from here? One thing almost as tragic as having a sequel be a total flop is a series that is milked to its last dregs. It happened with Star Wars, Deep Space Nine, Monkey Island, and Pokemon. And now it seems to be happening to Halo. There's not much else the series can go from here. MMORPG? They already tried a crossover to the RTS genre and it didn't exactly work, to my mind.

I'm hoping that the few future games will be just as good as these were, but there just doesn't seem to be anywhere else to go.


Reviewer's Score: 9/10 | Originally Posted: 09/28/09

Game Release: Halo 3: ODST (Limited Edition) (US, 09/22/09)


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