Review by Icy Guy

"Great fun if you're a Halo fan"

In 2008, Bungie teased us with a game called "Halo 3: Recon." It was supposed to be different enough from Halo 3 that fans wouldn't see it as a pointless spin-off game that added nothing new to the franchise. A year and one name change later, Halo 3: ODST is released. Instead of a pointless spin-off, it is a bundle of fan service, bringing back features and maps from previous installments in the franchise, and a departure from traditional Halo action in that the player is no longer in the shoes of the Master Chief.

Story - ODST takes place during the events of Halo 2. You play as the Rookie, a new recruit into a unit of Orbital Drop Shock Troopers, or ODSTs. ODSTs are hardcore soldiers somewhere above Halo's Marines but below the Master Chief, using a Single-Occupant, Exoatmospheric Insertion Vehicle - a technologically-advanced drop pod - to drop in from an orbiting ship into the battle zone below. Your squad is part of a larger force assaulting the Prophet of Regret's battle cruiser (the Prophets are the rulers of the Covenant hegemony) on Earth, but during the drop, Regret's ship makes a jump into slipstream space, creating a massive explosion that damages the city of New Mombasa. The explosion also scatters your squad all over the city and slams the Rookie's drop pod into the side of a building, knocking him unconscious. Six hours later, he wakes up and begins searching the city for clues that will lead him to his squadmates.

Gameplay - In a departure from the typical Halo formula, you do not spend most of the game accompanied by other soldiers or an artificial intelligence in your head. Rather, you spend most of the game alone. Instead of a linear path or carefully placed enemy encounters, ODST gives you a large city to explore, essentially dropping you into a connected series of paths and enemy encounters. It succeeds at making you feel disconnected without getting boring. Beacons show where the next clue - which can take the form of a twisted detonator or Warthog turret - can be found. But aside from the side quest revealed in the game's Achievements, there's little reason to spend a lot of time exploring, which hurts the campaign's replay value a little bit. I feel like Bungie could have done a bit more with the city, especially since they clearly put quite a fair bit of time into creating it.

The VISR (pronounced like "visor") is an enhanced vision mode toggled by a press of the X button. Enabling it turns on night vision and a cool, useful outline mode, which outlines the environment in brown, objects of interest in yellow, weapons in blue, friendly forces in green, and enemies in red. There's also a VISR map that is brought up by pressing the Back button. While exploring the city, clue beacons will show on both your on-screen compass and VISR map. You can also place your own waypoints if you choose. Those waypoints, however, will probably not be all that useful in the flashbacks that occur when the Rookie finds a clue. The flashbacks take the form of the tried-and-true Halo level: the linear series of paths and carefully placed encounters, with plenty of help from your allies. Instead of the Rookie, you play as the squad member associated with the clue. Aside from a customized suit of armor and a different speech bank, playing as each squad member is just like playing as the Rookie.

ODST hearkens back to the original Halo in several ways: you have a pistol with a scope, no dual wielding, fall damage, and no regenerating health. Although it isn't as powerful as the Halo 1 pistol, the new pistol is an accurate, sound-suppressed, headshot machine. It is joined by the introduction of the scoped, sound-suppressed SMG, the M7S, which tears through enemy shields so that you can finish your target with a headshot. The Brute Plasma Rifle returns from Halo 2, but you can no longer dual-wield it because that feature is not present in the game, just like in Halo 1. Fall damage makes a long-overdue return, so think again before you hop off of the second story of that building. Instead of a shield, your character has rechargeable "stamina." As you lose stamina, your screen turns redder and redder, until you finally start losing health. Your stamina will regenerate if you duck behind a barricade; your health won't. To regain health, you'll need to find a health pack. Your character cannot move as fast, jump as high, throw grenades as far, or melee as hard as the Master Chief, although there isn't too much of a difference. Although your enemies can use the Equipment introduced in Halo 3, you cannot. You can carry three of each of the four types of grenade. You're still limited to only two weapons at a time. If you're familiar with Halo 3's controls, you'll have no problem with ODST's controls since they work just as well here.

Presentation - Graphically, ODST is very similar to Halo 3, which is a good thing. Plasma grenades look better than ever, and the environment somehow manages to look good with or without the VISR mode. However, everything looks a little too shiny when the sun is out, and it seems that the art department likes overusing light bloom effects in sunny settings. Thankfully, those are mainly relegated to Firefight (more on that later). As always, the soundtrack is superb, with moody tunes taking the place of bombastic orchestral anthems and original songs taking the place of classic Halo themes. There's even a little saxophone, which I believe is a first for a Halo FPS soundtrack. The sound effects are also another set of jobs well done. Most of the weapon sounds are carried over from Halo 3, although the Shotgun and Carbine firing sounds seem to have gotten a little extra "oomph" since 2007. The main characters' voice acting is well done, with each performer creating a distinct character even if some of the characters personality types are kind of cliche - the gung-ho heavy weapons guy and the naive-sounding "new guy" immediately come to mind.

Multiplayer - ODST features 4-player campaign co-op over Xbox Live and a survival mode called Firefight, also playable with up to four players over Live. Both are playable on LAN and with up to two players on a single console. Firefight is ODST's answer to Gears of War 2's Horde mode: a team of players attempts to survive for as long as possible against an increasingly tougher onslaught of enemies. There are some major differences between Firefight and Horde, though. First, Firefight doesn't end after 50 waves of enemies. Second, there's a shared pool of lives. Your team starts with seven lives in reserve, with opportunities to increase the lives counter by surviving and doing well in bonus rounds, which are waves of nothing but Grunts. Third, there are more than five points at which the enemy becomes stronger. At certain points in the game, various skulls - game modifiers that include increasing enemy armor, increasing enemy grenade throw frequency, and forcing you to melee attack enemies to recharge your stamina - are enabled. There are 12 points at which these modifiers are enabled, and they will eventually stack, so you will eventually find yourself facing off against enemies who absorb headshots and have the throwing arm of a pro baseball player. While Firefight is an absolute blast, both it and online co-op are hampered by two major connection issues: variable lag between controller input and on-screen action (e.g. nearly a second after you press the A button, your character finally jumps), and a lack of host migration. The former is not the same kind of lag found in traditional online Halo 3 multiplayer, so fans of that might find themselves feeling "off" to the point of being frustrated, and the latter is a glaring omission. Few things kill the urge to play Firefight more than passing dozens of waves of enemies with tons of lives in reserve only to have one player lag out, thus ending the game. As with the previous two games' multiplayer modes, highly detailed game session stats are available on Bungie.net, but since you need to install Microsoft Silverlight to view them, mileage will vary.

For those looking for something more adversarial, the second disc included with ODST is Halo 3's multiplayer with every downloadable map pack included. This includes the newest set of Mythic maps, which are Citadel (a small, symmetrical map based off of an area from Halo 3's campaign), Longshore (a medium-sized, asymmetrical fishery designed for one-sided objective games), and Heretic (a smallish, symmetrical map set in a Covenant ship). Long-time fans will recognize Heretic as Halo 2's Midship. Since the disc has every downloadable map pack, this also means that Blackout, Avalanche, and Cold Storage - remakes of Lockout (Halo 2), Sidewinder (Halo 1), and Chill Out (Halo 1) - are also included. This disc can also be used to play with owners of Halo 3 as long as your party sticks with the multiplayer component. Saved Films and map variants created in Halo 3 will also work with this disc. It's important to note that people (like me) who bought every multiplayer map pack from the Marketplace might feel a little bummed about essentially paying for the maps twice.

Replayability - A solo run of the campaign shouldn't last any more than 10 hours unless you're playing on Legendary difficulty. A 4-player co-op run shouldn't take much longer than 6-8 hours. Firefight has a lot of replayability, although the two issues I mentioned may cause some people to feel put off. The second disc is Halo 3's multiplayer with new maps, so that should keep players occupied for a while unless they dislike the game's multiplayer, in which case they won't get much more out of it than the 2-3 hours required to get all of the new Achievements.

Buy or rent? - If you're intrigued by the idea of mixing up the Halo formula, enjoy co-op survival modes, and are looking to expand Halo 3's multiplayer, this is a definite purchase. If you don't have Xbox Live, you may want to stick with a rental, because Live is what makes this game shine.

If I could give this game an 8.4, I would, but since I can't, I'll round it to an 8 out of 10.


Reviewer's Score: 8/10 | Originally Posted: 09/29/09

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


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