Review by BlackWizardMagus
"Did Bungie really make this?"
Halo ODST is Bungie's attempt to make a Halo without the Master Chief, or, trying to make a game where you are not a one-man army. Supposedly. It's somewhat difficult to tell if they succeeded, as the results seem to be all over the place. The theme, as well, is that of the humans' weakness and limits, and the attitude of the game is thus different. I plan on covering only the problems; I assume you have played some previous Halo game, and imagining these changes applied to any of them should make it pretty clear why I scored it as I did.
You will quickly notice some signifigant changes in presentation for this game. First off, half of this game will be played at night, in the rain. Visibility is nil, and everything seems grainy, to achieve a film noir look that essentially damages a, you know, run-and-gun FPS. To add to that, part of the top and bottom of the screen will be fairly obscured by the edges of your helmet; the are transparant, but the added darkness in a dark environment can black it out. The added solution to this is something that looks alot like Batman's detective mode in Arkham Asylum; everything will be seen through a high-contrast view that outlines, color-coded, objects and lifeforms. This, to me, is a sad way to overcome your own poor presentation; instead of being able to really grasp the destruction of the city, your world will usually look like a canvas, half-filled, aiming more at outlines than enemies. Except for the time you DO spend in light; then, this diagnostic mode becomes useless as the light completely overwhelms it, even though it COULD be useful for some things. Even simple street lights or security lights could produce a blind spot for you.
The music in this game is very good, but not for a Halo game. Alot of lonely music, relaxed jazz, etc, with excellent composition, will fill your ears, which is quite possibly the last thing you want to hear when you are trying to enjoy a war. Strong beats and ripping guitars were the prefered means of previous Halos getting you pumped; now, it's mostly silence and light music. It's nice, but you won't even hear it when fighting.
As far as weapons go, there are problems. First off, you can't dual-wield. That's not a problem itself, but the guns that you COULD dual-wield in Halo 3 were specifically balanced to not really keep up with the other weapons on their own. That was the point; the SMG was out-classed by the Assault Rifle, but TWO SMGs would probably be more effective. Well, the guns were never changed, so many guns are now so under-powered as to be useless. The other guns are pretty much the same, except for a few additions; the Brute Plasma Rifle from Halo 2 is back, if you liked it. The SMG has been given a silencer and a scope, which sounds great, until you remember how bad the SMG kicks and think of how much worse that is for sniping, of all things. The Pistol received the same additions, reminding one of everyone's favorite god-like pistol from the original Halo, but the power is nowhere near as high. And the silencers are virtually useless anyway, except maybe if you miss. They do let you carry more grenades though, which is nice, but no more of Halo 3's devices, even though your opponents still have them.
The allies you get are virtually useless. Even if you try and play on easy, they will die faster than normal Marines from previous games do on Heroic. But maybe it's not their fault; after all, the battles in this game seem far less fair. Frequently, you will be across a large square from your opponents, who will rain down fire on you as you try and get close enough to kill them, or try to snipe them with your mostly pathetic weapons. Numbers also seem to be against you; you will almost never see less than 6 grunts. Gone are the epic battles from yesteryear, that were inter-mixed with narrow tunnels, vehicle combat, etc, and instead we have pretty constant fights where you are out-gunned, out-flanked, and out-numbered. Which is made worse by your weakness; you don't hit as hard, can't take as much damage, etc, compared to the Master Chief. And you have a health bar again, meaning it's that much harder to heal. The intent was, apparantly, to have you play this game in stealth, but they actually made it require MORE Rambo-like antics and dozens of grenades per levels. Only grunts or jackals without shields should be killed from a distance, unless you have an actual sniper rifle.
Overall, the problem with ODST is that it completely ignores the very things that made the previous Halo games so amazing compared to other FPSs. Halo introduced us to large battles, with a wide open screen, and a dozen ways to take down our intelligent and sneaky opponents. The enemy AI and the options available were amazing without being complex, and the whole world generally felt open and accessible. Basically, you were rarely fighting with the game's mechanics, it's camera angles, it's terrain, etc. And all of that is gone. All of it. It is now generally dark, and dreary. Visibility is constantly compromised. There are often multiple paths with enemies you can completely bypass, but this just results in wandering, being flanked, and a general feeling of "where the hell am I going?" There are numerous buildings and hallways as well, but those are mostly more opportunities to be surrounded or ambushed. Most the battles, however, occur in areas that previously would only be tackled on a vehicle, due to their size. So, alot of running from cover to cover is in order, just to get close enough to attack, while your allies die. Your only advantage is combat is bad AI on the enemy's part, which is hardly a good thing. It feels like, basically, another company trying to make a Halo game. If you changed how the enemies and weapons looked, you could hardly tell it was related. It sounds different, it looks different, it plays differently, it is explored differently, and the whole mood is shifted from "Hell yeah, let's kill some Covenant!" to "I'm going to fail to sneak by these bad guys, fail to snipe, and finally just run to them throwing grenades until the die, over and over." So, if you can borrow or rent this game, try it out, maybe you prefer this type of gameplay. But don't expect Halo 4; you will be sorely disappointed.
Reviewer's Rating: 2.5 - Playable
Originally Posted: 10/12/09
Game Release: Halo 3: ODST (US, 09/22/09)
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