Review by kefka989

"Halo expansions, now for $59.99"

Those of you who have no idea what Halo is must either be full on hardcore Sony or Nintendo fans, or you don't play video games. Halo is probably the single reason there is even a 360, as most believe the original x-box would not have survived without the decision to introduce Halo first to the X-box, rather then to the PC first. With Halo 3 attempting to wrap up Master Chief's story, Bungie decided to move the story back a bit and also change the characters involved, so will this decision keep the game series' steam going?

Halo ODST takes place between the events of Halo 2 and 3. It involves a squad of ODST, or Orbital Drop Shock Troopers. They are somewhere between a Spartan and a standard grunt. They are called to New Mombasa to deal with a Covenant cruiser attacking the city. You take the role of ‘The Rookie' a nameless, faceless, voiceless member of the ODST team who acts mostly as a fly-on-the-wall for the first part of the story and acts as a plot device for the main part of the game. As soon as the team drops, the Covenant ship warps out, causing enough turbulence to cause the team to scatter and get knocked about. You awaken hours after crashing in a building, the city overrun with Brute patrols, your team nowhere to be found, and having no idea what your mission is. Its up to you to find out what happened to your team and make it out of the city alive.

The ODST members are more sturdy and more dangerous then the average human soldier, but they are not Spartans. While Master Chief has special armor that provides him with a rechargeable shield and enhanced speed and strength, you have just basic enhanced battle armor. This means that you can take some damage without losing any health, somewhat like a shield. This is called your ‘stamina'. As you take damage, the screen turns increasingly red. Once you take enough damage, you start to loose health. Stamina can be regained by avoiding damage long enough for the screen to return to normal, but health does not regenerate. This means you have to avoid damage as much as possible. The only way to get your health back is to find health packs scattered around the game. You cannot jump nearly as high and you also cannot move or run as fast, so ducking out of firefights and avoiding fire is a lot harder to do. Most of the time you simply need to avoid fights. You do have the advantage of the new visor view that increases the level of light and also provides an outline for objects. Enemies have red outlines, making them easier to see, and weapons have different outlines as well, making them easier to spot against the environment. The only problem is that this view is only good in low light, using it during any kind of daylight renders it useless as you cannot see anything in a sea of white. Lastly, The ODST can only hold one, removing Spartan duel-wielding, and also making ammo harder to keep hold of.

The city of New Mombasa is not an open world as originally advertised, merely a hub area. As Rookie you move around, avoiding brute patrols to reach destinations. Once you reach these areas you trigger flashback scenes, usually brought on by an item you find. These flashback scenes focus on other members of the team, slowly showing the events that happened while Rookie was still out cold in his pod. These levels play out exactly like levels from Halo 1 through 3, though they can be touch and go. They can be easier because you often run into large groups of human grunts who you can fight along side with to reach objectives, but can be a pain because when they are not around, you are going through the same motions as previous games with a much weaker character, when compared to Master Chief. Its also worth mentioning that most of the levels usually end with a ‘overrun', or a spot where you have to defend an area for a set amount of time with increasing amounts of enemies attempting to flatten you. Once you finish a mission you return to filling Rookie's shoes and then essentially double back across the length of New Mombasa to the next mission, which is usually the exact same way you came, except a bit longer as the area at the end tends to be unlocked. Besides that, there are terminals you can access that reveal graphic-novel-like videos revealing a story of a young girl and her attempts to save her father during the start of the invasion. As the story is revealed, you are allowed to use various weapon cashes which are invaluable since you will run dry of ammo quickly dealing with the constant encounters with brute patrols and jackal snipers on every rooftop.

Besides the story the game offers two multiplayer options that are definitely worth noting. First off, there is Firefight. Some have called this a rip off of Gears of War's Hoard mode. You and up to 3 other ODST players are stationed in a map where you have to fight of wave after wave of enemy troops, each wave getting progressively more effective and aggressive. Also as you brave waves, you will have the game stack more odds against you, activating skulls each round to make the enemies smarter. This includes skulls that allow the enemy to dodge grenades and gunfire, deal more damage, and prevent you from regaining stamina, just to name a few. The second mode is a full version of Halo 3's multiplayer system. Not only that, it includes all updates and downloads, including the Epic and Mythic Map packs, and Forge. It also includes 3 new maps; Citadel, Heretic, and Long shore. Other then that, it is simply the same game for those who did not already own a copy of Halo 3 or had not been able to afford the many map pack updates.

The game has its up but also suffers from it's downs. Before the game was released, it was touted as an ‘open world' halo game. Most did not expect a world the size and scope of Saint's Row or Grand theft auto, but they expected more then the simple hub city that was in the game. Its nothing more then a story device to get you from Mission A to Mission B. The missions themselves are almost identical to anything you would find in any other halo game (more like 2 or 3 due to the urban environment), but with the problem of you running through with an underpowered character lacking the regenerating shield and health, higher jumping, faster moving, and duel-wielding abilities of Mater Chief. It does offer a new way to play the game but it can be frustrating for players used to tanking around as a Spartan. This is compounded by the amount of levels that require you to hold a position under increasingly aggressive waves of Brutes being transported in under cover fire. The visor view does help in the hub area but during the many day missions you have to fight it is useless. It lights up the screen so much you cannot see anything, forcing you to ignore the feature until the mission is over.

The Rookie himself seems too much like a cheap story engine. He sleeps through the entire opening exposition and the other members of the team seem to ignore him, only partially concerned about his whereabouts during their own missions. His faceless and voiceless character leaves him to simply bumble about in the city and stumble across artifacts left behind by his team mates, which he seems to fumble with cluelessly before heading off to go find another as soon as the mission is over. One of my biggest gripes is the way the Firefight multiplayer functions. It allows you to play with others online, but only through invitation. That means that unless you have players on your friend list who have the game, you will be forced to play alone or on the same system, and split screen is not good enough for the amount of fire coming down on you. If they can have x-box live search for players for the halo 3 multiplayer, why not do the same for the firefight mode? It is a major pain.

All and all this game gets a mixed review. Its not a horrible shooter for the 6 to 8 hours of play time it will take you to blaze through it, but it feels lacking in a lot of areas. It is so short that it almost feels more like an expansion then anything else, probably why it was called ‘Halo 3: ODST' instead of ‘Halo: ODST'. My own views aside, I've notice a lot of people trading the game back in complaining of the lack of story length and also the fact that they hate being restricted in their fighting power as a ODST member, preferring to be Master Chief and using their faces as a bullet shield. Personaly I don't find much to be so excited about when considering Halo but at least this one breaks the mold. Still, it lacks in a lot of areas and the fact that the whole selling platform was pulled out from under us really set me against this game so I cannot recommend it for anyone other then hardcore fans of the series or just fans who want a different flavor of halo without having to resort to a full game-style change like they did with Halo Wars.

Reviewer's Rating:   3.0 - Fair

Originally Posted: 10/19/09

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

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