Review by magx

"Buy One Get Ripped Off"

Note: This review is aimed at Halo fans, and, as such, will assume the reader has some knowledge of the Halo series, including both story and character elements, as well as gameplay.

Halo 3: ODST, which was released on September 22, 2009, differs from the previously released Halo games, as it does not deal with the Master Chief, but instead has players assume the roles of various elite human United Nations Space Command (UNSC) soldiers, which are also known as Orbital Drop Shock Troopers (hence the abbreviation comprising the game's subtitle). The game takes place during the events of both Halo 2 and Halo 3.

Taking control of the aptly named rookie, Rookie, the game has you exploring the ruined city of New Mombasa searching for clues as to the fates of your various squad mates. Your exploration occurs at night, and you are equipped with night vision goggles, which enables you to more easily pick out the enemy patrols, the artifacts you seek, and any other items such as grenades and weaponry. The night vision goggles change the look of the city, as it gets bathed in a high contrast glow, which can get a bit irritating to have to look at for the few hours that you are exposed to it, but it's certainly not gamebreaking. These sections are accompanied by a sombre musical score, which is utilized in the pursuit of really driving home the loneliness and desperation of the situation as you search for information as to the whereabouts of your squad mates.

Once you stumble upon any of the various artifacts belonging to one of your teammates, you play out their scenario in the form of a flashback. So the single player campaign is structured much differently than the previous entries in the series. New Mombassa serves as a hub world of sorts, and the various flashback sequences make up the gameplay levels, during which you engage in classic Halo battles, with some differences, which will be described shortly.

The actual process of discovering these clues is incredibly simplistic, and requires no actual detective work on the players' end. Essentially, the game has you following a beacon, and, upon arriving in the general vicinity of the artifact, you simply look around for the object. Once you spot it, you approach it, and a cutscene ensues, followed by a gameplay level.

In addition to the main story missions, you can also attempt to locate additional artifacts; namely, audio logs, which you will find contained in electronic devices such as phones and ATM's. If the player locates all of these, a separate, small subplot is unlocked.

The actual flashback missions are what contain the meat of the gameplay, and that of course is the sequence of classic Halo firefights. The word classic is quite apt here, as the gameplay harkens back to the first Halo game in some ways. Gone, too, is the use of equipment introduced in Halo 3. Since the ODST's are not as powerful or adept as Master Chief, there are some returning features that reflect their lessened abilities. For one, the health bar has returned. Shields are gone, although there is a new feature, called Stamina, which essentially acts in the same manner as the shields did, except they take longer to charge and don't seem to last as long. Once your stamina is depleted, your health (which is once again restored by locating health packs) starts to drop when damage is taken, and death can come quite quickly.

If you do manage to find a safe place and allow your Stamina to recharge, you will notice that, as it was the case in the original Halo, your health status remains at the point rendered by your last sustained damage. The ODST's sustain damage from falls, unlike the Chief, and they also cannot jump as high, nor run as fast as he can. You also lack the ability to dual wield, although this is an admittedly odd state of affairs, as there's not a seemingly satisfactory explanation as to why these trained soldiers cannot wield two guns at the same time. Regardless, such is the state of affairs, and really, it's nothing terribly upsetting.

These changes in ability result in a slightly more challenging Halo experience, and one that will require some more strategizing and patience on your part. This is something that Bungie seems to have been quite mindful of, as there are situations present in the campaign that were seemingly designed to exploit this, in an effort to increase the tension, and for the most part, they were successful.

Two minor but unfortunate design decisions do not strike one as being particularly successful on Bungie's part. For one, when you take any amount of damage, the screen takes on a red hue, and this does not dissipate until your Stamina recharges. This can get tiresome, as it restricts your view somewhat, and it it just not very aesthetically pleasing. This is paired with a beeping noise (as though the red hue wasn't sufficient enough to clue you into the fact that you are hurt). Both of these can grow irritating after a while.

The campaign is quite good, at least when you are playing the flashbacks. The game overall is poorly paced, and ill structured. To be frank, the New Mombassa sections were seemingly designed to conjure up emotion in the player, and engender a sense of immersion, but what they really accomplish is both falling flat, and artificially padding the game length, which, unfortunately, is still lacking. The campaign is easily conquered within 5-6 hours on the normal difficulty setting. This means, if one were to remove the New Mombassa sections, one would be looking at 3-4 or so hours of classic Halo gameplay. That's almost unforgivable.

If Bungie had stuck with the original plan of marketing this as an expansion, and thusly offering it for a lower price, then perhaps this would have been understandable, but, the decision was made partway through development to make this a full fledged standalone title, and release it at the standard $60 price point. This does not feel like a decision born of necessity, but rather, greed. Of course, there is more to this package than the campaign.

New to ODST is the Firefight mode, which is a co-operative (but can also be played solo) survival mode, similar to the recent Horde mode seen in Gears of War 2 (another comparison can be drawn to the Nazi Zombie mode seen in COD:WAW) that takes place over 10 different maps, featuring varied environments and gameplay (some feature wide open spaces and vehicles, others tight quarters and on foot only action). It consists of the player(s) taking on wave after wave of enemies, which increase in difficulty, and receiving performance analysis in the form of a numerical score, which are tied in to a set of achievements. This mode is quite fun, and really boils the multiplayer aspect of Halo down to its bare elements. However, one huge, glaring flaw is that this mode, while playable online and locally, is not included in the matchmaking system, which means one must actually have a group of players to play with in order to enjoy this mode to its fullest. You cannot merely head online and search for a group of players via a server list or the Halo matchmaking system.

The other aspect of the multiplayer is of course the classic Halo versus, which does thankfully feature matchmaking. However, none of the multiplayer is new, as it is merely the Halo3 multiplayer repackaged. Not a single element of Halo 3: ODST is seen in the multiplayer. It is exactly the multiplayer found on the Halo 3 disc. You are playing the very same Halo 3 multiplayer the people playing it off of the Halo3 disc are, which means you play with them. It makes no difference which disc you play off of, save for one element. This version of the multiplayer comes prepackaged with all of the previously released add on Halo 3 multiplayer maps. If you had not previously purchased them, then the value of this package is much greater. However, if you are one of the gamers who had already purchased the maps, you must purchase them yet again, as there is no separate version of ODST sans add on maps and for a cheaper price. Nor is there a version of ODST that features only the campaign and firefight mode. Which means, to add insult to injury, not only are you possibly forced to repurchase the add on maps, you are also forced to repurchase the Halo 3 multiplayer.

The fact that Bungie did not sell multiple versions of this game, giving players the freedom to buy only what they needed/desired, really shows the lack of respect and consideration they had for their fans when releasing this. If you already have Halo 3 and all of the add on maps, you are going to be paying $60 for a short campaign and a Firefight mode that lacks matchmaking. Whether or not that is worth it is ultimately up to you, but the position that this game is ultimately a rip off is one that merits being held.

Halo 3: ODST features mostly great, classic Halo gameplay, with some twists, that was sold as something it's really not. It's a great game that unfortunately suffers from some very questionable sales and marketing decisions, and ultimately suffers for it. The game is very easy to recommend to those who do not own Halo 3. It's somewhat harder but still fairly easy to recommend to someone who does own Halo 3, but loves the multiplayer, does not own any of the additional 10 multiplayer maps, and craves a new Halo campaign, or has friends to play Firefight with.

However, for those who own Halo 3 and the additional multiplayer maps, or who would suffer for the lack of Firefight matchmaking, this is not an easy game to recommend, despite the series' pedigree. If a short campaign and the lack of matchmaking for Firefight don't worry you, nor does the fact of the add on maps not being optional, then the decision is yours and yours alone to make. Ultimately, this game is tough to either recommend as a purchase, a rent, or as a game to avoid. It really depends on the gamer, although it seems fairly obvious that Bungie really could have done a lot more for their loyal fans on this one, and the feeling that they took advantage of them this time around cannot be assuaged. Consequently, Halo 3: ODST receives an:

Overall Score: 6.5/10 (rounded up to 7 for gamefaqs)

Reviewer's Rating:   3.5 - Good

Originally Posted: 03/29/10

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

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