Halo 3: ODSTlikePEGI16 Developer Bungie Publisher Microsoft Game Studios Genre FPS Platform Xbox 360 Release Out Now
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The Halo series is a decisive topic for many gamers, it's as unpopular as it is popular, with plenty of polarised views either side of the fence. But what is clear about Halo is this; it's not a ground-breaking First Person Shooter. What it is, is a cleverly developed game with addictive multiplayer and a story which puts most Sci-Fi fables to shame. If you can put aside any preconceived notions of the Halo franchise, I'll step you through Halo 3:ODST.

Halo 3: ODST was announced way back at E3 2008 and it seems like an age has gone by since. Originally slated as a small-scale campaign addon for Halo 3, the game soon took on a life of it's own, becoming a game many times the size that was initially meant. However, sitting pretty at £34.99 (Average store price, 28/09/2009), does the game really stack-up? If you felt Halo 3 was short, you probably wont be too impressed with ODST's offerings either, but perhaps what comes in the box would incite you.

Do those blue balls actually do anything now?
Halo 3: ODST follows the story of a squad of ODSTs; Orbital Drop Shock Troopers. In the Halo universe, the guys are tougher than nails and built studier than a Japanese pickup truck. When you want something done, these guys drop in and do it. Unfortunately, the mission; to board a enemy vessel hovering over Earth's New Mombasa, doesn't go too well. The ship jumps out of Mombasa leaving the poor ODSTs that were dropping onto the ship: scattered or dead. The story then picks up several hours later when The Rookie awakes from a catatonic state to find he's alone in the deserted streets of New Mombasa, the same streets are also filled with enemy units.

The game is split into two distinct parts. One part where you play as the ever-silent The Rookie, the other part you play as other ODST squad-mates at various times of the day. There's a clear distinction between the two segments and these become very clear the moment you start playing. Halo 3's story was a linear affair, with one route to your objective. In ODST, the New Mombasa streets act as a 'hub', one which The Rookie can move around freely looking for clues as to the fate of his ODST squad, battles are optional so long you can move quietly enough or don't run into snipers or turrets. Meanwhile, in the missions triggered by said clues, you have the classic Halo format: linear levels designed to be all about fierce firefights and explosions.

If you've played any Halo games before, you should be already acquainted with the gameplay setup. If not, here's Halo in a nutshell: You're given a rebounding health mechanism, which is very simple: the more red-tinted your screen gets, the less 'shield' or Stamina you have left. If your stamina runs out, you start losing health. Now, unlike the Master Chief (protagonist of Halo series up-till-now), ODSTs do not regenerate this health. Instead, when health gets scarce, you'll find yourself desperately looking for health packs, which aren't in short supply around missions or the hub world. If you're playing on Easy, your ODST is basically a walking tank. On legendary, your ODST is essentially a paper bag. If you're looking for a challenge in the Halo series, this is the one which will most likely test you.

Pew. Ka-pow. Right in the face.
More Halo in a nutshell: Shoot stuff, throw grenades. You only get to carry two weapons at once, three on the rare occasion you find a turret or flamethrower. Guns range from new Silenced Pistols and Sub-machine guns to Halo classics like the Assault Rifle and the Laser Pistol. The two different types of weapons you'll find in the game are; ballistic projectile weapons which, if you haven't figured it out by now, are normal Earth weapons. Then you have the Covenant (the bad guys) energy weapons. They both have their strengths and weaknesses and is what makes multiplayer so much fun, energy weapons don't need to be reloaded but can overheat and have a limited battery life while projectile weapons have to be reloaded but you can retrieve ammunition for the same weapon you have by running over a weapon on the ground. Same applies to different grenade types, incendiary grenades are great for taking down enemies but can also kill you with ease, sticky grenades don't have great splash damage (damage which affects players the closer they are to the epicentre of the explosion) but instantly kill whatever it's stuck to (except hunters and vehicles) while fragmentation grenades can't stick to enemies, but do have a large splash damage radius.

The game comes together quite nicely. Gameplay may not be anything challenging to master but it is incredibly fun. ODST does take a few steps backwards in terms of gameplay as well, though. In Halo 3 you could dual-wield smaller weapons, however in ODST you cannot. Same goes for items such as deployable Bubble Shields, Flares, Radar Jammers (Oh, the radar's gone too, if you care) and Grav Lifts. It's not a game breaker, for in return you're given an extra slot for each type of grenade. Fan favourite weapons such as the Battle Rifle are missing, as well as ordinary SMG and pistol types, but are replaced by silenced variations of them. The other big change that ODST presents for players is the VISR, which is basically a glorified map and information/objectives screen. But it also has one cool feature, which is to turn on a sweet night vision mode, which outlines objects of interest, friendly players and enemies. It's basically essential to have this mode on during the hub world, however completely useless in normal missions.

A completely new mode for the Halo series is the inclusion of Firefight. A game mode which was plucked straight from Gears of War 2 and it's Hoard mode. You fight wave-upon-wave of enemies as they drop in. Each round gets harder and harder in an attempt to finish you off. This is done by increasing enemy 'strength' either in numbers or types of enemies/weapons that spawn or the addition of 'skulls' which affect gameplay in various ways. You're given a certain number of lives, certain number of health packs and weapons will become an issue of improvisation not before too long. The mode seems to work quite well for friendly matches, but with no matchmaking mode to go along with Firefight, don't expect to be having too many matches as people get bored of ODST. Hopefully, the faithful will be rewarded with a matchmaking mode patched-in at a later date, but don't hold out hopes for it.

Do I shoot or run? Shoot or run?!
Visually, the game is a very vibrant and colourful affair. Oh sure, the night-time stages are near unplayable without the VISR, but normal missions will take you away from the brown and the 'grit' that most recent games present to you. Subtle and less-than-subtle motion blurring helps everything flow together, but at the end of the day, the game isn't a great improvement over Halo 3, which is now 3 years old and showing it's age. Where the game really excels is attention to detail, the world around you seems like it has been methodically thought-through. Natural surroundings seem believable and man-made structures aren't atheistically challenged, but not exactly works of art either. Everything about the Halo world is fairly believable. And that's a hard feat to pull off successfully.

The sounds of ODST are another major plus for the game. Halo 3 already had a set of very authentic sound effects and ODST is no different. There's very few 'new' sound effects thrown into the mix, but plenty of new voice clips. Characters you actually play as are now vocal, and a semi-famous set of voice actors produce the aforementioned and AI team mates will now alert you to dangers around you more efficiently. There's also a sub-story to ODST called 'Sadie's Story', it's presented in audio and still-image format through your VISR and these clips are found all over New Mombasa's streets, found through the guiding-hand of the game's less-than-helpful 'Superintendent' character, but I'll moan about him later. There's perks to finding these voice clips, but once you've found them all... Replay value of the game's campaign severely plummets. And just to add to this, the story isn't that good either. Voice work is comical at the worst of times and the serious nature of the story is overshadowed by ridiculous characters and plot-points. However, a nice touch to the game is that the two stories seem to converge at the end of it all.

I would have been your daddy, but the dog beat me over the fence.
Now onto the bad things. First of all, the Superintendent. During trailers and build-up to ODST, the Superintendent was shown to be a guiding hand through the streets of New Mombasa for The Rookie, dynamically warning the player of dangers ahead and giving you an advantage over the enemy which severely outnumber you. Instead, what you get is an AI which just wants you to look for audio files scattered around the city, raising barriers to make you stop and search around. That's even if you're currently in a firefight. So you could be running for cover down the road when suddenly this big barrier blockades your route. It's annoying as anything. And even worse is that even when you've found all the voice clips, the AI is just no longer present. Barriers which you started to use for shelter when you predict the AI's patterns no longer raise, leaving you even more exposed. Hardly a guiding/helping hand. And for the money you lay down on ODST, you could easily be buying items twice. The Halo 3 multiplayer disc which comes with ODST is just a trimmed-down Halo 3 multiplayer with all the downloadable maps (plus 3 all-new maps), it feels more like Microsoft or Bungie, or whoever decided to do this was just looking for ways to justify the near-full price-tag of ODST even though the game isn't as long nor as complicated as Halo 3.

Overall then, you're putting down £30-35 for a game about 5 hours in length (or one sitting if you're very good) depending on difficulty and obsession to find voice clips it could make that time rise, a Firefight mode which is awkward to setup with friends and a multiplayer mode copy-and-pasted from a previous iteration of the same game which you may or may not have paid for all before. As a Halo fan, I personally enjoyed the game and it's story. An FPS fan will probably like the simplicity of the game and any other type of person will most likely be somewhat indifferent about the game. ODST is a good game, but doesn't really feel it's worth it's initial price, perhaps waiting for a price drop would favour those willing to wait (you know who you are, if you're reading this now 1-week-late review and still haven't bought ODST, you'll probably wait a month or so for it to fall in price).