Halo 3: ODST Developer Bungie Publisher Microsoft Game Studios Genre FPS Platform Xbox 360 Release Out Now
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.
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.
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.
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.
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).