Published on September 23rd, 2009 | by Cameron Woolsey
Review: Halo 3: ODST
Release Date: September 22, 2009
Platform: Xbox 360
If you’re a Halo fan, chances are you are too busy playing Firefight to read this review and I can hardly blame you. Halo 3: ODST is a fun and addicting game that offers a pretty solid package of great features and game types. However, as fun as the campaign and Firefight mode happens to be, the question on your mind must be: can an expansion really be worth the $60 price tag? In the case of ODST I would have to say yes, and no. I will explain my reasoning sure enough, but first let’s discuss the game itself by examining its parts.
You play as the silent Rookie, the new recruit in a group of ODSTs (Orbital Drop Shock Troopers) led by Nathan Filli-erm…Buck. Your job as an ODST is to drop from high orbit onto targets for swift neutralization of an area. ODSTs are pure badasses, think of them as a step down from the famous Spartans of Halo’s past. In the game you are given a mission from the ONI (Office of Naval Intelligence) to drop down into the city of New Mombasa to secure newly uncovered intelligence which may mean the difference between winning and losing the Human-Covenant war. So it’s an important mission. Entering the drop pod and flying through the sky is a real rush and it’s a great way to start the game. Unfortunately, tragedy strikes early as the Covenant ship hovering over the city—remember Halo 2?—jumps into slipspace, knocking you off your trajectory only to end up slamming into the ground away from your objective and your team. The hit also knocks you out for six hours and you wake up after the fall of night in the middle of a dead city, destroyed by the blast that the ship created.
You then spend the rest of the game trying to find out what happened to your team during your six-hour nap. The game uses a clever storytelling in which you must find certain clues scattered about that are connected to various members of your squad. Picking one up—this can either be a helmet or a sniper rifle—will allow you to play as the character affiliated with that object. You then play as the other character as he moves through the city accomplishing objectives. Using this story method to tell the story, you soon learn what happened to your squad members by living as every one of them, experiencing the battle for the city through their eyes. Each member has his own specialty: one is a sniper and you use his skills to bring down Covie scum from great distances while another is an explosives expert which basically means you get to go and blow some crap up.
Sadly, while the other members of the squad are interesting and fun to play as, the Rookie is the one character who lacks depth. He acts as nothing more than a median between far more interesting characters. Throughout the game he remains deathly silent. Even while prompted for a response later in the game, he still says nothing and the moment passes awkwardly. The lack of any real character development for the Rookie hurts the overall quality of the game for me but it is important to consider that the hero of the game is the squad itself, not just the one member.
As you travel you may come across audio logs left by a woman as she tries to save her father and escape the city with the help of Virgil, the Superintendent A.I. of New Mombasa. I won’t spoil it, but there is a reason to why you would want to hunt down these elusive logs. Much like the logs from Bioshock, you can grab one and begin listening to it as you make your way around. This frame story provides some evidence to what happened to the people in the city as the Covenant invaded.
The storytelling is very well done and kept me engaged and focused as I traveled that ruined streets looking for the next clue. The campaign will last only about six hours for most people which makes sense given the storyline.
The game isn’t called Halo 3: ODST for nothing. ODST still uses the Halo 3 graphics engine but it offers a unique twist. Thanks to his six hour nap, the Rookie travels through the game mostly at night. This offers a unique challenge since Bungie never really offered dark levels in previous Halo titles. Well, they have, but not to this extent. New Mombasa is a ghost town; all the lights have been shut down leaving you in darkness. The graphics style is similar to low-key lighting seen in many Hollywood noir flicks. Bungie’s solution: night vision. But not just drab green night vision either. The low light vision mode—activated by tapping X—brightens your view while highlighting objects around you. Immovable objects are outlined in yellow, allies in green, weapons in blue, and enemies in red. The game isn’t all night however as you have to play as squad members who, still conscious, had to move through the city and surrounding lands during the day. You may notice some slight differences in the graphics during the daytime moments, but don’t expect much beyond what you saw for Halo 3. The low-key lighting enhanced night missions as the Rookie is where the game really shines.
Damn, I am so sorry for that.
There are many people who have complaints about Halo but if there is one area in which no one should be whining about would have to be the music and ODST continues the tradition. The music and sound in ODST is, once again, Bungie-level awesome. From the dramatic and slow tunes as you move through the dark streets of New Mombasa, to the heart-racing beats as you fly over hills driving a bullet-spewing warthog, the music in the game is superb. The haunting soundtrack helps establish the feeling of loneliness and anxiety as you play as the Rookie hunting for your lost squad. The guns reverberate well through your speakers while you listen to the screams of your foes as you cut them down. Marty O’Donnell is a machine.
My one complaint really lies with the voice acting of the characters you hear in the audio logs you pick up. Some of voices range from decent while others to laughably bad. Luckily the voice acting of the ODSTs—brought to us by some of the Firefly cast members—is fairly well done.
Halo’s success owes a lot to its smooth, precise controls and ODST is no different. Moving and aiming is up to Halo par bring no real issues on which I can complain. The game offers all the different button layouts from Halo 3, so don’t worry all you southpaws.
You are not the Master Chief. Get that fact through your head. This means that the Rookie just can’t take the kind of damage that the Chief can. It won’t take long for you to realize that either. The bravado that allowed you to slip into a battle and take down every Grunt, Jackal, and Drone in the area with graceful and brutal elegance is gone now. However, don’t expect this to be Call of Halo. You are granted something the Bungie calls, stamina, which will allow you to take multiple hits before losing health—much like a shield. You lose stamina when you take damage from enemies or dropping from tall heights—like a shield. The only way to regain lost stamina is to find a safe area and wait for it to recharge—like a…alright fine it’s a damn shield OK? Bungie covers it up with a different name but yes, you have a recharging shield. Though your “shieldima” may recharge, your health does not, which means you will need to find med kits scattered throughout the city if you want to see more fights in the future. To sum this up quickly, the Rookie can’t take much damage, but can still jump like he’s on the moon, use a recharging shield for protection, and even, yes, flip a Warthog over that has fallen on its side. Actually I retract my previous statement: you are not the Master Chief, you are Master Chief lite.
Now, I love co-op games. I find few extra features that can make a game more worthy of purchase than that of being able to jump in with a friend and play the whole campaign side-by-side. ODST satisfies my coop itch by bringing the same 4-player style coop throughout the entire campaign—as what we saw with Halo 3. However, the main draw for many people who purchase ODST will be Firefight mode. Similar to Horde mode from Gears of War 2, Firefight mode allows up to 4 friends to join up and take down waves upon waves of enemies. I must be frank, Firefight to me is a little more fun to play than Horde mode and taking down legions of enemies hasn’t gotten old yet. This is what people will be playing long after they have finished with the campaign.
In Halo 3 you can create your own character and emblem to show off while playing the multiplayer. ODST also offers you several choices of character to choose from, namely the ODST squad members whom you unlock as you learn their stories. You can’t change the characters much, unfortunately. But you can choose if you want to fight without a helmet which can be a plus for anyone who wants to play as Nathan Fillion (or Buck as he’s called in the game). There are also several different icons and colors you can choose to use to show off during Firefight.
There is no real multiplayer for ODST outside of coop and Firefight. Instead, you are given a disc that can basically be called Halo 3 without the campaign. The disc contains all the multiplayer maps and features that have been released for Halo 3 as downloadable content. The disc is played on its own so unless you feel like playing through Halo 3’s campaign, you really don’t need to ever pull it off the shelf again.
Halo fans will also appreciate that with the purchase of ODST they will be able to play the multiplayer beta of Halo: Reach sometime next year (hopefully). I don’t know what Reach is just yet but when the beta finally hits, ODST owners will be ready for it.
So now we come to the end and the old questions still remains. Is it worth the $60 price tag? No, almost, but I don’t believe so. The campaign is fun to play alone or with friends and Firefight will offer many hours of play in the future, but there isn’t enough here to justify a full price tag. You will get all of the Halo 3 maps, sure, but those who have already paid for all the maps will feel a little burned by having to buy them all again. The Halo: Reach beta is enticing, but it’s doubtful people will buy this game right away just for the beta alone. I would have gladly paid $40 for the complete ODST package and I believe that is what it should have been. But don’t let the price tag dissuade you from buying the game. ODST is still a great package overall and a definite must-buy for fans of the Halo story. In fact, the story itself is really the hero of the game and I believe that even gamers who don’t consider themselves Halo fans will appreciate the story of a struggling mankind against an overpowering foe that ODST weaves.
+ Cinematic storytelling is told well and is engaging enough to keep gamers hooked.
+ Graphics are clean and the low-key lighting works well.
+ 4 player coop through the campaign. ‘Nuff said.
+ Firefight will keep gamers’ interest for hours.
+ Complete Halo 3 multiplayer experience.
+ Free pass into the Halo: Reach online beta.
– The Rookie lacks any character development.
– Some goofy character animations during cut scenes.
– Complete Halo 3 multiplayer experience. If you already bought it, then you’re buying it again.
– No matchmaking for Firefight. So you better have friends.
– Extra features are always nice. But not always $60 nice.