Halo 3: ODST Review

Dan Webb

Microsoft’s flagship franchise, Halo, is a franchise that really needs no introduction... usually. This isn’t your traditional Halo title though and the naysayers that claimed Bungie couldn’t pull off a Halo title without the super soldier Master Chief will be eating their hats for years to come. That’s right, Bungie’s latest title looks at the little men that Master Chief has overshadowed for years, the ODST. Prepare for an adventure and if you must, prepare for a Halo game, but with a twist.

Welcome to New Mombasa... who turned out the lights?

Halo 3: ODST follows the story of a group of ODST  - Orbital Drop Shock Troopers - who are sent to humanity’s aid as their last bastion of hope, Earth, has been attacked by a Covenant carrier. The missions doesn’t start as planned and the ODST find themselves split up from one another in the devastated city of New Mombasa. Unlike the other Halo titles, you’ll step into the shoes of the "rookie," a characterless figure who seems to have lost the ability to speak. In a campaign of two contrasting gameplay styles, ODST looks to fill in the gaps of what happened in the 6 hours the rookie lost when he crash landed on New Mombasa and does so via a series of flashbacks which map the events of his fellow ODST. This fantastic story telling method compliments an enjoyable story and it is truly refreshing to see something we’ve not quite experienced in games before, yet alone a Halo title.

The game's two gameplay styles consist of flashbacks - of which there are only a handful - which take place mostly in the day time and are a lot more action orientated; and the night scenes. In the night scenes you'll take control of the rookie and find yourself under the cover of night being guided by the city's super AI - the Superintendant -  whilst having to scrounge for ammunition and sneak around a large environment with the emphasis clearly placed on vulnerability and exploration. The two varying gameplay styles combine to keep the action fresh and keep the game interesting from start to finish. Bungie claimed the game would be sandbox in nature prior to release but it wasn’t very often I strayed from my objectives to explore the environment until after I’ve completed it. Only then did I explore the environment hunting for the game’s many audio logs - a collectible that tells another story of events - dotted around New Mombasa.

Obviously being one of the lowly morsels, AKA the ODST, your characters won’t be as strong or as indestructible as Master Chief, so that brings a new element to the proceedings. No longer can you run in and just rip everything apart, now you have to be careful and play it a bit more strategical. The ODST don’t have self regenerative health like the big MC and instead, the health system has been totally revamped. Now players will have to keep an eye on their stamina, which is effectively their self regenerating “shield,” and once that has gone, they must keep a close eye on their non regenerative health. There will be health stations and health packs dotted around the city, so you’re not that vulnerable, but it definitely makes for some tenser combat at times, especially when you're on your last legs with no health station in sight.

The low-light mode is a blessing at times.

Playing as an ODST does have its advantages though and players will have chance to access the VISR technology which has two basic functions; a low light target acquisition mode and a HUD space database which allows you to access the audio logs you've found, a fully functioning map that allows you to set waypoints, and your objectives. The low light mode is key for the rookie as he’ll mostly be traversing around the city in the dark and when activated, it not only makes everything slightly lighter but it also puts a yellow outline around certain environmental features, a blue line around items of interest, a green outline around friendlies and a red line around enemies. The HUD space map will  be necessary in navigating New Mombasa at night because of the large sandbox environments, but at times, it can be tricky to see where you’re going because of its 3D nature. Setting waypoints certainly does help though... until it guides you into a dead end and then you'll just be cursing it.

Bungie made the conscious decision that the ODST facing off against the Elites wasn’t a fair match up, or that's what we assume anyway because they aren't included in this title. Instead, you’ll be left to take down Grunts, Brutes, Jackals, Drones, the odd Hunter and some of the newly introduced Engineers – who had previously only appeared in the novels and Halo Wars. Other than the odd Hunter and the Brute Chieftains that appear though, the game is unfortunately relatively easy. Even on Legendary... which is somewhat confusing considering that you’re meant to be weaker than Master Chief. Maybe that has something to do with the game’s new weapons though; the M7S Submachine Gun, but more especially, the M6S Magnum which is a one shot kill headshot when your foe is without their shield (except the Hunters obviously). The new weapons do give the feel of an infiltration, spec-op style mission as they are both equipped with silencers, but they aren’t game changing. Even the fact you can’t dual-wield in ODST doesn’t really affect the game in the slightest.

Everything seems to be going along swimmingly so far, right? Well, yeah, but that's it... it’s going well and then “bam,” that’s it. It’s over. ODST’s major downfall is easily its longevity. It doesn’t do much wrong in terms of actual gameplay, but the campaign on the hardest setting is only really going to set you back 5-7 hours at a push and rarely challenges. I am talking solo here as well. Of course if you play through the campaign in 4 player co-op, chances are it will take you considerably less time. Thankfully, Bungie’s inclusion of Firefight helps combat the game’s general lack of longevity.

Firefight is Bungie’s version of "Horde" – you know, the new craze in gaming – where you fight wave after wave of enemies with up to 3 friends. Sure you can tackle it alone, but it’s a hell of a lot harder. There are 10 maps in all and each wave gets progressively harder. The key to success is working as a team, controlling the map's major weapons and managing your lives efficiently between your team. In a Halo-esque twist, Bungie have also used the franchise famous skulls to make things trickier throughout, but they also help your overall score. There is no doubting that Firefight is a great - and we hope permanent - addition to the Halo franchise and if you love nothing better than demolishing Covenant with your friends, this mode is for you. It's almost enough of a reason to buy the game on its own... almost, not quite.

Where would Halo be without multiplayer, right? Nowhere near where it is now is the answer and ODST is no different in some respects. Yes, ODST does include multiplayer – on a separate disc no less – but those who own Halo 3 will feel slightly aggrieved that Bungie repackaged all the previous 21 Halo 3 maps and only 3 new ones. The new maps; Longshore, a multi-tiered map set on the New Mombasa docks; Heretic, which is a remake of the classic Halo 2 map, Midship (which I love!), and Citidel, a corridor ridden map set aboard a Forerunner like structure. The truth is though, you shouldn’t be buying ODST for the multiplayer... unless you didn’t get Halo 3 of course and then that makes ODST an even more fruitful purchase. Those who did buy Halo 3 however are going to get the rougher end of the stick than those never.

Firefight is a great distraction from the enjoyable campaign.

As well as the longevity of the title, ODST’s visuals are so 2007. You know, when they were somewhat impressive, but we’ve moved on since then. The lip syncing and character models are blocky and unrealistic at best, but at least they can pull off some pretty badass looking aliens as usual. Even the game’s voice cast with the likes of Nathan Fillian and Tricia Helfer fails to reach the same heights as other games in the series. If it wasn’t for the fantastic Halo score, which chops and changes between the high octane Halo anthems we know and love, and the isolated chilling harmonies when the rookie is alone on the streets, the game wouldn’t even get close to reaching the rocky heights that Halo 3 did. Thankfully though, the score matches the action  and pulls a blinder, so everything is right in the world again.

Bungie always seem to have a knack at getting the balance of their achievement lists spot on and ODST is no different. As usual there are the campaign mission achievements, the weapon specific achievements and Bungie awards points to players for finding all the audio logs, which tells a short story that ties nicely in to the campaign. There are still however the achievements for the hardcore as well and some for Firefight that asks players to score over 200,000 points on 8 of the maps. Whilst the balance is spot on, the list is nothing new and carries a lot of characteristics from the other Halo lists we’ve seen... but now we’re being picky. A good, balanced achievement list if ever there was one.

Bungie with ODST has not only proved that they don’t need Master Chief to make a truly memorable Halo story, but they proved they can do it with a bland and uninspirational lead character. The story, whilst only lasting 5-7 hours on the hardest difficulty, has a strong narrative and the story telling method just goes to show that Bungie still has a few tricks up their sleeves. Despite the strong but fairly short narrative though, ODST will leave you coming away wondering whether you got your money’s worth. Sure it has the Horde-esque Firefight mode which is great fun, but the masses who bought Halo 3 will be disappointed to be given only 3 new multiplayer maps. The only questioning factor with ODST is it longevity and maybe its 2007 visuals, but that still doesn’t take away from what was a truly memorable experience. If you love Halo, ODST's campaign feels enough like Halo that you'll feel right at home, but different enough so that it feels fresh.

The fantastic score is held back from greatness by some rather rigid voice acting which is a real shame considering the voice actors they got on board. A main character that doesn’t speak either? I’m not buying in to that blank canvas mentality.

It looks great... but nothing we didn’t see in 2007 with Halo 3. The low light mode is very well implemented and crafted though.

It controls like Halo... slick, easy and responsive. What more can you ask for?

The two varying gameplay types keep the action fresh and interesting. The only problem is in the campaign’s questionable length but thankfully that is saved by an immersive and entertaining Firefight mode. Oh, there are 3 multiplayer maps as well... exactly.

A good balance, but we kind of expect that with Bungie these days. A good spread and some tricky ones for the Halo vets. Plenty of Firefight achievements also to keep you going back for more.

Bungie’s latest storytelling method in ODST is certainly unique and captivates the imagination from beginning to end, but the problem is, just when you really start to get going, the experience ends. The single player campaign is far too short and can barely push 7 hours on the hardest difficulty, but there is plenty of replayability within the game’s new Horde, I mean, Firefight mode. Whacking in the original 21 Halo 3 maps won’t affect a great amount of people who’ve already paid through their noses for them, but there are 3 new ones... and one of those is a remake. The less said there, the better. A great game otherwise, but we really expect more of Bungie these days and its flagship franchise.

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