Halo 3: ODST
From: Bungie, Microsoft
Reviewed on: Xbox 360 (exclusive)
This game has had a somewhat strange journey leading to its release in this form. Some assets for the game came from the film being developed by Peter Jackson that stalled out. The game was going to be a short “expansion” style pack, and turned into a full-length campaign. It started as something for Halo fans to drool over, and turned into a fantastic game.
While the protagonist has shifted from the Spartan warrior Master Chief to a squad of ODST - that’s Orbital Drop Shock Troopers - soldiers, this is still definitely a Halo game. These soldiers are the Haloverse’s version of Airborne; they drop from orbit to wherever they’re needed. The story of the campaign has a squad dropping into New Mombasa, a city overrun with Covenant (the alien badguys) forces. An EMP Throws the squad off course, and the player controls each of these squad members in rotation, getting them back together to complete their mission.
This campaign was the most fun of the Halo franchise yet. The quick missions, jumping between characters with distinct personalities (and AAA voice talent like Nathan Fillion) made the story move along more quickly and more realistically. Not being a super-soldier affected some of the gameplay, and all in positive ways. It was interesting having to search out health packs (though there are plenty, you don’t have to search too hard), and having to slightly change play style to account for the lack of equipment (no bubble shields, etc for you). Otherwise, the gameplay is still distinctly Halo, albeit with the added visor features and a much more effective scope-equipped pistol. The story has some cheesy beats, but overall is entertaining throughout the entire 6-8 hour campaign (depending on how experienced you are in this realm). There’s also an underlying story told through hidden audio clips, ala Bioshock or Dead Space.
The real staying power of the Halo franchise is, of course, multiplayer. There are new multiplayer maps for Halo 3 included on the second disc (along with every other map that’s come out so far, if you don’t have them already), and that disc can be used as a standalone multiplayer unit. In addition, on the main disc, there’s a new multiplayer mode called “Firefight.”
We’ve talked at length about Firefight mode here already, so we’ll keep this to a short recap. The mode allows up to four people to take on waves of Covenant enemies, and encourages teamwork as the difficulty increases gradually. It, like Horde mode in Gears of War 2 and Nazi Zombies in Call of Duty: World at War, is fun and amazingly varied. There are so many different ways to strategize, and with 10 maps, the mode will be a surefire hit and keep people playing for months, even years. The one failing of Firefight mode, however, is the lack of matchmaking. You can only play with folks you’ve played with before. It’s an odd and unfortunate oversight. Though most Halo players have plenty of folks on their friends list with which to play, it would be nice to also have the option of finding someone new.
Fans of the previous games will find ample reason to jump into the new suit of armor and fight Covenant forces again. Non-fans of prior games have plenty of reasons to try this one; the campaign is more engaging, the characters more relatable, and the firefight mode is some of the best multiplayer ever to hit consoles.
Halo 3: ODST drops into stores September 22, 2009