Halo 3: ODSTESRB:
Platform: Xbox 360
Category: First Person Shooter
Publisher: Microsoft Game Studios
System Link: 2-16
Online Multiplayer 2-16
When Halo 3: ODST was first announced it was intended to be an expansion pack that would enable Halo fans to extend the life of Halo 3. During development though, Halo 3: ODST started to become much more than the original vision and Microsoft saw fit to release the game as a standalone product. Well we finally received our review copy, albeit a bit later than expected, and after sitting down and playing offline and online I finally have my thoughts in order. So does ODST make the grade or is it back to basic training for the Rookie? Read on to find out.
Visually, Halo 3: ODST is a solid looking game. Many were somewhat concerned that the Halo 3 graphics engine would show its age when ODST was launched. After playing through the various levels I would have to say that it doesn’t show any age at all and anyone who plays this should be more than happy with how it looks.
Right from the opening cinematic everything seems to have a bit cleaner of a look. That being said, it is not until you actually start to play the game on New Mombasa that the improvements are noticeable. From the lighting, to special effects, to the explosions, everything just seems that much better. To tell you the truth, I can’t put my finger exactly on it, but the game seems to have more oomph this time around. While playing a cooperative campaign game fellow reviewer Frank N noted that there was a lot of light sourcing going on at once. From the lights of the buildings, the fires around the city, to the flashing lights of police cars that littered the streets, he was definitely right about a lot of stuff going on at once. Bottomline, ODST definitely does have some great visuals.
Similar to when Halo 3 was released two years ago, everything from the human characters (e.g. ODSTs, New Mombasa police, UNSC Marines) and the large number of Covenant enemies to the vehicles and weapons found in the game, all are rendered with such detail that it brings the story to life. Character animations are once again silky smooth even with so many characters battling it out at once and this continues to show that Bungie provides a setting and a group of characters that all seem to meld into one whole engrossing experience. Technically, there was nary a hiccup or stutter to be found as the various battles that took place in front of me with so much action occurring at once (e.g. warthogs, wraiths, ghosts and choppers firing and moving all about the screen at the same time) did so without missing a beat.
I also want to mention what I thought about all cutscenes that unfolded to tell ODST’s narrative. The more that I think about it the more that I realize I was pretty impressed with all the cutscenes that played out in the game. Each cutscene starts and ends the flashback sequences that you play and they look as good as one could expect with lots of detail and lots of atmosphere to help make the story that much better.
Overall I was happy to see that Bungie took their Halo 3 engine and managed to make enough changes to keep it looking fresh and capable even when compared to other games that have been released over the last two years.
The audio in ODST is another strong point to the game. The soundtrack found this time around has a different sound to it. Marty O’Donnell and Michael Salvatori have done a great job. It is not your typical Halo flare given that Master Chief is not the main protagonist for ODST. With that in mind the music sounds more jazzy than orchestral. I have to say that it works in spades as it provides so many “gee whiz” moments as you play through the story. The soundtrack is being sold on its own and I think that I may just go out and buy it.
The voice acting is yet another great facet of the sound. Sci-Fi fans should instantly recognize the voices in Halo 3: ODST. Nathan Fillion, Adam Baldwin and Alan Tudyk, all from Firefly, lend their voices to the game as they take on the role of some of the ODST squad. The role of the Office of Naval Intelligence (ONI) agent is played by Tricia Helfer, who played extremely good looking Cylon Number Six in Battlestar Galactica on the Sci-Fi Channel. All these voices, combined with the supporting voices of the Covenant aliens and other marines, make for a real great experience.
Finally, the rest of the sound effects such as the various weapons, vehicles, and environments are very convincing. As would be expected some of them have been carried over from previous games, and others have been altered ever so slightly. The first time you fire the new pistol is pretty cool. That being said, everything manages to be conveyed in a very convincing and solid fashion. Should you be lucky enough to play the game using a decent home theater system in Dolby Digital 5.1 you are in for even more of a treat.
Halo 3: ODST takes place in the year 2552, right between the events found in Halo 2 and Halo 3. The Covenant has discovered humankind’s last refuge, Earth, and they plan to take out all those who live there. The UNSC manage to repel most of the enemy ships; however a single Covenant ship, known as Regret, sits above the city of New Mombasa and they are planning to launch their assault. You take on the role of the Rookie, a member of a special military unit known as Orbital Drop Shock Troopers, ODSTs for short. You and your fellow ODSTs are launched to attack Regret, however at the last minute your trajectory is altered and Regret enters slipspace sending a shockwave and an EMP towards you and your fellow Troopers. You eventually awake six hours later on New Mombasa, which has been decimated by the shockwave, and you must search for your squadmates while unraveling the reason you ended up on Earth and not on the Covenant ship Regret.
The story is pretty enjoyable and as I played I found myself intrigued and somewhat surprised by the events that took place. The narrative is told in six chapters. As you venture through New Mombasa you will discover clues of your fellow ODST squadmates, and when you do you are treated to a cinematic of what transpired and then you take on the role of that specific squadmate in actual gameplay. Each flashback is played out leading up the point that resulted in the clue you find. I found that it was a really innovative way to tell the story and it mixed things up as you got to play as each squad member that you first watched in the opening cinematic of the game. Each flashback takes place at various points after you and your squad was first ‘dropped’ into New Mombasa. The cutscenes and gameplay for each flashback are very well done and help the game weave a tale that will keep you immersed during your whole adventure.
For the first time in the Halo franchise Master Chief is nowhere to be found. As you take on the role of the Rookie you discover that ODSTs are exceptional soldiers, but they are no Spartan. You are gifted with a special visor called VISR (Visual Intelligence System, Reconnaissance). This visor allows you to view your map, find the navigation beacons, and lay waypoints that assist you to get around a very dark New Mombasa. This visor also has a mode that allows you to see your surroundings a little better. It outlines the entire environment with colored lines. These lines are color coded and the most important thing to note here is that the green outlines are teammates/allies while red outlines are those of your enemy. The feature does not work well during daylight so you cannot use it all the time. It sounds simple, but it will save your bacon on more than one occasion. As you start your role as the Rookie you are initially equipped with a silenced SMG as well as a handgun which harkens back to the days of the original Halo. The traditional weapons found throughout the franchise make their appearance as well and you will be using all that is available during your adventure.
Although well equipped, at the end of the day you are a specially trained human who happens to wear some really cool gear. You have no shield this time around. As you take damage your stamina is affected and should you take too many enemy hits you die. You can look around each level for medi-stations which allow you to pick up a health packs. These stations are scattered around New Mombasa and become a very important part of your game experience, especially in the more difficult skill settings.
As I played the campaign mode a few things were very notable. The first is that Halo 3: ODST is a more intense experience this time around and I am not the only one to think that. Fellow reviewer Shad F and I were talking about the single player story and we both noted the same thing. I attribute this partly to the fact that you are in a dark and desolate city that was decimated by Regret’s entry into slipspace. Adding to this is that you are not a Spartan Soldier this time around so you cannot just run into the middle of group of soldiers knowing you have a regenerating shield to rely on. Both the setting and the gameplay element of being human really do affect how you play the game as you become a little more strategic this time around.
The other aspect that I noted was how open the game is compared to other Halo titles. After you find your first clue of what happened to one of your squadmates, you are then given the choice of where to go next. You do not follow a set path as you can play through the campaign in any order you wish by choosing which beacon you want to go to, not which one the game wants you to go to. This was quite enjoyable given that you will find you can play through the game’s story mode in different a different order each time you replay through it.
You can play through Halo 3: ODST’s story mode by yourself or with up to three other players. When playing cooperatively the story still unfolds as if you were playing alone, but with the added support of other human players. You can do this online, offline, or system link. Veterans to the Halo franchise will want to start playing in the Heroic setting, as the challenge is worth it. Of course the Legendary setting is as tough as nails and it is best experienced with friends cooperatively.
The Campaign mode’s length is what you make it. Should you rush from nav-beacon to nav-beacon, while playing through each flashback, the game will take you anyhere 5-7 hours or so. Should you crank up the skill level, or spend time a lot of time wandering around looking for the collectible audio logs (which I did), then the game can take on a bit more length. I found that I played both by myself, as well as ran a separate cooperative campaign mode, and I went through the game more than once looking for all the audio logs.
What would any Halo game be without a fully fleshed out multiplayer mode? Well Halo 3: ODST ships with a full bevy of multiplayer options. Interestingly the multiplayer features ship on separate disc then that of the campaign mode. ODST consists of a total of 24 maps with the original 11 maps from Halo 3 as well as the Heroic Map Pack (Foundry, Rat’s Nest, Standoff), the Legendary Map Pack (Avalanche, Blackout, Ghost Town), the Cold Storage map, and the Mythic map pack (Assembly, Orbital, and Sandbox). There are also three new maps added (Citadel, Heretic and Longshore). The latter three maps are also counted under the ‘Mythic’ maps and are tied into Halo 3’s achievements in the elusive hunt for the Recon Armor.
There is a huge selection of game modes included, and any Halo fan, or FPS fan for that matter of fact, will be well acquainted with them. From Deathmatch/Team Deathmatch to Capture the Flag, Juggernaut or King of the Hill; everything you’ve experienced before is experienced again. There is really no sense of going through these modes given that they have all been played so many times throughout the franchise. All I can say is that it is classic Halo multiplayer through and through.
New to the Halo franchise and found in ODST is a mode called Firefight. The only game that offers anything comparable is Gear of War 2’s own Horde mode. In ODST you and up to three players take on waves of increasingly difficult and varied enemies in a fight to see how long you can last. Each round of enemies is randomly generated, so no round is the same, and replay on the same level will be different too. This mode includes new medals for players to collect too. Your team will have a pool of lives, seven to start, and as you complete set rounds more will be added. Of course each Firefight game ends once all your lives are expended, and all the members of your team have died. Halo’s famed skull system is incorporated into Firefight making for some really crazy battles. Such skulls as Mythic (enemy health is doubled) or Tilt (armoured units take less damage from bullets and unarmoured united take less damage from plasma) make for some really interesting twists on each round. Not all the levels are open from the start either as you have to go through the single player campaign to open up the remaining ones. There are a total of 10. Firefight is a very addictive and interesting mode and it adds even more reason to fire up ODST.
Bungie has also supported the features it made famous in the original Halo 3: Theater and Forge. Theater allows you to watch the match (or campaign level) you just played and you can save or share highlights with those on your friends list. Forge is the well known level editor that has been embraced by the Halo faithful and has spawned (editor’s note: pun intended) many creative levels and gameplay modes. Of course there is still full support for Bungie.net as well, which is a community website which offers a plethora of features/stats for those that go there. All in all there is a lot of community support for those wanting it, and both old and new fans alike will be happy with what is offered.
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