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Halo 3: ODST Review

Halo 3: ODST pack shot
Developer:Bungie
Publisher:Microsoft Game Studios
Genre:First Person Shooter
Platform:Xbox 360
Official Site:http://www.xbox.com/../halo3odst/
Release Date:September 22nd, 2009 (UK)
Reviewer:Andy Hemphill (Bandit)
 

Master Chief may have finished the fight in Halo 3, but the war was still going on at the time of Halo: ODST, and it's an altogether more brutal war when viewed though the helmet filters of a normal human, rather than the lofty view of a Spartan super-soldier.

ODST places you in the size 12 combat boots of 'the Rookie' - one of the UNSC's elite Orbital Drop Shock Troopers (ODSTs) - who deploy in drop pods from orbiting spaceships into the very heart of the battle, bringing their fancy armour, brutal fighting skills and silenced SMG in with them.

Set at the time of Halo 2's storyline, the game sees a squad of these marines jumping into New Mombasa, a mega-city on the coast of Africa which was destroyed by a ship jumping into 'slipspace' (hyperspace) inside the city limits.

While the rest of the Rookie's squad makes a safe landing, he is knocked unconscious for six hours and has to fight his way through the twilight city to find out what happened to the rest of the team.

Halo 3: ODST screenshot 1 Halo 3: ODST screenshot 2 Halo 3: ODST screenshot 3 Halo 3: ODST screenshot 4

To figure out the story, the Rookie has to crawl through the city, alone, and find certain items abandoned in the earlier fight, be it a helmet, a discarded remote detonator or a sniper rifle bent in half.

The game then puts the player in control of another ODST as they carry out the earlier mission, be it leading a charge in a Warthog, sniping Brutes in a high-rise building or defending a top-secret warehouse from invading Covenant forces.

The contrast between the relative calm and stealthy approach of the Rookie's 'hub' and the full-tilt action of the flashback sequences makes for an entertaining game, especially once the plot of ODST starts to become clear.

Though ODST originally started out as a short add-on pack, it quickly grew into a full-priced game, and this is reflected in the main campaign. Depending on your difficulty level the game offers a good 5/6 hours of gameplay, and the action of the flashback scenes is sure to make you want to play them again on your own, or with three mates along for the ride.

I particularity enjoyed the hub's stealthy sections, playing as the Rookie, which were a surprising change from the action of Halo 3.

Halo 3: ODST screenshot 5 Halo 3: ODST screenshot 6 Halo 3: ODST screenshot 7 Halo 3: ODST screenshot 8

You have to consider your strategy before a fight, and I often found myself nervously waiting for a pair of Hunters to pass by rather than taking them on - as I would have done in Halo 3.

Despite the Rookie's combat training; he's lacking Master Chief's recharging shield, inhuman strength and motion detector. He's therefore at a severe disadvantage against the troopers of the Covenant, though the reappearance of the magnum (with much-missed 2x scope) makes headshotting once again the order of the day.

ODSTs can also call on the imaginatively named VISR - a heads-up-display which acts as combined night-vision goggles, map and friend/foe identifier - incredibly useful in the night-time city.

Using the VISR also shows up terminals which are tapped into the city's AI overwatch, a program known as 'The Superintendent', who helpfully guides the Rookie through the city by using the city's roadsigns, flashing up 'Detour', 'Turn left' or 'Make a U-turn', in the space of actually talking to the stranded soldier.

I discovered the Super's intents by accident, following the signs until I realised that I was being told which way to go - it's quite an eerie feeling, being offered directions by a faceless assistant.

Accessing the terminals also allows the rookie to download audio files detailing the fate of Sadie, a New Mombasa teenager who is caught up in the Covenant's attack and forced to battle her way through the city under siege.

Halo 3: ODST screenshot 9 Halo 3: ODST screenshot 10 Halo 3: ODST screenshot 11 Halo 3: ODST screenshot 12

The metastory is told through the audio and a comic book-style series of still images shown on the Rookie's VISR, and despite a few odd scenes and the occasional bit of flat voice acting, Sadie's tale is a nice distraction to the Rookie's plight - do keep in mind however that listening to Sadie's recordings does not pause the real-time action in the city, as I learned when I exited out of a file only to come face to face with a Hunter, which promptly killed me by throwing a car at my head.

The main story is a compelling adventure overall, with enough content to keep die-hard fans happy and a storyline which offers some interesting views on the Halo universe. The action between the ODST squad members themselves is one of the best aspects however, as the pithy dialogue really makes you feel like part of a whole, therefore making the search for your squad all the more compelling.

The voice acting from some of the cast of TV's Firefly and Battlestar Galactica was also a good move by Bungie, and adds a familiar edge to the proceedings.

Also packaged with the game comes a new multiplayer mode - Firefight.

Basically the same as Gears of War 2's Horde mode, firefight sees you and three mates fending off wave after wave of increasingly difficult Covenant forces in a number of locations. The play is fast and intense and teamwork becomes essential as the later waves flow over your positions - lives are drawn from a central pool, and once they're gone, they're gone. The only downside to the mode is the lack of matchmaking support, so I would quite often have to trawl to the very bottom of my friends list to find anyone who had bought the game, though I expect Bungie will probably rectify this in a coming update.

On its own Firefight might not have been enough to please the paying public, so the inclusion of the entirety of Halo 3's multiplayer content was a wise move by Bungie.

The second disk included in the box contains every map, mode and weapon combination from Halo 3's ever-popular multiplayer, allowing even a Halo-noob to jump right into the action without needing to buy each of the DLC packs, saving a fair amount of cash in the process, though people who've already bought the DLC may feel a bit short-changed.

Graphically the game isn't that much different to Halo 3's shiny environments, but the textures have been polished a little more.

The sound design is a step up from the previous game however, with the music being a particularity strong score, combining mournful jazz with upbeat action music for the flashback scenes..

Summary

Despite its humble beginnings as little more than an overpriced add-on pack, ODST has more than enough content to stand as a game in its own right. A compelling storyline, brilliant multiplayer and the addition of the Halo 3 multiplayer experience makes it a package worth the money, especially if you're new to the Halo universe. I found it to be a brilliant blast through a familiar world, told from the viewpoint of just a normal soldier, and all the more compelling for it.

The bottom line
8.0 / 10

Good stuff

  • Great story
  • New approach to Halo action
  • Firefight is brilliant

Not so good stuff

  • No matchmaking support for Firefight
  • DLC downloaders might feel short-changed


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