If your one of the many people who has an Xbox 360 sitting in your household then chances are good you’ve played a renowned series that helped reshape the first-person shooter genre, but is forever linked with the success of Microsoft’s home console efforts. As you might imagine its a journey they’d love to keep going, so despite promising to ‘finish the fight’ in the illustrious third chapter, Halo 3: ODST is the developer Bungie’s chance to mix things up a bit, injecting new blood while still appealing to fans who’ve been there from the start. After three installments it fairly safe to say they’ve gradually crafted a masterpiece of exciting overtures not only limited to just story or score, but also a enjoyable game built upon fierce gun battles that appeals to innocent novices as well as the experienced gamer. But can this new adventure live up to previous installments?
The answer is mostly, as it’s fair to acknowledge that Bungie wanted to do something unique with this game and bring the series back to its original roots. This is evident as you’ll discover what happened during the Earth invasion of the Covenant in New Mombasa through the eyes of not one, but four other ODST (Orbital Drop Shock Trooper) super soldiers that are split up as a routine offensive mission drop is abruptly botched. Throughout the course of the game the tale of regrouping to your comrades is played through flashbacks that portray what happened while you (the Rookie) were unconscious as you recover beacons littered within the open-ended yet ravaged African city. Whether or not you want a somewhat nonlinear experience is up to you.
I don’t think I have to explain that this game feels like its predecessors though with minor changes for the most part to can tell that the developers wanted a more classic feel since some things are absent like dual welding weapons. To return you the original game without actually doing it as your abilities don’t quite compare to the Master Chief since your ODST counterpart drops you in frailer armor, weaker firepower, and makes things a bit slower to boot. Sure the squad is tough but you’ll better appreciate any strategic cover you can find.
ODST as you would expect and even provides less variety at the prospect of a more difficult game. More often than not if you go it alone you’ll meet the same battalions of Covenent forces, except they’re a sizable challenge since you aren’t entirely built like the Master Chief of yore. What was simpler in previous chapters doesn’t exactly apply here as brute captains with Overshields and Gravity Hammers abound can’t be easily outran this time around. This could be good since the campaign length without question is impeccably meager, averaging a paltry 4-5 hours of play time, a romp even by today’s ever-decreasing playtimes and easily the most blasé of the franchise so far. At least cooperative play is available to those looking to make things as exciting as possible with full guns blazing, as even the most inane chatter of your friends is preferable to the game’s awkward and stiff dialog and plot.
What is the pivotal focus about the campaign is the overall setup. Which for the most part does away with the linear level layout in favor a free roaming hud of New Mombasa, the likes of which has never been seen for the series. While looking for traces of your broken squad the rookie can explore the brooding atmosphere of the city from visiting hotspots to deciding on whether to engage opposing patrols or simply sneak past the opposition. This kind of flexibility in relation to navigating the desolate metropolis is appropriate since the moody settings are accompanied by some of the darkest environments yet seen on a Halo title, almost to the detriment of the actual gameplay itself. This issue is half-alleviated by the “VISR,” a new addition that serves as night vision and object highlighter, despite trying to add a distinct element to the ambiance it’s almost a shame and feels needlessly tacked on since the rest of the game looks rather good on your HDTV.
When you make short work of the campaign the majority of your time on ODST will definitely be spent in Firefight, a new mode which pits you and friends (either through local, LAN, or Xbox LIVE connections) against barrages of enemy forces. Basically it’s a fight for survival and tests how long you can withstand the endless hordes. Earning the highest score and most medals possible can be quite addicting especially since the 10 included map offer something different in terms of intensity and tactics. Teamwork is obviously a must with solo antics next to suicidal because the ammunition and shared lives are limited, it’s a constant challenge that never lets up and satisfying one at that.
Aside from the campaign disc I have very little doubt that most will also enjoy the bundled exclusive multiplayer disc of Halo 3. The latter properly includes the eleven original maps and the additional ten initially available as downloadable content with ODST, and three more special maps one of which being an all-time Halo 2 favorite Midship. Aside from being a convenient approach to having all the gaming essentials for matchmaking there isn’t much to the now-dubbed Halo 3 Mythic disc not that should really detrimental since the online play remains enjoyable after two years strong.
After all is said and done your overall love of the sci-fi epic will determine how you look at Halo 3: ODST as whole. As a minor standalone expansion to the Halo experience and that by itself is fine, but there will be those who will question the appeal of a campaign that attempts to bring experimental aspects to the table, yet stumbles in some of their implementation. I could go on with my disappointments about how terribly short and wafer-thin the plot is, or how unemotional the various firefights are even with the classically-tuned gameplay. But that would be irrelevant since I appreciate much the experience and will leave the debate on its overall value to more discriminating critics. The real question should be how much of a die-hard gamer are you to realistically overlook this first-person shooter as, for better or for worse, ODST is still very much Halo.