Why review Halo 3: ODST now, you may wonder? Well, we received our review copy only recently, even though this game came out in stores back in September of 2009. While this Halo doesn’t star the beloved (or despised, depending on your overall Halo feelings) Master Chief and is somewhat short on the story side, it does take you on a pleasant diversion based on Earth. While I’m not a huge FPS fan, it’s not hard to see that this game was crafted with care and deserves some praise.
Bungie took a risky move by leaving their hero behind, but I applaud the risk and think that it’s been an enriching experience for the Halo franchise. As you know, you assume the roles of various ?Orbital Drop Shock Troopers? in this latest Halo game. While you primarily play as ?the Rookie?, you also take the reigns of other squad members. While the other members parts are smaller and less involved (not as much exploration and vulnerability as when you are the Rookie), it’s nice to see that story telling is still the main draw in this Halo universe. The other squad members actually speak, so you get a sense of their personalities; the Rookie does not speak, so his personality is illustrated more through his actions. In fact, with the different camera angles, presentation, and so on during cut-scenes, this game definitely takes this story to a different level. Additionally, the music (especially during the Rookie portions) is really powerful. There is some kind of introspective quality to the music that plays during the Rookie sections, giving you a feeling of being alone, trying to find your team, unsure of all that is happening. Even though you cared about the Master Chief in the previous Halo games, there’s something more to connect with in ODST. I really enjoyed the overall direction of this game’s story, moreso than previous Halo games.
I’ll just touch on the graphics a little bit. We know ODST uses an enhanced version of the Halo 3 engine, which itself is an older engine. Even though it may not stack up, technically, to something like Killzone 2, ODST looks great. Without going into counting polygons, lighting effects, and all that, the look of ODST works just fine. The futuristic setting still draws you in and holds your attention, which is tough to do these days with so many FPS titles out there. Not only that, but Earth is given more personality, at least New Mombasa is. While the enemies and ships all look familiar, it’s nice to see things more from Earth’s perspective. As mentioned before, there’s just more vulnerability in ODST, which is a refreshing change of pace.
The VISR system works well, giving you a visual aide ? outlining enemies/friends, lighting up your path, showing areas of interest, and so on. It’s a nice touch and adds more to the Halo universe. There are additional weapons and new enemies to help round this game out. For a spin-off or ‘expansion pack’ ODST offers not only more of the same Halo goodness, but gives a glimpse into some elements we might see in Reach. Beyond the VISR, most everything else feels just like Halo games of the past. After adjusting your play style to reflect the ‘mortal’ aspects of the ODST members, you should feel right at home with all the controls. This is one area that has been pretty solid from the original Halo and continues on with ODST.
I didn’t get into online play, but we all know that’s one area where previous Halo games shined, especially for those not interested in the campaign. Even though the second disc is mostly a re-hash of Halo 3’s multiplayer, ODST has a nice addition, with the Firefight mode taking the fun to a new level. If you are an online multiplayer fan, you’ll definitely not want to miss out!
I would definitely encourage fans of Halo or FPS game in general to give Halo: ODST a look. Even non-fans of Halo might appreciate this side-story, since the mighty Master Chief is not around. As I mentioned at the start, I’m not a huge FPS fan, but the direction and feel of this game compelled me to play it through. I’d encourage you to do the same, though I agree with the sentiment that $60 is a bit steep (especially if you don’t play online multi-player). With ODST being the transition game between Halo 1-3 to Halo: Reach, I am looking forward to seeing how the more dramatic elements of ODST carry into Reach, which should be the first, true next-gen (or is that current-gen?) Halo title.