Halo 3: ODST Review

From a small project intended to be DLC on Xbox Live to a full-fledged $60 retail game, Halo 3: ODST has been on quite the journey to the Xbox 360 console. Its history has caused outrage and doubt among series fans and gamers in general. The game’s wild trip mirrors the characters of the ODST campaign, with odds stacked against them and having to go through an insane odyssey just to get to the payoff. In the end this great, fresh new look at the Halo universe combined with the entire Halo 3 multiplayer experience and the highly addictive Firefight mode make Halo 3: ODST emerge as a game that stands its own ground despite some shortcomings.

The story is set during Halo 2 and is centered on a squad of Orbital Drop Shock Troopers who are planning to drop onto the Prophet of Regret’s ship and take out the Covenant leader. Unfortunately for the troopers, the plan goes horribly awry as the Master Chief’s actions in battle have led the prophet to flee, making a slip space jump (Halo’s version of travel at the speed of light) while directly above the city of New Mombassa. The squad is scattered due to the jump and all crash land in different areas of the city. Divided, the troopers attempt to reunite in order to escape the now-covenant-controlled metropolis.

This is hands-down the best storytelling Bungie has done in any of their games to date. Players will take the role of the rookie, and wander the nighttime city on their own, searching for pieces of encounters the other squad members were involved in earlier in the day. Through these discoveries, the game flashes back and puts the player in the shoes of the squad member involved in each skirmish, allowing him or her to see each character’s story through their eyes. This form of narrative and the sheer mood the game sets really sucks you into this dangerous situation the troopers have found themselves in.

How did this Halo spin-off turn out?

Never before has a Halo game made a player feel so alone and vulnerable. In previous installments, the up-beat score and the fact that a player was the Master Chief made one felt invincible and able to take on any challenge. Here, the mood is completely different. Dark and sullen, you feel like you’re deep within enemy territory and death can be only moments away.

This feeling is also partially due to the new health system in ODST. Gone are the rechargeable shields, replaced by a health bar that needs to be replenished by health packs strewn about the city. You also cannot jump as high and will take fall damage much easier than in previous series installments. There is rechargeable “stamina” that will allow players to take a shot or two before their health is affected. It doesn’t really take away from the vulnerability you will feel throughout the game and actually adds to the demand of being more tactical and strategic in your battles instead of charging straight in as players did as the Master Chief.

The heads-up display gets a retooling in this installment. There is no more radar unless a player wants to bring up the city map. The health bar sits atop as always, but the major change is the VISR vision. It allows players to see better in the dark and it outlines enemies, allies, and special objects in certain colors. The VISR vision helps to add even more emphasis on strategy and how it is a factor for nearly every encounter.

Covenant AI is as smart as ever and will make you pay for stupid mistakes. They will adapt to situations much like they have in previous Halo installments. They will run for cover, charge at you in a rage, or scatter just to name a few of these adaptations. Unfortunately the same cannot be said for ally AI. Marines and fellow troopers will occasionally stop following you or fire at a completely irrelevant target. Marines will hop on a tank and not even fire a shot at enemies. Troopers will shoot at Banshees attacking other allies instead of ghosts attacking your hog from the rear. Sometimes an ally will sit still and not follow until you reach another checkpoint, then warp right to you. For the most part it isn’t much of a problem, but there are a few occasions where it can just be maddening.

Graphics are not improved at all from Halo 3, and won’t blow anyone away. But they’re good enough that it really doesn’t make much of a difference. Also, considering it’s a Halo 3 spin-off running on the same engine, it’s no surprise the graphics are unchanged. The voice acting is absolutely superb. Joss Whedon fans will instantly recognize that one of the lead roles, Duke, is played by Nathan Fillion; who has starred in Whedon’s Firefly, Serenity, and Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along. Other Firefly cast members are found here in ODST, as Adam Baldwin and Alan Tudyk play Dutch and Mickey. Tricia Helfer from Battlestar Gallactica also lends her great vocal talents as Dare. The entire cast does an amazing job of keeping players engrossed in the story that is unfolding around them and it really helps you to connect with their struggles. The game’s soundtrack is equally as impressive. As Halo has always been known for its music, this installment’s soundtrack takes a different turn. During some action sequences there is a return to the classic battle-fueling tones, but it’s when the player is running around alone that the music excels. The solemn, depressing music really adds to the sense of loneliness and desperation that each trooper feels during the course of the campaign.

As engrossing as the campaign is, it will only take players about six hours to complete, perhaps a little longer if playing on the Legendary difficulty. It’s short, but duration is not ODST‘s big draw. Firefight mode is one of the best and most addictive survival modes to come out of a shooter. Players start off sharing seven lives, and will face off against wave after wave of Covenant until they run out. Firefight is broken down into sets of three waves, each consisting of five rounds of enemies. Each round random skulls will activate, adding gameplay effects like slow movement or modified enemy AI, to up the difficulty. The number of skulls increases as a team progresses, and after each wave, health is restored, ammo is dropped, and the team gains a certain number of lives based on performance.

The mode is very engrossing as it emphasizes teamwork while at the same time being competitive. The metascoring and medal systems from Halo 3‘s campaign co-op and multiplayer are integrated into Firefight. This makes players work together to obtain a high team score, but also attempt to obtain the best medals and kills for bragging rights in the post-game lobby. The downside to Firefight is that there is absolutely no matchmaking for it, so if you don’t have anyone on your friends list who owns the game or wants to play Firefight, you’re out of luck.

The last piece of ODST is the Halo 3 multiplayer disc. The disc includes the Halo 3 multiplayer matchmaking system, Forge and all, and contains every map created to date, including three new ones. The three new maps make the disc a necessity for any serious Halo player, and it is perfect for anyone who is interested in Halo multiplayer but has never picked up Halo 3.

Putting it all together, Halo 3: ODST is much more than the simple DLC expansion that players thought it would be. The game is definitely not perfect thanks to bad ally AI, a lack of Firefight matchmaking, and other issues. However, it still contains an engrossing story, a highly addictive survival mode in Firefight, and the entire Halo 3 multiplayer experience. An obvious must-buy for Halo fans and a game that any Xbox 360 owner should give a serious look.


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Author: Mike Murphy View all posts by
Mike has been playing games for over two decades. His earliest memories are of shooting ducks and stomping goombas on NES, and over the years, the hobby became one of his biggest passions. Mike has worked with GamerNode as a writer and editor since 2009, giving you news, reviews, previews, a voice on the VS Node Podcast, and much more.

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