Halo 3: ODST

October 18, 2009

For the last eight years, Halo has been synonymous with Microsoft consoles. Every release has been a top seller and some of the most played games for years. Can Halo 3: ODST compare with the games that have come before it in the Halo universe?

Halo 3: ODST takes place during the events of Halo 3, but from the perspective of Orbital Drop Shock Troopers, or helljumpers, who drop into the city of New Mombasa on the orders of Navy Intelligence. Unfortunately, the drop goes wrong and the team gets scattered across the city. Upon waking up after the crash, you’ll be sent out to look for your missing squad mates, but not before being tasked with some minor objectives which teach the basics of your equipment. When exploring the city you’ll be faced with groups of covenant forces that will need to be dealt with while searching for your team. Flashbacks placing you in the shoes of a squad mate will be launched when searching areas teammates have previously visited. Throughout the game, you will continue to change characters and gain new perspective, but for the most part you’ll play as the newest member of the squad.

This mechanism for telling stories is fairly uncommon in games, but it works well here. You’ll eventually play as most members of the squad and it really gives you more of a connection to a fairly disparate group of soldiers. The writing and story that went into Halo 3: ODST are top-notch, as one would expect of such a big budget game. It feels as if you are acting out a story carved from a Halo novel. Unfortunately, the campaign is fairly short, even by Halo standards. While Halo 3’s campaign took anywhere from 6-10 hours your first time playing through it, Halo 3: ODST’s campaign will take you anywhere from 4-6 hours. This really is a bummer because the storyline was much more compelling to me than the storyline of the first couple Halo games.

Since you are not playing as the Master Chief you are much less damage resistant. The most important difference to note is you will not rejuvenate health anymore. If you lose health, finding a medkit is the only method of replenishment. Also, there isn’t a shield to prevent damage anymore, instead you have stamina. It will guard you from taking damage for a short time; however, it is not as powerful as a shield. Unlike previous Halo games, you will take damage when falling from heights.

 You also won’t be wearing the Mjolnir armor, and as such, you will have a slightly different HUD to use in Halo 3: ODST. Radar has been removed and replaced by a new gadget called VISR. VISR, or Visual Intelligence System Reconnaissance, gives you numerous upgrades to the HUD that the Master Chief never had. First, it gives you a night vision mode that also functions as a friend-or-foe recognition system. All friendly units get outlined in green, while enemy units are outlined in red. This makes it very easy to navigate the sometimes pitch black hallways and streets of New Mombasa without feeling like you are playing Doom. VISR also provides a secondary function that allows you to quickly switch through a 3D overhead map of your location, the current objectives, and the audio logs found on your search through New Mombasa.

The new multiplayer in Halo 3: ODST is, regrettably, a mixed bag. It comes with a disc featuring the entire Halo 3 multiplayer experience, including all the map packs. This is a nice addition and provides a lot of value to Halo fans who either didn’t own all the map packs or for some reason hadn’t purchased Halo 3 yet. Unfortunately, the Halo 3: ODST exclusive multiplayer mode, Firefight, isn’t quite as robust as we’ve come to expect from the Halo franchise. It seems Microsoft took a page out of Nintendo’s online book for Firefight, as you can only play it with people in your friends list. There is no option to play with random people, which is a shame because if you don’t have any friends online to play with, you’re out of luck. However, when you are able to play Firefight, it is a worthy addition to the list of multiplayer modes in Halo. Rather than being a competitive multiplayer mode, it is a co-operative mode similar to the Horde mode in Gears of War 2. You and your friends battle successive waves of Covenant troops in an escalating fight of attrition. Each round consists of five waves that get tougher as you go. At the end of each round your base will be replenished with new medkits and more ammo; however, a new skull will be activated as well. Eventually, if you and your friends survive long enough, you’ll be fighting off wave after wave of Covenant troops reinforced by every skull except for the Iron skull (which disables respawning). This will give the Covenant numerous bonuses, some of which are: shields that don’t get drained by bullets, increased health, and more grenades.

The production values of Halo 3: ODST are top-notch, as would be expected of any game from Bungie. The sound design is one of the best I’ve heard. When you are exploring the deserted streets of New Mombasa, it is eerily silent. Conversely, when you are in the middle of an intense battle, it sounds like a full-scale firefight is going on around you. The soundtrack for Halo 3: ODST is similar to that of the other Halo soundtracks, but is different enough to warrant mention as another nicely composed set of music. The graphics are also a slight upgrade to the series, as everything is sharper than in Halo 3.

One feature I really liked was the addition of Achievement progress bars. A majority of the achievements in Halo 3: ODST require a certain number of kills in a specific manner, and when you get a kill that works toward any of the achievements a bar will pop up on the right side of your screen telling you which achievement it is good for and how close you are to getting it.

One last addition to Halo 3: ODST that merits a mention is the inclusion of access to the Halo: Reach multiplayer beta that will be launching in a few months.

If you are a Halo fan who somehow never purchased Halo 3, then Halo 3: ODST is a must-have, as it includes all of Halo 3, (minus the campaign) along with the Halo: Reach beta, and the Halo 3: ODST additions and improvements. However, if you don’t play much Halo online, or you don’t have a lot of friends that do, then you’ll probably want to wait for a price drop on Halo 3: ODST, as the campaign is too short to justify a full-priced purchase.

Plays like: Halo 3

Pros: Achievement progress bars on screen; Controls are same; Comes with Halo 3 Multiplayer and all map packs; Great sound design; Great, fitting soundtrack; Gives automatic access to Halo: Reach beta; Firefight is a ton of fun

Cons: Short campaign; Firefight can only be played with friends

ESRB: Rated Mature for blood, violence, and language. If you can play any of the Halo games, you can play ODST

Score: 4/5

Questions? Check out our review guide.