In my experience with the Halo franchise, I’ve never found myself particularly engrossed by the campaign modes. That isn’t to say the story wasn’t worth telling, but simply, the previous titles were plagued with issues that made the campaign very difficult for me to enjoy. I felt no attachment to the characters, as none of them were developed in any meaningful way, and the plot was painfully difficult to follow, as it assumed a greater knowledge of the Halo universe than it bothered to present to the player.
Halo 3: ODST seeks to rectify those issues by providing a more focused and character driven plot than its predecessors. Though it succeeds admirably, one cannot overlook the sacrifices made to accomplish this goal, most notably, the campaign’s length and the overall lack of new content.
Perhaps the most notable change ODST brings to the Halo formula is the omission of series standby, Master Chief. The perspective is instead given to a team of “ODSTs” (Orbital Drop Shock Troopers), beginning six hours after a botched drop attempt. The team is sprinkled throughout the Covenant occupied city of New Mombasa, and the player’s first task is to take control of a trooper known only as “The Rookie,” and discover what happened to his team.
From the Rookie’s perspective, New Mombasa is a sprawling, and surprisingly dreary environment that serves as a detective-esque hub world. The player must traverse the city’s pitch black streets in search of clues leading to the whereabouts of their fellow ODSTs. These sections are characterized by an oppressive feeling of loneliness, an effect that is magnified by the superbly forlorn soundtrack.
Upon locating a clue, the perspective shifts to the ODST for whom the clue is relevant, and it allows the player to re-live that trooper’s experiences during the hours after their drop. These missions are very reminiscent of the standard Halo formula, often involving epic set piece conflicts and chaotic vehicle sections. Furthermore, they serve as a stark contrast to the aforementioned dreariness of the Rookie’s environment. They are often brightly lit, action packed, and full of AI companions.
Upon a mission’s completion, the perspective shifts back to the Rookie, who must then make his way to the next clue. Unfortunately, by the third or fourth mission, the Rookie’s hub world devolves into a monotonous trek from clue to clue and begins to feel like padding for ODST‘s criminally short campaign, which clocks in at roughly five hours.
Granted, these are easily the best five hours in the history of the Halo franchise, but most players will be left wanting more. Compounding this issue is the utter lack of new content. Aside from two new weapons, which are just enhanced versions of the Magnum and SMG, there are no additions to the Halo arsenal. Other issues serve to further limit the variety, such as the troopers’ inability to dual wield and the lack of iconic enemies such as elites and the Flood. In fact, very little of ODST is unique, which makes it feel more like an expansion than a full title.
Presentation wise, ODST certainly stretches the Halo engine to its limits. Character models appear more detailed, something that is particularly evident during dialog. The audio has also taken a step forward; weapon sounds, particularly for the carbine, feel significantly more powerful than in Halo 3. In addition, ODST sports one of the best soundtracks in recent memory. Many of the tracks stray wildly from the conventional Halo style, yet they don’t feel at all out of place.
In terms of multiplayer, ODST comes bundled with the existing Halo 3 competitive fare, complete with all of the DLC map packs and three new maps unique to this title. More important, however, is the brand new Firefight mode, in which a total of four players can join forces to defeat wave after wave of randomly generated Covenant forces. The players share a single pool of lives and the difficulty ramps up as the game progresses by activating “Skulls” that either buff the enemies or handicap the players.
Firefight is a brilliant addition to the wildly popular Halo 3 multiplayer, but it lacks a matchmaking option, limiting the co-op goodness to player’s Xbox Live friends lists. Regardless, the wide variety of maps and constant uncertainty in each wave should provide a challenge that will keep Halo fans coming back for more.
Unfortunately, the inclusion of Firefight and the repackaged Halo 3 competitive multiplayer are not enough to compensate for the all too brief campaign. All things considered, Halo 3: ODST doesn’t have enough content to warrant a full title; as such, it’s difficult to endorse it at retail price.
Certainly die-hard fans have already made their purchasing decisions, but for those on the fence, try ODST as a rental. The episodic campaign is worth your attention despite its brevity, and Firefight makes for a truly memorable co-op experience.
ODST stretches the Halo engine to its limits. It is easily one of the best looking titles on the Xbox 360.
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ODST consists of the standard Halo 3 gameplay with only a few alterations; that's not necessarily a bad thing, but it leaves the player longing for something fresh. The open ended New Mombasa is interesting at first, but becomes dull later on.
The combination of enhanced weapon sounds and an absolutely stellar soundtrack make ODST's audio unforgettable.
The campaign clocks in around five hours, roughly an hour of which consists of the Rookie's trek through New Mombasa in search of the next mission. Firefight will keep players going for awhile, but there isn't enough here to warrant a full title.
ODST is an excellent in everything that it does; it just doesn't do enough. It feels more like an expansion than a full title.