Halo 3: ODST Review

It's a difficult task to review Halo 3:ODST. On one hand it's a very different game than the other Halo games, but it is considered an expansion on the Halo 3 story, so we can't avoid comparing Halo 3 and ODST. The key thing to remember, in my mind, is that ODST can stand alone and still be very enjoyable to play.

ODST's story is very easy to understand and the way you play through it via the hub world of New Mombasa is a lot of fun. You are the "Recruit", a new addition to an Orbital Drop Shock Trooper squad. Your squad is assigned to help a Naval Intelligence officer with a secret assignment in New Mombasa, the first Earth city under siege by the Covenant. When your squad drops into Earth's atmosphere you are all scattered across the city and cut off from one another. Your job, as the Recruit, is to search the nighttime landscape of the city for clues about what happened to your squad mates. You do this by finding beacons around the city that begin daytime levels that have you playing as one of your squad mates through their story.

Exploring the city at night is a lot of fun. The city acts as the hub world that you will constantly return to after each daytime level and it is also where you can find the 30 audiologs that tell "Sadie's Story". The audiologs actually tell a really great story about a young girl named Sadie and what happens to her during the siege of New Mombasa. I can honestly say searching for these logs is the most enjoyable collection side-quest I have done at the time of this writing. I really enjoyed searching the city, sneaking around and trying to find hidden paths, but what kept me going was my desire to hear what happens next in Sadie's Story.

The really neat thing about the logs is as you find audiologs you get the next segment of the story. The locations are not ordered, so you always get the next segment. This kept me wanting to explore instead of giving me pieces and forcing me to hunt for a certain log to link gaps. Every new discovery was a fun surprise, I think this was a smart move by Bungie.

Of course, the audiologs are a small portion of the game. The campaign was very different from previous Halo campaigns. One of the big selling points for ODST was the Recruit isn't a Spartan. You aren't playing as Master Chief here, so the early levels have a learning curve. If you've played games like Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare you'll be accustomed to systems like ODST's "Stamina" system for health. As you take damage your screen starts to get red around the edges until you can hear your breathing becoming ragged, the screen is flashing and you begin to take damage to your health. It works just like Modern Warfare's health system. If you hide and stop taking incoming fire your stamina replenishes and you can head back into the fight. The difference is ODSTs have health that must be replenished with health packs you can find all over the levels.

The campaign itself is a lot of fun. It felt a lot like I was playing a Sci-Fi version of Rainbow 6 or Modern Warfare with aliens. Bungie's "30 seconds of fun" model (30 seconds of fighting and fun repeated over and over) work well here. Playing as a new character each level is refreshing, but the levels were more interesting. I really enjoyed playing through New Mombasa's zoo/nature reserve.

The Recruit also has a new tool at his/her disposal - The VISR mode. It is basically night vision, but it is done in a very smart way. Instead of making the night scape of New Mombasa green-tinted and boring the VISR mode outlines enemies, vehicles, weapons, medpacks, buildings, and friendlies with colors. I actually enjoyed VISR, but found it silly that I could even turn it off because I kept it on for 90% of the game. I turned it off occasionally to check out the dark city, but most of the time it was only off during the daytime levels of the campaign or inside lit buildings.

The story plays like a detective movie and keeps the campaign moving along, but I did find the last 2 levels to be somewhat disappointing. I lay some blame on my decision to play through the campaign on Legendary with a friend and some bad checkpoints. This made the Highway level a real pain in the ass and it seemed to go on for way too long. Difficulty level aside, I still think the Highway was extended to add some superficial length to the campaign. [SPOILER Sort of]The conclusion of the story also felt lacking to me. I was left disappointed and the tacked on love story and its conclusion seemed forced, but the voice of Nathan Fillion made it feel like I had just watched an episode of Firefly, so I giggled anyway.[/SPOILER]

Above: Nathan Fillion and a replica UNSC Sniper Rifle

The Firefight multiplayer definitely has legs. I have really enjoyed even playing Firefight solo. I played one game for almost two hours. My Firefight games have been full of laughs and a lot of fun. I only wish I had more time and knew more people who owned ODST to play more. It really is an enjoyable game mode.

A small addition to Firefight mode is your character's commentary on your actions. I find myself playing as Veronica Dare most of the time because I find it hilarious to listen to her exclaim things like, "That's my kill!" and her girlish giggling when I get headshots. On a similar note, the UNSC Marines have funny conversations in some of the levels. In the New Mombasa nature reserve there is a wounded marine yelling at a medic about how they're now the zoo animals. It's part of why I enjoyed that level so much.

I have had a lot of fun during my time with ODST and I think it is an easy recommendation for anyone who has enjoyed the Halo universe or anyone else who just enjoys a fun FPS. ODST has some flaws and they aren't small (gameplay becomes very "Spartan-like" near the end and the story could have used some work), but if you have friends on Xbox Live who also have ODST there is a lot of multiplayer and coop fun to be had. On the single player front it is an enjoyable experience, but it may not be for you. I have had a few friends tell me they gave up on ODST simply because they couldn't stand the hub world and the pacing. So it is not for everyone, but that can be said for any game. I recommend Halo 3:ODST.

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