ODST Review: It Takes Two, Baby
Halo 3 was released in 2007 to tremendous success, selling a record-breaking amount in the first few days of release. Now, in 2009, Bungie is attempting to recreate that success with the release of what can only be called an expansion pack to the original Halo 3, Halo: ODST. Does it live up to its predecessor?
In ODST (which stands for Orbital Drop Shock Trooper), you’ll assume the role of the Rookie, a nameless, faceless, mute, and personality-free character that is the “new guy” in an elite squad of troops. As per gaming tradition, something goes horribly wrong during the initial drop and you’re left stranded and separated from your squad to fend for yourself inside the vast and open city of New Mombasa, which I’m hesitant to call a hub world, but it is a larger overworld that leads to the actual missions in the game.
As the Rookie explores New Mombasa, he’ll find different items that lead to flashbacks of the other troopers in his squadron. You then take on their perspective and play through their viewpoint after the initial drop.
The missions themselves with the different members of the ODST squad play out like a continuation of Halo 3, encounters usually consist of seeing a group of enemies, taking down the weaker ones and then going crazy with the SMG until you manage to kill the larger ones. If you enjoyed Halo 3’s campaign, there’s plenty more of that to be found in the ODST campaign.
However, things take an interesting turn for the franchise with the Rookie’s part of the campaign. While the encounters are essentially the same, playing through the game alone, you’ll find a certain level of creepy tension while you’re traversing the city in the dark with only your two weapons to depend on.
I really tried to get behind the premise of the Rookie being more sneaky than his flashback counterparts, but ultimately, the game wasn’t made as a sneaking franchise. You can try (and I use this word loosely because 999 times out of 1000, you’ll fail) to sneak around and hit a brute or grunt from behind. I succeeded at eliminating a whole squadron of enemies by sneaking and assassinating them one by one, but this was a single time, all the other times, an enemy will alert the other ones of your presence, and then the cycle I described in the above paragraph ensues.
Fundamentally, ODST is an FPS, but it doesn’t really innovate. The new silenced SMG is a welcome addition as it finally addresses the need for a zoom-able automatic rifle without sacrificing power. The new pistol however, is only good for dispatching grunts from a distance or eliminating an enemy that’s almost down for the count already. The rest of the game’s weapons come from the ones found in Halo 3, so you’ll find the rocket launcher, energy sword, and so on here. However, if you’re anything like me, chances are you’ll stick to the SMG and a larger weapon (AKA fuel rod, sniper, or rockets) for the whole game, as anything else is just for when you’re out of ammo.
One last point to address is the inclusion of the new Firefight mode, which is a lot of fun assuming you have a buddy to play with you on the couch or over XB Live. This mode is essentially Gears of War 2’s horde mode, only done with a game that people will actually be playing in about 6 months. Endless waves of enemies assault you and your goal is to stay alive as long as possible. My brother and I had a blast playing through a game of Firefight that lasted over an hour. Again though, just to stress this point, the Firefight mode is only fun with more than one person – if you play it alone, chances are you’ll only play it once.
The team at Bungie outdid themselves in terms of making a game running on a 2-year-old engine look even better than Halo 3. Something about running around New Mombasa late at night is just graphically superior to the outdoor environments of Halo 3. And while you’ll still run into the “great outdoors” during the Rookie’s many flashback sequences, everything about the graphics looks more polished, and a lot of that has to do with the work done on the lighting.
The new VISR helmet also provides a great new filter on the world that makes it resemble something out of TRON, with lines being drawn around surfaces and enemies. Even though Halo 3 did not have the best graphics in the world, it was a polished game and the graphics reflected a certain level of design. ODST ups the ante by adding more layers to a game that was predominantly set in jungles and Forerunner installations. The city comes alive with the sights and sounds of police cars long left abandoned, a computer system that’s omnipresent in the city, and even the interiors of the buildings that will make you wonder what Bungie could do with an actual urban-warfare game.
Last week, I had more than one friend ask me if Halo: ODST was worth the price of admission. The easy answer is “no”. The game is only an expansion pack, a campaign that’s a few hours shorter than the game, a new multiplayer mode that requires a good Xbox Live friends list, a standalone disc of Halo 3’s multiplayer and three new maps. That may seem like a good value, but consider this: if you’re buying this, chances are you already have Halo 3, and if you have Halo 3, wouldn’t it be much more palatable to spend $35 or $40 on the Expansion, Firefight and the three maps?
If you’re a Halo fan, you’re reading this just to confirm what you already know, that ODST is a great campaign experience. If you’re reading this on the fence, consider the fact that maybe you should wait the game out – let it come down in price in about a month or two, then buy it with the satisfaction of a great bargain.