Reviewing a new Halo game for the faithful is a somewhat pointless gesture. Die-hard fans will be picking up the game regardless of the content, no matter how shallow the experience or how amazing the multiplayer gameplay, its all irrelevant to them.
However, there also exists a huge portion of the Xbox 360 audience who have a passing familiarity with the series through its eternal buzz and their association with the aforementioned fanatics so this review is for them.
Halo 3: ODST
is truly two games in one package – a story-driven campaign and a multiplayer experience. The two parts of this whole are so vastly divided its hard to consider them the same product, but this is nothing new for Halo games.
ODST began life as an expansion of the last Halo FPS title. A love letter to fans who supported Bungie through the entire evolution of the franchise and was mentioned as a turning point in the series to show that Halo was not just about the Master Chief… it was about a whole conflict.
Microsoft and Bungie deliver on the expansion of the Halo storyline with the core campaign of ODST fairly well. ODST’s or Orbital Drop Shock Troopers are the SOCOM of the Halo universe, paired with their Office of Naval Intelligence (ONI) handlers these Helljumpers are crack military forces organized into small fireteams and sent into the mouth of hell to accomplish missions.
ODSTs, unlike Spartans, are not superhuman soldiers with force shields and Mjolnir armor. They’re just regular ole’ testosterone filled Alpha-male space marines. Guys you could imagine starting a bar brawl while on leave or charging a Covenant Grunt barricade on the planet Reach. This was supposed to be
the core of the difference between ODST the game and the previous Halo titles.
The problem is playing as the ODST rookie in this game is not so different from playing as a genetically engineered super soldier with a force shield in Mjolnir power armor. In fact, thanks to some odd storytelling choices, the characterization of the Master Chief is far more human than those of the faceless rookie protagonist of ODST.
Sure you can’t take as much damage at one sitting as Master Chief but the stamina system is just a poor version of the force field – it absorbs a certain amount of damage before dipping into the health of the character and requires you to sit out for a few seconds to allow it to rebuild.
Now I realize that in order to keep the game fun and interesting some element of reality has to be sacrificed – one shot incapacitation is no fun, no one wants to be dying all the time in a Halo game because a grunt hit you with a few needler darts, but don’t claim that this is something different when its not, the fans don’t really want reality in their tale of grand alien invasions anyway.
Much of ODST’s campaign is spent roaming through the atmospheric streets of New Mombassa unraveling clues and flashbacks that detail the fate of the city itself and the rest of the Rookies’ squadmates after a failed orbital insertion drop. Since the Rookie is alone, there is little to no character interaction and in jest while playing I figured that the ODSTs had gotten so low on recruits through the extended Covenant war that they had opted to allow a more affirmative action oriented recruitment policy – including Mutes so long as they were physically fit.
The fact I had to justify this in my head to keep running and gunning down the Covenant invaders for the campaigns brief 8 hours of story meant that unlike say Half-Life 2’s Gordon Freeman – who also never speaks but gains character thanks to his interactions with others – means that the Rookie fails as a storytelling protagonist for me.
The members of the ODST squad the Rookie spends forever trying to find are far more fleshed out, but unfortunately even they suffer from generic casting. As a fan of the Joss Whedon Sci-Fi series Firefly, I was pumped to discover that Nathan “Mal Reynolds” Fillian and Adam “Jane Cobb” Baldwin were involved with the voice-acting of this title. The two actors have a sense of chemistry and I was looking forward to recapturing that camaraderie and banter in the game.
-Editorial Note: For those that are saying this game scored a 42 and not going to the second page of this review, that is just the way Metacritic converts the grade. We follow the traditional school system grading scale so a C is an average game. So take the grade here and convert it to a score and we here at Gaming Nexus give it a 70% if you would rather want it in a numerical system.
Unfortunately, and maybe I am being a bit harsh, while all the actors portraying the human characters in the flashback sequences did a good job there were no truly outstanding moments for these thespians to really bring to life. Its obvious that Fillian and Baldwin were comfortable with the Halo roles but the dialog let them down.
Too much of the banter and false bravado of the game felt written by a twelve year old who had never actually been a part of a team like the ODSTs. While its not required that a good writer have military experience to sell a military story, the clichés should be avoided and Halo 3: ODST seems to embrace them and create a few more along the way. The dialog devolves into typical Hollywood action movie stereotypes pretty quickly.
When the game finally manages to bring all the pieces together near the end and the story really begins to crank up and develop we’re treated to the usual Bungie story failure – build up to a climax and walk away with no resolution. This is the same trait that made Halo 2 such a frustrating experience for me. After slogging through the process to reach the apex of the game the developers smile, punch you in the gut and run away calling you offensive names, as if daring you to buy the next inevitable title that is not announced or guaranteed.
If you’re buying Halo 3: ODST for a compelling storyline, well be prepared to be disappointed when all is said and done.
Now the second product included in the package is where Bungie shows it really understands its audience. Halo is a far better multiplayer game than it has ever been a single-player one and ODST introduces the most fun I’ve had playing a Halo multiplayer game yet.
Eschewing the mindless iterations of death matches, ODST includes a cooperative game mode called Firefight. This new game allows up to 4 players to repel wave after wave of randomly generated Covenant forces using the settings of New Mombasa as its backdrop. While its a game mode that Unreal Tournament has had for a while now, the introduction to this console game is a great enhancement.
Firefight is fun for players at any level and while it might lack some of the head-on competition that Halo fanatics enjoy, the bragging rights here are still evident. Instead of tea bagging buddies this is much more about teamwork and individual stunts to claim the top dog spot. You and your team progress through the waves and with each successive round adds a skull mutator to the mix.
I’m not sure if it’ll catch on with the N00b haters of the ever sophisticated Halo 3 online players but Firefight is a great LAN or co-op experience and well worth the investment if you have a number of friends who regularly throw back beverages at your place on a Friday night.
Halo 3: ODST also serves as the multiplayer map pack for Halo 3. The second game disk is only the multiplayer content from the main game with the added bonus of the DLC levels. Die-hard Halo multiplayer fans who don’t already have these maps might also find this a bargain thanks to the addition of these items.
Ultimately Halo 3: ODST’s campaign is a big disappointment while it introduces some great multiplayer features. The tipping point for recommending the game is based upon your habits and if you’re not a fan of multiplayer this is at best a rental title if you must experience the campaign.
Sadly I’m looking forward to the next Halo novelization, at least fiction authors know how to tell a compelling story in this game universe, maybe Bungie should hire them for their next title.
-Editorial Note: For those that are saying this game scored a 42, that is just the way Metacritic converts the grade. We follow the traditional school system grading scale so a C is an average game. So take the grade here and convert it to a score and we here at Gaming Nexus give it a 70% if you would rather want it in a numerical system.