Wednesday, November 1, 2000

Halo 3: ODST | 10

Two years ago Halo 3 dropped onto store shelves. It's impact was gargantuan, and continued the Halo series' status as a gaming phenomenon. Well today is the drop date for the new Halo title, ODST (or Orbital Drop Shock Trooper). But without the Cortana, the Flood, and most notably absent, the Master Chief, can this game be considered a true Halo title?

The answer is quite simply: yes. Halo: ODST packs the same punch that the previous games in the series did while making enough changes to make it feel like a game worthy of being a standalone title.

The story starts off with a crew of ODST's dropping into New Mombasa (a city widely featured throughout the Halo mythos) in order to take out a Covenant ship. Well, things go terribly wrong and you wake up six hours later in the dark of night. You'll spend most of your time as the Rookie, the newest member of the ODST squad, as you try to find out what exactly happened six hours earlier. Throughout the game, you'll find clues which then cue flashbacks in which you'll play as other members of your squad. The overarching sense of mystery that shrouds the events in ODST makes for quite an engaging experience that will make you want to keep on playing.

Halo: ODST has a far more human story than the other games in the series because, after all, the story involves people instead of a ten-foot tall cyborg, his ten-foot tall alien buddy, and their A.I. sidekick. The story really stresses that, as awesome as these guys are, they aren't superhuman like the chief, and their tale is far more riveting, and personal than any other story we've seen in a Halo game.

Another great example of ODST's more down to earth story is Sadie's Story, a series of audiologs the player can find throughout New Mombasa that recount the tale of a New Mombasa resident, and her struggle with the Covenant invasion.
While the plot may not be as sprawling, or epic as what you saw in the previous Halo titles, it's comprehensible, clever, and more relatable.

While it sticks close to the Halo 3 formula in terms of core gameplay, ODST does feature a number of changes, tweaks, and new content.

First, and most importantly, the campaign is actually interesting. You won't play it simply because you feel obligated to as in Halo 3. This is thanks in large part to superb mission structure. The core game will feature you in the open world - yes, open world, as in go where you want - city of New Mombasa, then as you find clues (as mentioned earlier) you'll be transported to more linear levels.

It's the combination of this open-endedness coupled with the more concise, more linear segments in which you enter the shoes of another ODST that makes for some excellent pacing. You'll want to play through the campaign, and thanks to the fact that new things are constantly thrown at you, you'll have a hell of a time exploring New Mombasa.

In terms of general gameplay tweaks, there are a few worth mentioning. For one thing, your character is no Master Chief. That means you don't jump as high, you're not able to use all the same kind of ordinance, and you have no regenerating shield. But, fortunately the game is rather forgiving, there are health stations aplenty, and, although you'll have to be smarter about engaging large groups of enemies, fighting the Covenant isn't too difficult.

ODST also feature some new (but not radically so) equipment. The most important is your new visor, which lacks a radar, but allows you access for a GPS display of New Mombasa, and most importantly, helps illuminate your surroundings as the majority of the game takes place at night. There are also two tweaked weapons. The first is your standard weapon, which is essentially a silenced SMG with a scope. The second is a pistol also outfitted with a silencer and a scope. Obviously, we've seen both of these weapons before across the Halo games, but they are much more powerful, and much more useful this time around.

Halo: ODST's core gameplay is very, very close to that of Halo 3, and you can definitely tell that this is an expansion-pack style game, but the developers have done just enough to make it a little more than that.

The new multiplayer feature in ODST is Firefight, and it's really awesome. The game mode features ten all new maps specifically designed for the new gametype, and they're all very well designed, although some are better than others. Firefight tasks you and up to three other teammates with simply holding out against waves of Covenant for as long as you can. But don't go thinking it'll be a walk in the park - gameplay changing Skulls (similar to the ones you can find in the other Halo titles)will be added as your team progresses through waves.

Firefight ends up being just as well designed as all the other multiplayer game types Halo has to offer, but just like every other Halo game, some maps are better than others.

The one part of the ODST package that I really don't like is that of the inclusion of Halo 3's multiplayer component (all DLC maps included), with the addition of three new maps. It's not that I don't like Halo 3 multiplayer, in fact, quite the contrary, I think it's amazing, and the three new maps are great, but for anyone who spent $30 total on the DLC maps as they came out will feel kind of ripped off. If you lived under a rock for the past two years, or never bought any of the DLC you'll be delighted with this multiplayer disc. If you did shell out the 30 bucks on the map packs, you'll feel pretty ripped off, and it makes me wish that there was a different version of the game available that had took out the second disk in return for a lower price point.

Halo: ODST's new Firefight game mode is addicting, and the new campaign is easily the best Halo campaign since the original. On top of that, if you never played Halo 3, you'll absolutely love the second disk which features the game's full multiplayer component, plus three new maps. If you didn't spend $30 on Halo 3's various map packs, you'll enjoy this disk too because it features all 10 post-release maps. But if you did spend $30, expect to be disappointed, even if Halo 3's multiplayer is awesome as ever.

ODST runs on the same Halo 3 engine, but graphical improvements have been made. For one, we see much better cut-scene animations, and also the urban art style has been greatly improved, which is fortunate because you'll spend all your time in the cityscape of New Mombasa. Halo 3's engine is beginning to show some age, but the game's graphics are still good even today.

The sound department is just as awesome as ever, too. The soundtrack features many of the classic Halo tracks we know and love, but it's the new music that steals the show, these new tracks are very moody, and well delivered. Also, sound effects are still excellent, and the sound design as a whole is truly masterful. Also, in keeping with the more human plot, the voice-overs are all exceptionally well done, featuring the voice talents of sci-fi favorites Nathan Fillion, Adam Baldwin, Alan Tudyk, and Tricia Helfer.
All of the Halo games had excellent production values, and ODST is no exception.

Halo: ODST's campaign will run you about six to eight hours, but there is plenty of exploration to be done if you want to hunt down all the Sadie's Story audio files. Firefight might not be everyone's cup of tea but it's well worth checking out, not to mention there's a strong possibility of becoming addicted to it as I have. In terms of the general multiplayer component featured on the second disk, the value you'll get out of it will greatly vary. If you're new to Halo 3's multiplayer, you'll probably get really into it as most people did, but for everyone else, it depends on how sick you've gotten of Halo 3's online component. Some people might still happily play for many months to come, but others might have grown tired of it by now. The campaign and Firefight offer a decent enough value as is, but the amount of hours you'll get out of your ODST experience will greatly vary based on how much you'll play the second disk's multiplayer.

Halo: ODST is the best Halo game since the original. It's campaign is awesome, and the new Firefight provides a fresh multiplayer gametype for your Halo experience. And aside from little thing here and there, the game only has one real flaw which is the second disk's multiplayer component. Some will feel ripped off, some will be tired of the Halo 3 multiplayer already, but some will be sinking in ridiculous amounts of time. That being said, Halo: ODST provides a terrific experience that fans of the Halo games need to check out, and those who haven't yet played Halo 3 really should not miss out on no matter what. Prepare to drop.

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