Halo 3: ODST (Xbox 360)
Posted by Kuang on Mon, 15 Mar 2010.
When you hear the name ‘Halo’ you automatically tend to think of the character Master Chief, so releasing a sequel where everyone’s favourite Spartan is nowhere to be seen is risky. That’s exactly the chance Bungie took with Halo 3: ODST, so did they work hard enough to make up for this omission? Well, no, in all honesty... but we’ll come to that later.
Just to confuse your mental timeline, the Halo 3: ODST campaign takes place halfway through Halo 2; A huge Covenant carrier ship is taking a beating during a raid on New Mombasa, and is forced to jump out of range. This creates a massive shockwave just as your team of Orbital Drop Shock Troopers launch out of their transporter and begin the fast descent down to the planet’s surface in their pods. Unfortunately the pressure scatters your team during freefall, and when you eventually come around after a bad landing the rest of the squad are nowhere to be seen. Most of the game is then concerned with finding out what happened to your teammates.
Because of ODST’s position within the timeline, Halo 3 feels more like an extension to the environment from Halo 2 than a new title, and fans of the series will feel at home. What is immediately noticeable is the relatively wimpy nature of your character – you’re no Spartan, so dual wielding weapons is out of the window and if you fall more than a few feet it’s going to hurt. The game makes up for this in some small way by giving you silenced weapons and a tactical overlay that makes it easier to spot enemies and items of interest. Unfortunately switching it on activates as a mild form of night vision so the moody atmosphere is immediately weakened, but the benefits it brings outweigh this.
As you creep through the near deserted streets of New Mombasa, you’ll come across terminals where you can access the Superintendant – an artificial intelligence that runs the city, and can provide you with maps and pointers to interesting locations. This brings an interesting tactical element to proceedings by allowing you to track the positions of enemies and work out ways to use the environment to your advantage. Don’t underestimate this ability because the Covenant, as always, hunt in packs and have a habit of flanking you. When you’re not in a firefight though there doesn’t seem to be a lot going on, which is odd for a recently invaded city. Your hunt for clues as to the location of your squad can feel needlessly drawn out affair as a result. The Superintendant also stores a series of collectible audio logs from a girl caught up in the invasion, and this is arguably one of the most interesting and well executed elements of the game – it’s just a shame it plays no part other than a sideline story.
When you find a clue as to the fate of your squad, the action steps up a notch. Collecting the item – a helmet embedded in a wall, a broken sniper rifle hanging from a power line - triggers a flashback which places you into the boots of the crew member who owned that item. You then play out the scenario that resulted in that item ending up where it did. There’s more variety here than you get wandering the streets, including lightning raids in Warthogs and nicking Covenant spaceships, and the change in pace is definitely welcome.
What most definitely isn’t welcome is the way in which your escapades are presented, specifically the graphics engine. It hasn’t changed a great deal since Halo 3, and that title looked dated when it was released over 2 years ago. The environments are basic and bland, the textures are dull and the character models and animations would have looked out of date on the original Xbox. I struggle to work out how ODST received so many positive comments about its graphics because in a world containing Modern Warfare and Gears of War it’s tragically out of touch. The sound is slightly better if a bit predictable, but it’s sometimes irritating to move from an exploratory wander to a combat situation and still have a moody classical theme playing in the background.
The story doesn’t do much to lift the atmosphere either, even though the flashback mechanism by which it progresses is an interesting one. You’ll spend most of the time slogging from set piece to set piece, only stopping occasionally to mow down another wave of identikit aliens (no Elites or Flood this time around either) in true gung-ho Master Chief style. There’s a huge missed opportunity here to play on the weaknesses of the standard ODST trooper by including more opportunities for stealth and unique ways to tackle the scenarios, but sadly the all guns blazin’ approach seems to be the only way to go. Even if you take your time and try to work intelligently with the environment and weapons you’ll have clocked the single player campaign in five or six hours. This definitely feels more like DLC than a new product, which is a kick in the teeth when you consider it was released at full price.
There’s another aspect to Halo that must be considered when weighing up the value of the package, and that’s the multiplayer mode. Halo has always done well here, and ODST stays in line with this but not in the way you’d expect. What you get is a second disc solely for multiplayer which is basically Halo 3’s multiplayer component ripped out and made standalone. You do get all of the maps included that you could have downloaded for that title, but otherwise it’s nothing a Halo fan won’t already have. The other addition is the co-op Firefight mode, which is basically the same as Horde from Gears of War 2. The enemy AI is ok, but in all other aspects it feels like a hastily added grind and won’t keep you occupied for long.
All in all it’s hard not to see ODST as anything other than a cash-in on an established franchise. The Halo titles have a history of being maybe less than they should have been (Halo 1 was rushed and repetitive, Halo 2 seemed to end halfway through, Halo 3 was dated, Halo Wars was dull and sluggish..) and ODST does nothing to overturn the trend. If you’re a Halo fan and you can get this title cheap then it’ll keep you happy for the very few hours it takes to run through the campaign, but otherwise I’d say you’re better off saving your cash in case the forthcoming Halo: Reach title turns out to be all it promises.