Halo 3: ODST Xbox 360 Review

Expectations were uncertain when Bungie announced they were developing a Halo 3 campaign expansion. Not only was it supposed to take on some new direction, but also the crucial and franchise-changing information that Halo 3: ODST would not follow the heroic exploits of iconic Master Chief. A risky ambition to say the least, but with early North American stats of 1.35 million copies on pre-order, the message that gamers are still hungry for Halo regardless of Master Chief’s involvement was made clear.

ODST takes place between the events of Halo 2 and 3 solely on Earth in the African mega-city New Mombasa which has been decimated from the Covenant attack. In this mission players shed the luxuries of being a super cyborg soldier and take on the role of an ODST or Orbital Drop Shock Trooper.

Here in lies Bungie’s new direction for this installment. As the ODST squad ejects from their base ship, the battle raging in orbit above Earth scatters the troopers to unknown locations within the city. After crashing into the city with your drop pod and regain consciousness, you are simply known as the “Rookie” who is stranded, alone and somewhat hopeless in this massive urban center. Players must search out New Mombasa for signs of their missing squad mates, all while evading Covenant drop ships and enemy patrols. Gameplay as the “Rookie” takes place entirely at night and offers much more opportunity for stealth and guerrilla tactics than previous Halo entries.

Once you discover a clue regarding one of the missing troopers, the narrative instantly jumps to that missing soldier’s experience after the orbital crash landing with a triggered flashback. This is easily the most rewarding experience in ODST. As you flashback, you are instantly placed into frenetic battle situations and it is crystal clear that the other ODST soldiers situations were much direr. I cannot recall any level or battle in the entire Halo Trilogy that comes close to matching the shear quantity of enemies ODST throws at you. Melee attacks will be your best friend as the onslaught advances through your hail of bullets. Many of the battles can only be described as awesome as drop ships release wave after wave of Covenant reinforcements.

If you are one of millions of gamers who played the previous Halo games until your thumbs bleed, I highly recommend jumping into the campaign on at least Heroic difficultly. Anything less will only net around 6 hours of game time until completion. Increased difficulty as well as exploration searching for things like audio files will successfully extend the campaign experience.

Gameplay is further highlighted by killer audio and a strong score we have come to expect from the Halo series, as well as one of my favorite voice casts in a game to date. Firefly and BSG fans will love the in game banter from fan favorite actors.

Using the Halo 3 graphics engine, the visuals are starting to show their age. That is not to say they are not impressive. Bungie has managed some great additions to the color palette as well as environmental effects. I am quite impressed with mist, smoke and fire effects in several of the missions. The game and the engine still look good and are very polished with glitches few and far between, just do not expect more than pumped up Halo 3 visuals. We will likely have to wait for the mysterious Halo: REACH for any sort of new graphics engine.

Aging visuals can be easily overlooked once you grab hold of the controller and feel how solid the controls are. Layout and movement is pretty much identical to Halo 3, but once again Bungie has managed to make ODST a bit tighter and more responsive. You are not controlling the near invincible and often gravity defying Master Chief this time around, so the more tuned controls, the better.

Halo 3: ODST includes a separate disc that is loaded with 24 multiplayer maps from the Halo 3 collection including 3 new maps. Oddly there are no separate or exclusive multiplayer modes for ODST besides the new Firefight mode.

Firefight is basically a Halo Horde mode. For those unfamiliar with Horde from Gears of War 2, Firefight pits you and up to 3 friends against wave after wave of increasingly difficult enemy forces. It is straightforward, and boy is it fun. Teamwork and communication are instrumental during Firefight. More often than not you will find yourself out of ammo with enemies bearing down. Keep your friends close as waves and difficulty are constantly changing leaving little break or breathing room. As your team pushes farther into the sets of enemy waves, matches can last for hours, yes hours. One feature I enjoy is the fact that each Firefight match begins with a limited pool of lives for your entire team. Positioning and tactics are essential when your team is sharing lives and is trying to make up for that weaker player who just used up 3 of your 4 remaining lives.

The Halo 3: ODST campaign is fairly short but extremely well done. Bungie took a chance on a new direction for Xbox 360’s top franchise and it has paid off. The game is above all fun, well crafted, and the Firefight mode is flat out awesome. Add in some co-op play, the 24 multiplayer maps as well as Firefight and I hesitate to call ODST an expansion, but more like a great extension to Halo 3. Bungie has brought us another stellar entry in the Halo franchise.

– Jason Krahn

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