Wednesday, September 23, 2009
Halo 3:ODST offers fresh take on familiar video game series
Halo 3: ODST
Developed by Bungie
Published by Microsoft Game Studios
For Xbox 360
Let's get a few things straight about Halo 3:ODST.
First, contrary to baseless remarks from fanboys of other consoles, this game is not an expansion.
Second, contrary to popular belief, the campaign took roughly 11 hours to finish (why finish a game as fast as you can?!), and laughed when my first spin with it, from 11 p.m. until 4:45 a.m. and I wasn't close to finishing up.
Third, if this game was planned originally as DLC, this is the best downloadable content I have seen in a while.
Developed by Halo creator Bungie and published by Microsoft Game Studios, ODST puts gamers into the armor of Orbital Drop Shock Troopers. My first experience with ODSTs was in Halo Wars, which allows players to create ODST units. They can handle their business - deploy a few of them and watch them wreck shop. However, realize ODSTs are humans and not to be confused with Spartans. You know Spartans - Master Chief is a Spartan. While they have similar traits and share characteristics of Spartans, ODSTs aren't as powerful as Spartans.
Though the name of the game is Halo 3:ODST, you never see a Spartan throughout the single-player game. You'll see a familiar face, and if you notice a few of the names look and sound familiar, it's because the game is based on events leading up to Master Chief's return to New Mombasa in Halo 3.
So, with the game piggybacking off the fame of the Halo series and the Halo 3 game engine, one would expect a couple coats of polish graphically and not enough innovation to warrant forking over $60 for the standard edition, and $99 for the Collector's Pack (it includes an exclusive wireless controller). However, let me tell you - the single player and firefight campaign modes are as filling as the multiplayer disc that's also included.
I won't spend much time discussing multiplayer. Any Halo 3 player can tell you the online aspect is the game's main strengths. For the MP disc offering, there are 24 maps - including the 3 newest maps - Legendary, Heroic and Mythic. The cool thing? The second disc is a standalone disc. Also way cool is how your stats from Halo 3 will be preserved - you will keep your online achievements and scores.
The story was one of the best since the first Halo, and easily outshines Halo 2 and Halo 3. As stated earlier, it's set before Master Chief's Halo 3 missions but you'll notice how the graphics seem a wee bit dated. The Warthog is still a bugger to control - and the camera controls can be - and often are, especially in a Warthog - rather sketchy at times. However, a few new features make up for some gamers' gripes.
For one, you are an ODST, not a Spartan. You also have a VISR - a helmet visor that gives you stats on the fly about your map, enemy positions in the city, close by you and allows you to play recorded audio snippets you may find around the city. Get into a firefight (a battle, not the combat mode) and find some cover. If you don't, you will notice your display starts to freeze and your vision starts to blur. You will find health packs throughout ODST, which allows gamers to get a quick recharge instead of cursing your shields for not restoring fast enough.
Another thing? The scarcity of weapons. In the previous Halos, walking around with about with several hundred rounds of ammo was the norm. In ODST, you have to be smart with your ammunition. Like a real warzone, you can and may run out of ammo. I can recall having alien Phantom ships dropping off Covenant and me without ammo. So, to find some ammo, I ran about the big city seeking help. (More on the size of the city later)
Loved double wielding weapons in Halo 3? Don't plan on it in single player. You can do it in MP - I did it myself a few times - but not in ODST. Not sure - oh wait. I'm not a Spartan. I can jump like Master Chief, I can wield heavy weapons like him - but can't have two weapons in both hands.
The VISR will give you data and also point out enemies (with the VISR enabled, you'll see enemies much more clearly - the enemies are red outlines) and where to hunt for your missing squadmates. It works best in dark areas, not bright light. From the VISR, you can also access your audio files from the city and play them on your missions instead of listening to them.
I talked to Will and he felt the visor graphics looked cartoonish when the VISR is enabled. I actually like the outline.
Here are two screenshots of the VISR enabled - the first shot ...
and the VISR not enabled.
The graphics are a letdown. While the gameplay is top notch, the graphics aren't mind-blowing. It would have been nice for Bungie to update the graphics - the 360 can handle them - but it's possible that was overlooked.
The flashbacks were also confusing at times - and took some getting used to. I enjoyed swinging my gravity hammer around - but after the flashback mission, it was gone - and I was back to my regular weapons. Looking back, though, the flashbacks offered several perspectives, giving gamers unique looks into the ODST team.
Tired of single player? Try your hand at Firefight mode. New to the Halo series, the mode pits players against seemingly endless waves of enemies. You can play with up to 4 friends or fellow gamers. Why is it so cool? Think the Nazi zombie level in Call of Duty: World at War times 100. You can pick various maps to fight on. You can also finish the fight solo, but you'll be begging for backup by the time the second wave of Covenant arrives.
The single player and Firefight modes are on the ODST disc.
The soundtrack for ODST? Marvelous. Better than the other Halo soundtracks, though the first one is still the best, IMHO. The sounds in-game are great too - and love the sounds the new silenced weapons make.
Now, let's have a talk about the city of New Mombasa. Instead of letting players gallivant all over the galaxy, Bungie decided to return to the Halo roots and make an epic tale in just one city. While some out there may object, I for one can say truthfully this city is so huge, you will likely get lost. You'll find out shortly that the VISR is your friend. Bungie focusing fully on one area worked perfectly for this title.
You will also use the dropship pods once. I didn't really get a chance to enjoy the drop much - I wish there was a level where gamers can run real drops or simulated ones. Either way, dropping out of a perfectly good starship is fun and I encourage Bungie to offers a dropship pod DLC. Pretty please?
While Halo 3 was nearly flawless and ODST is following in its footsteps, there are a few errors that you will notice. The first thing I noticed? You have to hold the left stick DOWN to have your character, called the Rookie, stay low to the ground. If you let go, he'll pop up. Another problem area are the camera controls. I ran into this one while manning a Gatling gun on the back of a Warthog. Banshees (you can fly them again) were descending on our position and I tried to nail every last one of them in a timely fashion. A few times, as I aimed at the Banshees overhead, the camera would get stuck under the Hog driver's chin. The double-wielding issue is minor.
In the end, ODST is a shooter from the Halo series that really proves one thing - it's not all about Master Chief. It's a smart shooter with yes, dated graphics, but offers a killer soundtrack that blasts the original out of the water and gives gamers some familiar treats (all of the Halo 3 maps, including the DLCs) but also offers them new ones in the role of an ODST.
The verdict? 5 (out of 5) I tried very hard to play this game from one standpoint - to see if this game was worthy enough for the Halo series stamp. Not only is it worthy, but Halo 3:ODST outshines Halo 3 (and Halo 2) and brings back the awesome memories of Halo: Combat Evolved. And while it wasn't completely flawless, for the Bungie folks to crank the game out in under a year - and offer gamers who buy the game passes into the Halo REACH multiplayer beta - it doesn't feel like anything but a great shooter overall. And add to that how Halo 3 gamers who haven't bought ODST yet - you are about to get an influx of Rookies. You have been warned.
Game of the Year? You could be looking at it.