Ok Before I get into the nitty gritty of this review, before I tell you guys what it’s like to drop in to this new Halo title I am forced to say this one statement. Halo 3 ODST blows Uncharted 2 out of proverbial sea. Now one of two things is going to happen, as most of you will be reading this from N4G and you’ll see the first 3 lines of this review as the description on the news submission your either going to not read what I’ve written and just call me biased or your reading this now and I will clarify that I am 100% kidding, I am sure Uncharted 2 is going to be an amazing game and it’s silly to compare the two.
But onto the matter at hand which is the review of Halo 3 ODST. First off the game is worth its price tag no matter what Halo camp you fall into. If you never owned Halo 3, this is a package that can’t be beat, if you own Halo 3 and didn’t buy the DLC (me) this is also great because you’re getting 3 map packs plus 3 brand new maps. However even if you fall into the group that has bought every map pack, and hence the second disc is useless, it’s still worth the price of admission, even with me skipping two thirds of the side story audio clips, and bypassing a lot of the fights in the open world in the back half of the game, the single player still took me over 9 hours to beat. But of course we’ll talk about all that and Firefight a little later in the review. As always, let’s get technical stuff out of the way first.
The visuals are the weak point of the game, but that’s not to say that they are bad, just that they do show their age and the whole time your thinking, man I can’t wait to see what Halo Reach is going to look like. The team at Bungie though knows this engine by now like the back of their hand and it does show. There is an extra level of polish in the game that makes it look noticeably better then Halo 3, but not enough to make you believe that this is a new engine. What the art team nailed perfectly in ODST was scale, there are a few moments within the game where your jaw will drop at what you’re seeing, I was even impressed when you get to see the New Mombasa skyline up close when your crossing the highway. There also some fantastic fights you find yourself in when you’ll find yourself pitted against overwhelming numbers.
The sound and music production in this game are of such high standards that it literally sticks out while you’re playing. Not only does the game have a stellar cast for all the voice work including most of the Firefly cast and the Queen B of BattleStar Galactica, but Marty has gone above and beyond in his music for the game. It stands out the most in the open world sections of the story mode when you are wondering the city streets with the soulfully painful jazz numbers or the more beat based musical score that comes into play when you get into the combat situations. It easy to hear though that the noir and jazz pieces stand above and beyond anything else in the game when it comes to audio, it is able to add so much more to the experience as your playing it. I may even dare to say that the main jazz number that plays is as memorable as the main musical chant theme of the original Halo.
However a Halo game is really scored based on its gameplay, and frankly if your reading this review you want to know what I thought of my trek through the game. Halo 3 ODST drops you into the role of a Orbital Drop Shock Trooper, who’s mission goes weary on the way down. As a refresher for those of you who may have forgotten and to newcomers alike Halo 3 ODST’s single player is broken up into two different game sections. The first sees you take the role of the rookie, a Master chief Jr. if you will. He is a silent hero who must make his away alone through the broken streets of the city in the depths of the night. This part of the game feels fresh and is definitely a different spin of the regular formula of Halo. Instead of running and gunning your way through hordes of enemies, you’ll find yourself taking very careful actions, like only shooting enemies that are alone or when you have to, to get passed. Much of your time is going to be spent using the buildings and the darkness to your advantage so that you can either sneak by or do hit and runs on your enemies. Because ODSTs are not Spartans they don’t have the strength, speed, or endurance that the series hero has.
What this means is that while a Hunter was no big deal for the most part for the Chief you’ll find yourself panicking the first time you’re forced to face down one of these monsters with your much slower ODST trooper and only an SMG and pistol as your firepower. Moving through the city itself is also a key part of the experience, above you is the fire lit sky while all around you are flipped cars, destroyed buildings and just downright chaos. It’s interesting to read the messages left on the walls, ala Left 4 Dead, and the side story which you can do by activating random machines throughout the city plays out like a Radio drama, telling you the story of a young woman trying desperately to reach her father in the middle of the attack on the city. The City is also surprisingly large which can become a problem when you’re trying to find your next clue or get to a supply depot. This is because while the compass may say you’re going the right way you may find yourself blocked by a building and the only way around it is to backtrack a few blocks and take the other road. It never becomes a real issue, but it is annoying when it happens.
The second part of the game is the flashback missions which places you in control of one of your ODST teammates. This section of the game lets you see what happens to them after they land and what they did as the Covenant slowly took over the city. These are structured more like traditional Halo levels but are amped up a few notches. There are some downright amazing levels in this part of the game that will have you gripping your controller as hard as you can as you try desperately to make it to the next part. I think that is what works best about these parts is that you feel like an ODST, you are more skilled then the average soldier you fight with but your still human and because your still just human you still have to fight all out just to take out a group of Jackals.
Of course I don’t want to spoil the game for anyone so I’ll only speak about one example that we’ve all seen before. At most of the game conventions and previews, Bungie has shown off the bridge stage, where your tasked with arming numerous explosives so that you can stop the Covenant advance. However the mission doesn’t end there it turns into a desperate struggle to push larger and larger overwhelming numbers as you are forced through the main courtyard of the ONI building and then into the building itself. (ONI is pretty much naval intelligence and a homage to one of Bungie’s games)
Both sections of the game offer a different experience however a flaw begins to emerge as you get deeper into the game. At first you’ll really enjoy sneaking through the city, trying to covertly take out Covenant patrols but as you uncover more clues and the story gets better and better, and the flashback missions become more elaborate, you’ll find yourself trying to avoid the fights in the open city so that you can get to the next flashback. I will say this though, the final level of ODST is downright the best level ever made in any Halo game period. It mixes everything everyone loves about Halo so perfectly and with such epic scale you’ll being standing for the whole experience. The only other major issue I had with the singe player is that while being able to play the entire thing Co-Op with buddies is always fun, it does kill the experience of you being alone in a hostile environment for the City parts of the game.
I also can’t leave the discussion on the single player without talking quickly about the storyline. It is a more scaled down plot that works fantastically for the title but the big reveals in the plot are made mute by the fact that we’ve all played Halo 3 and hence know how it ends. I think if ODST was released a year or a year and a half before Halo 3, as a way to give people a fill story between Halo 2 and Halo 3, people would have been so much more excited for the plot in Halo 3 and for those who are not Halo Lore buffs like myself it would have made more sense.
On the multiplayer end the game has three main pillars. The first is Firefight which if you have played Gears of War 2 is the Halo version of Horde mode. You and a group of friends will fight wave after wave of enemies in open maps to see how long you can go before your team loses all of their lives. To mix the rounds up the game will activate a series of Skulls which will change the gameplay in some manner, sometimes it’s something amazing like upon death a Covenant will explode into confetti while other times they will have double the health. In addition you’ll have access to vehicles which can dramatically change how your team is going to deal with the groups of enemies you get in any one round. I sunk a few hours into Firefight and had a blast with it, I got the whole house to team up using both mine and my roommates 360 and throughout the entire house was just constant yelling as we tried out this weird thing called teamwork and expressed our thoughts on one another’s performance.
The Second pillar is Disc 2, and features all the maps from Halo 3 which, as I said earlier includes all the DLC maps and three brand new ones. There isn’t much to say about this, the new maps are great but this isn’t a big surprise considering that we already knew Halo 3’s multiplayer was amazing. The final pillar is the golden ticket to Willy Wonka’s Factory. I am of course talking about the fact that every owner of Halo 3 ODST will get to jump into the Halo: Reach beta sometime next year. This is easily the most intriguing part of this package as Reach is still steeped in the unknown.
In the end Halo 3 ODST is a great title, one whose price tag is more than justified. For those of you who own all the Halo 3 content, your still getting a full single player experience, and a great co-op multiplayer add-on. For the rest of us the value is only bigger, for me I got dozens of new maps, Firefight, and the story all of which have so far been a blast to play. The game does have its flaws and the engine is showing its age but it doesn’t change the fact that Halo 3 ODST is a title you should get this holiday.