September 27, 2009

Halo 3 ODST: The Review

I feel that I can't properly review this game without first addressing some pressing questions that other reviews leave to the end. First, Microsoft was right and Bungie was wrong. Bungie originally said this game was an expansion not worthy of the $60 price tag full games receive. Microsoft thought differently and created outrage when they set the price point at $60. Microsoft was right. This game is not an expansion and it is worth those $60. Second, it's not short. It took about seven or eight hours playing through on Heroic with a buddy. I would imagine that, with just one person playing, you could get upwards of 10 hours out of this game and that's not even going for 100% completion.

By now you must get the impression that the game is good because it's worth what some would say is a high price tag. But just what makes it so good?

The gameplay this time around is quite different from past Halo titles. It is most reminiscent of the first game in that there is fall damage, no duel wielding, no radar, and the health packs make a return. What makes the biggest difference is that there are no shields that recharge. The new health system can best be compared to taking heavy damage in a past Halo title. When the Chief's shields were down, there were only so many hits he could take before he died. In ODST, there are only so many hits you can take before you start to loose health and once that's gone you die. The game uses "stamina" to let you know when you're taking damage and to get to cover before you loose health. Simply put, this means the screen will turn read and your trooper will begin to breathe heavily. Once that stops, you're good to go. It may sound like a pain, but what this does is actually force you to employ new strategy when taking on enemies. It's not necessarily slow or stealthy, just different.

The other new feature is the VISR used in low light conditions. Why they only give the Chief a crappy flashlight I'll never understand. The VISR is like night vision goggles on steroids. It outlines the environment so that you can see in the dark and will color code things for you. Enemies are red, friendlies are green, and items of interest are yellow. Its a cool way to add dark levels into the mix without them becoming frustrating.

The game still plays like Halo, of course, but something about not being an invincible super soldier makes it even more fun.

The feel of the game is also vastly different from what you are probably used to coming from Halo 3. You play as a rookie ODST assigned to a squad about to drop into New Mombasa. Just as you do, the Prophet of Regret's ship jumps into slipspace and the resulting blast sends your squad flying in every direction. While the Master Chief is off beating Regret to death on Delta Halo, you awaken six hours later alone in the empty city. You then make your way around the city discovering clues as to what happened to the rest of your squad. Each clue you find will trigger a flashback mission where you don the boots of one of your teammates. When the mission completes, it puts you back in the shoes of the Rookie to keep exploring the city.

On you're way, you'll be guided by the Superintendent, New Mombasa's "dumb" AI who is in charge of making sure he city runs smoothly. Dumb is not bad because, as you'll find, he's useful but not invasive. There's no stupid Cortana flashbacks and no one chatting in your ear. The Superintendent will give you a map which you can access from your HUD and he will help you on your way by lighting up street signs and the like to guide you to your destination. There's also and optional nav point if you ever get lost.

Because each ODST specializes in a different area, the nine missions in the game provide a good amount of variety. One mission, for example, will stick you with heavy weapon specialist Dutch and spawn you with a Spartan Laser. Another will but you in the shoes of Romeo, the team's sniper. And don't worry, there's still plenty of vehicle action that made Halo so unique.

Besides the mission structure, both the art style and the soundtrack are brand new. The game still looks like Halo, but the way in which they portray New Mombasa is such that it makes Halo 3's three year old engine seem shiny and new. Likewise, the soundtrack (which I will soon be reviewing separately) features all new music. Not all new in the Halo 3 sense where most of it was re-recordings and remixes, but two hours of completely new stuff. You won't hear the classic Halo theme anywhere in here. In fact, the music goes in directions you wouldn't even consider for a Halo game but it works beautifully. The music matches the smaller scale of the game and while it has some pretty epic tracks, most of the stuff reflects the more intimate and humanized story portrayed in the game.

Finally, because you're an ODST and the game plays differently, it obviously feels quite different but in a way you probably wouldn't expect. Halo 3 ODST comes away feeling closer to the original than either 2 or 3. The game somehow replicates the feeling you had when you played the original for the first time. I suppose we're so used to the way things have been since 2004, we've forgotten how good they used to be in 2001. For one, the pistol is back. Well, not exactly the same one but this new silenced pistol is a beast at headshots and is even satisfying to use because it sounds underpowered. Even the SMG has gotten a significant upgrade and now comes with a scope. In fact, you'll find that weapons you'd never use in the last two Halo games have now become useful. Even the plasma pistol. You'll need to use anything and everything because the enemies are much tougher this time around. You really feel a sense of accomplishment when you take down a Hunter like you did for the very first time in the original. Likewise, Brutes have finally reached the status of Elites when it comes to toughness. They're finally as tough as the Elites used to be. Even the Grunts and Jackals are bigger since you're smaller and Drones become your worst nightmare. They have included one new enemy in the game: Engineers. They won't attack you, but they'll shield the other enemies which means you'll have to take them out first. Again, no easy task. Engineers have heavy armor in this game and literally take rounds of ammo to kill. And make sure you stand far back when they die. I can't, for the life of me, figure out why these floating air sacks don't simply pop with a single bullet. I suppose that wouldn't be much fun, eh?

Firefight is not simply Halo Horde Mode. It pits you up against endless waves of unrelenting enemies with a limited number of lives and increasing difficulty. There are five waves in a round and three rounds in a set. Every time you progress in a round, another skull with activate. The game always starts with Tough Luck and you have the option of turning on silver skulls as well at the beginning of the game. There are ten levels in total which are taken from locations in the campaign. This may sound disappointing, but it's not at all. The game mode is very fun to play with friends (you can play by yourself if you so choose) but unfortunately there's no matchmaking for this mode. Still it's great to play over live or locally. It's kind of like playing Horde and L4D wrapped up into one. Plus, they've included music in a multiplayer mode for the first time. Awesome.

I found it a bit challenging to review this game. Not because it's supposed to be an expansion, but because i knew everyone has already played Halo 3. Therefore, there was no point going in depth about the graphics, the audio, and the controls because you already know what they're like. It's misleading to call stick the label of Halo 3 on this game. Sure, it controls the same (besides equipment and duel wielding) and uses the same engine but it feels more like the original. I say they should have left the number off and just called it Halo ODST or, if they simply must put a number Halo 2 ODST. It's wrong to call this a Halo 3 expansion both because it's quite long and meaty (sigh... that's what she said... I know you were thinking it) and has almost nothing to do with Halo 3. This is a prequel that takes place during Halo 2 that I would even consider as a sequel to that game. What Bungie has done is crafted the best Halo experience since the original. It's better than Halo 2 and it's better than Halo 3. I know that sounds simply unbelievable, but trust me on this one. If this is an expansion, it puts every other expansion ever to shame. Oh, and you also get another disk with every Halo 3 map ever. Fancy that. I'll skip the Breakdown this time and go straight to the overall score because I don't think it's necessary to score every aspect when it's all nearly the same as the last installment.

I give this game the coveted 10/10
Final thought: I don't often give a game a perfect score. If I really love it, I'll give it a 9 or sometimes a 9.5 unless it's really and truly fantastic. This game brings back some good memories for me of days past. It feels like the true sequel to Halo that we've all been waiting for. Bravo, Bungie. You've created another masterpiece. Oh, and make sure to watch after the credits.


  1. I still think game is not worth 60$. I would buy it if it was 30-40$.

  2. was selling it for $45 earlier. Don't think so any more, though.

  3. Well described, and I plan on buying it as soon as I get my xbox. Also plan on buying Red Faction Gurilla.

  4. hey this Jose; a 10! When I get home I'm buying it A.S.A.P