When Bungie announced their next game wasn't Halo 4, a collective groan echoed across the net. And when the game in question was revealed to be an expansion pack to Halo 3, the groans grew so loud it resembled the sound of an adult male weeping into his keyboard. Halo 3 ODST was to fill in the gaps between the second and third games, switching perspectives from the laconic Master Chief to the brash, brawling Orbital Drop Shock Troopers, scattered across the devastated, Covenant-occupied remains of New Mombasa.
So what is ODST? Is it just a combined attempt from Bungie and Microsoft to milk yet more money from the Halo brand? Or is ODST the real deal?
What separates ODST from past Halo adventures is how Bungie approaches storytelling. Instead of a linear narrative from the Master Chief's perspective, ODST switches things around, presenting the adventure from numerous vantage points and time-zones. But let's dial back a bit. Cast your mind back to Halo 2, when the Prophet of Regret entered slip-space in atmosphere above New Mombasa. Master Chief, aboard In Amber Clad, gave chase, but the UNSC ordered an elite squadron of Orbital Drop Shock Troopers to take back New Mombasa from the Covenant.
And so begins our tale. ODST doesn't have a singular protagonist, per se, but the main character is undoubtedly the Rookie. A new member of the team, he's made in the same mold as the Master Chief. Silent, faceless and considerably capable. He's under the leadership of Gunnery Sergeant Buck, voiced by a brilliantly in-form Nathan Fillion, who isn't at all happy with orders to enter New Mombasa, as he's worried about the safety of his men, heavy weapons specialists, Dutch, the wise-cracking Mickey, and sniper Romeo. Joining them on their mission is an ONI spook, Dare.
ODSTs are renowned for how they quite literally drop into combat-zones. And a standout moment early on in ODST has the team hopping into their drop-pods and lowered over the sprawl of New Mombasa thousands of feet below. But just as the Rookie and co drop in, Regret's ship enters slip-space, sending a radioactive blast over the entire area and scattering the team. The Rookie wakes up, hours later, his drop-pod nestled in the roof of an apartment building in New Mombasa. It is now night, the ruined city lit by fire and ash. He's been unconscious for six hours, and has no idea where the rest of his team is.
Welcome To New Mombasa
ODST isn't quite open-world, but New Mombasa is a vast, far more flexible playground than you've ever seen in a Halo game. To begin with, the narrative funnels the Rookie towards his primary destination, but a couple of hours into the game and it truly opens up, allowing you to choose where and when you want to piece the fractured narrative together. Without spoiling things too much, you'll see just what happened to your other squad-mates and discover just why the Covenant seek to claim New Mombasa.
This allows Bungie to take some risks with the standard Halo formula. Sadly, the Elites haven't returned, with Brutes still in charge of Covenant military forces. Unlike the Master Chief, the ODSTs aren't super-soldiers. They can't soak up the same kind of damage nor inflict it, and as a result you'll have to keep an eye on your depleting health, as it can only be replenished with health-packs.
All in all, ODST is a far more cautious experience. The Covenant don't always know you're around, and some parts can be bypassed without having to fire a single bullet. The Covenant have new AI patterns now, patrolling vast swathes of New Mombasa in search of the last dregs of UNSC forces. To compensate for your new-found frailty, the ODSTs have a few new toys to play around with, namely the suppressed pistol and redesigned SMG. Both are terrific weapons, especially the pistol which is a return to form of Combat Evolved's all-conquering hand cannon.
ODSTs campaign is surprisingly good. Bar a few missteps and bad design choices, it's a thrilling, quintessentially Halo adventure with some palatable twists on the standard formula. However, what ODST will be remembered for most is introducing a new mode Halo fans are sure to love; Firefight. Take a page from Gears of War's Horde mode, it pits up to four ODSTs against ever-increasing waves of Covenant forces. The objective? Survive.
It might sound simple and repetitive, but Firefight is outstandingly good. It begins slow, with each player settling into the groove of things by dealing with Grunts and Jackals and a few low-ranking Brutes. There's a healthy amount of competition, with Medals and scoring taken from the campaign and multiplayer integrated to spice things up.
But make it past a certain number of waves, and Firefight becomes particularly tough. You have a select amount of lives that deplete with each player's death, and once they're gone the game is over. The higher waves introduce swarms of Buggers, hammer-wielding Brutes and sniping Jackals, all thrown into the devilishly well-designed maps. It's a cracking new feature I expect every Halo game in the future to include. In fact, I'll be upset if they don't!
- A bold new take on Halo
- Great cast of characters and an exciting new storyline
- Firefight is a brilliant new addition
- Despite the price, it's not quite a full game
- Engine is showing its age
- No online multiplayer or co-op
The Short Version: Halo 3 ODST isn't simply a cash-in on the brand, but a bold, ambitious spin off that's sure to live long in fan's memories. The story is excellent and presented in such a unique way it more than makes up for the repeated set-pieces and aging tech. Firefight is a fun, addictive new mode and it's nice to see a specific piece of Halo lore, the ODSTs, expanded upon so well.