The war rages on. In the 26th century, the alien alliance known as The Covenant has humanity on the ropes and is prepared to wipe them out for good. In Halo 3: ODST, gamers will face The Covenant as an Orbital Drop Shock Trooper (ODST), a highly trained elite combat warrior. The battleground? Africa, in an area known as New Mombasa. Featuring an all new campaign and new multiplayer additions, there's little question that ODST belongs on any serious Halo fans' short list.
ODST arrives on two discs. The first disc features the single player campaign and Firefight mode, while disc two is dedicated solely to multiplayer. As is tradition with Halo, the real draw to ODST is the multiplayer experience. Of course, you shouldn't overlook the campaign, even if it isn't the most compelling FPS campaign you'll play this year.
The story begins when an orbital drop into battle goes bad at the last moment, causing the ODST squad to get separated in the streets of New Mombasa. Players take the role of "The Rookie," a speechless character that is at the center of the story. I'd estimate that about seventy-five percent of the campaign is told through his eyes, with the rest being filled in via playable sequences with other ODST members including Buck, Mickey, Romeo, and Dutch. You'll also encounter Dare, an officer who has relations with Buck. Buck has the appearance and voice of Nathan Fillion (of Firefly fame), who also contributed his likeness to Halo 3.
With the opening cutscene over, it's time to get to business. The story of the campaign is two fold: regroup with the other ODSTs and find out why The Covenant are so interested in the underground of New Mombasa. The Rookie gets his Nav systems online after getting information from the city Superintendent within the first hour of play. From there, you'll use the VISR (basically your HUD) and map to locate where ODST members were thought to have landed. The player actually has the freedom to choose which area he wants to explore first. There really isn't a noticeable change in difficulty from one location to the next. In fact, for even an average FPS gamer, you won't have any trouble blazing right through the campaign on Normal.
Whether you're at the NMPD Headquarters, Oni Alpha Site, Tayari Plaza, Uplift Reserve, or the other areas of New Mombasa, the idea is the same: fight off the Covenant and find clue related to the other ODSTs. You'll know when you're in the right area to find the clue by looking at the map and by a blue tint that appears on your HUD. The clues are always an object that you must locate and then interact with. I think the idea is fine, but I thought the execution of this slowed down the pace of the game sometimes. For example, at worst, it took me ten minutes to find Romeo's sniper rifle hanging in the power lines. It's something that makes sense after you play Romeo's story, but until you find this sniper rifle you don't know how it got there. Normally you'll find the object in question much quicker than that, and overall this is a minor point, but it was still a bump in the campaign I had to mention.
So when you locate these objects, you simply hold RB to examine it, which launches a cutscene and puts you in the shoes of another ODST member. Each ODST member has a different experience and together their stories form an overall picture of the plot. Before the start of each mission, you're given the time of their story in relation to the drop (six hours after, two hours, etc). At some point in most missions, you'll work with at least one other ODST, or another NPC to help you battle off the Covenant. Mission types include escorting, search and destroy, area defense, and vehicular types. You'll encounter a variety of enemies to dispatch with about a dozen of your classic Halo weapons and vehicles.
The campaign plays out in classic Halo action. Fast paced FPS action with a variety of colorful weapons and a good blend of on foot and vehicular combat. The level design is basic if not bare bones though, and I found it a bit disappointing. Also, despite the variety of weapons in Halo, I still can't find one that gives me some real feedback -- the weapons just look and sound flimsy to me if you get my meaning. It may have something to do with all of the colorful eye candy, but my point is that I don't feel the same punch in the weapons as I do with something like Modern Warfare or Wolfenstein for example.
The AI isn't amazing, but it's okay and I was at least pleased with how quickly they scattered from a nearby grenade. I did catch a few enemies that seemed brain dead, but very few of the many hundreds I dispatched. Overall, little has changed in how the game is played, and so it has a very familiar feel to it. Some gamers will welcome that, some may be disappointed, and others, well, they'll probably just focus on Firefight and multiplayer.
After completing the campaign, I spent some time with the Firefight mode that pits you against an endless wave of Covenant, not unlike the Horde mode of Gears of War 2. Players start with a certain number of lives and must defeat wave after wave of Covenant of increasingly tougher difficulty. Various bonuses and toggles are included too that spice up the gameplay by altering how enemies behave, etc. Firefight stages are built arena style and include Crater, Lost Platoon, Rally, Windward, and a few others. I found Firefight to be quite addictive and fun. One small but very real reason for this is the snappy load times in between deaths. In the campaign, constant checkpoints and ultra fast load times keeps things moving right along as well. Oh, and four player co-op Firefight rocks...
Multiplayer & Presentation
After completing the campaign and spending time with Firefight, I popped in disc two for multiplayer, expecting exactly what I discovered: a robust and full featured multiplayer component. Players can tweak their character name, Service Tag, and appearance, with lots of unlockable items that can be earned through playing. All Halo 3 maps are included as are three new ones: Citadel, Longshore, and a throwback map to Halo 2 known as Heretic. All told, there are twenty-four maps included here, but players can also edit and create maps with Forge, a slick and easy to use level editor. With Forge, it's amazingly easy to add and remove in game objects through an efficient editor menu. You can also pop in and out of editor mode with the press of a button to test out your new map. Cool stuff that I didn't expect this going into the ODST review but I'll definitely be back for more editing.
There are nine modes of play including the classic Slayer (Deathmatch) mode and several team based game types like CTF and King of the Hill. Each of the nine modes has at least three (and up to five) variations that you can enable, too. The combination of the modes and their variations leads to a lot of choices for players to help ensure plenty of reason to keep playing for weeks and months to come. That is assuming of course you enjoy playing online or at least have several reliable friends to play with.
In terms of presentation, ODST didn't blow me away, but it does well for itself. The audio package is good, nothing outstanding, but again it's more than satisfactory. Graphically, it doesn't really hold up well to other titles like Killzone 2 or Modern Warfare 2, but I can't complain about the smooth framerates and some impressive scenery.
Let's get to the summary...