Halo 3: ODST Review
Thursday, October 15, 2009 2:45 PM
Time to finish the fight, um, again, because there was a little bit left over from last time.
Now let's be frank: although they have their naysayers and I can criticise them with the most fervent haters, I enjoyed all three Halo games immensely.
I haven't bought any of the books (well, okay, apart from the first graphic novel) and there's no Master Chief standing on my desk (it's a Big Daddy), but I do very much enjoy the games and understand why they have such a rabid fanbase.
Mind you though, my biggest disappointment was in finding out that the much-anticipated war-torn Earth in Halo 2 was only three levels long. That was flagrant false-advertising, that was.
However, when ODST was announced (as Recon, still a more sensible name) my ears pricked up. A free-roaming New Mombasa? A decent-sized game set exclusively in the best levels of the series? No Flood, Master Chief, Guilty Spark or even Halos? Wow!
Unfortunately, while that was a lovely sounding idea, I must admit to being a bit underwhelmed.
First of all...two DVDs? Was that really necessary? Yes, there's a lot of multiplayer here, but if standard Halo 3 could do it on one, then a mission pack certainly can.
Ah yes, mission pack. Despite Microsoft's attempts to claim that this is a Complete Package (although that telltale '3' in the title gives it away a bit) and charge full price, I honestly don't think there's a full-price game here.
The single-player campaign is a decently sized add-on with a few hours of play, most of the second disc is already-released bonus content (bet you wish you hadn't shelled out for it now, eh?), and the new Firefight mode is fun for a bit, but I'm sure you'll get bored with it after a few sessions. More on that shortly, but let's get right in with the ODSTs of the title.
After Master Chief left the fun bits of Halo 2 to go and cavort on another identical Halo, a team of specialist commandos, the Orbital Drop Shock Troopers, are dropped into New Mombasa on an unknown classified mission. You play all of the Troopers at some point, with their individual missions tied together by the voiceless/faceless Rookie who wakes up after the main battle and is trying to uncover what fate befell his teammates.
The storyline frankly isn't very important or good, which is both refreshing and unusual for a Halo game. Yes, I know, some people like it, and to be honest I'm one of them to an extent - I'm fine until they crowbar in another halo or the Flood again.
ODST's story, however, will not be getting an anime made out of it. While there is a subplot involving Sadie, a rather irritating young girl, which you piece together by exploring New Mombasa, it's not particularly interesting or exciting.
Ah yes, exploring New Mombasa - Bungie's big exciting new addition for ODST. While all the other Halo games, despite some large areas, have been pretty linear, ODST - at least the Rookie part of the campaign that you play between missions - gives you the whole city to explore. Sounds good? In capable imaginative hands, yes, but there's very little to get excited about.
For the majority of the exploration you meet no allies at all, you can only go in a few boring buildings, the only secrets to discover are the Sadie story subplot (and a few weapon stashes, the best having a couple of Mongoose buggies) and even Covenant encounters are few and far between.
In fact, you'll soon get tired of them and the Rookie's mission in general. The repetition is extraordinary. 90% of the fights you encounter consist of one Brute, three Grunts, and occasionally a sniping Jackal. Sometimes you'll get two of these parties at once (a big relief), but you'll very rarely encounter anything different in the exploring part, and definitely no other soldiers or vehicles. The best part is the atmosphere, which is nicely built by a cool Blade Runner-ish soundtrack and some nice mood lighting. This is spoilt by the new visor that just adds tons of bloom.
While you'll be eager to get past the Rookie's free-roaming sections, fortunately the other missions are much more traditional Halo affairs and all are great. The cast is led by Greatest Actor In The World (after Bruce Campbell) Nathan Fillion and That Bird In The Red Dress From Battlestar Galactica, Tricia Helfer (looking particularly grotesque here, it must be said), and they do the job pretty well.
What I really like is how each ODST is a 'specialist' in certain weapons, and while this simply means getting a different weapon at the start, having to cope with a sniper rifle and a Spartan Laser together makes for some interesting battles.
It has to be said though that, despite how thrilling the campaign can get, it's all very...Halo-y. We quite literally have seen it all before. It doesn't make the battles any less exciting and fun to play, it's just very easy to start thinking "haven't I played this bit already?"
Of course the other big new feature is the absence of the one-man-army Master Chief, instead giving you some Slightly Tough Soldiers to play with. Despite the déjà vu with the enemies, this change immediately impacts the whole game, as every fight suddenly becomes twice as difficult. You might even say frustratingly difficult, or even go so far as to say f***ing difficult.
Thankfully ,the AI is still fantastic, and it's very easy to promise that grandiose claim that no two fights are ever alike. Might be similar, but in that last Hunter fight I died in about a dozen completely different ways. I was mightily impressed when I finished grinding my teeth into a fine snortable powder. There's a reason why Halo has the following it has, and despite the big repetition and c**p story, you'll still enjoy the shooting.
But a lot of people won't care about the single-player's problems. They'll stick in the Multiplayer disc the second they buy it and chuck the Campaign disc in the bin. Then they'll dig it out again when they realise that that's the disc with all the new stuff and the "Multiplayer Disc" is all previously released stuff. Good, but can we have a refund for buying it the first time?
The co-op is, as always, Halo's always-fantastic trump card. The reason people moan about its absence in other FPSs is because it's so much damn fun. Granted, the Rookie campaign is pretty pointless for this, but the proper missions are worth the asking price - not to mention far less frustrating.
The big new multiplayer though is Firefight, a sort-of-Survival mode against waves of Covenant. It is indeed great fun, but it suffers by only including stuff from ODST. It really needs as big a variety and number of maps as possible, and I'm not sure Bungie has delivered.
Boiling it all down, as I said before, I do not believe we have a full package here. The campaign will only last veteran players a few hours, even with the increase in difficulty, and there's not really enough new stuff to justify it either.
So can we have a new game next time Bungie, not a mission pack? Please? What's that, the next Halo is a prequel? Excuse me while I bang my head against a bus.
ODST's a strange one. It went from an expansion pack to a full-blown game, and you can tell that from the first minute. Not much has changed in terms of the core game, though it makes it worth your while elsewhere.
Graphically, a lot of the game is really impressive, particularly the lighting techniques (especially on the weaponry) and the second rendering the VISR regularly affords the player in darker or lighter areas. It makes it realistic enough for you to switch it on and off when you go in different environments, instead of simply leaving it on at all times to see Covenant forces, which is its main purpose: the right balance has been struck.
Still, it's surprising to see in-game graphics outdoing their cut-scene counterparts. The rendering of faces is particularly average in the asides and the walking motions still don't seem quite right. No matter; where it counts, it's fine and that's all that matters.
The development of the storyline is also much better than games preceding ODST. While you're still given another faceless individual - and even name - in The Rookie, you get to see and play from the perspective of others, which finally affords the Halo series a little bit more personality.
As a result, the game hangs together better than expected, though it still falls short, particularly in the length of the campaign. The trademark slower motion can really grind you down at times. Running feels like walking, you still jump like you're on the moon and aiming can be a real chore at the best of times.
It still encourages the spray-and-pray attitude, too. The assault rifle has long been a drawback of the game, and the pistol went downhill from the original, so you find yourself using any weapon to hand. As a result, there's not that much strategy. Sure, you're given silenced weapons, but what does it matter if you're still having to empty a clip in the rough direction of an enemy to kill anyone bigger than the cowardly minions?
A stealth element could have been a greater change, and with a new character and class in The Rookie, there was a real chance to mix things up that little bit more.
Firefight's probably the best selling point. At first it's easy to assume that Bungie has essentially stolen the idea from Epic and adopted the Horde mode from Gears of War 2, but it's so much more than that. The idea's essentially the same, yet the AI is superb and it genuinely does put you under the cosh from the first wave.
It's these facets of the game that stand out as real selling points.
However, hey had a really good chance at creating something that departed from the Master Chief approach and for a lot of the time, such as with the HUD, menus and approach to health, it works. Still there was much more room to, say, speed the game up or make aiming that little bit more precise.
For fans, it's more of a return to its original foundations and will satisfy, particularly in multiplayer. For gamers wanting that little bit more, or individuals put off by the pace and approach of the game series up to now? It's still very much Combat Unevolved.