Halo has been the defining franchise series for Microsoft across two generations of consoles. After Halo 3 was released last year, it appeared the first-person epic had finally seen its last installment. Then developer Bungie hinted at a spinoff title, Halo 3: ODST.
While ODST takes place during the events of Halo 2 and 3, the campaign does not feature Master Chief. Instead, you'll assume the role of a rookie Orbital Drop Shock Trooper who is separated from the rest of his crew. With the help of a citywide artificial intelligence known as The Superintendent, you'll find out just what has happened to them.
We have had the final retail build of ODST for some time now, and here are our impressions:
ODST is just the right combination of a Halo game and something new. Sure there's a lot that looks familiar, but you'll also be greeted by some fresh gameplay mechanics. Each ODST soldier can use a VISR (visor), a heads-up night vision display that separates friend from foe. This visual element, in combination with the AI assistance known as The Superintendent, helps ODST separate itself enough from being just a Halo spinoff, feeling more like a legitimate expansion.
Since the ODST campaign shouldn't take most gamers more than five hours to complete, developer Bungie has sweetened the deal by incorporating Firefight, a "survivor" game mode that challenges you (and up to three friends) to fend off waves of attacks from enemy forces.
ODST also comes with a separate game disc that contains the entire Halo 3 multiplayer experience, including maps that weren't available in the standalone copy of Halo 3.
Halo 3: ODST will probably appeal to Halo fans who want a bit more of the story from the universe, though it may not be enough to justify a purchase from a casual gamer. Regardless, we probably won't hear again from the Halo series until 2010, when Halo: Reach, the prequel to the original Xbox title, launches.
Not only am I not a huge FPS type of guy, I'm also not a huge Halo fan. Maybe it's the semi-cartoonish aliens or the over-revered storyline, but I've felt more repelled than attracted to anything that bellows "Halo Universe."
ODST doesn't have Master Chief, and it doesn't have super-jumping superpowers, either. Your main character is an everyday guy, a trooper, and the world that's portrayed in the single-player campaign of ODST is grittier, muddier, and somehow darker. Maybe it was knowing that my character was a nobody, not a legendary hero--I felt more vulnerable in shoot-outs, and that meant I had to employ more stealth.
The graphics and auditory experience of ODST are movie quality, and among the best that the Halo series has offered. I also appreciate the new tools, such as the Metroid Prime-style visors for scanning the environment for threats. ODST feels like it was an opportunity to loosen up the Halo franchise and get it moving in less reverential directions, and even though this still comes across like a secondary game in the series, it's well done. Maybe not spectacular, but in a fall that's lacking some game release firepower, ODST will do.
A note on multiplayer: the Firefight mode has shades of Gears of War 2 and Left4Dead, and is a nice wrinkle to the Halo online experience. For the hard-core competitive, ODST comes with a second disc containing every Halo 3 multiplayer mode and DLC map. My only question is, why didn't they just throw in the Halo 3 single-player campaign as well?