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Halo 3: ODST (Xbox 360) artwork

Halo 3: ODST (Xbox 360) review


"Halo: Combat Evolved was almost a perfect game, until it tanked halfway through when the Flood showed up. For all of the praise the Halo series gets for ultra-intelligent AI, letís keep in mind that itís always been lousy AI that brings these games down: Bungie teases us by pitting us against the genuinely smart Covenant, only to then switch things up and unleash what are essentially fast-moving, mindless zombies in their place. And every game in the trilogy suffered because of it...."



Halo: Combat Evolved was almost a perfect game, until it tanked halfway through when the Flood showed up. For all of the praise the Halo series gets for ultra-intelligent AI, letís keep in mind that itís always been lousy AI that brings these games down: Bungie teases us by pitting us against the genuinely smart Covenant, only to then switch things up and unleash what are essentially fast-moving, mindless zombies in their place. And every game in the trilogy suffered because of it. Halo 3: ODST, set entirely in the African city of New Mombasa in the aftermath of the slipspace rupture that occurred in the second game, in the first in the series to run its course without a single Flood encounter. As such, it should be the Halo game of my dreams, shouldnít it?

Except, whoops! Halo 3: ODST is an expansion pack, not a full-blown sequel. I suppose itís a shame Bungie ended the trilogy before they figured out what made it tick.

Thatís right! You donít fool me, Microsoft! You may be selling Halo 3: ODST at full price and inflating the experience to two whole discs, but even Bungie themselves have billed it as an expansion, and that didnít change after you figured out you could get away with selling it for the price of an actual game!

But I digress. Iím not here to criticize Microsoftís crafty pricing strategies, but to judge Bungieís talent as a developer. (And I didnít pay for my copy of the game, anyway.) Itís clear from playing Halo 3: ODST that theyíve had fun toying with what has otherwise become a very familiar formula. Itís difficult to say whether excluding the Flood was a deliberate decision or whether itís due to the setting. We know the Flood donít arrive on Earth until they hijack a Covenant cruiser and arrive halfway through the third game, and Halo 3: ODST, despite the ď3Ē in its title, is set long before that ever happens. Either way, itís such a vast improvement that despite the shortness of the campaign, Iíd have been prepared to recommend the expansion as the best Halo title ever had Bungieís experiments not gotten in the way.

ODST stands for ďorbital drop shock trooper.Ē (I know you were dying to know that.) This is important because the campaign opens with one such drop into New Mombasa just as Regretís ship is making the slipspace jump that shook the city in Halo 2. Your nameless (and voiceless) soldier wakes up hours later after nightfall and is forced to play detective, following the tracks of his squad mates and trying to figure out whatís become of them. Each clue he finds triggers a flashback, during which the player actually controls one of the ODSTs (each of whom is voiced by a member of the Firefly cast, Iím told) as we examine the aftermath of the slipspace jump through their eyes.

The flashbacks themselves are pure, vintage Halo, and I mean that in the best way possible: Big, open environments, intelligent adversaries, and an abundance of sticky situations in which the playerís success depends entirely on his approach to combat. Playing as a human does offer a few minor changes Ė health is handled a bit differently, and the brutes sure look a lot bigger now Ė but once you re-adjust to the controls, itís first-person shooting as tight and exciting as anything else on the market. All of the seriesí major vehicles get their moment in the spotlight, too. This is the part where Iíd start citing some examples of just how cool Halo 3: ODSTís campaign gets, but itís so short that I frankly donít want to ruin anything. Believe me: If youíre familiar with this series, and you like what youíve seen so far, Halo 3: ODST has some terrific standout moments for you.

I wish I could say the same about the hub sections that act as a segue between flashbacks. Halo 3: ODST has you exploring an almost post-apocalyptic New Mombasa that gradually opens up the deeper you are into the campaign, and introducing the familiar open-world concept to the Halo universe is not something Iím automatically opposed to, but I want this place to feel like a battlefield. The environments here are dark and repetitive, and the action is sparse. Plotting out your route is simply a matter of taking the shortest, least complicated path to your next destination while dealing with any Covenant patrols you happen to run into. These segments arenít bad, but they lack the energy that makes the flashbacks so enjoyable.

Plus, thereís this side quest that has you exploring the city and collectingÖ waitÖ this canít be rightÖ audio logs? Really? Audio logs? In a Halo game? In 2009?

Multiplayer gets its own disc, which makes it all the more shocking when you realize itís the exact same multiplayer package found in Halo 3, albeit with a few new maps and Firefight, an endurance-style mode where you and a few friends battle off waves of Covenant until you die. Granted, itís a good multiplayer package, although anyone whoís interested in it probably already has it on another disc. As for FirefightÖ well, youíve seen this sort of thing before. It worked better when Gears of War 2 did it, since that gameís play style is more appropriate for team-based combat. Itís fine here, though, and should provide a satisfying diversion assuming your multiplayer sessions arenít currently being dominated by Modern Warfare 2.

Itís difficult to straight-up recommend Halo 3: ODST as it is, partly because so much of whatís here is recycled, and partly because not all of whatís new works especially well. On the other hand, those flashbacks really are a lot of fun, and any Halo fans who outright dismiss this package will be missing out on some seriously great content. Play it, but donít pay full price for it. Hell, do what I did: Put it on your Christmas list, and leave spending too much money to someone else.

Rating: 7/10

Suskie's avatar
Community review by Suskie (January 03, 2010)

Mike Suskie is a freelance writer who has contributed to GamesRadar and has a blog. He can usually be found on Twitter at @MikeSuskie.

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