Halo: ODST

posted October 13, 2009 12:10:00 AM CDT | 18 comments

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Something's amiss in Bungie's latest foray into the video game world, and it's not just Master Chief's absence from the latest Humanity vs Alien Scum adventure. Halo 3: ODST, an expansion that turned a little larger than expected, is the recent brainchild of XBox 360's most renowned franchise. It doesn't feature the invincible savior-of-all-mankind, neither does it boast a lengthy campaign full of intergalactic mumbo jumbo. What it does have though is a decent, albeit short story mode wrapped up in a tale not told before involving the Orbital Drop Shock Troopers. Yes, they're weaker than the 'roided up hero we had before in Master Chief. Yes, they run slower than half of the space crew in Dead Space. But no, ODST is not the half-baked cookie a good portion of you were expecting. In fact, despite their deficiencies in battle relative to other super protagonists, the change of pace by the troopers in the battlefield is one that is welcomed. Halo might be the most overrated franchise ever, but that doesn't stop ODST from being a decent shooter thanks to Bungie's altered playbook.

Truthfully, the hype behind the game's visuals is arguably unjustified. The character models aren't all that detailed, with faces of your main squad members being decently crafted, though nowhere near the level of say Call of Duty: World At War or Bioshock. While other critics cite that the game's graphics are “outstanding” and that it “...stretches [visual] limits,” these claims seem hardly believable when lined up against other first-person shooters on the console released even before ODST dropped. The textures are pale, slapped on an uninspired map design, resulting in a scenery that misses more often than not. At times, while ODST can look its part as Microsoft's staple franchise, the dull and dreary urbanized sections of the game feel stale. It's not all bad though; as vehicles still look shiny in its glimmering glory and the different alien scum that pop up are of an impressive variety. Despite this, for all the mega-hype the Halo franchise has received, this one does almost nothing new to get the series back in six-pack shape. Compared to exclusives like Gears of War [click to read], this cadet just doesn't physically cut it.

While lacklustre design choices mar down the level of immersion, Bungie's choice to tell an  intergalactic Lost-like narrative involving the grunts of war from your squad allows for much of the game's breathing room. What's impressive in ODST seems to stem from the way the missions are structured, with sections played as The Rookie acting as interludes to the flashbacks. You'll occasionally switch to a different, flamboyant colored member of your team as you find remnants of the past in the present time. This allows gamers to 'teleport' to various locations in New Mombasa with ease, experiencing locales The Rookie would not have if it weren't for this 'flashback' mechanic. These flashbacks are brilliant in their own, cunning way. They serve to showcase the "greatest hits" of playing a Halo game, dropping you right in the heat of tank battles, visceral defensive stands and tense, silent sniping. The title tells a titular tale too. Unlike the previous iterations of Halo, you'll be in the heart of battle as a stripped-down super soldier. Invincibility no longer exists in the Halo world, and believe it or not, it makes for a more realistic storyline in a universe filled with macho Sigourney Weavers. The touch of humanity, albeit a little soft, is one that Halo fans will definitely feel for.

For its current value, Halo 3: ODST is a worthy purchase. Don't be fooled by the expansion facade, the game is far from short. With a decent-length campaign, meaty Halo 3 multi-player shootouts and the new Firefight mode, the content is there. But its main problem does not lie in any of these elements, instead it looms over the whole plasma-covered picture mainly its gameplay mechanics present. As a first person shooter (FPS), Halo never shoots too far. By now, you'd think that the switch up from iconic war veteran Master Chief to mere soldiers would shake the gameplay up a bit, but you're wrong. Through and through, ODST feels basic. Sure, there are a checklist of weapons you can shoot, a number of vehicles to drive, and some locales to traverse, but that doesn't stop it from being run of the mill. We've all played this from the first, second and third Halos. The arcade nature of the franchise never lets up in-game, and to their detriment, this fourth iteration hammers home the point that Halo's ground mechanics have become stale in 2009. While the move to add some muscle to the single player campaign is appreciated, story alone can't make this aging series younger. With many other FPS titles in the market that includes Bioshock, Chronicles of Riddick, and the upcoming Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 it's hard to see Halo competing in single player terms.

For fans of the Halo series, the latest offering by the troopers won't disappoint, as you're pretty much given the Halo 3 multi-player in one disc, and a brand new campaign in the other. ODST isn't bad, it just isn't the ether that'll make PlayStation 3 fans feel excluded. Either way, at least the single player's got some attention, and we're rather happy about that. Throw away your preconceptions of Halo and prepare to drop to a land slightly different to ones you've tread before. While ODST doesn't break any shooter barriers, it proves to be an achievement for the folks at Bungie who've finally fiddled with the freakin' formula.

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