You are not the Master Chief
Tired of being a seven foot tall super soldier? Wondering what happened on Earth after the events of Halo 2? Still lamenting the loss of the magnum pistol from Halo: Combat Evolved? Still mad at Fox for canceling Firefly? Well, the folks at Bungie have heard your whining and decided to do something about it. Originally a side project that grew into a full game, Halo 3: ODST is a wonderful piece of fan service, and a darn good FPS game to boot.
[image1]The action takes place in the city of New Mombasa, the city that was ravaged at the end of Halo 2. In the Halo universe, Earth is in a lot of trouble. Sure, the Master Chief and his alien pal, the Arbiter, successfully stopped the religious zealots of the covenant from wiping out all life in the universe, but they may have sacrificed Earth in the process. With the Earth's greatest savior halfway across the universe, defending the planet has fallen to the highly trained Orbital Drop Shock Troopers. Though significantly slower, shorter, and nowhere near as durable, the ODST's know how to handle themselves in a fight.
And a fight is what you're facing. In your main role as a rookie soldier, you are separated from your team and must scour New Mombasa at night to uncover what fate has befallen your comrades. In a new twist on the Halo gameplay, most of your adventure is exploring the city and hunting down clues on a large, open map. You can choose to head straight to your objective or wander the streets. When you reach your objective, you will encounter a piece of evidence hinting at what has happened to your squad. The game then launches a flashback, putting you in the shoes of your compatriots hours earlier as they fight to survive.
Though I know you want to get to the action, ducking down that side alley does have its benefits, as you uncover a secondary storyline involving the Superintendent, the A.I. that was running city services in New Mombasa. Though I refuse to spoil it for you, suffice to say that the secondary story is not only worth the extra exploration, but also unlocks weapon caches throughout the city. Collecting all story fragments is essential if you want the full story of what's going on.
[image2]Other than the new central Hub, the gameplay is nothing surprising. Run and gun is the name of the game, with the Halo series still eschewing the shooting-from-cover gameplay of other FPS games out there. Replacing your shield with “stamina”, is more of a cosmetic change than anything else. However, you are definitely not as invulnerable, so running straight at the enemy with your guns blazing will not work as well in this incarnation.
There are only a couple of new weapons that weren't in Halo 3, including a silenced machine gun and the return of the magnum pistol. Though nerfed from its overpowered earlier incarnation, it was nice to have the scoped zoom on the pistol again. There's also a mysterious new member of the covenant to deal with, so you'll need to check your strategy and determine their intentions.
Being a regular human in this game does emphasize the size difference of the aliens. Everything seems bigger, especially the hunters and the brutes. It's a nice perspective change and gives the overall Halo universe a little more, dare I say it, realism.
The sound in ODST, a hallmark of the Halo series, maintains the high standards set by its predecessors. The music has moved from classics to a little more mellow jazz-style, though it retains the frenetic sounds that accompany a large firefight. The voices are taken straight from some obsessive Halo fans hypothetical voice casting page. All the guys in your squad are voiced by actors from the fantastic Firefly series, while the female voice is from the sexiest robot ever created for Battlestar Galactica, number 6. Having all your main voice actors being well versed in Sci Fi is more than just fan service, it also makes even the silliest technobabble sound authentic.
[image3]For you Halo multiplayer junkies, there's a few new features for you to chew on. ODST has a new mode called Firefight, which is similar to the Horde mode that was so popular in Gears of War 2. Survive wave after wave of enemies, trying to last as long as you can. Its a lot of fun, but sadly there is no random match feature for this mode, forcing you only to play with friends and others you've recently played with. As this is still technically a “Halo 3” product, Bungie included a second disc in the package that is just Halo 3 multiplayer. It includes every map from Halo 3, and throws in three more. For fans who complain that they purchased the downloadable maps already, remember that Bungie has often given away the maps after a few months, so this is nothing new.
In a devious move to counteract used game sales, you have to own ODST to access the Halo Reach multiplayer beta. The catch is that the Halo Reach beta is not set to occur for at least a few months, so you have to keep your disc. Giving users a reason to hold onto their games for longer is a solution to the used game dilemma that both fans and game makers should respect.
Though the core design was focused on the fans, Halo 3: ODST has enough in it for both veterans and newcomers alike. Reminiscent of Half Life: Blue Shift, a solid story supported by excellent voice casting, this new entry in the Halo universe was promoted from expansion to stand alone game. Though I would have liked to see more new enemies and weapons, Halo 3: ODST is a solid FPS game and a good addition to the Halo franchise.