Microsoft and Bungie's Halo 3: ODST marks the second attempt to expand the Halo universe beyond the original trilogy (Halo Wars was the first experiment). Taking place between the second and third adventure and starring a new cast of heroes, the game's designers take players on an action packed journey through a Covenant ravaged Earth filled with danger. Then, after gamers blow through the single player mode, there's a feast of addictive multiplayer content, along with an exciting co-op mode that'll have them killing aliens for months to come.
ODST initially casts players as The Rookie, an Orbital Drop Shock Trooper charged with saving humanity from the alien threat known as the Covenant. After a routine drop into New Mombasa backfires, The Rookie must trudge his way through the decimated city, searching for clues to his teammates' whereabouts and killing Covenant patrols. Meanwhile, the city's artificial intelligence, the Superintendent, offers clues on where to go next, as well as much needed health packs.
Two things separate ODST's story mode from other Halos. First, it contains a sandbox environment that players may explore (as The Rookie) at their leisure. This hub world not only contains voice recordings from the city's survivors, but also randomly generated aliens, including Grunts, Hunters, Brutes the game's new Covenant class, Engineers (they act as buffers and heal the wounded).
Second, ODST features a more story driven campaign featuring a handful of soldiers. Whenever players find an object that belongs to a fellow ODST, the game flashes back to show gamers exactly what happened to him or her. These flashbacks serve as the game's levels, as players see things through different characters' eyes. There's also a lot more dialogue and cut scenes that add depth to the adventure.
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For the most part, the game's a lot of fun. Players will terrorize the Covenant with a myriad of weapons, including the Assault Rifle, Shotgun, suppressed Sub Machine Gun and a redesigned pistol perfect for sniping. In addition, they can also wield Covenant weaponry, such as the Needler and Plasma Cannon. And in true Halo fashion, they'll drive/pilot a host of different vehicles, both human and alien made, like the Warthog, Scorpion Tank and Ghost.
That said, we're a little disappointed that Bungie didn't introduce something radically different. Most of Halo 3: ODST's missions feel similar to those from previous Halos, and while the ODSTs have different personalities in the cut scenes, those never come through during gameplay. Everyone feels the same and has similar weaknesses; ODSTs cannot dual wield, jump as high as Master Chief or enjoy regenerating energy shields.
Even the open world failed to amaze us. We understand what Bungie tried to do, but also feel that more could've been done with it. Although The Rookie runs into those Covenant patrols, they don't appear often enough. As a result, gamers will spend much of their time wandering around; at least they can experience it with friends via co-op.
Multiplayer, as expected, is the primary reason to own this game, and it all starts with Firefight. This new and exciting mode throws up to four players onto one of ten maps and challenges them to outlast waves of progressively difficult Covenant. Because ODST randomly generates each wave of aliens, gamers will never know what to expect. Even better, Firefight has infinite levels and players share lives; the game ends when the last person dies. And if they want to tweak their matches, ODST comes with seven skulls that alter gameplay; Tough Luck, for example, gives the Covenant extra dodging ability. Bottom line, Firefight is thoroughly entertaining.
Of course, there's more to multiplayer than four-person co-op. Bungie also included a second disc that contains 24 Halo 3 maps, including three new ones: Heretic, Longshore and Citadel. All of the familiar modes return (Slayer, VIP, Oddball, Capture the Flag, Assault, Infection, Juggernaut, King of the Hill and Territories), as well as the popular Forge Mode that allows them to manipulate objects on any map, and Theater, where they can film their matches and edit the footage. Like single player, we've seen it all before, but first time Halo players will enjoy it.
Presentation wise, the game has an impressive mix of bells and whistles. Aside from the soldiers' voices, the audio remains the same, with familiar weapon noises and explosive effects. Visually, Bungie intentionally made the game darker than its predecessors, encouraging players to use the VISR, an exclusive ODST feature that not only brightens the environment, but also marks soldiers and aliens in green and red, respectively; the filter does give the game a more stylish appearance.
Experienced Halo vets will probably criticize ODST for its lack of new multiplayer modes, maps and of course, Master Chief; after all, serious Halo fans probably purchased those 21 maps several months ago. That makes the game's $59.99 MSRP a bit tough to swallow; to us seasoned Halo players, this feels more like a $39.99-$49.99 package. But for the new Halo fan, ODST has a satisfying amount of content. Fightfight's sweet, the single player adventure's good enough and that second disc has a lot to offer. So while it doesn't reveal Master Chief's whereabouts, Halo 3: ODST is a welcome addition to the series and another quality first person adventure.