Review: “Halo 3: ODST”

“Feet First Into Hell”

(SPOILER ALERT: If you’re one of the few who still hasn’t played the game but wants to, you might not want to read this review right now. It contains spoilers for the Campaign.)

Halo 3: ODST, the latest entry in the Halo series, landed on store shelves about two months ago. Now that I’ve logged in a good amount of time playing the game, I feel I’m familiar enough with it to offer my opinions on how it stands on its own as well as against its predecessors. This review will be rather short compared to my review of Halo 3 (about one-fifth the number of words) due to the large number of similarities between the two; it will focus primarily on the things that changed from Halo 3 to ODST, as well as things specific to ODST (story & Campaign, etc.).

Gameplay

While ODST was built off of Halo 3 and is very similar in many ways in terms of gameplay, there have been some notable changes. In fact, the gameplay in many ways favors that of Halo 1.

Gone is dual wielding and equipment. As in the first game, you can only wield one weapon at a time. This is very much appreciated, though the end results are a bit mixed in how this affects the weapons that were dual-wieldable in Halo 3 (see the “Weapons” section below). While the enemy can use equipment, I find that the inability to do so myself is not a disadvantage, and the simple guns/grenades/melee triad works just fine.

Fall damage has been reinstated after having been absent in Halo 2 & 3. For the first time in years, taking the vertical route for a shortcut or quick escape comes with a price, as it should. The damage scale seems a bit stretched out from Halo 1, however. In other words, the damage from a given height is less than in the first game. There are not a lot of very high places you can fall from in this game, so the odds of actually dying from fall damage is rare unless you were very weak to begin with.

Also like in Halo 1, health can no longer regenerate and is restored by health packs. Interestingly, the health packs are not military issue but rather a commercial product (“Need medical assistance? Choose Optican®.”). I guess New Mombasa’s citizens were very accident prone.

Since you play as an ODST, you don’t have shields. Instead, you have “stamina.” Functionally, stamina is identical to shields — it’s even knocked out by plasma pistol charged shots and power drainers — though it also negatively affects your vision to a noticeable but not very disruptive degree when damaged (your periphery reddens and objects blur). While stamina makes no sense logically in the confines of Halo, its presence is very much needed, as the game would be inordinately difficult without some kind of regenerating protective buffer overlying the non-regenerating health.

The HUD is a bit different from how it was in Halo 3 — the ammo & grenade counters are in the bottom corners, there is no motion tracker (like playing with the Fog skull on in H3), and there’s a compass (interesting but unnecessary; traditional waypoints in conjunction with the map would’ve worked fine) — but it is still neat and uncluttered like in Halo 3. It’s also yellow instead of blue like a Spartan’s HUD.


ODST’s HUD. (Click image for full size.)

Weapons

The majority of the weapons in ODST function the same as they did in Halo 3. However, there are a few exceptions. Most notably are the retooled pistol and SMG.

The pistol (designated M6C/SOCOM at B.net, M6S in the manual, and “Auto Mag” in the game) is basically the Halo 2 pistol with a scope and silencer. While it can zoom like the Halo 1 pistol could, its per-shot power is extremely low like the Halo 2 pistol. It seems somewhere between the two in terms of accuracy. It’s good mostly for popping headshots on unshielded enemies. It’s practically useless for busting through Brute armor, even on Normal difficulty. The silencer is of questionable efficacy. If you’re far enough away, say 50 meters, the enemies won’t hear it, though at closer ranges (~20 m) they hear it just fine. Of course, that’s only if you miss. If you hit any enemy even outside of hearing distance, they can tell right away exactly where the shot came from (even if the shot killed one of them), making sneak attacks against groups no more effective than if you had fired an unsilenced weapon (of course, their senses are ridiculously sharp in this game; more on this later). It would’ve been nice if it was really a stealth-focused weapon that allowed for more effective ambushes, though this requires enemies not being able to instantly tell where the shot came from. Overall, though, it’s a useful weapon unless you’re trying to damage Brute armor.

The new M7S SMG is a rather effective weapon, great for breaking Brute armor and mowing down weaker foes, especially Drones. Interestingly, it has a scope, which is a first for a bullet hose in Halo. It actually benefits the weapon, as the SMG is more accurate than before when firing in short, controlled bursts, though when letting loose with full-auto fire, it’s still a strictly short-range weapon. Like the pistol, it has a silencer, but also like the pistol the silencer doesn’t really seem useful for stealth purposes and is mostly aesthetic in nature.

While a lot of people have compared the M6C/SOCOM to the Halo 1 pistol, the Carbine is definitely a better analogue. While its scope’s level of magnification is lower (1.5x vs. 2x for the pistol), it’s more accurate and does more damage. In fact, the accuracy and damage seem very close to the M6D’s; you can break through a Minor Brute’s armor in just a shots, and is even effective on higher-ranking Brutes. Also, as a Covenant weapon there’s no shortage of ammo for it. Overall, I’m really impressed with the Carbine, and it is my most frequently-used weapon in Campaign by far in terms of number of kills (though if we include Firefight, it’s about even with the pistol).

The assault rifle is still the same bullet hose as before with one exception: it has received a major accuracy boost. Using short, controlled bursts it is accurate to at least 30 meters. By my estimates, the AR is about twice as accurate as before, perhaps slightly more. It also has more punch than the SMG. I hope it stays at least this accurate in Halo: Reach, if it isn’t even more accurate. However, the AR is also not very common in this game, which is unfortunate considering how much it has been improved. The only stages I’ve been able get any good use out of it are Tayari Plaza and ONI Alpha Site. Other stages are either focused on vehicles or provide you with something better early on. Also, it’s absent in Firefight, which is really disappointing considering I’d ditch the SMG for it in a heartbeat.

For some odd reason, the shotgun seems less formidable than before. It appears to do less damage and the accuracy is even worse than in Halo 3 (what is it with video game shotguns that are useless past spitting distance anyway?). It’s still a decent weapon, though the fact that you pretty much have to be within melee distance to hurt anyone with it is very annoying. Hopefully it has a much better effective range in Halo: Reach.

Finally, there’s the remaining formerly dual-wieldable weapons: the plasma pistol, plasma rifle, Spiker, and Mauler. While the new SMG is a decent standalone weapon, aside from from the Mauler the others are of questionable usefulness. The Mauler, the resident Brute CQB firearm, doesn’t seem quite as powerful as the shotgun, but it fires and reloads a faster. It’s decent enough and works well on Hunters, but it’s not very common, though. As for the others, they needed considerable improvements since they are no longer dual-wieldable. However, the upgrades they received weren’t quite good enough. In each case, you’re better off using something else. As a testament to their limited usefulness, the kills I’ve accumulated with them comprise less than 1% off all my kills despite them being rather common armaments. I’ve gotten more use out of the relatively rare fire grenades.

The plasma rifle is mostly useful for breaking Brute armor. It is also decent for killing Grunts and Jackals, though you’re far better off using an SMG or AR. I was hoping for the Halo 1 plasma rifle, which was the weapon’s most formidable incarnation, but that’s not what we got. It’s still sorely underpowered.

The Spiker also needed a major damage increase. Considering the low rate of fire and the amount of leading required as compared to the AR, it should’ve done a good bit more damage per shot to make up for those drawbacks. As with the plasma rifle, you’re much better off using an SMG or AR.

The plasma pistol probably fared the worst of all. While the per-shot damage of the normal shots has increased, that’s not saying much considering how laughably weak it was in Halo 2 & 3. The charged shots also still cause no damage to health, whereas in Halo 1 they inflicted a pretty good amount of damage. The plasma pistol is still good mostly for its shield-breaker abilities. You might be able to take down some Grunts and Jackals with it, but you’re better off using something else for actually killing things. This weapon really should’ve been upgraded to the same lethality it had in Halo 1. I absolutely loved the H1 PP, which was a damn good standalone weapon with its decent per-shot power, a charged shot that actually hurt enemies in addition to breaking shields, and its stun effect.

Hopefully if dual wielding is still gone in Halo: Reach, the plasma weapons are identical to how they worked in Halo 1, and the Spiker and Mauler are upgraded to match.

Vehicles

The vehicle damage system is still the same as the one first implemented in Halo 2. Any vehicle you’re currently using can never be destroyed unless you yourself are killed (not all the difficult for the Covenant to do on Legendary when you’re in a light vehicle since they seem to do as much damage as when they shoot you when you’re on foot). I still don’t much care for this system, and I’m still waiting for Bungie to finally divorce the “health” of in-use vehicles from player health and institute a simple damage meter like what Covenant vehicles had in Halo 1’s Campaign.

Boarding works the same as in Halo 3, which is an aggravation. During a playthrough of Coastal Highway, a Jetpack Brute managed to board my Scorpion from the rear. Since boarding works like in Halo 3, I could not leave the vehicle on my own volition and Buck couldn’t repel him, so I had no choice but wait for the Brute to kill me. The moment he boarded me, my fate was sealed. Getting boarded is still an automatic death sentence, and I hope that particular element gets removed in Reach.

The Warthog handles a bit differently than in Halo 3, as if it has more weight to it, but otherwise it’s still the same vehicle.

The Banshee is once again usable after not being so in Halo 3’s Campaign. It can also hover for the first time since Halo 1, though unlike in H1 where you had to pull back on the left stick to hover, you now have to leave the left stick in neutral. The ability to hover is appreciated, as is the fact that it can be a challenge with all the AA flak in Kikowani Station (the only stage it’s available in).

The Wraith is oddly enough not readily usable for the player, though you get to destroy quite a few of them. Probably due to the screwy vehicle damage system, boarding the tank and punching its driver to death will cause the tank to blow up (I guess Wraiths are made of explodium). I found one unoccupied on Kikowani Station, but due to the stage’s layout, I couldn’t take it anywhere, though I did manage to shoot down a Banshee with it.

The Ghost, Chopper, and Mongoose are the same as before, so nothing new to report there. One other thing of note, however, is the disappearance of the Prowler. I would’ve liked to have seen a few on Uplift Reserve and Coastal Highway.

Campaign

Story

The story of ODST is pretty simple and straightforward, eschewing the grand sci-fi themes prevalent in the previous games. It’s all about finding out what happened to your teammates and what the real purpose of your mission is. Nothing particularly deep. Just a standard but reasonably well-written sci-fi action story. “Sadie’s Story,” a side story told via audio logs much like those in BioShock, provides a second-hand account of the Brute invasion of New Mombasa as well as foreshadowing the presence of the Engineer. It’s somewhat interesting, though it loses a lot of its impact if the game is beaten before all the audio logs are collected.

I do have some gripes about the story, mainly regarding the fact that it asks more questions than it answers. How did the Brutes arrive so quickly after Regret left? Were they trailing Regret’s fleet or something? How did they kill the remaining Elites within minutes of landing? What about the fleet at the end? Where were they stationed and how did they get to Earth hours after the initial Brute invasion of New Mombasa? Were the Covenant we fight in the game an advance force? What exactly was the deal with the Forerunner structure seen in the Legendary ending? How exactly does this fit in with Halo 3? The Covies had the portal mostly uncovered and the end of ODST, yet they were still digging during Halo 3? So many questions, so few answers. This is seeming like par for course for Bungie.

Stage Designs, Environments, and Size & Scale

The Campaign’s defining feature is the “hub & spoke” arrangement. Mombasa Streets, the “hub” stage, is Bungie’s first attempt at truly open-world gameplay (while open and largely non-linear, Halo and Silent Cartographer in Halo 1 weren’t technically open world). It’s a decent-sized stage (1.5 km straight line distance from the southwest to northeast corners) that provides a lot of places in which to fight. It’s fairly complex as well and has both narrow streets and open courtyards, which allows you to approach encounters in many different ways or even avoid fights entirely. While it’s a great first step to what I hope becomes more common in Halo and it’s great to run around in and explore, it is not without its weaknesses. Mombasa Streets is a mostly symmetrical level. Excluding the small section in the northwest where you find the chronologically first clue (the one leading to Tayari Plaza), it has a bilateral symmetry, with the southern/western half mirroring the eastern/northern half. This comes across as a rather uninspired design choice and really reduces the overall variety of the level. The other major flaw is that you don’t always have full access to the whole stage. If you start the game from “Prepare to Drop,” you only have access to the sector where you find the Tayari Plaza clue, and in the last couple of runs through the streets entire sectors get cut off from access by the player. Finally, it’s very slow-paced for a Halo stage, as you’re mostly skulking around in the dark encountering small Covenant patrols every few blocks.


The complete map of Mombasa Streets (orange=streets, blue=buildings). Note the high degree of symmetry.

The “spoke” stages are mostly linear affairs like most other Halo Campaign stages. However, they are also quite small (more on this in a bit). What they lack in size, though, they make up with excellent design. There are plenty of open fields and courtyards, branching pathways and alternate routes, and many ways to approach encounters. It’s almost like Halo 1 in miniature as far as the basics of stage design go.

As for the environments you play in, there’s really not a lot of variety. Most of the game takes place in New Mombasa’s central business district (all office buildings, no residences or stores). Of course, that’s to be expected given the size and focus of the game. However, not every part of the city looks the same. Uplift Reserve’s faux natural setting, which is reminiscent of Tsavo Highway, is the most distinct of all of ODST’s levels. Data Hive’s dark, technological corridors and subterranean passageways also stands in contrast to the city streets that form the bulk of the game.

Most of the stages are directly connected in some fashion. Tayari Plaza and Kizingo Boulevard are simply parts of Mombasa Streets that have been sectioned off to create a more linear stage. ONI Alpha Site can be seen but not directly accessed in Mombasa Streets. Uplift Reserve and Coastal Highway intersect and you can see one from the other in either stage. Furthermore, part of Mombasa Streets serves as the beginning part of Coastal Highway. The only stages to exist in total isolation from all the other stages are NMPD HQ, Kikowani Station, and Data Hive.

Finally, there’s the issue of size and length. In terms of total playable area, the entirety of ODST is comparable to Assault on The Control Room in size, which was well over two kilometers long straight line from where you start to where the control room is (your total distance traveled in AotCR is probably closer to three kilometers or more) and consisted of several open canyons hundreds of meters long. As an obvious consequence, the individual spoke stages are not all that big, especially the ones that take place entirely on foot. For example, Tayari Plaza, NMPD HQ, or ONI Alpha Site could easily fit within Blood Gulch with room to spare. Data Hive is the largest on-foot stage at over a kilometer long, but since it is a corridor crawl it still has a relatively small total area. The vehicular-based levels are of course bigger to accommodate the vehicles. Kizingo Boulevard is the smallest, with the starting and ending points being about 750 meters away from each other straight line distance. Uplift Reserve is fairly large and open compared to the others, with each of its four circular regions being around 350 meters across (Sidewinder was about 300 m in diameter). The whole stage is close to Mombasa Streets in terms of total playable area, maybe larger. It’s still smaller than the stage Halo from the first game, though, but it’s bigger than smaller Campaign stages from the main trilogy like The Silent Cartographer or The Storm. Kikowani Station is rectangular and is several hundred meters wide and over a kilometer long. Coastal Highway is pretty long as well (around 5 kilometers from start to finish), though the bulk of it is a Warthog run that takes place on the eponymous highway which is only 40 meters wide; the on-foot parts comprise only a small part of the stage’s total area.

The small stages make for a relatively short game. I was able to complete it solo on Heroic in about four hours. About an hour of that was spent on Mombasa Streets (I had already found all the audio logs in a prior co-op playthrough, so no time was taken up with exploring to find them). The six “flashback” spoke stages took me 15 to 25 minutes to complete on Heroic (an entirely on-foot playthrough of Uplift Reserve took me 35 minutes), while the two “finale” spoke stages (Data Hive & Coastal Highway) took 35 to 40 minutes.

Mission Objectives

Like in previous games, there are a couple of objectives in this game that must be accomplished before you can progress in a level. Destroying the bridge on ONI Alpha Site is a relatively simple task, much like cutting the cable holding up the gas mine in Halo 2. While the results are quite spectacular, it would’ve been nice if you actually had to plant the bombs yourself instead of arming already-planted bombs. Success would staunch the flow of enemies, while failure would mean you had to deal with more enemies while retreating into the site.

Coastal Highway requires you to guard Veronica and Vergil’s garbage truck; failure to do so results in it being destroyed and reverting you to the previous checkpoint. Much like in Halo 1 where you had to babysit Captain Keyes, this objective can be frustrating, especially on higher difficulties. While Keyes had a habit of running out and getting killed, Veronica drives the truck without bother waiting for you, stopping only when she reaches a blast door. This means that if you’re tied up dealing with an enemy (especially the overpowered Ghosts on Legendary) or trying to get Buck to get into the damn gunner’s seat instead of the passenger’s seat if you flip or swap out Warthogs, she’ll just keep driving, sometime getting herself killed. If we’re going to have babysitting missions, whoever we’re escorting shouldn’t deliberately put themselves into harm’s way. There’s gotta be other ways to make those kind of missions challenging other than having our charges do stupid stuff.

Enemies & AI

One of my biggest criticisms of Halo 3 was the AI in Campaign. Enemies, especially Brutes, had no concept of self-preservation and would rarely if ever bother taking cover, opting rather to blunder headlong into your gunfire until they died. Their evasive abilities were extremely poor as well, with the Tough Luck skull essentially a requirement to get to dodge grenades and other hazards you send their way. Chieftains could be thwarted simply by hopping onto the back of a truck trailer. The only thing they had going for them was massive damage bonuses on Heroic and especially Legendary.

ODST, however, is a major improvement. Enemies are no longer shy about taking cover. You damage a Brute’s armor or take out a Jackal’s shield, and they’ll go running for cover until their protection is restored. You try sniping a Brute, and he’ll go hide behind something if he sees you. Enemies have noticeably enhanced evasive abilities as well. They dodge grenades, needles, vehicles, and charged shots with stunning regularity without having to cut Tough Luck on. While Brutes are still sluggish and don’t really strafe and duck gunfire like the speedy, agile Halo 1 Elites did, they don’t just sit there and take whatever you dish out like they did in Halo 3. Chieftains are less easily to thwart by jumping on platforms as well; the only place they seem to get stuck is when you are on the high walls on the sides of the stairwells on Kikowani Station and they’re down on the stairs. Enemies also make a habit of bringing the fight to you. There’s been multiple occasions where I run into a building to flank them, when all of the sudden a Brute or Hunter comes through the building and surprises me. Also, in scenarios where you’re having to defend a location, they’ll press in relentlessly.

I can’t say that enemy AI in ODST is better than that of Halo 1 & 2 — enemies still make a lot of the same mistakes and have a lot of the same limitations as they did in those games — but it’s definitely a major improvement over Halo 3. If only Bungie could go back and patch Halo 3 to boost its AI to ODST-level quality.

If there is one major gripe I have with the AI in ODST, it’s that their senses are too sharp. It’s like they have eyes in the backs of their heads. Eyes that see everything. If you attack one of them, they all know exactly where you’re shooting from, even if you’re using silenced weapons. Sneaking up behind to assassinate enemies often won’t work because they’ll sometimes notice you regardless of how careful you are. Sleeping Grunts will sometimes wake up even when you don’t make any noise. I’ve even seen Brutes dodge charged shots and Needler rounds even though their backs were turned towards me. I appreciate the good AI, but godlike situational awareness is a bit too much.

Aside from the improved AI, Brutes haven’t really changed much. Their berserker attacks seem like they make getting headshots on them more difficult, which is good. However, while the powered armor concept is fine in principle, in practice I think it needs improvements. Once taken out, their armor is permanently gone, unlike Elite shields which regenerate even when entirely depleted. However, it has the same vulnerabilities as shields, including being knocked out with a single charged shot. While their evasive abilities have been improved, they are still relatively slow, which when combined with permanently destructible armor makes so-called “EMP kills” (a PP charged shot followed up by a headshot from a pistol or Carbine) far too effective. Perhaps plasma weapons could have inflicted less damage than they do (two or more charged shots to knock out a Brute’s armor) or a Brute’s helmet could have been treated as separate from their body armor instead of both being treated as one integral unit.

I like how the new gold-armored Hunters use the fuel rod cannons Halo 1 Hunters did, though the blue-armored Hunters still use the beam cannons from Halo 2 & 3 (personally, I find the FRC more threatening than the easy-to-dodge beam cannons). The blue ones tend to take point and engage the player up close while the gold ones provide longer-range support. They work well together as a unit and are still my favorite enemies. They’re still quite rare, though, with only about a dozen in the whole Campaign.


Buck takes on a gold Hunter. (Click image for full size.)

Drones have undergone some changes as well. They now come in multiple color-coded ranks; the higher-ranked “Majors” come with energy shields, which was surprising. They can actually walk now, and it’s creepy to see them do so. Drones are still annoying as hell, though, like Jackals except they fly instead of having shields.

Engineers finally made it into a Halo game, and I like how Bungie implemented them. While they don’t have any offensive abilities, their ability to shield other enemies can make them huge threats. They also have bombs that blow up when they or the squad they support dies, though the explosions really aren’t that threatening. Overall, they’re an interesting addition to the enemy roster.

Firefight

Firefight is an interesting addition to Halo. A survival mode much like Gears of War 2’s Horde mode, you’re pitted against increasingly difficult waves of enemies. While Horde simply give the enemies more health and increases their damage, Firefight activates skulls, with Tough Luck being on by default. Also, while Horde utilizes Gears 2’s multiplayer maps, Firefight uses blocked off segments of ODST’s Campaign maps.

While Firefight can be fun, it also lacks replay value. It’s extremely predictable and offers little variety, and thus gets dull very fast. Once you’ve attained all the Firefight-exclusive achievements (Endure was f#!*ing hard), there’s not a whole lot else to get one to keep coming back for more besides boredom or wanting a change of pace from whatever else you and your friends might be playing.

Technical Aspects & Misc. Features

Graphics

ODST uses the same graphics engine as Halo 3, albeit prettied up a bit. Of course, it looks really great, and has incredible lighting, particle effects, and animation. Whether it’s the moody darkness and neon lights of Mombasa Streets, the sparkly blue atmosphere of Tayari Plaza, or the spectacle of Coastal Highway, the game is a visual marvel. The game is also amazingly detailed. Perhaps my favorite detail is the fact that the writing on the ammo packs (which were absent in Halo 3) is legible for the first time since Halo 1. In fact, it’s even clearer than in H1.

Sound & Music

The sound effects are essentially the same as those used in Halo 3. The Carbine sounds a bit punchier, though.

The voice acting is pretty good, with the main cast being mainly a Firefly reunion with Tricia “Six” Helfer guest-starring. I especially liked Dutch’s little quips. I also like how your player characters actually talk during gameplay (except for the Rookie, who doesn’t talk in the game ever), which is a first in the series.

Marty’s score for ODST is a major departure from the music in the main trilogy. It’s definitely more experimental, with a more subdued sound. There are no chanting monks and there isn’t a lot in the way of bombastic themes. In fact, a lot of the music, especially that which plays during Mombasa Streets, sounds like an 80s police drama. Nothing like a little sax & violence. :p While it’s a major stylistic change, ODST’s music is still just as good as one would expect from Marty. Oh, and I liked how “Rock Anthem for Saving the World” showed up on Coastal Highway when I and some friends were going for our Déjà Vu achievements.

Achievements

The achievements in ODST are mostly what I’d expect to find in a Halo game. Some are pretty standard, like beating a level, finishing the game on Legendary, or getting 5 sticky grenade kills in one level. I also like the progress bar, which may or may not have been borrowed from Gears 2. The “Vidmaster” achievements are pretty tough, especially Endure.

Several of the achievements, however, are ridiculously easy to get; even a paltry 5G is too much for them. Those achievements are Dark Times, Heal Up, and Trading Down. Why should something like finding your first health pack or swapping weapons with an ally even be achievements in the first place? Personally, I would’ve liked there to be achievements for making par score in the spoke stages in Campaign, without skulls on. Getting those scores can be tricky and would have been actually achieving something.

Conclusion

ODST is a good game, no doubt about it. It improves on a lot of the flaws present in Halo 3’s Campaign and has more refined gameplay. Still, I can’t help but feel like I didn’t get my money’s worth. While it was originally conceived as a Campaign expansion for Halo 3, it eventually was stated to have expanded into a full, standalone game. However, this is most definitely not a full game. The Campaign is very short and can be finished in almost half the time of previous Campaigns in the series, and Firefight isn’t a true substitute for multiplayer. While it does have the Halo 3 multiplayer disc, I already paid for all but the last three Mythic maps and already had multiplayer on my copy of Halo 3. ODST by itself is really worth only $30-40, and a map pack is only worth $10. I honestly wouldn’t doubt it if Microsoft made Bungie add the H3 MP disc to the game instead of just having a download code for the final Mythic maps (like what was done for Halo Wars and the first three Mythic maps) in order to justify charging full price. If I had paid only $40 for the game, I would have been satisfied, but there’s just not enough to be had from this game for it to be $60. Judging ODST on its own merits it’s a good game, but the price point can’t be dismissed.

Scores

Gameplay: 9. Dual wielding is gone (though most of the formerly dual-wieldable weapons received negligible upgrades to compensate for this change) and health packs and fall damage have returned. (Hopefully these changes are also serving as preparation for Halo: Reach. It is almost guaranteed we will be playing as Spartan-IIs using Mk. V armor and thus should be more like the Chief was in Halo 1.) The stage designs are excellent despite the stages being relatively short for Halo stages. Also, the AI is vastly improved over that of Halo 3.

Graphics: 9.5. The game looks amazing, plain and simple. It’s not perfect (your squad’s faces look kinda off), but it’s still one of the best-looking games on the 360.

Music & Sound: 10. Marty’s music is superb as always. The different style works well for the game as well. The sound effects and voice work are still at the same high quality I’d expect from Bungie.

Presentation: 9 Like the previous Halo games, there’s some very imaginative environments and the game is put together extremely well. There’s also plenty of excellent cut scenes and scripted events. This is what the Earth missions in Halo 3 should’ve been like, albeit on a larger scale than what is in ODST (i.e., stages that last an hour instead of 15-20 minutes)

However, since ODST takes place essentially in one environment, the city of New Mombasa, it loses a point for variety in that area. While previous games offer a wide variety of environments — jungles, deserts, forest, snow, mountains, swamps, cities, Forerunner ruins, and Covenant ships — only Uplift Reserve’s faux natural environment stands out from the urban sprawl.

Story: 8. Nothing deep or remarkable, though it’s well-written, straightforward, and does a good job of showing the plight of your ODST squad. The use of flashbacks for missions to do so was an interesting experiment. However, the game also asks more questions than it answers, which is a major drawback.

Replay Value: Medium. Campaigns always have more limited replay value than multiplayer as they’re a much bigger time investment than a handful of 8-minute matches. While I’ve played multiplayer in the Halo games on a regular basis, I might go through each game’s Campaign maybe once ever few weeks at most. ODST’s is no different. I’ve maybe played it only three times all the way through solo and a couple of times on co-op in the past two months, and it’s a new game. As for Firefight, it’s fun at first, but it get’s very predictable and repetitive after a while, which diminishes its replayability.

Drive-in Totals: One strangely adorable tentacle alien, Big Damn Heroes, flying Warthog, Grunt splattering, Grunt incinerating, gratuitous saxophone solos, gratuitous throat slitting, Phantom-fu, sledgehammer-fu.

Overall: 8. At its core, ODST is a great game. As you can see above, I gave it high marks on everything except for replay value. However, there’s just not enough of it, especially compared to the other games in the series. The $60 price point doesn’t help things either. If it had a Campaign as long as the other Halo games (total length and length of the individual stages), I really think it would’ve rivaled Halo 1’s Campaign as best in the series, and I would’ve given the game a solid 9. ODST is a great game, but the lack of bang for my buck forces me to knock the rating down a point.

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