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Halo 3: ODST (Orbital Drop Shock Trooper) Review

Genres: FPS Action All
Year of Release: 2009
Developer: Bungie
Publisher: Microsoft Game Studios
Review Date: 29-9-2009
Review Platform: XBOX360
Review Region: AU Available In Australia
Est Playtime: 5+ hrs
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Review By: Bradley Beeck

The Covenant has attacked New Mombasa in an attempt to open a portal to the Ark. The ODST, an elite squad of soldiers, are sent in to attack a Covenant Carrier but their mission is suddenly changed by the arrival of a Naval Intelligence Officer. Their new mission immediately goes wrong when the Covenant opens a portal scattering the ODSTís drop pods all over the city. The Rookie is knocked out during the drop and wakes to find himself alone at night surrounded by Covenant patrols. Aided by the cityís AI he must track down his lost squad mates and discover their fate.

halo3_odst026Halo 3: Orbital Drop Shock Trooper was originally intended to be an expansion pack or Ďmini-campaigní for Halo 3 and was once called Recon. It was a chance for the developers to explore a different side of the Halo series, featuring several new playable characters, but along the way things changed and the game become a standalone title. As a result the game lacks the content of a full game, coming in at a little over 5 hours for the single player campaign. Itís not a major downer but I would have liked another hour of gameplay, which is a statement in itself.

halo3_odst011Despite the new characters and the different angle on the familiar Halo world this is still very much a Halo game. Instead of the Master Chief blasting his way from one set piece to another the set pieces are dispersed between the members of the ODST squad. Dutch has the warthog section and Romeo the sniper bits. These are intersected by the Rookie sections, which take place at night and have a different feel them. Theyíre less action-intense, less rousing, more explorative, and more moody. Itís kind of like those moments from the Halo series where youíre traversing between the action set pieces. I donít particularly like it, at least not as much as the rest of the game, because thatís not why I play Halo games.

halo3_odst016The exploration comes in the form of travelling through New Mombasa trying to find the other members of the ODST. There are hundreds of nooks and crannies and annoyingly most of them are dead ends. Mostly there seems to be only one way to get from location to location with big blast doors locking down other pathways. There are routes through buildings but these are used to flank the Covenant patrols which move along the roads. The new visor mode is essential for these exploration/Rookie sections as it acts as night vision. It also highlights the scattered objects that somehow relate to the activities of the other ODST members. Once found these objects trigger a flash back where the player takes control of another ODST member, filling in what happened to them.

halo3_odst007ODST tells a multi thread story that loosely fits in with the events of Halo 3. One cool tie in is that the player witnesses the destruction of the Space Elevator that was already destroyed in Halo 3. The gameís story isnít earth shaking but itís decent, following the Rookie as he picks up the trail of his squad mates and their exploits. The cityís AI guides the Rookie around the city but the AI has no voice per se so itís not clear whatís going at the start of the game Ė you just wander around until you get in touch with him. It also doesnít make sense why the AI would guide him to areas his squad mates have already left, just to find some piece of scrap metal that would tell him nothing. Thereís another aspect to the AI with the hidden audio logs but I only found a few so I cant really comment on that part of the story. The Rookie has no spoken dialogue that while adding to the nighttime mood doesnít give you the same connection with him as the Chief. Likewise the other squad members donít have enough game time or character detail for you to care and the dialogue isnít stellar. After the Rookie links up the rest of the squad, the plot shifts to the squadís primary mission which they arenít told about at the start of the game. Thereís also the sub plot of the relationship between squad commander Buck and Navy Intelligence Officer Dare, an old flame.

halo3_odst025Most of the familiar Halo enemies make a return Ė grunts, brutes, hunters, jackals Ė but the flood and elites donít return. Thereís also one new type of enemy - the engineers who explode. During the night time sequences groups of Covenant patrol the streets and can be avoided. I shot my way through them and found they would sometimes retreat or more enemies would show up from other patrols. Two new guns are available in addition to the standard fair of shotgun, assault rifle et al - the M7S silenced submachine gun and the M6S silenced magnum. The magnum works like a weak sniper rifle dispatching grunts easily with a heat shot but itís like a mosquito bite to brutes. The submachine was a favourite of mine despite its excessive recoil. A major change from the Master Chief is the lack of a Shield. Instead ODSTís have a health bar which is replenished by health kits and stations. However thereís little real difference because the ODSTís also have Stamina which acts like a small rechargeable shield and is a buffer before your health is drained.

halo3_odst031ODST has slightly improved graphics over the third game. The night scenes look crisp and the visor mode doesnít alter the playerís vision too much from the norm. The acting in cutscenes is quite lively, perhaps a little too much at times, and some of the characterís faces resemble the actors who voice them (Nathan Fillion and Tricia Helfer). Although theyíre not as detailed as Gear of War 2ís faces. The music is markedly different from previous games, itís softer, delicate, moody, and varies from African inspired drums to piano and saxophone. Itís really good but itís not as good the previous gamesí themes, which excelled at getting you pumped up for the action.

Halo 3: ODST is still a Halo game even with entirely new characters. The ODST squad members are still tough, and the difference in strength is hardly noticeable. The lack of a Shield is made up for the presence of Stamina, which acts in the same way. The Rookie/nighttime sections feature exploration in a way that wasnít present in previous games, and they werenít something I particularly liked. They have a markedly different feel to them, being moody and atmospheric, but are interspersed between the familiar Halo set pieces. Itís still got tank, warthog, and banshee sections although they didnít feel as rousing as in Halo 3 largely due to the change in music style. The story is decent and more complicated than usual, pulling together the different squad memberís exploits, although it lacks the deeper themes of the Halo series and the dialogue isnít stellar. Halo 3: ODST is a good game that featureís much of what made Halo great but the Rookie sections, inferior music, and shorter length means it doesnít reach the heights of Halo 3.