Halo 3: ODST Review
Master Chief is gone, long live the ODST!
If any single franchise could cause such commotion among gamers over a standalone expansion, we’d have to tip our hats to the Halo series. Originally pin-holed as a short campaign to bridge the stories of Halo 2 and 3, reservations over the longevity of the expansion and Microsoft’s decision to release it at a full retail price have sparked talk about whether this is the real deal or Microsoft blowing smoke up the franchise.
Now the ODST’s have dropped which leads us to ask: is this something for the hardcore Halo fans or is there more to it than that?
The Master Chief you once knew is absent from ODST, instead choosing to slap you into the helmet of the Rookie, an Orbital Drop Shock Trooper, who on a not so successful descent, wakes up six hours later to find the city of New Mombasa in ruins and the rest of the ODST team is nowhere to be found. Alone in a city whose only residents are the covenant that patrol its streets, the Rookie has to find his way around New Mombasa by sneaking around, picking his fights and searching for trinkets to help piece together what happened to the team during the events that transpired over the last six hours.
It’s ironic that it has taken an entire trilogy before Bungie finally managed to nail the storytelling but this time around you really get a feel for the story that happily takes a front seat over the action. If you’re willing to listen, ODST is willing to tell a story that covers everything from post apocalyptic struggles, past romances and some humour thrown in for good measure. In addition, there’s even the sub narrative ‘Sadies Story’ that outlines some of the events prior to your arrival on New Mombasa. Taking a step back from the linear storytelling of its predecessors, ODST allows you to weave the narrative in your own time and direction. The game might start and end the same, but how you put the pieces together in between is up to you.
Since you’re no longer the Spartan we all call Chief, being an ODST introduces a lot of unique elements that have never been toyed with in previous Halo titles and the health bar than adorns the top of your HUD is one of the bigger ones. Unlike the recent Halo games, your health will not recharge so picking your fights could be the difference between life and death. Health packs are dotted across New Mombasa but they’re pretty scarce much like the ammunition which will also have you scouring the dimly lit streets. The two new additions to the Halo arsenal are the new silenced pistol and SMG which both offer a zoom function allowing you to scope out the area before you proceed. If you do choose to run in guns blazing, don’t expect to hold onto those guns for too long as you’ll be constantly switching between whatever your enemy just dropped in order to keep yourself armed.
It’s not so much a problem as it pushes you to think before you act. Utilizing your surroundings for a stealth approach isn’t easy but Bungie have clearly opened up the environment a little more to allow more flexibility. You’ll find yourself looking for open buildings to take detours through, find a good vantage point or just to avoid a lengthy encounter.
So right now you’re probably thinking that being an ODST ain’t so great, is it? Well being a lone ODST in New Mombasa isn’t that bad. The inclusion of a Visual Intelligence System Reconnaissance (VISR) is your light in the dark that with the tap of a button will paint the path in front of you highlighting the shapes of environment, enemies and key items around you. It almost seems to be inspired by the visors used by Samus in the Metroid Prime series that allowed her to scan for enemies’ weaknesses and attain information about almost everything around her. It’s easy to rely heavily on the VISR, especially considering how the low lit areas of New Mombasa make seeing anything an arm reach in front of you nearly impossible but it isn’t much use in well lit areas and its use makes you more visible to covenant patrols.
You’re also not entirely alone in New Mombasa. Shortly after your first steps into the city, you’ll be introduced to the Superintendent, a sort of Big Brother of the city who is watching over you, pulling the strings behind everything from unlocking doors to controlling traffic lights, even giving you a warning if you are heading to a unsafe area. This AI will aid you in tracking down your team mates by using advertisements and signs to point you in the right direction. The Superintendent also plays a role in the side quest “Sadie’s Story” and will help you find audio logs scattered through the city using some very interesting techniques. The Superintendentis a fantastic aid and at times even humorous, he certainly makes for an interesting companion.