Halo 3: ODST

I’m kicking off this new category with a review of ODST, perhaps jumping on the pre-release hype of Halo: Reach, due to fall Spring 2011. So if you’ve not played this game, you still have a good 8 months to familiarise yourself! First published Sept 23rd 2009, Ciao.

Halo 3: ODST has proved that Bungie can do it again and again without losing any of their flare or the franchise’s value. The Halo series has become so elevated in computer game culture that it has a multi-million strong fanbase lapping up everything and anything related to it, from merchandise to collector’s edition boxsets selling at £60! How do they do it? How can game developers Bungie continue to churn out popular, original and strong story based material with such finesse? Because there is no denying it, having played Halo 3: ODST the past few days, it is already one of the best games I have ever played.

The graphics are not groundbreaking for the most part (although there are sequences which take your breath away). It seems to be running on the same Halo 3 engine with perhaps slightly more intricate detail. The available weaponry is almost the same as the previous game with a few slight modifications: more grenades than in the past, the ability to wield the same pistol as in the original Halo game (‘Combat Evolved’), a flamethrower etc. Health works in a similar fashion, again tweaked slightly – you have a certain amount of stamina (basic damage resistance) before you start losing actual health. Your screen flashes red to warn you when this is going to happen. Night vision adds a new visual element to gameplay but doesn’t really change the style of play. To be honest, in all these areas it scores highly, but no better than a lot of other games that achieve the same things. So where does it gain points?

Story line. The Halo story line has always been phenomenal and this game portrays a different angle to the fight against the Covenant. The style in which the story is portrayed to the gamer is unique I think as well. Essentially you are an Orbital Drop Shock Trooper (ODST Unit) who wanders the streets of New Mombasa trying to establish details regarding the rest of your crew; their whereabouts or what happened to them. Each time you discover a clue, they are all located in different areas of New Mombasa you are transported in to a playable flashback sequence which forms the basis of each new mission. It may sound a little complex – it isn’t.

Emotion. This might not be something you expect when playing a game, to be moved, to experience thrills, fear, tension, and sadness, but playing ODST I found myself on the edge of my seat, shouting aloud, laughing at the marines as they banter with one another, and from such highs, to feeling a profound sense of melancholy as your character, the Rookie uncovers the tragic fate of one of his crew members amidst the barely lit, neon darkness of the futuristic city, New Mombasa.

Soundtrack. Award winning composer Martin O’Donnell scores the beautifully eerie, sweeping soundscapes that accompany you on your adventures in ODST. To my mind, without his incredibly dramatic compositions Halo would not have the following or the reputation it enjoys today. From pumping, distorted guitar driven rock to fuel your adrenaline in battle sequences, to haunting, lyrical melodies as you explore the dark streets, constantly unaware of what awaits around the next corner or watching you from a close rooftop, O’Donnell has the music to match the occasion. I own the soundtracks to the series independently of the games because the caliber of music is so high.

Multiplayer and online experience. Naturally, xbox live and Halo go hand in hand. Rarely if ever has there been a game with so many players constantly playing. Halo 3 was release back in 2007 and is still one of the most popular games to be played over xbox live. If my gaming experience is anything to go by, ODST won’t let the fanbase down. In addition to a tonne of new maps (3 brand new, but since Halo 3’s original release about 9 new maps have been added), a new combat mode has been introduced named Firefight. It works similarly to Gears of War 2’s ‘Horde’ mode, pitting you and up to three other comrades against an onslaught of foes, wave after wave with the basic aim of surviving for as long as possible as the difficulty level increases.

I really feel ODST has raised the bar once again for the standard of First Person Shooters and story telling through video games. It’s well scripted, solidly structured and thoroughly produced to ensure that the niggly little details that so frequently plague it’s competitors are nowhere to be seen here. Another fantastic game from the guys at Bungie Studios. I look forward to Halo: Reach (Falls 2010) but don’t make it too soon – I want to be able to fully enjoy all that ODST has to offer – a great deal.

ODST lands with a £40 price tag as of release, with the option of a collector’s edition (including a unique ODST controller and preliminary access to the Multiplayer Beta of Halo: Reach in 2010) priced at £60.

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