I’m going to get the hard part out of the way first and say that if you enjoyed playing Halo: Combat Evolved, Halo 2, or Halo 3, then you will also enjoy playing Halo 3: ODST. If that’s what you wanted to know, there you go. I’m happy to be of service.
The game is easy to get into, the fun and excitement are present from minute one and the whole experience of playing it feels like coming home after a long, hard day to the smell of cookies baking and the sight of your favorite dog wagging his tail. It is, in two words “more Halo,” and if that’s enough to rock your world, then prepare to be rocked.
If you’re still not convinced, then keep reading. I’m going to tell you more about why you’ll probably love this game to death, but I’ve also got some thoughts to share about why, if you’re like me at all, you might also find it disappointing. Because that’s where I find myself with the game; somewhere in the middle-distance between love and hate, and teetering near the startling precipice of apathy. Let me put it this way: There is good sex and there is bad sex, but on the whole, sex is always, to some degree, awesome. That’s how I feel about Halo 3: ODST.
Let’s get the good stuff out of the way first: Halo 3:ODST, like all of the Halos before it, is the very definition of “competent shooter.” The controls are phenomenal and every square inch of the game feels expertly balanced, finely crafted and designed to within an inch of its life. This is what Bungie does, and they do it better than anyone else.
The game is built on the Halo 3 engine and, like Halo 3, looks fantastic. This isn’t a game about lavish scenery, but it may surprise you with some of its inventive and beautiful environments. The Dutch level, in particular, with its sand and sunshine, mixes it up just enough to help you forget you’ll be looking at many of the same walls and floors for however long it takes you to complete the game.
As far as weapons and enemies, this is where it helps to have enjoyed Halo 3, because you’re not getting much that’s new. The notable exception is the “silenced” sub-machine gun, which is good for a few laughs, and does help you avoid detection if you’re smart with it. Why you would bother with avoiding detection is kind of the whole shtick of ODST. In case you haven’t heard: You’re not playing as Master Chief. You’re not even playing as anything similar to Master Chief, i.e. the Arbiter or one of the other few “Spartan” warriors. In Halo 3: ODST you’re just a dude. Several dudes, actually. And perhaps one chick.
ODST stands for Orbital Drop Shock Troopers, which refers to the elite squad of soldiers who hurl themselves at the ground (or other ships) from orbit, aboard rocket pods. In ODST, you play as each member of a squad of ODSTs, and the story flips from perspective to perspective as “The Rookie” spends a desperate night trying to track down the other members of his squad who have been flung off course and landed deep in the heart of New Mombasa during the events depicted in Halo 2.
But forget about that. It’s not important. Yes, there is a story and yes it – sort of – makes sense, but that’s not why we’re here. The story in ODST is just engaging enough to propel the game forward – no more, no less – which is all you can or would expect from a Halo game. In spite of starting at a loss – having to replace the series’ main character – ODST carries itself well and gooses the mythology established in previous games just enough to keep you interested and wanting more.
The most important thing to know about the single-player campaign is that it features the voice talents of people you will probably immediately recognize. If so, you will experience an inordinate amount of joy with this game, just by watching the cinematics and hearing the in-mission chatter. The cast, led by Nathan (Mal Reynolds) Fillion, is a veritable who’s-who of pop sci-fi culture. Backing up Fillion are two of his castmates from the TV show Firefly – Adam Baldwin and Alan Tudyk – as well as Tricia Helfer, the seductive Cylon from Battlestar Galactica. Helfer does her part well, but the real joy is in hearing the crew of the Serenity back together again, in more or less compatible roles.
What’s truly remarkable about ODST is that none of this nostalgia detracts from the game in the least. A lesser game may have suffered at the hands of such overblown nerd-lust centered on what the guys involved did before, but it’s a testament to the solid gameplay and affable energy of ODST that you can eventually forget that you wish it’s actors were doing something else, and settle in to enjoy the ride.
You can expect to finish the solo campaign of Halo 3: ODST in under 10 hours, after which you may want to play it through again to rack up some of the harder-to-acquire achievements. If you’re inclined to play multiplayer, you’ll discover that this is where Halo 3:ODST truly shines, and that, perhaps, the solo campaign was just a training mission. You can invite friends to join you for a romp through the main storyline, or you can team up with up to four buddies for “firefight mode” which will allow you to test you skills against increasingly powerful swarms of Covenant bad guys. The game also comes pre-packaged with a fully-functioning version of the Halo 3 multiplayer game, complete with the add-on maps.
Yet in spite of all that’s awesome about ODST (and there is plenty in that category), the new touches and added elements just aren’t enough to stave off the nagging feeling of having been here and done this all before. Playing as a mere human – as opposed to the nigh-invulnerable Master Chief – does freshen up the gameplay a bit, but after a few levels the difference seems more aesthetic than anything.
Bottom Line: Halo 3: ODST lives up to the considerable legacy of the Halo series and delivers plenty of exactly the kind of fun you would expect. And that’s also the game’s weakness: The fun is exactly what you would expect, with few surprises or challenges.
Recommendation: If you’re a slave to multiplayer, then you need this game. Everyone else will be playing it, plus it comes with the complete set of Halo 3 downloadable maps as a bonus freebie. If multiplayer isn’t your thing, then you might give this a rent to see if it hooks you. You’ll probably still enjoy it, even if you’re not a Halo fanboy, but the price is a bit high for such a short game.
Russ Pitts is the Editor-in-Chief of The Escapist.