Tag Archives: Halo 3: ODST

Best of 2009 #7: Halo 3: ODST

Can an expansion qualify for a GOTY list? Is Halo 3: ODST an expansion at all? Legitimate questions all, but I think that ODST, besides being a standalone release, is different enough to qualify. To be honest, beyond name recognition, did it even need to be painted as part of Halo 3 at all? Most of it happens concurrently with Halo 2, after all.

Semantics aside, I thoroughly enjoyed ODST, even as a relative disappointment after the massive event that was Halo 3. It’s partly a victim of Call of Duty usurping Halo as the 360’s premier franchise and, I think, partly down to people simply getting bored of the games, and I hope that Reach is different enough to win people back around.

So yes, a disappointment. But playing it, I was reminded of how much I enjoy Halo. To say that it’s been made irrelevant by Modern Warfare is extremely unfair because they play very different games, and I love Halo’s unscripted, free-form battles just as much as Infinity Ward’s brand of breakneck, scripted Hollywood action. ODST further courted my affections by somehow feeling more like the original, possibly down to the added vulnerability that comes from needing health packs, and it was a welcome challenge after playing through two Halo games in which you’re the baddest motherfucker in the galaxy.

Plus Firefight was pretty awesome. Expect to see variants of Gears 2’s Horde mode showing up throughout 2010’s shooter line-up.

Halo still needs a kick up the backside, though. Most will pick Modern Warfare 2’s success as the thing to do it, but I think that me only putting it seventh on this list will be the thing to do it. Wait until Bill Gates sees this…

The Good and the Bad of Halo 3: ODST

If I begin in the same way that almost any review of Halo 3: ODST that I’ve seen ends, the game is great because it’s Halo. It has the same tight gameplay, the same great weapon balance, the same great storyline. It’s essentially an expansion to Halo 3, so it stands to reason that it shares most of the game’s good qualities. Firefight is also a fine addition, shamelessly copying Gears 2’s Horde mode but, in my opinion at least, improving it with Halo’s slicker, more precise gameplay and extra enemy variety.

Just in case I get carried away over the next few paragraphs and leave you with the impression that I dislike the game, though, let me just say that it’s great. Worth full price? I’m always hesitant to mark a game down based on value – five good hours better than ten stretched out average ones and all that – and on that basis I’d still encourage people to buy it.

Halo 3: ODST

But regardless of value, this is presented as an expansion of sorts – it’s Halo 3: ODST and not Halo: ODST, remember – and so hurts for being a modest upgrade of a two-year-old game that wasn’t technically mind-blowing when it came out anyway. It’s been improved, certainly, because the derelict New Mombasa streets are far more atmospheric than anything that I can remember in Halo 3 proper, and the engine also seems to throw more enemies than the 2007 model could handle, but compared to the obvious stuff like Killzone 2 – think the urban environments of that game’s second and third stages – and even the cities of Gears of War, it’s showing its age. There’s little more than the occasional identikit building to slip through, and the architecture looks pretty solid for having been essentially nuked hours before the game. I barely even recall a pile of rubble.

Hell, after a Covenant invasion and occupation you’d expect to at least see some sign of carnage. There’s not so much as a civilian body to be found, though. New Mombasa doesn’t feel lived in, which was understandable when we first visited in Halo 2 but much harder to justify now.

The story is also something that I feel needs looking at. Not the content of it, because I still thoroughly enjoy the Halo universe, but the method in which it’s told. BioShock-style audio diaries are in here, but they’re more like the parts of a radio drama than an individual’s stolen moments, making the implementation seem like a heavy-handed knockoff. Some of the cut-scenes are almost painful to watch in a ‘new’ game as well, with unimpressive character models going through stilted animations while the cast is left with clichéd, throwaway dialogue. This ODST squad ain’t exactly Aliens’ colonial marines, not matter how much they want to be…

It’s difficult to pick at the flaws of the flashback storytelling without spoiling things, so I’ll be brief, but that doesn’t make too much sense either. The first is triggered by an ODST’s helmet embedded in a small room overlooking a courtyard; when you’ve played through the resulting sequence, see if you can explain (a) how the helmet got there and (b) how the Rookie – who, incidentally, has been weakened in some areas compared to the Chief but still seems able to operate a Spartan Laser or effortlessly flip a Warthog, and doesn’t really seem too disadvantaged when single-handedly taking on squads of Covenant – was able to piece together that much information. Similar questions are raised throughout, and it doesn’t seem to stand up to dramatic scrutiny.

But like I said, despite a potential laundry list of complaints, ODST is still a great game to play, and I’ll stand by its value when you get £20-odd worth of Halo 3 maps thrown in for less than £30. It’s just not quite up there with Gears of War, Halo 3 and Gears 2 as Microsoft’s headline acts for the last three years. Let’s hope that Bungie’s really getting its hands dirty with Halo: Reach.