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Gaming: Halo 3: ODST

Wikipedia Fact: "Much of ODST's development team started work on director Peter Jackson's Halo Chronicles, during the production of Halo 3. However the failure of the Halo film and the subsequent cancellation of Chronicles meant that a sizeable team no longer had a project. At about the same time, production for Halo: Reach began, and Bungie realized that there was a window of time for the team to create a new product."

Wikipedia Fact: "Much of ODST's development team started work on director Peter Jackson's Halo Chronicles, during the production of Halo 3. However the failure of the Halo film and the subsequent cancellation of Chronicles meant that a sizeable team no longer had a project. At about the same time, production for Halo: Reach began, and Bungie realized that there was a window of time for the team to create a new product."

Year of Release: 2009

Developed by: Bungie Software

System(s): Xbox 360

Summary: A squad of Orbital Drop Shock Troopers (elite soldiers launched down into combat scenarios) are scattered across the city of New Mombasa during the events of Halo 2.  As the Rookie, the player has to track down evidence of what happened to the rest of the squad, exploring their stories through flashback events.

Wikipedia Fact: "The Firefight game mode was a late addition to the game. Staffer Tim Williams built a prototype shortly after Halo 3 shipped, placing the player in a portion of a Halo 3 campaign map and fighting enemies. When development commenced on ODST, William's concept was adopted and refined."

Wikipedia Fact: "The Firefight game mode was a late addition to the game. Staffer Tim Williams built a prototype shortly after Halo 3 shipped, placing the player in a portion of a Halo 3 campaign map and fighting enemies. When development commenced on ODST, William's concept was adopted and refined."

Thoughts: The biggest mistake in the development of ODST was probably the original early comment that it would be a cheap, short expansion to Halo 3’s story.  Once the price was increased to that of a full release (along with extra content included) it was inevitable that there would be people (both consumers and reviewers) who couldn’t help but view it as a full-priced expansion, and criticise it accordingly.  Being Halo, it’s one of the few series that really could get away with releasing a full-priced expansion and still top the charts, which probably didn’t help with how it was perceived.

What Halo 3: ODST does right is… essentially everything else.  The campaign itself is excellent.  While the Rookie is wandering alone through the deserted streets and fighting random groups of Covenant there’s a great sense of isolation.  Without the presence of fellow soldiers and off-site support ammo is much more scarce than in Master Chief’s adventures, constantly forcing a changing of weapons that just wasn’t present in the previous games.  The soundtrack has shifted away from the powerful epic score of Halo 3 into something much more muted and ideal for the Rookie’s situation, adapting to whether he’s alone, near enemies or engaged in combat.

Wikipedia Fact: "Members of Bungie were fans of the defunct television series <i>Firefly</i>, and in Halo 3's development brought in several of the actors to fill Marine voice roles."

Wikipedia Fact: "Members of Bungie were fans of the defunct television series Firefly, and in Halo 3's development brought in several of the actors to fill Marine voice roles."

The flashbacks serve as a tour of everything fun in Halo’s gameplay.  There’s a warthog/ghost level, a tank level, a banshee level, a sniper level and a variety of on-foot levels, all carefully sculpted around showing off Halo at its best.  The voice cast is great, particularly the reunion of former Firefly members Nathan Fillion (Captain Reynolds in Firefly, the squad leader Buck in ODST), Adam Baldwin ( the weapon-loving mercenary Jayne in Firefly, the heavy weapons man in ODST), and Alan Tudyk (Pilot Wash in Firefly, explosives expert and pilot Mickey in ODST).

The story mostly revolves around them trying to regroup and complete the mission that brought them to New Mombasa, and is told well.  All told, the campaign is probably a little shorter than in the other Halo games (though still on par with the average release today), but there’s almost no filler to it and of course it supports up to four players playing co-operatively, along with Halo 3’s game-altering skull modifiers to affect how tricky the game is.

The other significant part of the package is the new Firefight mode, a survival mode against endless waves of enemies, with more skulls randomly activating the longer you survive.  It’s not a wholly unique mode – being beaten to launch by Gears of War 2, Left 4 Dead and Call of Duty: World at War, all of which released with comparable modes almost a year ago – but being a Halo game does mean it has its own style.  Halo 3’s scoring system (which can also be activated for ODST’s campaign) is fully present, providing the instant feedback of awarding points for each kill, with higher values and medals awarded for special events like headshots and melee kills, all of which are presented in a results screen after the game, as well as a breakdown of every kill in the game.  It’s an addictive mode that earns its place in Halo’s multiplayer, and will likely be a regular feature of Halo games going forward, including next year’s Halo: Reach.

ODST introduces the VISR mode, which helps the Rookie see in New Mombasa's dark streets and helps identify enemies, as well as adding a neat extra visual layer.  Wikipedia Fact: "The player's VISR differentiates friend and foe with a colored outline (enemies are highlighted in red, while allies are green.)"

ODST introduces the VISR mode, which helps the Rookie see in New Mombasa's dark streets and helps identify enemies, as well as adding a neat extra visual layer. Wikipedia Fact: "The player's VISR differentiates friend and foe with a colored outline (enemies are highlighted in red, while allies are green.)"

With players controlling the human Rookie instead of the enhanced Master Chief, the gameplay is slightly different.  For example, you can’t use the equipment introduced in Halo 3 (though enemy brutes still use them) and there’s no dual-wielding.  The Rookie is also more vulnerable than Chief, taking damage when falling from heights.  Chief’s fully rechargeable shields are missing too, and in place of that the ODSTs have a health bar that has to be replenished with health packs, though they can still take a few hits before it starts to deplete.  With so many other developers adopting Halo’s recharging system wholesale, the inclusion of a health bar in ODST almost seems like Bungie are trying to show others that it is possible to successfully mix the two.  Despite the differences, it doesn’t take long to adapt to the relatively minor changes, and there’s no sense that the game has lost a great deal by not focusing on Master Chief.

Included on a separate disc is Halo 3’s multiplayer mode, including all its current map packs and a few new maps.  As it is literally the same multiplayer mode of Halo 3 there are no extras or ODSTs present, it’s still spartans and elites fighting with all the same weapons and with the same health system as always.  Being ‘only’ one of the best, most popular multiplayer modes of the generation isn’t really much of a drawback, especially as it avoids splitting the community between the two games, but a versus mode that incorporated the ODST might have been a nice inclusion.

Also included is eventual access to the beta of Bungie’s prequel Halo: Reach.  The Halo 3 beta access included with Crackdown was seen as a significant factor to the success of the game (though it was also good in its own right), so a Halo game that includes access to a Halo game could well have an even greater affect on ODST’s performance, but it’s difficult to really factor that into the value of ODST.  However, with the best Halo campaign to date, the excellent Firefight mode and Halo 3’s incredibly popular multiplayer, I can’t help but feel Halo 3: ODST was well worth what I paid for it.

Game Trailer:

Though it doesn’t show any actual game footage (which generally I’m not fond of), this is still a fantastic ad.  Microsoft’s marketing for Halo and Gears has been top notch, and along with the Wii have been the real marketing successes of this generation so far.  It’s best to go full-screen and HD with this if you can, because it really is good:


Image Sources:

All shots: Eurogamer Gallery

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  1. July 1, 2010 at 14:35

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