Monday, August 9, 2010

Halo: ODST Review

 Hunters are pretty damned scary in this game. Seriously.Halo has always been about up front, in your face action and ODST attempts to shake up the formula a bit. It’s more or less an expansion off of Halo 3, but it does add some unique components like Firefight that make it stand out.

It may retain the Halo name but once you kick-off the campaign you’ll notice some major changes to the gameplay. For one, you control an Orbital Drop Shock Trooper (ODST) who isn’t nearly as durable or strong as the Master Chief. As a matter of fact, you’re slower, can’t dual-wield weapons, take damage if you fall from high places, and don’t regenerate health by simply staying out of harm’s way. It may feel strange and it should since the typical run-and-gun style you might be so familiar with is going to change a bit.

The story this time around takes place after a cataclysmic event in the Halo 2 storyline. New Mombasa, a mega-city on Earth, is completely leveled after a Covenant ship jumps into slipspace within the atmosphere. You and your squad were attempting to hit the cruiser and just so happen to be caught in the massive explosion which has strewn everyone about the city. This is where you take control of the Rookie - a speechless, standard ODST who runs about New Mombasa playing the role of detective as he tries to find out what happened to his squad.

ODST’s premise sounds intriguing and it certainly is setup nicely; you’re alone and against the world as the mystery of your team’s whereabouts is slowly unveiled. Unfortunately, I couldn’t help but question the way the game was put together throughout my play sessions. You see, the Rookie acts as a catalyst to initiate the story. Whenever he finds certain item locations scattered around the deadend city, it starts a flashback. Depending on whose flashback it is, you’ll play that particular ODST squad member. These scenarios are pretty short, but they tend to be action packed and are pretty standard when it comes to Halo combat.

The problem I have is how you get to these scenarios. As the Rookie you’re traveling in a pitch-black city with absolutely nothing going on around you. There’s the occasional Covenant patrol, but you literally walk from one end of the city to the other just to get to the blip on your map. It’s like an overworld for Halo and that’s an issue. Halo may have always been a linear game, but each area you passed through was laden with entertainment. In ODST it’s just corridors of darkness and debris. I understand that this adds more to the tense atmosphere, but you aren’t rewarded for exploring the far and away places. You can collect random audio logs, but along with the rest of present day games that incorporate this, it feels extremely contrived. The logs usually are nothing but gunfire, noise, and desperate attempts to make it seem like there’s more going on than you think; there’s not.

 Firefight has the right idea, but it could be better.

It’s obvious that there’s much more of a stealth element in this game and, believe it or not, you can sneak up behind Brutes and assassinate them quite efficiently. This all goes back to the new/old play style as a normal human and it’s pretty refreshing. You’ll have to watch your flanks, choose your shots wisely, and really harbor those grenades. ODSTs come equipped with a VISR mode and two sorta new weapons, the revamped, now scoped pistol and a silenced, two-handed SMG. The VISR can be activated at any time and serves as a night-vision device. It even color-codes everything on your screen, highlighting inanimate objects and ammo as well. It’s a neat addition but I couldn’t help but feel like I was playing lite-brite with guns. I also found that the specific ODST weapon set is pretty ineffective against anything that has shields. The new pistol is definitely nice, but like the silenced SMG, unless you’re willing to pump all your ammo into a few opponents it’s not very reliable. Actually, you’ll be running out of ammo all the time, so expect to be fighting with Covenant weapons constantly. Shields also don’t exist, instead it’s a system called stamina. Once this stamina runs out you’ll start taking permanent health damage which can only be replenished by a med-kit, just like in the first Halo. So while you don’t have a shield like the Master Chief, your pure physical constitution absorbs bullets, doubling as a shield. Yeah, that makes sense.

 Nice! Highlights for everyone!
Firefight is the completely new mode ODST brings to the forefront. You and three friends are thrown into a stage against waves of relentless opponents. At this point you can definitely see what Gears of War 2’s Horde mode has done to inspire developers. Firefight, however, is actually better than Horde on many different levels. For one, you’ll be fighting against practically the entire Covenant species and it’s random who will come out and how they’ll hit you. Even vehicles like Ghosts and Wraiths make appearances, ramping up the challenge factor tenfold. You also share lives and are awarded ammunition and extra lives depending on how well you do. Unfortunately, the game with one of the best matchmaking systems available decided not to include any matchmaking with Firefight thus forcing you to play with friends. And if no one is on?  Well, you could jump into Halo 3 games and ask if people want to play.

I guess that’s my biggest argument about ODST – it just doesn’t feel like a full game and what we got is lackluster at best. Hell, you’re given a separate disc that includes Halo 3’s multiplayer. Granted, it does come with some new maps, but the campaign can be completed in just about four to five hours. Cut that time in half if you’re doing it with friends. ODST is more of the same with some differences. Unless you’re a Halo fanatic, or you just like buying games twice, there’s nothing to see here.

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