Giant Bomb Review

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Halo 3: ODST Review

4
  • X360

If you like the way Bungie makes first-person shooters, you'll enjoy Halo 3: ODST.


You've got a tough mission ahead of you... but first you'll have to make it out of your drop pod. 
If you're still trying to wrap your mind around what, exactly, Halo 3: ODST is, perhaps it'll help you to think of it as if  it were a PC-style expansion that doesn't require the original game to play. It uses a lot of the same technology that powered Halo 3 back in 2007, and it tells a story that exists concurrently with some of the events of Halo 2 and Halo 3. It makes some interesting changes to Bungie's battle-tested design style, but at its core, it still maintains that Halo feel. If you liked Halo 3 and have any interest in the expanded Halo universe, you'll enjoy the new things that ODST has to offer.

In ODST, you'll play as an ODST--that's Orbital Drop Shock Trooper. These are the guys that launch down from the sky in pods, and they represent some of Earth's best soldiers. But the key is that the ODSTs are still merely human. They aren't genetically engineered badasses like the Master Chief. So the characters you play as here are a little more fragile than the shielded and armored super trooper you're used to controlling in Halo games. They aren't tough enough to dual-wield weapons. They aren't rough enough to hijack enemy vehicles. They aren't strong enough to pull off that huge, floaty jump that the Master Chief has. They aren't crafty enough to collect and deploy equipment like you could in Halo 3. And they don't have health that automatically recharges when you take damage. That said, the ODSTs still have shields of some sort. It's referred to as "stamina" in-game, but it serves the same purpose as the Chief's shields and recharges when you stay out of battle for a few seconds. Your health meter--the one that gets rocked when you get caught while out of stamina--doesn't recharge on its own. To rectify health issues, you'll have to seek out medkits, which are usually plentiful enough to make health loss a non-issue. Beyond these changes, the ODSTs you'll control in the campaign are roughly equivalent to the big Spartan.

The other big change in ODST is that these guys are equipped with different helmet-based heads-up displays. The new HUD--which comes from your visor and is helpfully called VISR--comes with a light amplification option that brightens things up and enhances the edges of objects. This is handy, as significant portions of the campaign are done under cover of darkness. The edge enhancement is especially cool in the darkest areas. The lines it draws around the edges of things makes the game look like some kind of militaristic Tron arena or something. While you don't have a motion sensor, hitting the back button brings up a map of the city, showing you where you need to go, nearby enemies, and more. The map screen, also, looks really nice. The key reason for having a map--as well as an on-screen compass that directs you to waypoints--is that a chunk of ODST is played in a sort of open-world hub that links the game's missions together.

 Who is The Rookie?
The open nature of the New Mombasa streets makes sense in the context of the game's story. Five ODST troops drop into New Mombasa with a Naval Intelligence officer named Dare. She doesn't really get into the specifics of the mission, and things go wrong almost immediately because your insertion pods are knocked off course when a Covenant cruiser positioned above the city jumps into slipspace. This rips up the city and sends your team's pods careening off-course, separating the crew. The game opens with you in control of a character known only as The Rookie. He immediately hooks up with the city's computers, giving you map data and navigation points that point you in the direction of the rest of your team. When you get to the proper location (usually by finding a key item, like Dare's helmet, or a bent-up sniper rifle), the game switches into a flashback. These are the game's missions, and most of them put you in the role of one of the other members of your team. These missions are linear and very much designed in the Halo tradition. Once you complete a mission, The Rookie gets new data and moves to the next spot. The juxtaposition between the quiet, nighttime city, where The Rookie can stick to the shadows and avoid a lot of combat as he moves from spot to spot and the large, loud battles that you've come to expect from the Halo series is an interesting one. Even though there isn't that much to do when you're not in an active mission, the dark, open city gives ODST a very different atmosphere from the other games in the line. The game's great soundtrack really contributes to that feel, as well.

As you work your way through the city, you may run into one of the 30 audio clips hidden there. These are designed to be a basic collectible and to give you a reason to run around the entire city, rather than just sticking to the critical path and heading from one mission to the next. The clips string together to form a fairly interesting story that's set around the time of the Covenant first landing at New Mombasa. It also gives you some insight into the nature of the Superintendent, which is a city-wide AI that subtly guides you around the city by changing video screens around town to big detour arrows aimed in the direction of your next objective or a nearby audio log. The story that plays out in these audio logs is tied to the game's story, but it features more interesting characters than the actual game does. The Rookie doesn't speak, which sort of makes him the most interesting character by default. The rest of the ODST crew chats it up, but a lot of that dialogue feels forced, with plenty of generic-sounding military talk. And the all-too-convenient romantic past between the ODST squad leader and the female naval intelligence officer doesn't bring any heat to the proceedings.

The campaign kept me going for just under seven hours on the game's "heroic" difficulty setting. Like Halo 3 before it, the developers recommend that players familiar with the series start at this setting. On normal or lower, the combat is painfully easy--which is fine if you're a novice, but won't be much fun for anyone else. On the highest setting, again known as legendary, the game becomes much more of a challenge, making it something that's best suited for cooperative play. Like Halo 3 before it, ODST allows up to four players to play via Xbox Live or LAN. It's a fun way to play, though there's something cool about the solitary nature of The Rookie's portion of the journey that doesn't feel quite right when you're rolling around with three partners.

The squad, before everything goes wrong. 
In addition to playing the campaign cooperatively, there's also a new co-op mode called firefight. This is a survival-type mode, which puts the players in a confined area and sets them against waves of Covenant enemies. The longer you last and the more enemies you take down, the higher you score. As you clear out waves, the game turns on more and more skulls, which are the secret items that you could use to modify the difficulty in Halo 3. In ODST, all of the skulls are the same, but they're all automatically unlocked from the get-go. Firefight encourages players to hunker down and defend small areas, sort of like the Gears of War 2 horde mode. For me, though, Halo is all about shooting on the move, not sitting down and controlling a specific spot. That's probably the reason why I don't find firefight to be very engaging, especially on its higher difficulty settings.

If that was the complete package, ODST would be a pretty good expansion type of package, provided it was available at an expansion sort of price. But there's a second disc in the package that offers every bit of Halo 3's competitive multiplayer, including all of the downloadable maps that have been made available via the Xbox Live Marketplace since Halo 3's release. It's a weird offering, because I find it hard to believe that anyone thinking about buying ODST doesn't already have Halo 3. And in the case of fanatical Halo fans, chances are they already paid for one or more of the map packs when they were released digitally. The one catch is that this disc, marked "Halo 3: Mythic," comes with three maps that will be exclusive to this collection. It's a convenient disc for Halo 3 multiplayer fans to own, but it feels like something that was tacked onto the collection in order to further justify the package's $59.99 price tag... and it's something that a sizable piece of the game's prospective audience probably already owns.

They're not the Master Chief, but they have most of his moves. 
Though the technology that powered Halo 3 has aged, ODST still looks quite nice for a 2009 release. That's mostly thanks to the lighting. New Mombasa looks great at night, as the raging fires around the city give the sky a red glow, while the whole area is large enough to give you the sense of being stranded in a big, enemy-filled area. The video signs, which flicker to life as the Superintendent passes you messages, have a clean design style that really adds to the game's look and feel. The daytime missions look fine, as well.

Halo 3: ODST fills in a few interesting spots in the Halo timeline, even if the characters themselves aren't strong enough to carry the narrative. But it strikes a healthy balance between new twists and more content done in Bungie's trademark style. The more important thing is that if you've enjoyed playing Bungie's Halo games in the past, chances are you'll continue to enjoy that style in ODST. 
 
Disclosure: The game featured in this review is or was an advertised product on giantbomb.com. Jeff Gerstmann on Google+
260 Comments
Posted by Delta_Ass

Right on time. Thanks Jeff.

Posted by BlackIrish05

Dont know if I want  

Posted by imayellowfellow

loool i was scared this was gonna be a 5 just cause all the skins, but unbiased journalism continues

Posted by ToadRunner

wow wouldnt have expected 4 stars, but great review

Posted by MrMiyagi

Thanks for the disclosure. :)

Posted by NeoUltima

The quick look disapeared! I was all excited to watch it too.

Posted by Breadfan

I was expecting a five star from ODST, not because of the ads on the site but because it is Halo.  Glad to see a balanced review from Giant Bomb once again

Posted by slyspider

I love how honest you are here. I could have easily see this review called in question of the fact of all the adds, but you gave it to us how you really felt. I LOVE GIANTBOMB!!!!

Online
Posted by Delta_Ass
@slyspider said:
" I love how honest you are here. I could have easily see this review called in question of the fact of all the adds, but you gave it to us how you really felt. I LOVE GIANTBOMB!!!! "
What the... what adds? I haven't seen any adds.
Posted by myketuna

Fuck the skins and all that. Jeff, you still keeping it real, buddy. Anyway, game sounds pretty good, but I've fallen out of love with Halo. Gonna rent this though and play some co-op with buddies.

Edited by Karmann

This page left a sour taste in my mouth... 
 
I'm sure the review is unbiased, but still, it caught me offgaurd.

Posted by DanielJW
@slyspider said:
" I love how honest you are here. I could have easily see this review called in question of the fact of all the adds, but you gave it to us how you really felt. I LOVE GIANTBOMB!!!! "
Great review Jeff. :D I'm sure I'll end up playing this game with some buddies who own Xboxes.
Posted by ProjektGill

My brother already pre-ordered it, so although it will be at my house, University takes priority, even over Halo. Firefight can wait. BTW I hate how games release on Tuesdays, although there probably is a reason.

Posted by Kowbrainz

Nice. From the way you had talked about this earlier on the bombcast I kinda expected four stars though.

Posted by ValiantGoat

Credible and responsible journalism, well played Mr. Gerstmann.

Posted by Vance_Helsing

Hey Jeff, anything on the disc or in the package that talks about  "Halo: Reach"? I remember them saying that it'll include the beta for that game's multiplayer or something to that effect.

Posted by chililili

Wow everyone bitching about how the page looks? Its mighty sexay I wouldn't mind seeing cool skins with each good game release (no one wants Cooking Mama 2: Revenge of the Mama skins)

Posted by mattysen

So ODST is on par with Wolfinstine (not that I had huge expectations for either)? I don't know anymore, once you leave the first person shooters you can't come back

Posted by JJOR64

I think the game looks solid.  I really enjoyed the campaign in Halo 3 so I will probably enjoy ODST's campaign.

Posted by Tearhead

Wow, I like how you guys use the disclosure to be up-front about the advertising.

Posted by Ben_H

I appreciate the disclosure.

Posted by The_Bumble

I like how you guys handled this. Thank you kind sirs.

Posted by pirate_republic

What's with the disclosure? It makes it seem as if you gave it a 4 when it actually deserves a 3... it's just the way it's worded. Surely you should add "The aforementioned advertising had no influence on the review." or something.

Posted by PapaLazarou

To me 4 means it's good and worth playing but nothing AMAZING.
 
So with everything I've read and seen in mind I believe that and think you guys need to stop moaning. Also I love the look of the page.

Posted by Irishjohn

I'm a little bit disappointed at the length of the campaign.  Still, I'm looking forward to this more than I expected when it was announced.

Posted by JoelTGM

is it just me or is jeffs hair cut off at the top of the page there

Posted by Arjuna

Early review?!  Awesome!  The ads are worth it if we get early reviews.

Edited by Octaslash

This is a good deal if you don't have the map packs. Just think of it as $40 for the expansion and $20 for the maps. 
 
Also, I love the page background, I hope you do this with more reviews.

Posted by Damien

Woah! Was this un-embargoed at midnight or something?

Edited by Kajaah117

Not that it affected the review or anything, but the disclosure is just another reason Giant Bomb is the best site ever. Full transparency and journalistic integrity.
 
@chililili said:

" Wow everyone bitching about how the page looks? Its mighty sexay I wouldn't mind seeing cool skins with each good game release (no one wants Cooking Mama 2: Revenge of the Mama skins) "

Speak for yourself. =P
Posted by teh_pwnzorer

eh shoots aleins and doesn't afraid of anything. 
 
What's the hoopla over these games?  Last time I played a multi-player UT clone, I started laughing hysterically at all the silly bunny hopping and circle strafing around me.  Brings back memories of the Quake III Arena...demo.  I'd never pay a cent for a game like this.  Different strokes for different folks.

Posted by Bartman3010

I gotta say, I've got very little interest in the Halo series. But ODST's storytelling is a little intriguing to me.

Posted by DemonStration

People here are saying, "phew, I'm glad the game got 4 stars, now I can continue trusting Giant Bomb."
 
What if the game genuinely earned 5 stars, regardless of the ads?
 
Or what if Giant Bomb actually wanted to give it 5, but gave it 4 in an attempt to maintain their credibility?
 
The bottom line is that this review score shouldn't be used as evidence that Giant Bomb is a credible site. Instead, listen to things they've said in the past, or the lengths they've gone to to be honest with you. Also, I understand you might not have seen their interview with the Penny Arcade guys (or any other times they might have mentioned this), but they've basically said they're intentionally cherry-picking advertising for things they know they like.

Posted by RedSox8933

I didn't really like Halo 3, but I am interested in the campaign...
 
If I buy it, it will have to be after Brütal Legend, Borderlands, and Modern Warfare 2 come out.

Posted by JeffGoldblum

This feels a little dirty with all the ads on the site, but I trust Jeff of all people when it comes to giving games with ads on the site special treatment.

Posted by Tirrandir

Nothing about this review, because I don't care much about Halo one way or another, but all these people feeling weird about this review ... are you the same people who kept asking where the ads were, and how GiantBomb was going to keep making money so it could continue to be awesome?
 
If so, you guys can't have it both ways.  The site has ads.  Because sites cost MONEY.  I can't believe we're still having these stupid discussions about paid for reviews in this day and age.  It's ridiculous.   
 
Hope the Giant Bomb community will get over this sorta thing so this doesn't happen with every release that's advertised here.

Posted by artofwar420

Hey, I trust Jeff so much that I can see past the ads.

Posted by DanielJW
@DemonStration said:
" People here are saying, "phew, I'm glad the game got 4 stars, now I can continue trusting Giant Bomb."  What if the game genuinely earned 5 stars, regardless of the ads?  Or what if Giant Bomb actually wanted to give it 5, but gave it 4 in an attempt to maintain their credibility?  The bottom line is that this review score shouldn't be used as evidence that Giant Bomb is a credible site. Instead, listen to things they've said in the past, or the lengths they've gone to to be honest with you. Also, I understand you might not have seen their interview with the Penny Arcade guys (or any other times they might have mentioned this), but they've basically said they're intentionally cherry-picking advertising for things they know they like. "
This, good sirs, this.
Edited by Octaslash

 This review is or was an advertisement on giantbomb.com. 
 
Aha! Finally putting on your money hats.

Posted by HT101

Great review and about what I expected.  I know Jeff isn't much of a Halo guy but a 4 from him is probably a 5 from someone else, so it must have impressed him a lot.  I'll watch the QL tomorrow though.

Posted by copycatzen

I just want my comment to be sorrounded with this cool page skin
Posted by whatthegeek

I have trouble taking this review seriously considering the fact that it's encapsulated in a rather large ODST ad.

Posted by bshirk

Hmm...I've been burnt out of Halo for quite some time now, but I might pick it up once it's a budget title. $60 is just too much for not many changes. I'm disappointed that they aren't offering some kind of discount for people who already own all the maps.

Posted by imazombienazi

Great review! But about the ads... Please don't do it again.

Posted by BD_Mr_Bubbles

That disclosure is why i love GB they run ads and still give unbiased reviews good job Jeff

Posted by WrenchNinja

Is this where Giantbomb jumps the shark? 
 
I'M KIDDING.

Posted by whatthegeek

Wait.... why is everyone giving them a free pass because there's a disclosure note at the bottom of the article? They're admitting they took money from MS / Bungie / some ad agency representing MS or Bungie because the FTC demands it. This is a rather favorable review for a game with an extremely short campaign, and yester-year's multiplayer. I really want to think the best of Giant Bomb, especially after the Kane and Lynch debacle that changed Jeff's career path, but seeing a favorable review for a game wrapped in a large ad for that game, on a page re-skinned to match the color scheme of that game kinda makes me a little uneasy. The disclosure doesn't specify, so hopefully someone from GB will - was this a paid review?

Posted by teh_pwnzorer
@whatthegeek:  You should've bought that Giantbomb Ipod app.   They were forced to become corporate shills. :.(
Edited by Zabant
@whattheheek: you dumbass. 

They allowed advertising because THEY wanted to. 
not the FTC.
 
Anyone is allowed to review a game and review it to their standards no matter who they are, they don't need a fucking advertising contract that says it has to be this or that.
 
In my opinion you are rumour generating and shitting all over the top class image of GB and jeff gerstmann and this infuriates me a great deal.
 
In closing, if you don't like it.
Fuck off.
 
(also note that your opinion on a games gameplay being "yester year" does not make it fact, everyone has a right to an opinion and old and shitty to one person could mean time tested and solid to another. Don't talk like your opinion is the only one that matters, ever think that the review is favorable because jeff enjoyed playing the game? *GASP*)
Posted by JackiJinx

I'm much too exhausted to go through this review and completely suck in the facts, but I'm genuinely debating on getting this game. Never owned a single Halo game before. 
 
Also, to add to the needlessly added talk, there's no reason not to trust Jeff's review genuinity.