Sometimes low expectations are a really good thing..
I´ve played through all of the Halo games at least once and I enjoy them as shooters. But I´m not a huge fan of the universe and I don´t think I´ve played the multiplayer even once. I´ve always managed to get caught up in the hype machine for each game but this time I was kind of unaffected by it. I still decided to pick ODST up and boy did I benefit from my low expectations.
I went in expecting an ok expansion for Halo 3 but before the campaign was over I ended up feeling like this is my favorite Halo game so far.
The story feels very down to earth and personal and that is something I´ve been missing in Halo up until this point. I like the slightly darker tone and both the script and the voiceactors do a superb job of making you feel for whats happening.
You play the game as the silent protaganist "The Rookie". You´re a member of an elite section of the army called Orbital Shock Drop Troopers. You drop in from low orbit into hot warzones to clean up the mess. You´re far from the Master Chief tho and depend more on street to street tactics and medkits to survive.
You can´t dual wield, cant jump as high, dont have regenerating shields, cant hijack tanks and dont instill the fear in your enemies the way MC does.
You still feel pretty strong playing through the game and have a sleek visor that gives you the best looking Nightvision of any game in recent memory. But overall its a more grounded shooter experience that kind of instills a somewhat more military feel rather than a Sci-Fi feel in me when I´m playing.
You drop from orbit into New Mumbasa but on the way down something goes wrong and your squad gets scattered all over the city.
You then spend the majority of the game running around the wartorn streets of New Mumbasa in search of clues where your squadmates are. This might be the strongest new addition to the franshise. The city is open for you to explore and the mood here is quite awesome. You then find pieces of gear from your squadmates that trigger flashback sequences where you get to play as a different person from the ODST team, at a different time after the drop. It all starts going together in a nice way the longer you play and at the end the story is wrapped up in a very good way.
You can also find Dead Space / Bioshock style audiologs scattered around the city that fills in alot of the backstory of whats happened to the city. These logs are told from a very "human" perspective and adds to the very personal feel of the game that you can relate much more compared to previous Halo games.
Presentationwise its still Halo 3. I do feel however that some aspects of the engine has been spruced up a bit for 2009 . Character models look a bit better, lightning is excellent and the game paints huge vistas and cityscapes like never before. Overall it looks and moves great even if it still feels like Halo 3 at its core.
The soundtrack might be one of the best to come out this year. Its been given a darker and more moody twist. Silent pianos, saxes and strings often accompany you in the rain when you´re walking through the streets. Battle music has a unique twist on it and its refreshing to actually not hear the standard Halo theme even once throughout the campaign.
The music really adds alot to this game. More than you would expect from a shooter in general. I really recommend cranking the speakers when youre playing as The Rookie.
The Flashback sequences are very different from each other and offers alot of variation throughout the campaign. They are also filled with cool moments of pure warfare setpieces that I wont spoil here, but they were really impressive.
It constantly feels exciting and the gameplay changes just enough to keep you interested. Its actually one of the most well balanced shooter campaigns I´ve played in a while.
On the disc are also Horde mo...err.. I mean Firefight mode. Its..umm.. Horde mode from Gears of War 2. Developers keep copying stuff from Epic Games masterpiece franshise since it was released and they are really smart for doing it. Its great stuff.
You also get a 2nd disc with the complete Halo 3 multiplayer experience with all of the DLC for it up to this point.
Its a great deal and something that might get people like me to actually try out the multiplayer for once.
Overall Halo 3:ODST is a very welcome addition to the franshise. It´s actually a very balanced and very well thought out addition that ends up feeling way more like a full game rather than a quickly thrown together expansion. Bungie has changed up enough while keeping the core feel instact and the game has a very interesting presentation to it that feels more moody, more thoughtful and more well paced.
I would even go as far as to say that some parts of the presentation are actually very stylish.
Sure its still Halo 3 and there are some things that I would really like to update in the game. But overall its a package that speaks to me as someone who´s kinda slowly lost interest in the insane space opera that Halo has become. They´re taking it back to earth and gives you a more personal role in the war.
The campaign ramps up nicely and the exploratory elements are mixed well with the more actiondriven ones.
I didnt have alot of expectations going in but I played through this game on one day over maybe 2-3 sittings enjoying all of it. They really managed to get me back on the Halo train again by making the game the way they did and in the end I think this is my new favorite Halo game.
Most of you are probably way more into Halo than I am so I´m probably seeing the game from a slightly different perspective and I really like where they put their focus for this one. Grantesd this might not end up being the strongest year ever for first person shooters but this might end up being my favorite when all is said and done at the end up the year.