From Bungie With Love
Right off the bat, let's get one thing straight here. Halo 3: ODST is a Halo game-- more specifically, Halo 3 with some slight tweaks. The core gameplay is all still here, just as strong as it's always been. If you've never been a fan of Halo's style of gameplay however, ODST is not going to change your mind. Some periphery elements have been changed, but at the core there is little different in ODST that will attract new players. That fact might seem elementary, but it's important to remember; while there's a huge segment of the gaming population that loves Halo, there's an equally large portion that can't stand it. ODST will not convince those people who hate Halo, but it will seem like a love letter to people who are already fans, especially those who have dug into the expanded universe outside of the main Halo trilogy.
Outside of the main campaign, there's the Firefight survival mode which plays more or less like the recent Horde mode in Gears of War 2-- four players hole up and try to last as long as possible against unending waves of Covenant troops. ODST's unique twist on the mode is in the skulls; as the game progresses, different skulls turn on, modifying the difficulty by doing things such as doubling Covenant health or increasing the frequency with which they throw grenades. It's an interesting way to keep the onslaught from getting stale, but it's unfortunate that there's no way to play without skulls for those that just want a vanilla survival mode with no complications. The other multiplayer component is the competitive multiplayer, which as been ripped right out of Halo 3- it even earns you achievements for Halo 3. This resides on a separate disc, and includes all of the Halo 3 maps made available as DLC so far in addition to three brand new maps. It's not a bad bonus, but people picking up ODST are likely to already have some or all of these maps, reducing some of the value of the second disc.
ODST is supposedly an expansion to Halo 3, but in practice it feels more like a throwback to the days of Halo: Combat Evolved, a game many hardcore fans still hold up as the best of the bunch. Playing as an ODST presents a few significant differences from how the Master Chief controlled in Halo 3. ODSTs have a few new toys: a night vision mode called VISR, a new scoped SMG, and a scoped silenced pistol that feels awfully familiar to the beloved Halo: CE iteration. Of course, it's not all fun and games as ODSTs can't do anywhere near everything a Spartan could- they can't dual-wield, can't use equipment, can't jump as high, and have a layer of health which requires health packs to heal if you take enough damage. Franchise veterans will notice the similarities to Halo: Combat Evolved right after reading that list- the gameplay has been reverted to mostly what was in Halo: Combat Evolved, with the conceit that an ODST can't perform the insane feats Master Chief was able to do by the end of the trilogy. This is a fantastic change and definitely helps differentiate this expansion from the base game, although it's still recognizably Halo.
And that's really the key-- ODST tries some new things and does them well, but it's still recognizably Halo. No matter what people may have wanted or expected from this product, it's a Halo game, for Halo fans. But for being that, it sure manages to be the best experience possible for Halo enthusiasts. Players will see Covenant Engineers, slated to be in the original Halo but cut due to time constraints. Players will finally get to have that open, explorable urban warfare in the city of New Mombasa first teased in the Halo 2 E3 demonstration. The Office of Naval Intelligence is explored further in depth. Players actually get to experience an orbital drop from first person. Hell, Bungie even brought back the guys who produced the ilovebees ARG to make another radio drama- unlockable through finding audio logs hidden throughout the city.
Halo 3: ODST is just more Halo. For many who want a new direction for the series, that's a bad thing. It is what it is, and what it is is packed full of love, attention and care from the developer, who tailor-made the experience for exactly what longtime fans of the series- the players who would be interested in this game- would want. It's a love letter to fans of the series, but unfortunately, it's not going to make anyone new fall in love.