canuckeh's Halo 3: ODST (Xbox 360) review

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Oh, how Dusty.

 

I could’ve sworn that the appetite for Halo was long ago sated. We already got not one but three very sizable shooters. All of which were very similar (albeit incrementally improving) titles that involve largely the same identical marines-hurting-aliens gameplay. Halo 3 was a sufficient finale, offering more of the same chunky levels, all co-op friendly, a strong online component and neatly closing up the story so that the human race need no longer fear the threat of the strange alien alliance and their giant proposal rings of death. Existing series’ fans already have three games to satisfy their craving for meleeing midgets and popcorn-alien-thingys, so with that in mind, what need does Halo 3: ODST satisfy? Well there’s the obvious need for Microsoft to squeeze every last drop of profit out of the Master Chief’s breast. But with little to no change to the formula, and a very fatal flaw that completely shattered my will to finish more than sixty percent of the campaign, ODST is a game that left me feeling that Bungie wasted their time. And the vide I got was that Bungie felt the same way.

Set prior to Halo 3, this game is about the previously acronymed Orbital Drop Shock Troopers. The role of these troopers is to be the Master Chief, but not quite as Chiefy. They spend their days in a spaceship playing Go Fish and comparing scrotums until aliens randomly invade, wherein they’ll drop onto Earth in their mini pods (for they’re not as manly as the Chief in Halo 2, when he made that drop that was followed by the end credits and players dropping controllers in frustration.) Upon arriving, it is assumed that an ODST is a Bad enough Dude to rescue the pres…I mean beat up a lot of Covenants single-handedly. I don’t think I can quite put the same faith in this defense strategy as the rest of the world seems to be; one-man-armies sound exciting and dramatic in movies but relying on a single officer to stop an entire alien assault? It’s as the Secretary of Defense designed this concept after mistaking Chuck Norris jokes for a potential model of law enforcement.

Between main story segments, you’ll play as “The Rookie”, whom really is the walking archetype of “the first person shooter guy.” He doesn’t talk, think independently or feel emotion, and has exactly as much capability of human behavior as a walking gun turret. Remember the big plot twist in Bioshock? It’s people like Rookie that Bioshock was coldly parodying. Rookie gets a text transmission saying “find out what happened to the friends you have no relational attachment to” and he’s off like the drone he is. It’s kind of funny, actually, how the game pours in rain effects and ominous music in an attempt to make these sequences somber, emotional, like we’re supposed to feel for this Rookiebot’s struggle to follow a computer’s goto statement.

In the Rookie segments, you wander around the streets of New Mombasa, an honest to goodness sandbox city. But the game never justifies the use of an open-ended city over, say, a linear and focuses path; you’re still just following waypoints. So the “open-ended environment” serves only to provide more enemies to fire at you and more dead ends to get lost in. For a second, I was in doubt as to which hated me more. But the game seems to encourage stealth over action; sneaking by the Covenant fools instead of engaging the enemy and thus trying to impersonate Master Chief harder than the Rookie does on the ODST box art. But truly being stealthy is tricky when the enemies are so damned hard to spot with the naked eye, so instead I opted for the strategy of “run like the dickens” during the Rookie levels.

When you reach a waypoint, you’ll find a random object: a gun, a helmet, shoelaces, baseball cards, something. The Rookie seems to have incredible powers of deduction, and will then imagine what happened to his squadmates that very moment. You’ll then be thrust into a linear stage sequence as one of the other ODSTs, who struggle even moreso to be like the Chief. And remember how we all thought the Master Chief was some kind of super badass that never lost his nerve, never felt any emotion aside from unshaken confidence in his ability to win, and only spoke at the most opportune moments to com across as the Ultimate Defender of Earth? These guys, not so much. Even though there are some 6 different members of the squad, they all fit into the exact same character mold; the boisterous army yahoo that is having far too much fun taking the lives of foreign entities. So Halo 3: ODST is the spitting image of the “space marines versus aliens” formula. And granted, Halo popularized that narrow-minded genre of shooter in the first place, but that also means that you can subtract “new and unique storyline, theme or characters” from the list of reasons why one should give a damn about ODST.

In fact, it seems at times that ODST is merely marking checkmarks off a list of things to shop for at the Halo Grocery Store. You’ll ride the Warthog, you’ll ride the tank, you’ll ride the alien ships, you’ll use all the old weapons. In fact there are seemingly only two major differences of note.

-You can’t dual-wield pistols anymore. Only the Master Chief had the motor skills necessary to compute having a separate firearm in each hand.

-You don’t have recharging shields. Instead, you have “stamina” (which functions exactly like recharging shields, but with more hyperventilation involved) and if that is depleted, your character’s finite health bar is next on the docket of meters to be drained. This feature is actually kind of neat in that it makes the player more hesitant to charge into every room as if there is no such thing as an alien invader.

Otherwise, you’re essentially playing as the Master Chief with exposed fingertips. It’s the same recharging health/two weapons at a time/melee and grenade buttons Halo combat, against the same brand of high-pitched midget aliens and their bigger, more menacing counterparts. To be fair, when you’re in a heated battle, you’ll still feel the tension, you’ll still feel the burn melt your nose hairs right off. Amazing how games like Resistance and Killzone 2 try so hard to imitate Halo’s mechanics but fail to capture the thrill of rushing to find another alien charge gun in the middle of a firefight against a fleet of invaders from the Planet of the Apes.

And then there was the fatal flaw. After reaching about halfway through the seventh level I turned my console off so that I could enjoy some drinks with friends and other personal details that have no place in a review. Upon booting my console up, my save automatically loaded me back to the start of the sixth level. “Oh hell no!” I thought, so I went to the mission select screen to start from the seventh level; better to restart one stage than two, I thought. After completing the stage, I returned to the pointless, empty void of The Rookie’s world, where I followed the waypoint all the way back to a helmet I found earlier, which took me to…the very first level! The game had the audacity to restart me at the very beginning! That is the point where I just gave up on trying to finish this damned game.

Even assuming that such a glitch didn’t exist, even assuming that I was able to play through the game and inhale the complete hillbillies-listening-to-Skynyrd-killing-yankee-aliens experience, there is still the matter of the game having only one save point. What if I had a six year old son that suddenly developed an inexplicable fascination for Halo and wanted to start a new game? (Six year old playing a first person shooter? Can you really act like this is not happening? Can you really tell me with a straight face that you haven’t had one curse at you over the mic in an online deathmatch?) For him to start playing would muck up my existing save in a manner that cannot be properly recovered. The Legend of Zelda, released on the NES in 1987 as one of the first games with a battery save, had three separate slots for saving three different games. A 22 year old game has this whole saving business better figured out than a next generation Xbox 360 big budget first person shooter. Come on now. And I know this is a problem in other shooters too, like the Call of Duty games.

Going to multiplayer, the one new addition is called “Firefight.” “Firefight” is but another fancy way of saying “you and some friends in a room against a lot of respawning enemies.” The twist in this mode is that the game randomly generates status changes that can either help or handicap your team. Maybe the enemies will be more elusive of grenades, maybe they’ll have stronger shields, maybe they’ll realize that this mode was a lot more fun when it was called Horde mode in Gears of War 2. I guess it can be fun with a group of friends, but every other shooting game has some variation of this mode anyways.

For some reason, ODST includes a second disc featuring the multiplayer mode for Halo 3, complete with all downloadable content. Now, I adore the Halo 3 multiplayer mode; it truly is the last great first-person deathmatch where you don’t have to spend 50 hours a week grinding “levels” in the name of unlocking some perk to make your aiming sharper or some other annoying yet unbalancing attribute to put me on par with the shooter freaks that pull all-nighters on this stuff. But would it not be a safe assumption to say that everyone that loves the Halo 3 multiplayer mode has Halo 3? In particular, I would wager that the hardcore Halo fanatics that could be the only people possibly interested in this game will have some 98.246% chance of owning Halo 3. As a result, the bundled second disc comes across as a petty attempt to jack the game’s price while avoiding criticism from the media as being an overpriced “expansion pack.”

But label it I will. Halo 3: ODST is indeed just a Halo 3 expansion pack. The gameplay, the characters, the weapons, the vehicles, the enemies, everything about it is ripped from the previous games. Devoted-to-the-point-of-designing-their-own-cosplay-green-armour fans will buy it regardless of what I say, but ODST strikes me as the point where they ought to wonder when enough is enough. As for the more casual fan, save your money and just boot up Halo 3 again.

2 ½ stars

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