If you liked Halo 3, you're almost sure to like Halo 3: ODST
Halo 3: ODST is not a full-fledged sequel to Halo 3, nor is it an expansion pack in the true meaning of the word. It comes packing with a decently-sized new campaign, and one new multiplayer mode, called Firefight. On top of that, it comes with Halo 3's complete multiplayer package, including all the downloadable content as of yet released for it. If you liked previous Halo games, you'll probably like this one, and at a reduced price, it's most definitely an attractive package.
Despite carrying a 3 in its title, ODST takes place concurrently with the events of Halo 2. For the first time in the franchise, you won't take on the role of one Spartan John 117. Instead, you crawl into the head of The Rookie, a new member in a squad of Orbital Drop Ship Troopers, soldiers that are deployed with drop pods from a vessel in orbit. Unfortunately, the pods get thrown off course due to some unexpected events in the game's highly cinematic opening, and The Rookie ends up waking up six hours after the drop, in the dark and separated from his teammates.
This is where Halo 3: ODST differs from the previous game. Whereas Halo 3 had a clear-cut mission structure, ODST has you traverse New Mombasa, searching for clues to your partners' whereabouts. The city doesn't hold any interesting secrets, apart from a series of audio fragments to find that colour the fall of the city, but it does add an interesting element of freedom that's pretty much unprecedented here. Bungie made a good call in making The Rookie's trek a nighttime stroll as well, because the atmospheric lighting and shadows make for some great vistas, and it allows for the ability to sneak past enemies, which is cool.
The Rookie can roam freely through New Mombasa, but he is still looking for his teammembers. Reconstructing their fates requires you to find objects that they've left behind, and once you do, a mission starts that's similar in structure to the missions in Halo 3. Instead of The Rookie, you take control of the other dudes, which is a nice opportunity to learn about them and their personalities first-hand. Unfortunately, ODST doesn't really focus on character development (The Rookie doesn't say a single word in the entire game) and the game didn't really succeed in making me care about these personae. The Master Chief trilogy had a pretty engaging narrative, but that can't really be said for this pseudo-expansion. The missions all have their own little anecdote to tell about the fate of the soldiers, but none of it is very interesting, due to the one-dimensional dialogue and characters.
However, not everyone cares for the rather expansive universe of the Halo games. If you took the time to look up some reviews, chances are you're an enthousiast who simply wants to play more Halo. And thankfully, ODST provides that in spades. You are still shooting a lot of Covenant troops in the head, with the classic weaponry, like the Assault Rifle or the Plasma Rifle. There's a new weapon as well, a silenced SMG that comes in handy when you're trying to evade Covenant patrolling the city.
But the big new gameplay feature is the VISR. It allows you to view the world through some kind of night-vision. The Rookie is always running through the shadows, so being able to see where you're going helps, and the VISR also outlines weapons, items and enemies. However, the ODSTs are only humans, whereas Master Chief is not, so they aren't as powerful as he is. There's no dual-wielding, and you can't jump as high, but oddly enough, the ODSTs do run faster when holding a humongous turret than the Master Chief did.
ODST's campaign feels like a return to the classic formula of the first game, Combat Evolved. Most importantly, there's a health bar that depletes when your shields (called “Stamina” in the game) have been taken out. Health does not regenerate, so you need to pick up medpacks to heal up. If you're used to Halo 3's lack of a health bar, coming back to one here can feel a little weird, but it feels like an improvement. Having a bar that does not regenerate helps bring out the fact that the ODSTs aren't as powerful as Spartan 117, and having to hunt for healthpacks feels fun in a bit of a nostalgic way. ODST's campaign turned out pretty great, with some great set-pieces and nice environments. It's a bit lacking on the story side, but if you liked the previous Halo campaigns, you'll like this one.
The other new feature in this package is a new multiplayer mode, called Firefight. If you've played Gears of War 2's Horde Mode, you may have a pretty good idea of what Firefight is, because it is a score-based survival mode that throws waves of increasingly difficult enemy combinations at you. It allows four players to team up and have a great time together, although the matchmaking system is curiously missing here. But hey, to me, playing with friends is superior to playing with strangers anyway, so it's not that big a deal. If you can round up some mates, Firefight may just be the greatest time you've had fighting the Covenant AI so far. Even on Normal, it gets pretty tough after a cycle or two, and communication, effective use of the power weapons and smart vehicle usage are key to surviving. Much like Horde raised Gears 2 to a higher level, Firefight doubles the value of this package, and it's what I'll keep playing long after I've left behind ODST's campaign.
So that's all there is to find on the ODST disc, but there's a second disc in the box that contains “the entire Halo 3 multiplayer experience!” That means that it has all the DLC as of yet released for Halo 3, and three completely new maps, or rather, one new map and two reloaded versions of classic Halo 2 maps. If you were into Halo 3's multiplayer, chances are there's practically nothing new here, but if you're like me and you refused to pay for some new maps to reopen the playlists, (closing them off for people refusing to pay more is Bungie's greatest crime) it comes in handy that it's all in here. If you lost track of Halo 3's multiplayer mode, that's still excellent to this day, this might just be the moment to come back to it.
Halo has always had great music, and that's still the case here. The voice-acting is also quite good, and the graphics are pretty much how you'd expect them to be. The colour palette has been changed drastically though. Halo 3 was quite a colourful game, but here, the atmospheric darkness of New Mombasa renders the city devoid of any colour. The daytime missions also have a distinctly brown look to them, as does the main menu. It's something you may not really like, but ODST still comes out looking and sounding great.
Halo 3: ODST has been put on store shelves at a reduced price, but it is so much more than a simple expansion to Halo 3. It comes with a great new campaign, a really fulfilling new survival mode and the complete multiplayer experience Halo 3 has been lauded for. If you only get Halo games for the competitive multiplayer, there won't be that much new content to find here, but if you enjoy fighting the Covenant, you'll have a good time with Halo 3: ODST. I have no trouble recommending this game.