The usual hype and fanfare that has surrounded the release of Halo ODST hasn’t been as positive as that of its 2007 predecessor, with much of the attention focused upon the perceived poor value of a game initially planned as DLC. This has been compounded with Microsoft’s decision to bundle in the Halo 3 map packs with copies of ODST, which many have seen as an attempt to compensate for the supposed paltry new content. With this in mind, and although it’s a Halo game bereft of its renowned protagonist and its campaign is little over six hours, Bungie have somehow produced another title well worth the full retail price it demands.
Perhaps the most surprising thing about Halo ODST is that despite all the changes that have been made, it still feels exactly like a Halo game. Gone are the regenerating shields, the dual-wielding of weapons and Master Chief’s grand story-arc , instead replaced with a stamina-health system and an intricate blending of individual tales to form what is so far the most compelling Halo story yet. Controlling as a variety of different ‘Orbital Drop Shock Troopers’, the player is tasked with unite with the others and ultimately investigate the Covenant goings-on around them.
This air of mystery is coupled with a much darker aesthetic than ever seen before in a Halo title, and the influence of film noir and the likes of Blade Runner are plain to see. Sombre jazz riffs accompany the player as they explore the sleek but desolate metropolis, an atmosphere which is heightened even greater when juxtaposed to the game’s many other more vibrant levels. Other environments are entrenched in more familiar territory for the franchise, with both the vast, rocky vistas of Africa and the purple hues of the Covenant providing the setting for the action during different sections of the game.
When assessing the various failures and successes Bethesda had when forging new backdrops, balancing and themes to Fallout 3 with their DLC content, it’s a real testament to Bungie as to how they have managed to take an established game series and create something that still feels somewhat different. Even by using the same engine and acclaimed gameplay mechanics, the small tweaks in the game, such as the weakening of the player’s non-Spartan abilities and the increased intimacy of the story, really work to create a campaign that is both thrilling and fresh.
There is little more that can be said of the quality of ODST’s multiplayer in this review, as it has no standalone multiplayer mode distinct from Halo 3, and unless you’ve been living under a rock, you’ll know all about the acclaimed matchmaking from that game. There is however, the new Firefight mode, a welcome addition that invites players to work together to combat ever-increasing numbers of Covenant forces. It’s great fun and is likely to be a popular choice amongst gamers; it’s almost certain to be continued in future Halo releases, and rightly so.
The game of course is not without its drawbacks. For all its sinister mood, sophisticated narrative and adjusted play tools, it’s impossible not to feel as though ODST is a complement to the main event. The epic climaxes and galaxy-shattering plots of other Halo games are noticeably absent, and the game is certainly shorter and easier than what could normally be expected from a fully-fledged sequel. Furthermore, the friendly AI appears to have learnt no lessons from the past, with the erratic driving and useless shooting skills of the UNSC still present and correct.
Ultimately, for all the diversions and innovations it has, Halo ODST is still absolutely a Halo game. Those who have played and were unconvinced by past Halo titles are sure to remain uninterested in the series, but with ODST Bungie have showcased their versatility as developers and equipped with one of the greatest foundations ever made, have created a game as good as any other sci-fi shooter out there.
Overall Score 8