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Our Review of ‘Halo 3: ODST’ for Xbox 360

halo3

What's Hot: Firefight
What's Not: The Campaign
Crispy Gamer Says: n/r

Sometime between now and Sept. 25, 2007, the "Halo" nation moved on. It mothballed its Spartan Lasers and took up "Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare's" M16A4.

"Halo 3: ODST" is an effort to lure a legion of online gamers back to the fold.

The ploy won't work. Because where "Call of Duty 4" and "Halo 3" are hypercompetitive -- perfect videogame venues for displaying twitch prowess -- this follow-up is all about teamwork.

Sure, the game comes with a single-player campaign and an extra disc that gives players access to all of "Halo 3's" multiplayer content (including all of those map packs). But, truly, "Halo 3: ODST" is a delivery method for Firefight, a four-player co-op mode that echoes the innovative "Horde" battles in "Gears of War 2."

That makes "Halo 3: ODST" much more interesting to me than the vanilla "Halo 3" multiplayer -- which, despite killer matchmaking based on player performance, can feel fairly punishing. Problem is that "Halo 3: ODST" is extremely late to the party with Firefight. "Gears of War 2," "Left 4 Dead" and even "Call of Duty: World at War" have given us similar ways to slay with friends. Firefight's biggest advantage is that it is the new kid on the block. For a month or so, at least, there will be plenty of people wanting to jump into a match.

Firefight feels different than most other co-op survival games because it plays like "Halo." The fuel rod gun looks impossible to lift, and nearly blocks all peripheral vision on the right. Loaded with TMNT-green cartridges, it hurls instant death wherever it is pointed. Such a gun would be considered overkill in most games. But in "Halo 3: ODST," it feels mandatory, because on certain maps, vehicles drop into the fray. Enemies come rumbling in deadly Brute Choppers -- massive motorbikes that rain fire with heavy fore guns -- or bombard your position from the heavily armored Wraith Tank.

Here is where the "Halo" universe's game of rock, paper, scissors trumps the rest. "Gears of War" may have dared to dream the Lancer Assault Rifle -- a weapon with a chainsaw mounted where the bayonet should be. But still, nobody brings the firepower like Bungie. And, finally, players aren't forced to aim this weaponry at friends.

Players share a pool of lives -- encouraging weak links to play more conservatively. When respawns are exhausted, the last men standing can bring their teammates back into the game by surviving the wave. The familiar voice of the "Halo" announcer dubs the player "hero" in his booming, slightly smarmy way. Few videogame rewards feel this good. To keep the rounds feeling fresh, a handful of "skull" effects slam players in the visor. Some buff enemies, dressing them in armor that deflects bullets or making them more prone to hurl grenades. Others weaken the player, forcing them to connect melee attacks to recharge their stamina.

And there's the benefit of being tardy -- Bungie has been able to observe and iterate on cooperative survival gameplay. "Halo 3: ODST's" Firefight does a fine job of meeting, if not exceeding, what has come before it.

Sadly, Bungie hasn't learned a heck of a lot when it comes to telling a single-player story. Well, it has learned one thing. "Halo 3: ODST's" campaign is mercifully short. The single-player story is easily consumable in a day. There's no disorienting slog through Flood flesh here. Sequences confined to futuristic hallways are kept to a minimum (though the maze of turn-backs and corridors in the Data Hive does overstay its welcome). And there's an admirable bit of experimentation happening.

"Halo 3: ODST" doesn't follow the superhuman Master Chief on a linear, one-man mission, but rather tracks the fates of a handful of soldiers. The plot is told in flashback from the perspective of a downed Rookie looking to hook up with his squad in the abandoned city of New Mombasa. The Rookie's wordless moments happen at night -- as he wanders empty city streets. The score by Martin O'Donnell and Michael Salvatori works the best in these solitary moments -- when delicate piano finds respite from the bombast and guitar solos that blare during big fights.

Not much else in the Rookie's storyline works very well. That's because New Mombasa is a boring town. Walled into sectors by annoying blast doors, and totally homogenous throughout, it's hard to imagine that the place was ever inhabited by human beings. Only the occasional abandoned "Blade Runner" sedan and cliched spray of anti-authoritarian graffiti gives us visual proof that New Mombasa was once lived in. Even the Covenant aren't totally sold on the place. They're not really occupying the place, but are rather delivered by drop ship to slow the Rookie's progress. Really, the only real signs of life come by way of collectible recordings -- another worn-out gaming trope -- that the Rookie discovers and listens to as he explores the nooks and crannies of New Mombasa.

Adam Baldwin from "Firefly" played this dude. Not that you'd know when you're busy lazerin' brutes.

The newbie's ultimate goal remains reuniting with his buddies, and the way this shapes "Halo 3: ODST's" narrative is the best thing about the game. All around the city the Rookie discovers traces of his compatriots. Each finding triggers a flashback that allows the player to retrace a squad member's steps. But actor Nathan Fillion is largely wasted as Buck -- there's little room for character development between missions. We know that Buck is steadfast, quick with a quip and in love with Dare (voiced by Tricia Helfer from "Battlestar Galactica"). And that's the extent of the humanity we get in "Halo 3: ODST's" plot.

Bungie did inject a massive (and wrongheaded) bit of mortality into "Halo 3: ODST" though. The Rookie, Buck, Dutch, Romeo and Mickey aren't gifted with the strength and power of Master Chief. So though they wear similar armor, their health doesn't regenerate. No, these schlubs are slaves to the health pack -- just like dozens of other videogame heroes that came before them. That's one way to make us look forward to Master Chief's triumphant return.

This review is based on a retail copy of the Xbox 360 game provided by the publisher.

COPYRIGHT (C) 2009 CRISPY GAMER. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.
DISTRIBUTED BY TRIBUNE MEDIA SERVICES, INC.

5 Responses »

  1. Have you actually played the game? Or this this just an impression from some PS3 fanboy? Seriously, the campaign leaves some things to be desired, but is not nearly as bad as you say it is. The audio logs are an amazing side-story. Also, playing as an ODST is a breather from the usual run-and-gun style of FPS we've seen done by Bungie before. It was fun (and still is), but something different is nice. The Halo: Reach Beta that comes with the game is also very cool. It uses a completely different game engine. You were right about one thing though: Firefight is awesome.

    • I agree 100% with you, the campaign is shorter than regular halo's but its one of my favorites, I like the idea of how you arent master chief so you have to be more logical about what you do and how you attack. And the audio logs which really are quite interesting are fun to look for after you beat the campaign. The review that they did seems biased, as if they are sick of the halo games. I think the only thing they got right was how cool firefight is.

  2. The only good thing about this game is the firefight and getting all the maps + bit more. Everything else is just the same crap. Is it worth the $60. Hell No! Firefight should be a DLC with a few firefight maps. Bungie should not charge people to buy maps to play certain playlists. Bungie should make an all maps download for a certain money and drop the price on their maps. Halo Reach Beta is cool but is not something people should spend $60 for. The game shouldn't cost more than $30. Charging $60 is being like Apple and charging a premium for no reason.

    MW2 is where everything is right now! They actually update there stuff for the money. Updated graphics, customization and a co-op mode similar to firefight but 2player (which i dont like but the mode seems promising). IW's can also tell a story in a short game with a lot of chaos!

    IW > Bungie!!!

    • yeah you you dont think its worth it because ur a bitch that has no taste in games and you dont play the game at all so shut the fuck up

      • Agree with the DLC comment - bungie just milking the cash cow (yeah, no loyalty in business despite what the marketing trys to put across). Do like the new story line, and can see this will be continued in reach - but still feel it is missing something which makes it more than an expensive epansion. Given the drop in players online I think this is also being felt elsewhere.
        xbtb - get a life, yeah you you you 😮