Halo 3: ODST Review

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From what I’ve researched, Halo 3: ODST was conceived as a small side project to fill the gap between Halo 3 and Halo: Reach. I got it when it released and I can remember some of the hype beforehand. Halo 3 was a big hit and it brought closure to the trilogy. ODST was somewhat of a departure for the series and, in my opinion, it’s a standout game in the series. It features an open world, new playable characters, and I believe it’s set some time during Halo 2, definitely before the events in Halo 3. It was also released as a standalone game but some consider it to be an expansion to Halo 3. It shipped with two discs. The first containing the campaign and Firefight mode and the other disc was basically Halo 3’s multiplayer. Developed by Bungie and published by Microsoft Game Studios, Halo 3: ODST was released for Xbox 360 in September, 2009. For this review, I played the re-released version which is part of The Master Chief Collection for Xbox One, released in November, 2014. I played through the game solo on an Xbox One X. Jeremy and I teamed up for a co-op playhthrough on a standard Xbox One and just like Halo 3, the split-screen is displayed in the 4:3 aspect ratio. I should also mention that this review was completed before The Master Chief Collection received any Xbox One X enhancements. ODST was not originally part of the collection and when the collection came out, I remember hearing many reports of the games being broken or maybe it was just the multiplayer. I don’t remember having any real problems but then again, I only really care about the campaigns. I think ODST was added to the collection as an apology for whatever was broken at release and it was offered for free to players who played the games in the collection from launch to some time in December of that same year. Whether or not the apology thing is really true, I have no idea, but it’s still nice to have it in the collection. What’s not nice is that the Firefight mode is completely missing from this iteration. I think it’s one of the best parts of this entry and they just completely removed it. Luckily, the original ODST game is backwards compatible on Xbox One so if you want to play Firefight, you need to play the original. With that said, this review will cover the campaign from The Master Chief Collection and the Firefight mode from the original game.

The story is about a squad of Orbital Drop Shock Troopers, abbreviated ODST, also known as “Helljumpers”. They are a special squad of the UNSC Marine Corps that specialize in orbital-dropped shock infantry and special warfare tactics. Throughout most of the campaign you play as a silent character known as “Rookie”. The campaign follows several ODST members including Dutch, Romeo, Mickey, Buck, and Veronica Dare. The opening cut scene shows most of them discussing how to deal with a Covenant ship hovering above the city of New Mombasa with Rookie asleep nearby. They decide to drop onto the enemy ship so all of the members get into their HEV’s and drop through the atmosphere. Dare changes their trajectory to miss the Covenant ship during the drop and Rookie’s pod collides with one of the other pods and then crashes into a building in the city, knocking him unconscious for six hours. He awakens during the night and sets out to find his ODST squad. From what I understand, Halo 2’s advertising emphasized the whole “defend the Earth from the alien invasion” thing with balls to the wall action and in actuality, you only need to defend Earth for one or two missions in the game. I kind of see ODST as Bungie’s way of fulfilling what was advertised. The entire story is basically about how this squad fights Covenant forces in New Mombasa and they are significantly outnumbered all the time. It looks like the city was evacuated, it’s in ruins, and Covenant forces patrol the streets. I can’t say the plot here is bad but the narrative definitely isn’t as in depth as the overarching storyline of the first three games. However, I do enjoy the simple humans versus aliens theme and I do think the whole “defend the Earth” concept is pretty cool. There is this minor romance plot going on involving Buck and Dare but it’s not very interesting in my opinion nor is it fleshed out all that well. The voice acting is alright and gets the job done. There’s actually an ensemble cast of voice talent here including Adam Baldwin, Nolan North, Alan Tudyk, Tricia Helfer, and Nathan Fillion as Buck. If you’re not a fan of the Halo storyline or lore, then I can’t say the plot in ODST will really grab you, but if you enjoy the gameplay, ODST offers the same great Halo action.

Halo 3: ODST includes four difficulty modes – Easy, Normal, Heroic, and Legendary – and for this review, both playthroughs were completed on Legendary. From what I’ve researched, the original game included skulls hidden in a multiplayer map and apparently they could only be found in the Forge mode. In The Master Chief Collection, skulls are already unlocked for each game, including this one. They act as gameplay modifiers that either make the game more challenging, easier, or change other things like rare dialogue heard more often. Most skulls make the game harder. The scoring system is also present here where you go for high scores and can earn medals based on your performance in the campaign. Higher multipliers are automatically applied for playing on higher difficulties and with the more challenging skulls activated. The skulls that make the game easier disable any achievements related to scoring. No skulls were activated for either of our playthroughs.

I mentioned earlier that I think ODST is a standout game in the series and that’s because of the way it’s designed. After Rookie wakes up, he sets out on his journey to find his squad and you must traverse the city of New Mombasa which is open world. After the crash, you need to defeat some enemies and then you acquire a download of the city map and a compass will be displayed at the top of your HUD. You can basically traverse through any parts of the city that are already unlocked. Rookie needs to find beacons which are located in different areas throughout the city. The beacons are actually objects from a battle that happened earlier in the day. Once you find the beacon object, you’ll see a flashback to what happened and play as one of the other squad members within that flashback. Basically, you’re activating missions. Instead of playing through the missions one after the other, New Mombasa acts kind of like a hub world. I guess the idea is that by finding the beacon objects, Rookie pieces together what happened throughout the day in order to find his squad. As you find more beacon objects, more sectors of the city open up. You can place a waypoint on your compass to the beacon you’re supposed to find next at the press of a button and you can also open up your map at any time during gameplay. The map will show enemy placements, beacons, and supply caches, among other things. Hidden throughout the city are terminals that provide you with audio logs. Acquiring specific amounts of audio logs unlocks supply caches scattered throughout the city. They are secured rooms filled with supplies like weapons, ammunition, and even Mongooses. The audio logs actually tell a story about a Kenyan girl during the Battle of Earth and each log provides new information on what happened. I think using New Mombasa as a hub world is a neat idea and works really well here. When traversing the streets as Rookie, it’s always at night and you need to watch out for patrolling enemies. You can engage them, of course, but you can also sneak past them. You’re always outnumbered and it’s basically you alone in a city full of Covenant forces. Until you find your squad, at least.

The ODST members are not Spartans like Master Chief however they can walk, run, jump, crouch, perform melee attacks, and detach turrets from their emplacements. They don’t have shields but do have stamina and after their stamina is depleted, they’ll start losing health. Although, stamina acts like a shield because you don’t drain it by moving around like you would think. Halo 3: ODST can be a challenging game, especially on Legendary, and this is because of the health system. The ODST members can die very quickly and can only restore health from medkits which are found throughout the environments. They also cannot store and use equipment items or dual wield weapons for reasons I don’t understand. Each ODST member is equipped with the Visual Intelligence System, Reconnaissance, abbreviated as VISR. It allows you to see easily in dark areas and at night, enemies are highlighted in red, allies in green, and specific objects like terminals and beacon objects in yellow. It’s much more effective than the flashlight and it’s a neat addition that does make these characters feel unique compared to Master Chief. Adding to the challenging gameplay is the fact that ODST members cannot use equipment items but the enemies can. Brutes will still throw down bubble shields frequently, they’ll even toss flares and power drains your way. As an ODST, while playing on Legendary, the enemies have most of the advantages during combat so you really need to think about how to approach each encounter otherwise you’ll die in a matter of seconds. The Covenant AI is just as intelligent as it was in previous games so you may need to take your time and really evaluate the surrounding area. Using cover is crucial and you’re always engaging enemies in wide open areas, giving you plenty of options when it comes to approaching situations.

In some ways ODST does feel like an expansion to Halo 3, especially since most things are taken directly from that game. All of the vehicles and enemies and most of the weapons are seemingly ripped from Halo 3. There’s two new weapons introduced here – the automag and silenced submachine gun. Both weapons allow you to shoot and zoom simultaneously. The automag is a semi-automatic pistol. The silenced submachine gun looks cool but doesn’t really help you sneak around. You’re not going to be taking enemies out silently, at least not in my experience. Once you fire a weapon in the vicinity of enemies, they all become alerted to your presence. Some areas, especially in the hub world, present opportunities for you to sneak up on enemies and perform a melee attack to kill them. However, this is hardly a stealth game. Unfortunately, no new vehicles were added and some weapons are omitted from this entry like the battle rifle, although it does appear during a cut scene. As for the enemies, I am extremely happy to report that there’s no Flood. You’ll only be fighting the Covenant. Primarily Grunts, Brutes, Jackals, Drones, and Hunters. There’s no new enemies added to the roster however I did notice that some Hunters are fitted with gold-plated armor as opposed to their standard blue armor. I have no idea what this really means since they don’t act any differently. Unfortunately, Elites do not make an appearance which is a bummer because I would have preferred them to the Brutes. On Legendary, the enemies can shoot at you with what feels like pin point accuracy and Jackal Snipers do make a return. Oddly enough, the ones wielding beam rifles cannot kill you instantly with one shot. They’ll do a significant amount of damage but they won’t outright kill you instantly. It’s strange because they can drop Master Chief instantly and his armor comes with a shield. Interesting. I’m not really complaining but it doesn’t make sense if you think about it. The Covenant enemy rankings are prevalent here which basically determines not only their armor color and design but also how much damage they can take. Brutes wear armor that can be destroyed, the tougher ones like the Chieftains wielding gravity hammers are still equipped with an overshield, and several encounters include Brutes with jump packs, allowing them to fly or hover around and jump long distances. None of this is really new if you’ve played Halo 3 however Engineers are introduced here. These are harmless creatures but all enemies within their vicinity will be equipped with an overshield and that basically makes these encounters a lot more challenging. You can kill the Engineers but it is optional. They’re also bullet sponges.

Just like previous games, mission objectives have you going from point A to B with plenty of enemies in between. In ODST, you’re provided more ways of getting from A to B. You’ll navigate the city streets and alleyways, through buildings, and many areas offer multiple paths to a destination. For example, you can approach enemies head-on from the street but their may be building you can enter nearby that allows you to flank them from the side. A lot of the missions seem to involve the ODST’s getting overrun by enemies. With the exception of the hub world, much of the time you’re required to clear an area of enemies before you can proceed. Many of the encounters with enemies can turn into hectic war zones because you’re usually always significantly outnumbered, more Phantoms will arrive to deploy more enemies, or more enemies will simply come pouring in from various locations. Sometimes you’ll have to fend off waves and waves of enemies and there’s a lot of “defend this area” type of scenarios. But because the enemy AI in this series is no joke, that means no encounter will ever play out the same, and the game provides you with a satisfying feeling when successfully managing to defend the city streets from a Covenant onslaught. Several missions involve vehicles and just like the previous games, Marine allies are dumb as shit but are great for diverting attacks away from you and riding with you in vehicles as they shoot at enemies. However, the ODST allies you battle with or meet up with are some of the best AI companions you can have at your side. Unlike Arbiter in Halo 3, they won’t die and magically get resurrected later on. They’re invincible. This is actually really nice considering how challenging the game can be. They’ll engage and kill enemies and basically make your life easier, especially if you end up in a tight spot. There’s a few standout missions like the one where you need to blow up a bridge before moving to an area and failing to defend it because of the overwhelming amount of enemies, forcing you to flee. Another mission has your team stealing a Phantom while you escort it in a Banshee and the end of this mission has you taking down a Scarab. Although, the Scarab sequence isn’t as exciting as the Scarab sequences in Halo 3. And there’s a neat segment where you’re provided with heavy firepower like rocket launchers, turrets, and missile turrets and must defend an area from attacking Phantoms, Banshees, and enemies. It can get pretty intense. Late in the game you need to escort and protect an Engineer which means you and your allies will be equipped with an overshield thanks to being in the Engineer’s vicinity. You’ll even escort it across a highway which is basically a long gauntlet of enemies.

Firefight is a game mode that was introduced in Halo 3: ODST which required you to survive wave upon wave of Covenant forces. For some reason, it was completely eliminated from The Master Chief Collection iteration of ODST and it really pisses me off because it’s an extremely fun mode and I see no reason as to why it was removed. With that said, I played Firefight in the original game. Firefight is really meant for cooperative play and supports up to four players but it can be enjoyed solo. First you need to set things up like your character’s appearance which boils down to choosing a body and helmet, based on the characters in the campaign. Although, if you pre-ordered the game, you received Sergeant Major Johnson as a bonus. And you can unlock additional characters by completing the campaign. You can select the difficulty and mission, which are really maps, you want to play in and the maps are locations ripped from the campaign, some of which are set at night. You can also select some skulls to activate before jumping into a game but other skulls are automatically activated between rounds and sets, and I don’t like that. I don’t like not having control. For example, the Tough Skull is activated from the get-go and makes all enemies more resilient, and within the first set, when you get to round two, the Catch skull is activated which means enemies throw grenades more often. The Black Eye skull is activated during round three which makes it so you can only recharge stamina from melee kills. And that’s it, they automatically activate, you have no say. I understand the skulls are activated to make things more challenging but having control over what skulls you want or don’t want would be nice. Maybe I don’t want to play with skulls. Maybe I just want to engage the Covenant normally. But you don’t have that option. There’s a scoring system in place, similar to the campaign scoring system, with kills granting you points, tougher enemy types grant you more points, the difficulty and skulls increase your multiplier, you’ll earn medals for kill streaks and unique kills, etc. You and your team share a pool of seven lives so I would imagine that if you’re playing with people, communication is key. Covenant enemies arrive in waves and the challenge increases with each progressing wave. After five waves, you move onto the next round. After three rounds you move onto the next set. Apparently, there’s a Bonus Round after each set which provides players a chance to earn extra lives, although I never got this far. You just keep moving through rounds and sets. It goes on forever until you and your team lose all of your lives. It’s basically a mode to see how many points you can acquire and long you can survive. Weapons, ammo, and health pickups are reset in between rounds which is nice because eventually you’ll need all the help you can get. You’ll have to deal with all of the Covenant enemy types seen in the campaign. I noticed red Drones appear which are equipped with shields, sometimes Engineers populate the map providing enemies with an overshield, and sometimes you’ll even have to deal with Wraiths, Banshees, and Ghosts, depending on the map. I was only able to play solo and I would usually lose my final life during round two or three. Firefight is clearly designed with co-op in mind and if you want to play solo like I did, I would suggest turning the difficulty down to Heroic or Normal, otherwise you’ll just get obliterated unless you’re really good of course, which I’m not. Firefight is actually a lot of fun, especially if you enjoy engaging the Covenant enemies. The enemy AI is still top tier, they put up a good fight, and the battles can becomes really hectic and intense. You’ll be scrambling around looking for weapons and ammo dropped from fallen enemies, dodging projectiles, and the mode does offer a great feeling of satisfaction when you manage to survive a tough battle. It also offers a ton of replay value. When you run out of lives, it’s game over, but you can view each player’s stats and medals as well as your total score among other information. Even though the player control over the mode is lackluster, it’s still great fun and is probably a lot more enjoyable if you have buddies to play with.

The audiovisual presentation in ODST is basically on the same level as Halo 3. It looks dated in some areas, animations during cut scenes can look stiff at times, and some textures can appear blurry. However, ODST provides a unique atmosphere, even a film noir like quality when navigating the New Mombasa streets at night. Although, the lighting is what I’ll call “from that time”. Everything seems to have a soft glow to it that I don’t remember seeing in Halo 3, I think the bloom lighting is a little much at times and some areas seem overly bright but this is the case for many games that were out around the time this originally released. The original game looks a noticeably worse than the version in The Master Chief Collection. I noticed more jaggies and I think it runs at thirty frames per second. It’s definitely not sixty which is what The Master Chief Collection games run at. The soundtrack is quite different from what we’ve heard in prior games, yet still manages to capture that Halo feel. When traversing the city streets as Rookie, relaxing tunes play, further emphasizing the game’s film noir aesthetic, and the major tunes heard during other portions are both memorable and fit the theme of the game, making it stand out compared to previous entries. There’s one particular segment where this awesome rock or metal tune plays and it kind of makes you feel badass. While ODST may run on the same engine as Halo 3, it doesn’t always feel the same, and the audiovisual presentation really manages to make this entry feel unique. As for the sound effects, the UNSC weapons still sound weak which is a shame. Allies and foes will shout and speak during combat, some of the dialogue is humorous, when you take a lot of damage you’ll hear your character huffing and puffing, and if you’re playing as any character but Rookie, they’ll actually shout when they’re about to throw a grenade and even reload. They’re much more vocal than Master Chief. There’s actually a lot of neat details in the game including a light drizzle of rain as you navigate city streets, grafitti on walls and buildings, destroyed vehicles and aircraft are littered everywhere and the dead bodies scattered around make it feel as if a major battle took place before you got there. As for the technical aspects, it ran fast and smooth for both playthroughs. During one co-op mission the game just outright refused to respawn one of us after death even if the living player was in an obvious safe zone. Other than that, we didn’t notice any major issues but just like Halo 3, the split screen was not adjusted to support widescreen so it’s displayed in the 4:3 aspect ratio which can make it hard to see things sometimes. I don’t know what it would take to fix that but, in my opinion, they should have taken the time to do it. This collection is also inconsistent since the first two Halo games were remastered and the rest are basically untouched. But I should mention that Halo: Anniversary is just a port of the Xbox 360 version and Halo 2 is the standout due to it being exclusive to this collection as of this review and looks significantly better than any of the other games from what we’ve played so far. I don’t really mind replaying these games but the inconsistency bothers me sometimes and the decision to not fix the split-screen aspect ratio in Halo 3 and ODST is questionable. It’s like the least they could have done. I feel as if The Master Chief Collection was rushed out the door. From what I understand, the multiplayer was broken, they clearly only focused on making significant changes to one game, and they even completely removed Firefight, a mode that came with ODST. And there’s no excuse for that.

I really enjoyed ODST and one of the things that makes this entry so much fun is that there’s no Flood. That fact alone, makes this one of the better Halo games in my opinion. If I had any complaint about ODST it’s that the campaign is too short. I would say it’s about the same length as Halo 3’s campaign. Although, it doesn’t feel slapped together or like some cheap DLC expansion. It has enough going for it to make it standout and feel unique. Sure, there’s not many new weapons or vehicles and I can see the narrative only really appealing to fans of the Halo universe, but ODST is still fun from beginning to end. I would say the missions are in line with most of Halo 3’s missions in that they’re all consistently fun and enjoyable. However, 343’s decision to remove Firefight from The Master Chief Collection iteration of ODST is both questionable and infuriating. This iteration of the game employs 1080p visuals and sixty frames per second and I would have loved to play Firefight with these enhancements. The moment I fired up ODST and launched a Firefight game I immediately noticed the technical downgrade and while it’s still playable, the question will always stick in the back of my head – what the fuck!? Why wasn’t this included? I’m sorry but there’s no excuse. It came with the original game and it’s just not here. I still think this is a great collection if you’re a fan of these campaigns but I seriously question some of the decisions made here.

Ultimately, Halo 3: ODST is a lot of fun and I would recommend it to any fans of the Halo franchise. I thought using the city of New Mombasa as an open world as well as a hub world was a neat concept and the tone and film noir atmosphere of the campaign makes ODST stand out among the other games in the series. If you think the idea of defending Earth from alien forces sounds like an awesome concept, then you should have no issue with ODST because that’s kind of what this entire campaign is about. It’s about a group of soldiers, fighting there way through a Covenant occupied city. I would say the plot really caters to fans of the Halo universe while also providing a simple storyline for those that are just getting into the series or don’t really care at all. If you just enjoy engaging Covenant enemies, ODST is the perfect game for that. As of this review, if you want to play the Firefight mode, sadly you need to play the original game which doesn’t include the enhancements offered in The Master Chief Collection.

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