Sunday, December 20, 2009

Halo 3: ODST

ODST has caught some flack from various sources for charging full price for less than a full product. I can't totally justify speaking either way because I paid twenty dollars less, but I don't see how the game is worth less than others in the series. It might just come from the fact that there's a 3 in the title and the words "expansion pack" were tossed around early on. The game does feel like a side story, developing events that take place at the same time as the second half of Halo 2, and the main multiplayer component is just carried over (along with all the paid downloadable extras) from the previous game. The campaign also is a tad short, but I rarely see that as a negative these days as long as it's a well developed, interesting experience. Plus, the new Firefight mode adds to the game's life quite a bit. I haven't played online because the system I'm using doesn't have a Gold account, but I've played Halo that way before, and I see no reason why one of the most consistently popular games would be any worse now.

So my focus as usual was on the single player. Master Chief isn't around this time, replaced by a squad of Orbital Drop Shock Troopers, elite soldiers on the same side who enter war zones through individual pods that precariously fall to the planet's surface. You spend the most time as the Rookie, a blank slate of a character who wakes up several hours after the mission begins and explores the city by night, either engaging or sneaking past enemy patrols. You can wander around if you like, but the goal is to track down pieces of equipment left behind by your other squad mates, which trigger more traditional Halo levels starring the other characters. I have to say, one of the biggest reasons why I liked the squad idea is that it made it basically a video game version of Firefly, if Mal and company were armored space marines instead of smugglers. The game doesn't even pretend otherwise; Nathan Fillion is the leader, Alan Tudyk is the pilot, and Adam Baldwin is the tough guy. They're joined by video gaming's ubiquitous Nolan North as the sniper and Battlestar Galactica's Tricia Helfer as the erstwhile captain in charge of the mission. Early on they're all separated but they eventually meet up and work together, killings aliens and cracking wise at the same time. The camaraderie of the squad is an enjoyable element, and it make the Rookie's quietness all the more strange. It seems like the radio on his helmet has failed, but when he just ignores direct questions in person it doesn't fit with the game's tone at all.

Despite lacking the scope of other games in the series, taking place entirely within the confines of a single (admittedly huge) city, it doesn't feel lacking in variety. There's the usual mix of vehicle sections, sneaking through corridors, ambushing small groups, and taking on larger scale battles in open areas. Occasionally a section will kick your ass for a few tries, but it's pretty simple and fun to keep moving through the game, especially if you're familiar with the series. They made a big deal about the Troopers not being as tough or strong as Master Chief, but they seem to jump about as high and take the same punishment before dying, and have no trouble flipping over a crashed vehicle if needed. The health system is changed but essentially the same as the first game and for all intents and purposes, this is Halo through and through. The only thing missing is the Flood, which I'm totally fine with. I admire the attempt to mix up the game a bit, but they were never that fun to fight and the nighttime segments take their place rather neatly.

The game looks and sounds about how you'd expect. People complain that the Halo games don't look much better on the 360 than the original Xbox, but I wonder if they're looking at the same thing I am. It's pretty much the same aesthetic, but everything looks nicer, especially with the lighting. There's a new vision mode in the Troopers' helmets that indicate important features in the darkness. I think I ended up using it for about half the game, and it's usually pretty useful without being distracting. A few things in the game will interfere with the signal, and it adds a cool element of making sure you're using it in the right situation. The story is fairly standard for Halo, as in the world seems more interesting than the execution generally allows. There's not a ton going on in the plot, but it does tie the last two games together nicely in the end, and thanks partly to the cast has the most entertaining cut scenes in the series. If you like Halo, and especially if you haven't already played the online to death, it's definitely worth checking out.

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