There are only a few videogame development houses that are household names in America, Nintendo, Capcom, Sega and Bungie. Each of these studios has a flagship face – representing their respective decade – Mario, Ryu and Ken, Sonic and Master Chief. Bungie's Halo property is the videogame series of the decade. With Halo on the XBOX and its sequels, Bungie has dominated home console market, even out performing other popular multiplatform shooters. For Bungie to move away from Master Chief to a shock trooper in a Halo game is like Nintendo doing a Luigi’s Mansion.
This is the third part of an ongoing series of reviews of the AAA or "it" games of the fall season. First was the lackluster Wolfenstein and then with pleasant, yet gritty Batman Arkham Asylum.
Playing Halo 3 ODST is akin to reading a favorite genre novel of the same author or watching a movie from the same auteur. The changes to the core gameplay are a few discrete changes that make big impact on how the player advances obstacles and climaxes. The first is the added tactical overlay or the VISR to the HUD (heads up display) or the UI (user interface). The X button in Halo 3 dropped equipment, power shields etc, but in ODST it enables the VISR. With the VISR on, there is no need for old Halo radar, as all enemies will display in a red outline (similar to the Detective Mode in Batman AA). The health system also changed, instead of regenerating shields, there is a stamina mode where the screens turn blood shot range when too much damage is taken and decreases the players’ health.
Welcome to Halo in the City
The greatest difference between ODST to previous Halo videogames is the open world hub, the city of New Mombasa. The exploration part of ODST is limited to a deserted, war torn city, with scenes of nameless battles littered throughout the city. Previous Halos had color rich landscapes in far distant locales, but in New Mombasa, the streets are blackened by the bombings of the Covenant. There are four stories being told in ODST, one of them is a noir-war-detective-of-what-happen while the others are passively told. The main story is a simple detective war noir telling of the events following the landing drop of the shock troopers and the events after the awakening of the Rookie.
The story of the faceless Rookie, donning an all black armor suit, equipped with a modified SMG and pistol. The first story is cut scene heavy, as the Rookie you sneak, attack, and around floating mobs in sprinkled in New Mombasa all for finding the rest of your ODST team. Unlike previous Halo games, ODST starts slow, but continues with a traditional climax and shootout ending. It is a simple, yet effective method of travelling point to point in search for clues of your team. In finding these clues, the player opens up a new chapter of the story and play as one of the lost troopers.
Be my Halo Jazz
These vignettes are in a non linear fashion a la movies Pulp Fiction or Amores Perros, where the narrative order does not match timeline of the story. All of the vignettes are action packed. Travelling within the city can be a calm experience, the sounds of jazz music playing in the background. Traversing through the city takes patience as the mobs increase in numbers and packing better weaponry. The choice to sneak or flight or fight is the players' choice. The story progresses with playing the vignettes cultiminating in a final showdown. The action sequences are the meat and potatoes (Ed note-burger and garlic fries in SF) of Halo 3 ODST, and up to par with Killzone 2 and the FEAR 2 white knuckle gameplay.
The passive stories are told by audio logs spread throughout New Mombasa, the scenes of past firefights and the overlapping of events told in Halo 2 and Halo 3. The audio may not be necessarily being passive, as the player has to seek out and find the logs. The possibility of not finding all the logs before reaching the ending is problematic. For one, if the story is not interesting, the player will not seek them out. The issue I ran into was that the story was quirky and bit intriguing, but risking death to continue became a chore rather than being entertaining. When you have find thirty logs, for one continuous story, the time between finding log 15 to 16 maybe an hour or eight hours negates the purpose of creating the story in the first.
Halo 3 ODST is not a traditional sequel, nor does it include Master Chief, but it is a welcome addition to the Bungie and Microsoft family.