Halo 3 ODST is a stand alone expansion that gives more depth to the Halo universe and story; I just wanted to get that out there first and foremost. Halo3 ODST is unlike the other Halo games you have played and having a Halo game without the Master Chief in it almost seems like it wouldnt be a Halo at all. Fortunately, Bungie knows what they are doing and manage to pull off a service to the fans and express how Halo isnt just about Master Chief, its also about the conflict between Humans and Covenant.
Halo 3 ODST gives some great back story to the events that happen on New Mombasa before the Covenant took it over for a second time. A new story and a new multiplayer mode should be just enough to tide everyone over until the next Halo game in 2010: Halo Reach.
Halo 3 ODST tells the story of the events that happen between Halo 2 and Halo 3 in New Mombasa. The year is 2552 (the same year Halo 2 takes place) and the Covenant is searching for something under the city of Kenyan in New Mombasa. Due to the takeover of the city, ODSTs are sent in to retake the city and find out what is going on. During their Helljump to Earth, something happens and the 6 man team is thrown off course and split up. You crash and emerge from your Drop Pod and are alone in a desolate empty city.
You are alone and are in search of your missing squad mates after your awakening. When you arrive in Kenyan, you emerge 6 hours later than the other ODSTs and are searching for clues to their whereabouts. As you find clues you will be thrust into a flashback video of what that character went through and you play that whole scene.
The ODST (Orbital Drop Shock Troopers) are a special branch of the United Nations Space Command (USNC) and is the equivalent to SWAT, but are called upon when needed for intense front line battles. ODSTs have been given the nickname of Helljumpers due to being sent to battles from space in Drop Pods that send them plummeting straight into the battlefield.
You are no longer the Master Chief, so the gameplay has changed in some ways to reflect your mortality. Firstly, there is no more dual wielding which can take some time to get used to if youve been playing a lot of Halo 3. Also gone is the ability to use equipment like Bubble Shields and Gravity Lifts. While this doesnt seem like a huge loss, it would have been a major asset in Firefight Mode; but more on that later.
Also, because you are an ODST soldier, you dont have the Chiefs Mjolnir Mark VI armor to shield you from weapons and falling. This means you must make use of cover much more often than in the previous Halo titles. It can take some time getting used to not being able to run in guns blazing, but you grasp it quickly that strategy prevails over sheer power. Due to the lack of Spartan armor, you also take fall damage which is a first for the series as well. You eventually train yourself to not jump off high ledges, but it feels very different from the standard Halos where this isnt an issue you even think about.
Because of this lack of superior armor, you do have some minor shields and can take a few hits, but take too many and your shields will deplete. Unlike Spartan armor, your shields dont regenerate, so when you are low on health, you must find health packs scattered throughout the level; this goes for campaign and Firefight. Again, this is a very different mechanic from any Halo game previously and does take some time getting used to the changes.
The other tool at your disposal that the iconic Chief doesnt even possess is the Visual Intelligence System Reconnaissance Class; or VISR for short. This is essence is your night vision, but in addition to just low light sight, you are given an outline of all hostiles in a Red color making them much easier to spot and defeat. At first I was thinking that it was going to be too easy with this on, but at night time, its basically essential to even find Covenant and actually works quite well when trying to find snipers from long range. In addition, your VISR will also have an overlay of the levels map (when you press the Back Button) and you can see your target and location of all your team mates.
Being the mere mortal you are; you also start with standard ODST weapons. The first being the M7S Submachine Gun that us suppressed and in essence; Halo 3 ODSTs Battle Rifle. The other gun you begin with is the M6S Magnum; which is a complete throwback to the amazing pistol from Halo 1. Both guns are a viable solution for any need, but also can be dropped for any weapon you find lying on the ground from downed Covenant.
As mentioned above, as you are playing the Rookie and searching for clues in the desolated city, when you happen upon a clue, you then play that persons story to see what happened. When you are playing as the Rookie in the main city, its a completely different game than when you are playing one of the flashback sequences. Firstly, in the main city, its more or less a hub for all the missions and as you find clues, another section opens up to find the next clue and so on. Unfortunately the hub is very unclimactic and seems much like a delay as I would have much rather play the flashback levels instead; as they were much more exciting and Halo-esque.
While your VISR does have a map and your HUD shows you your next target to get to, the hub in the city can be confusing and you will take a few wrong turns delaying the time before you find your next clue. You can set waypoints to try and help your way, but its not as easy as it should be.
As you find clues to the whereabouts of the rest of your squad, you play their section of the story and what happened to them. These levels are very Halo-like with some vehicle sections and even Scarab killing. I wont give anything away about the story but essentially the hub section felt very drab and dull where the flashbacks were exciting and made me want to find out what happened next.
The only downfall to the campaign was the very short length; it only took us around 5 hours or so to complete on Legendary and there was really only 2 or 3 very difficult sections (I hate you highway level!). The thing to keep in mind though is that this is meant to be an expansion for the Halo 3 story and its not meant to be Halo 4 in any way. At least it is playable co-operatively with up to 4 people for added entertainment.
Because of this shorter length campaign, Bungie has done something great by adding in a new Multiplayer mode called Firefight. Fightfire would be impossible to describe without comparing it to Gears of War 2s Horde Mode; which is in essence, the same idea. Up to 4 ODSTs can play co-operatively while engaging waves and waves of oncoming Covenant forces to gain points. As a team you also collectively share a set number of lives, so you need to be on top of your game, and so does the rest of your squad.
Firefight isnt just based on what level you can get to like Horde mode was, its a little more convoluted, but it makes sense when you wrap your head around it. A Wave is a squad of Covenant (a squad doesnt necessarily mean one drop ship) sent to take you out. The amount of enemies will vary depending on the amount of players and difficulty setting.
After you complete 5 Waves, you have completed a Round; and at the end of a round, health and ammo are replenished and you have a small break to get back into formation. Should you complete 3 Rounds, that means you have finished a Set (15 Waves = 3 Rounds = 1 Set) and when a Set is complete you gain a bonus round. During the Bonus Round you have a time limit to score as many points as possible, and if you beat the par score set, you can gain extra lives.
What makes Firefight interesting is the automatic activation of particular skulls that add difficulty to the waves. As you progress in Firefight, more skulls activate and stack on top of each other and can make things extremely difficult (especially when Black Skull is turned on and you can only regain stamina by meleeing enemies)
Different skulls turn on at different times, some only turn on at the start of Sets and Rounds but you will eventually learn to know whats coming next Wave with enough playtime. While Firefight is very entertaining, the issue I found is that if you are with a very good group, a single Firefight session can easily last more than 2 hours. It makes it a little difficult if you want to just play for a short period but have a really good team; though you could always just play alone and see how well you do.
Due to the very limited ammo for the SMG and Magnum, you will at some point be frantically looking for a Covenant weapon to use while you are getting swarmed. Health is also very sparse and located in the spawn areas, but once someone takes it, it is gone until the end of the Round (not Wave).
The other notable inclusion (or lack there of), is the fact that that is no Matchmaking for Firefight Mode. This means you can only play with people on your friends list or anyone youve recently played with online and invited. While this seems like a downer, I look at it in a different way; I would rather have my friends watching my back since it is co-operative and I know they are going to have a microphone attached for communication, where this isnt always the case for random people. Firefight Mode is about building that perfect group of 4 friends that work well together and can strategize and communicate. Having random people with no microphone with you while trying to play Legendary difficulty would most likely be disastrous.
When you open Halo 3 ODST, you will also notice a second disc, and this disc is the Multiplayer from Halo 3 that weve come to know and love. What makes this special is that its Halo 3 Mulitplayer but also contains every map that has ever been released for it (24 in total). 3 new maps have been included with the release of ODST and one in particular is a remake of Midship form Halo 2. This is an amazing deal for someone that hasnt bought all the map packs previously or has gotten rid of their Halo 3 disc. If you desire a more competitive online mode than Firefight, this is what this disc is for.
There is a collector edition of course and with the Collectors you get in addition to the game is a special Halo 3 ODST branded controller. The benefit to this is that the pricing of the bundle is cheaper than buying another controller separate; that and the controller wont be on sale individually. The controller itself is a green (kind of like Master Chiefs armor) and the battery is black, so there wont be any worries about not being able to find a matching green battery color.
It was disappointing that the Collector Edition had nothing else other than a controller; not even a steel case or a behind the scenes disc, but if you are in need of a new controller, you do save some cash this way and get a special looking controller.
While campaign did have a shorter length than a full bodied game, I take it for what it is meant to be; and expansion, but that in no way means quality has been compromised.
Firefight may not be new and revolutionary, but its very engaging and Im quite enjoying having a co-operative experience with Halo other than the campaign where previously all Halo multiplayer aspects were competitive. Having more coercion with friends and actually strategizing and calling out targets may be the most enjoyment Ive had with a Halo game yet online.
Although it would have been interesting to actually use and maneuver yourself while in the Drop Pods, the story is fleshed out and the flashback levels has the warming welcome from Halo that weve enjoyed many times before. With every copy gaining access to the Halo Reach Multiplayer beta sometime next year, its just another reason to pick this up. You are now a Helljumper, prepare to drop.