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Posted on Nov 3, 2009 in Electronic Games

Halo 3: ODST – Xbox 360 Game Review

By James Pikover

Halo 3: ODST
Microsoft Game Studios. Xbox 360 Game. Bungie. $59.99

Passed Inspection: Great single-player and cooperative play. Excellent experience.

Failed Basic: Overpriced for all but new players or those who haven’t purchased any of the new maps. 

Weapons in Halo have always been rudimentary, but this time have been greatly improved.

Halo is the reason Microsoft succeeded with the Xbox and Xbox 360. Driven by the famed Master Chief, an iron-clad superhuman warrior that never lost, millions of fans bought consoles just for this series. The latest adventure in the Halo universe, Halo 3: ODST, expands on the saga with the best features of the previous titles and some very needed improvements.

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This first-person-shooter puts players in the persona of a team of ODST’s – Orbital Drop Shock Troops, who drop from carriers into enemy territory – mainly as the quiet hero, the Rookie. Four other teammates are playable through the course of the campaign. Each mission as the Rookie requires fighting Covenant, the alien horde attacking Earth, at night and finding clues to where the team went. Each new clue triggers a new level of one of the other four teammates.

Weapons in Halo have always been rudimentary, but this time have been greatly improved. Most of the past weapons return: shotguns, assault rifles, sniper rifles, rocket launchers, and all of the Covenant’s plasma-based weapons. As ODST’s sent on a stealth mission, the team’s standard loadout also includes a silenced pistol and SMG, both new to the Halo series, and both uniquely powerful and deadly. These two are the standard weapons and also weapons of choice.

As the Rookie, players must fight through the destroyed mega-city New Mombasa at night. Because of the limited light, a low-light mode has been added, which maps out all of the level’s surroundings in eyesight. Enemies are outlined in red while walls, cars, and everything else is outlined in a dull yellow. Friendlies are outlined in green. With this low-light vision, stealth gameplay is not only a possibility, but an exciting tactic that is new to Halo. Much of the game supports this.

The pistol is extremely powerful because it provides one-hit kills for headshots on all non-shielded foes. With a pistol handy, a crowd of Covenant – usually several small, easy-to-kill Grunts, shield-carrying Jackals, or fully shielded Brutes – can easily be cut in half. Entire sections of the campaign are devoted to stealth gameplay, and players are rewarded for acting accordingly.

Combat follows the same set of guidelines: day missions have players working with friendlies to reach or achieve an objective, while night missions are played alone in the dark using stealth. All portions of the game are playable cooperatively with up to four players on the same console, online, or both.

Unlike previous Halo titles, adding more players does not significantly change the difficulty, and ODST is not a difficult title; however, an option exists for raising the bar. In addition to the 7–9 hour single player campaign, collectable skulls are hidden in the campaign for players to find and activate. Each skull activates a different setting that makes the players’ situation more difficult, such as: no health recharging; encountering Covenant troops that carry and use more grenades; doubling enemy health; and more. Using these skulls is meant specifically for players who want the ultimate challenge.

ODST also comes with a new cooperative gameplay mode named Firefight, which pits up to four players against wave after wave of Covenant enemies on a selection of variable maps. The game continues for as long as players can play without running out of lives, and the longer the game continues, the more skulls are added to increase the difficulty. Working together and properly managing resources is as important as good shooting, if not more so.

The second disc in the package contains all of Halo 3’s multiplayer functions, including all of the multiplayer maps, the Forge map creation application, and theater to watch saved games and cinematics. Firefight is not available on this disc, and likewise no competitive gameplay is available on the first disc.

For prior Halo 3 players, the second disc can easily be useless. All of the maps on the disc are available on the Xbox 360 online store, and none of the new weapons or functions introduced in ODST are in Halo 3 multiplayer. For new players, or players who haven’t purchased any of the new maps, ODST offers an easy way to save hard disk space by not installing the maps directly on the Xbox 360’s hard drive. For current Halo 3 owners and players, the disc may well be a waste.

Halo 3: ODST is an excellent game. The new campaign is great fun; it offers the best soundtrack we’ve heard on any Halo title to date and properly balanced weapons and enemies to provide the most enjoyable gaming experience. The story is not great, but excellent vocal performances by the actors bring the characters to life. For the full price of $59.99, the game is far from a bargain for anyone not interested in competitive gameplay, or who already owns any of the new maps. Regardless, it is an excellent game that we cannot recommend enough.

ACG Rating: 90% for gameplay, but price considerations knock that down to the low 80s.

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