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Review: Halo 3: ODST
by Tyson Breen

Ever since the release of Halo on the original Xbox, the Halo series has both set the bar and dominated the realm of console shooters. With the main story being wrapped up in 2007's Halo 3, series developed Bungie decided to created an offshoot to the franchise entitled Halo 3: ODST. Marketed as an extension to the Halo 3 experience, ODST puts the player in control of an Orbital Drop Shock Trooper (ODST) instead of the usual super soldier, Master Chief. When ODST was announced, it was first determined to be a straight up expansion to Halo 3, but through the course of its development, it has evolved into a full on retail package with its own multiplayer modes and campaign. However, the question is whether or not Bungie was once again successful in pleasing their die-hard fan base, or if they should have left the series with the closure it had.

ODST takes place during the events of Halo 2 and the beginning of Halo 3, in the Earth city of New Mombasa. The game kicks off with you taking the role of the rookie of an ODST squadron, barrelling toward the Earth in a pod with the rest of your squadron - hence "Orbital Drop". Upon impact though you are knocked unconscious for 6 hours and awake to find that it is already nightfall and the rest of your squad is nowhere to be found. You then take it upon yourself to find out what happened to the rest of the squad by exploring the open world streets of New Mombasa. By following waypoints marked on your minimap, you find objects such as a helmet and broken sniper rifle. These objects act as the start of a mission and once you find one, you are put into the shoes of one of your squad mates in a flashback scene. These flashbacks uncover story elements to help solve the mystery of what happened while you were asleep. The story in ODST is nothing special, but it is a series highpoint. The constant unravelling of story elements is incentive to keep players entrenched, and the flashback scenarios ensure that the levels are always varied from the last.

Now, stories are all fine and dandy, but what gamers are going to want most out of ODST is the gameplay. As expected, Bungie have not lost their touch. Using the same engine as Halo 3, ODST controls really well, allowing players to quickly pull off satisfying kills against their alien foes. There is no shortage of weapons to do this with either, as all of the weapons from Halo 3 have returned (sans the Battle Rifle) and two new weapons have also been thrown in. One of the weapons is simply the SMG from Halo 3 with a silencer on the end for added stealth. The other weapon that is added to your arsenal is one that will make long-time Halo fans quite pleased; a pistol. This isn't any old pistol however - this pistol resembles the Halo 1 pistol: with a 4x scope and a powerful kick, it delivers devastating head shots that can kill many of the game's enemies in one hit, even on the highest difficulty. The main difference to the rest of the series is, unlike Master Chief, these troopers do not possess recharging shields. Instead, the player's health depletes in two ways. The first is stamina - similar to shields, if you avoid combat for a moment, you stamina will recharge. If you take damage after your stamina is depleted however, you will lose health which can only be replenished with med-kits. ODST's gameplay doesn't stray much off the path of the previous installments,which means that your enjoyment of ODST boils down to whether or not your a fan the series.

ODST is also a gorgeous game. Although it uses the same engine as Halo 3, a lot has been refined. The weapons have a shine that wasn't present before. Also, the character and enemy models look great. The biggest change in the graphics occurs in the environments however. From lush African wildlife settings, to claustrophobic cities,the world of ODST is breathtaking. The night-time environments also allow for the use of one of the games new features, the VISR. Short for Visual Intelligence System Reconnaissance, the VISR allows players to see in the dark. In addition to simple night vision, the VISR allows highlights important things in the environments; enemies in red, teammates in green, and clues in yellow. It's a helpful tool for dark fights, but brightness is increased which turns the screen almost entirely white if the VISR is used during the day.

After completing the campaign, players will want something else to keep them occupied. This is where the game's 'Firefight' mode comes in. Similar to Gears of War 2's Horde mode, or World at War's 'Nazi Zombies', Firefight allows players to team up with 3 of their friends to fight off waves of enemies. With a constant increase of difficulty, Firefight quickly escalates into a frantic grasp for survival. "Skulls", switch on and off during sessions as difficult modifiers. They do things such as give the enemies a huge amount of grenades, or make the only way to regain stamina to melee attack enemies. Players share a pool of lives, which makes teamwork essential. With this focus on teamwork, Bungie decided to eliminate matchmaking from Firefight, meaning that your teammates are limited to those on your friends list. It is an excellent mode that can keep gamers occupied for hours on end, but your enjoyment is unfortunately limited to whether your friends have the game.

Halo 3: ODST also comes packed with a second disc. Dubbed the multiplayer disc, it included the full multiplayer experience of Halo 3, including every downloadable map free of charge. This is one of the best multiplayer shooter games available to Xbox 360 owners, but many gamers will already own it if they were Halo fans to begin with. The extra maps are a good incentive to pick up the multiplayer again if you have been away from Halo for a while. Although it is a great competitive experience, the multiplayer disc feels like a last minute attempt to justify a full price on the package.

If you are a Halo fan, you probably already own ODST or don't need to be sold on it. If you've never experienced a Halo game however, this is the best time to jump into the series. With a fresh new story, fun gameplay and beautiful visuals, Halo 3: ODST is a great single-player game. The addition of the Firefight mode guarantees for a great time with friends, and the inclusion of Halo 3's multiplayer ensures that this game will last you quite a long time. If you're not a fan of Halo, ODST will not change your opinion, but everyone else should have a great time playing this spectacular game.


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- Tyson Breen

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