There's something I need to get off my chest, simply because I am so thoroughly overjoyed words can hardly describe: the pistol zoom is back in Halo, baby!
For those of you who have been following the epic Halo franchise since the early days in 2001, you probably remember a pretty awesome pistol zoom that allowed for some mighty accurate and powerful head-shots. Most fans will rejoice at this news I would imagine, and run out and pick up Halo 3: ODST. But if you just hang on a minute I'll put it in a context. Halo 3, although being a pretty great game, certainly had its flaws. While being nice and polished enough, it took away from the fun in some pretty distinct areas and stepped on some fans' toes in the process. In true Bungie style however, Halo 3: ODST feels like they’re trying to make up for something, and maybe, just maybe, they have spent a few years listening to feedback and refining their development.
ODST’s campaign feels like a totally new game. It’s still running on the Halo 3 engine but the changes that have been made to the UI, and the totally new ‘heroes’ you play really make a difference. ODST is set prior to Halo 3, and has you experience the Halo universe through the eyes of an ‘Orbital Drop Shock Trooper’. You are dropped in over New Mombasa, after the Covenant invades, and your task is to find out the reason for the invasion. This gives players a new look into the war against the Covenant, from a very different perspective. You are now much more a part of the ODST team, unlike in the previous titles where you were largely a one man army (and a serious legend).
You play the game as multiple characters at different points, but the primary protagonist is known as "The Rookie". He is the strong silent type, despite all the other characters being well fleshed out and acted. The Rookie did not have a very good start, as he was knocked unconscious from his drop and then wakes up six hours later. As he moves through the levels he discover items that send you into flashback missions as the other characters to find out what happened within that lost time period. Keep in mind you are not the Master Chief this time, so your character is not a super soldier.
Much like with Halo 3, the campaign unfortunately isn’t as long as we would like, but the story and the epic soundtrack accompanying it makes for a very immersive experience. In this respect, Bungie have hit the nail on the head. Though for people wanting something all new, they will be disappointed, after all the game is still set in the Halo universe and certain expectations and rules do apply.
The overhauled HUD also plays in perfectly with this new campaign, including a new tactical overlay which you can activate by hitting X; an ability of the ‘Orbital Drop Shock Troopers’ that allows you to easily identify friends from foe, as everything is surrounded by a coloured outline. This replaces your torch in dark areas and works very well, however does come with a loss of view distance meaning it isn’t always going to be perfect, and it does require the player to choose between this and standard sight. This option though puts a whole new look to the environment, and is a pretty cool new aspect of the game.
Included is four-player co-op, with ODST perfectly suited to this play style with the maps having various vantage points and approaches. This contrasts the play style of Halo 3, which was far more linear. Don’t get me wrong though, progression is still very much point to point. Speaking of progression, the gripes with the checkpoints from Halo 3 are still present here. Why Bungie couldn’t iron this out is beyond me, but occasionally a section of the game will go a long time without a checkpoint, which can really still frustrate the player. Having just hammered your way through some heavy enemies, it’d be nice to know that you had a checkpoint waiting, but they seem to be pretty inconsistent, sometimes appearing and other times not, even in the same area.
ODST also includes a pretty comprehensive multiplayer disc, which is essentially the multiplayer pulled out of Halo 3, with all the downloadable content and three extra new maps. This will be a bit disappointing for those who already have Halo 3 and its DLC, especially when taking into account the $99 price point for Halo 3: ODST, but Microsoft will be hoping that the new multiplayer mode 'Firefight', and the campaign will be enough to get people playing, and they may well be right.
Firefight allows up to four people to play a game similar to Gears of War’s 'Horde' mode, where endless waves of enemies will assault the players. The cool bit is that as the play progresses, the multiple skulls from Halo 3 will slowly enable themselves, making the play diverse, fun, and highly challenging. This certainly shouldn’t be passed up by any FPS fan, and it will surely be a mode that is enjoyed for months - if not years - to come. The price still acts as a considerable barrier, since in many ways this feels like an expansion for Halo 3, but the game is different enough and brings enough value to the table, particularly for people who are new to Halo, that it shouldn’t be simply shrugged off.
Halo 3: ODST is a well structured addition to the Halo franchise. The firefight multiplayer alone will give it momentum, even when the all-too-short campaign runs out of steam. Bungie have shown that there's life in the franchise yet, although it's likely to still grate on some Halo fans that they have to pay near full price, and for that reason, many newcomers probably just won't bother.