By Matt Carey
I’m a rare breed amongst Xbox gamers. I’m one of the few that have never played Halo 2. Yes, the game that redefined first-person online shooty type games totally passed me by. I was once a Playstation 2 owner, and as such missed out on much of the original Xbox’s’ delights. I eventually bought one; an intriguing back catalogue and very few interesting Sony games on the horizon floating my boat had much to do with it. So, a trip to GameStation later, and I had in my hand a good few second hand titles and a behemoth of a console to play them on, one of which being Halo. I hated it.
Halo 2 then was never purchased. It wasn’t until Halo 3 came along – and the fact that I knew many of my online buddies would be taking the plunge – that I decided to give the franchise another go. I hated it.
Sure, the co-op mode was fun for about a week, but by the time the title had dropped, I had already been playing a BETA for a certain modern – style warfare game for 2 months, and we all know how that ended up. I’m sure you can guess, when ODST was announced, that my reaction was less than enthusiastic.
Halo ODST is an original story, based during the same timeline as Halo 3, yet featuring an entirely new cast. Yes, that’s right. No Master Chief here I’m afraid, but this makes no difference whatsoever. After the brief opening scene, you find that you are, once again, a voiceless hero. Everyone talks to you, but apparently you are mute, yet again. Your character is a rookie, and whilst it makes sense that the team around you are full of banter as they have been together for a while, and you say absolutely nothing, it is a bit disappointing that when creating the game, Bungie decided to essentially stick to exactly the same formula as previous titles.
But I digress. After picking up your gun, you are placed inside a pod and ejected from the ship, hurtling towards a large vessel orbiting Earth. However, you and your team fly way past the ship, and plummet towards the planet. Things go a bit tits-up, you crash, and the game begins. From here, you gain control of your nameless, faceless rookie, and proceed to go in search of your team.
The narrative has been approached by way of the “not-overused-at-all” flashbacks. As your character reaches the end of a section, he finds, say, a helmet. We flash-back to earlier in the day and find out whose helmet it was and how it came to be embedded in a wall. It progresses in this manner for much of the game, whilst at the same time allowing you to uncover the reason as to what The Covenant is actually doing in New Mombasa.
Approaching the narrative in this way is hideously unoriginal, but it does keep things interesting. After the straight-forward nature of previous Halos, the story line is refreshing (for the series) and interesting. The big stumbling block here though is the ensemble cast. You spend as much time playing as your team mates as you do your rookie, and because of this you do not really grow any kind of attachment to anyone. In a game like Gears of War, aside from your own character, you developed an affection for your squad as they were always there with you. Here though, because for the most part everyone is seperated from one another, there is no way for you to bond with them, the end result being a group of characters you do not care for.
So here comes the part where I talk about the graphics, the game-play and so on. For those that have never played Halo 3, know this. The game looks beautiful. Everything looks superb, the controls are simplistic enough, but never restrictive. The score is truly inspired too. The actual process of running and gunning feels fluid and soon you will be jumping round, strafing the enemy with ease, and scooting around in vehicles. Team-mate AI is questionable on occasions though. For example, one level sees the requirement for jumping in a Warthog, or jeep. There are a few Wraiths around, as well as other enemies. So you hop in the drivers’ seat and proceed to circle the nearest Wraith. Your buddy manning the turret does nothing much. Fine. Swap then, you drive and I will shoot. This would work well if your AI friend would drive where you want to, or need to go. Many times the driver thought it great fun to park in front of said Wraith and hope I could dispose of it before he could charge his cannon. Needless to say, off to the reload screen we went.
For those that have played Halo 3 before, this section is for you. The game plays exactly like Halo 3. The enemies, the guns, the controls, the graphics, the sound……everything is the same. This is disappointing. It has been 2 years since Halo 3 was released, and during that time they have created a glorified expansion pack and have sold it as a new game. Now, in the interest of fairness, I will say that if they had sold it as DLC, then it would cost the gamer a lot of money – 1200 points per level would amount to quite a bit. Regardless of this though, the game is nothing more than that; an expansion. When the likes of Fallout 3 throws out entire alien space ships, new lands, new levels, new characters, new missions, new dialogue and new weapons, it makes you realise that from a story perspective, Bungie aren’t giving us anything here that justifies calling it a new game.
Well, then, how about the multiplayer? Maybe the new experiences come from there. Not really. Yes, there is the obligatory co-op mode, and for some insane reason, an entire extra disc for your regular online modes. Now, in principle, this sounds like ‘a good thing’. Well, it would be, but in this instance it is the multiplayer from Halo 3, with a small number of new maps. So, two years, and Bungie couldn’t be bothered to make a new multi-player experience. Even more weight to the “why isn’t this DLC?” argument.
The only new mode (included on disc 1) is Firefight, and those familiar with Gears Of War 2 will be right at home here. Firefight is a Halo version of Horde mode on steroids. Sure, it plays exactly like Horde – team up with 3 of your buddies and fend off wave after wave of advancing enemies – but the mode takes what has been seen before and cranks it up to eleven. This time, instead of being camped up in a house a la Cod5 zombie mode, or hiding behind sandbags as seen in GoW2, we are given large expansive maps to stroll around. In fact, the maps are big enough to support vehicles too, adding a much needed twist to proceedings.
The map size also adds diversity to the battle, meaning that whilst one minute you may be face to face with multiple enemies, the next, camped up on a balcony, sniping from afar. There really is a sense that you can change your tactics on the fly, and find methods that best suit you and your team.
The cherry on the icing on the cake is the use of the Halo skulls. The skulls, which either help or hinder game-play, are implemented after each level, one at a time. So, whilst the baddies are getting stronger, your abilities are getting more and more hindered. Eventually, along with sharing of health packs and lives, you become so burdened with deficits that only the most teamwork savvy squads will progress further.
From my opening paragraphs I’m sure you were expecting me to proceed to pick the game apart and highlight all its faults. In truth, I think the single player of the game is great fun and engaging. I certainly prefer it over Halo 3’s. Yes, it has its faults, but what game doesn’t? I previously mentioned that co-op was fun on the former title, and as it is exactly the same here, then nothing has changed. The multiplayer is no different, meaning that I’m still wholly indifferent to it. However, the Firefight mode is truly the saving grace here. Without it, the package would smack of laziness of the highest order. With it, it becomes not necessarily an essential purchase, but certainly one that won’t let you down whenever you choose to take the plunge.