Halo 3: ODST

Chances are most ‘hardcore’ gamers already have a set opinion on the newest Halo game, and potentially with good reason. Halo 3 seemed like such a great fit to the end of the series, and it essentially ended the tale of Master Chief. "Halo 3: ODST," instead of bringing back the series’ iconic Spartan, brings the story back to New Mombasa, the African city that was attacked by Covenant aliens in Halo 2. Rather than changing the story of the trilogy, as the title of the game suggests, you play as an ODST, Orbital Drop Shock Trooper, a.k.a. a Helljumper.

ODSTs are the first soldiers dropped into a combat zone, which is how the game starts off. The main character, the silent Rookie, and the rest of the ODSTs are dropped into New Mombasa to take care of the invading Covenant. The actual gameplay begins six hours after the drop, when the Rookie wakes up from a botched landing. What follows is a journey through an enemy captured city, and flashbacks to the other ODSTs.

The game makes it quite obvious that you’re no longer playing as the Master Chief. The Rookie and the rest of the ODSTs don’t move as fast as the Spartan and they also don’t regenerate health in the same way. Rather than having shields that deplete with damage and regenerate whenever there’s no fighting going on, the soldiers have both stamina and health. Stamina runs out as the player takes damage, turning the screen red with the ODST panting, and can be healed through stopping. When low on stamina, health starts decreasing, and can only be healed with health packs provided by the Superintendent.

The Superintendent, aside from the Covenent, is the only "character" that The Rookie interacts with. It acts as the artificial intelligence for the entire city, and helps to guide the player through the darkened city. The signs pointing in the right direction can be incredibly helpful, especially activation of the new VISR mechanic would only lead to trouble. The VISR is an electronic interface that enhances the ODST’s awareness of his surroundings. It provides an outline of everthing in the city, giving the player helpful clues as to where objectives, weapons, and enemies lie. The only downside is that it also activates a flashlight on the ODST’s helmet, making the Covenant spot the player much easier, especially in the dark.

In "Halo 3: ODST," the Covenant is actually something to be feared, the Brutes are likely to run straight into the ODST after a short standoff, and punching them in the face is no longer a viable answer. This becomes an even bigger issue the first time Hunters, large and powerful alien combatants, show up. They are no longer just speed bumps, they now require strategy to overcome. There are some new Covenant that show up, but fighting them is not advisable, they force you to take an alternate route, or carefully move around them. Simply going in a different direction is also an option, as the entire story can be viewed out of sequence, with the whole of New Mombasa being open to you.

"Halo 3: ODST" adds more than just a whole new way to experience a Halo story. It also offers a new Halo multiplayer option, "Firefight," which is fairly similar to the "Horde" mode of "Gears of War 2." The mode has you fighting off waves and waves of oncoming Covenant forces with up to three other players online. Unfortunately, "Firefight" is limited to two players on a single Xbox 360. It does provide a lot of fun though, even with two players. Two ODSTs trying to take down the Hunters, a herd of suicidal Grunts, a pack of Brutes and a few Wraith tanks is both terrifying and very satisfying. After you defeat one wave, and sometimes even before, a new wave shows up to keep you always moving.

"Firefight" with just wave after wave of enemies would be fun on it’s own, but developer Bungie added it’s own twist and added "Skulls" into the mix. The "Skulls" add special effects to the fight, such as making the Covenant more capable of dodging grenades or more apt to throw them at you. It provides a nice twist to what, otherwise, would be a simple Gears rip-off.

"Halo 3: ODST" also packages a disc with the Halo 3 multplayer, with all downloadable maps and three new ones, which is certainly a nice bonus. The game would have been worth its retail price of $60 otherwise, even if the single-player campaign is a bit short. The game drips of atmosphere in the campaign, and adds a lot of fun to the new multiplayer mode. "Halo 3: ODST" is definitely worth picking up, and keeping the disc around for the Halo Reach multiplayer demo, due out next year.