Halo 3: ODST
Resident techno-geek Guy Corbett gets knocked unconscious and awakes six hours earlier, infinitely impressed by Halo 3…
‘though it lacks the polish and drive of the original three, it has recaptured a bit of that special something the series has been missing for a while…’
The original Halo trilogy is brilliant. It penetrated so deeply into the gaming zeitgeist that it’s sort of taken for granted. Though the gameplay and story of the original might have been puerile ( both could be summarized with the phrase “Shoot the Aliens”) it was also wonderfully pure. As the series progressed, the games became entrenched in gameplay tweaks and a convoluted plot; Halo 3:ODST is the first time developer Bungie has taken it’s series in a genuinely new direction. As a result, though it lacks the polish and drive of the original three, it has recaptured a bit of that special something the series has been missing for a while.
ODST rewinds to the start of Halo 2, when the series’ alien antagonists have stumbled upon Earth. Unlike Halo 2, ODST’s story stays on Earth, where an apparently large contingent of alien troops have been left holding the African city of New Mombasa. You play an ODST, essentially a paratrooper, dropped into the city to help Shoot the Aliens. Of course it all goes wrong. Your character is knocked unconscious and wakes six hours later, separated from his team and stuck in the middle of an alien occupied city.
‘It’s all extremely atmospheric…’
The differences from the main Halo games are startling. New Mombasa, despite it’s brief appearance at the beginning of Halo 2, is a stark contrast with Halo’s usual environments. There’s no bold exploration of alien worlds. This is a human city and it’s been crushed. Humanity is hopelessly out-matched on their own soil and the feeling of futility is apparent throughout the city, with it’s automated systems attempting to serve a population that’s already fled. It’s all extremely atmospheric and the music score goes along way in helping the effect. Halo has never lacked in the audio department, but the sombre melodies accompanying your exploration lend an unusual feeling of desolation. As oppressive as this sounds it’s the fact that your character has no hope of saving the day, only of surviving, which makes ODST compelling.
Adding to this human aspect is the fact that your character is not the super-powered hero of previous games. He is a lot more vulnerable and consequently more caution and tactics are required. Sometimes it goes too far; there is the occasional set piece where the odds are stacked too heavily against you, quickly becoming laborious exercises in dying and reloading. For the most part though combat works just as well as in the main trilogy, which is to say flawlessly.
‘What does help are the characters, who are a refreshing change from the usual ‘silent protagonist’…’
The graphics are as pretty as Halo 3′s, with a little extra polish. Characters’ faces are a bit stiff but this is a minor complaint. Less forgivable is the fact that it’s almost all far too dark. There is a new visor to counter this; activate it and everything of interest becomes highlighted with cartoony outlines. It looks out of place and is of no help when stuck in pitch black corridors with nothing around to be highlighted. It’s a lazy mistake and not what you’d expect from Bungie.
What does help are the characters, who are a refreshing change from the usual ‘silent protagonist’; apparently a characterless protagonist makes a good blank slate for the player to impose their own personality on. Of course this is rarely a good thing for the same reason that muting out lead character’s lines in a movie rarely improve the viewing experience. Except in a Tom Cruise movie (try it… it’s fun). ODST proves how unnecessary this convention is. Each of the Rookie’s team mates have their own personalities and though they aren’t deep (Adam Baldwin and Nathan Fillion are wasted playing crude caricatures of their roles from TV series Firefly), they really do add to the human feel the game is going for. There is, however, one unforgivable section towards the end where, after a few moments of unnatural silence, a fellow survivor says “ah, I get it, you’re the silent type”. No. I’m not. Perhaps Bungie is trying to make a point, which I don’t mind, I just wish they wouldn’t let it detract from a game that is otherwise so much fun.
The final problem with ODST is it’s too expensive for it’s length. It’s a minor point as it can now be picked up second-hand fairly cheaply, but it’s worth bearing in mind that this won’t hold you as long as Halo 3. However, that doesn’t change the fact that, while it lasts, ODST is more Halo brand brilliance. Bungie has experimented, and though some things don’t quite work, it still very enjoyable and, as an indication of the direction they are taking the series in, extremely promising.