Game Review: "Halo: ODST"

12/29/2009 Posted by Admin

By our guest blogger, Zach Bryan

"Halo: ODST" is little more than a creative tangent within the greater spectrum of Halo games, involving those nameless. faceless, armored soldiers that, before, just stood around taking bullets while Master Chief decimated hordes of enemies and saved worlds all by himself.

Well, this time the big chief is nowhere to be seen, and we’re stuck instead with a group of more realistic characters--a rag-tag group of ordinary soldiers, replete with corny dialogue, a flaky romance, and a much smaller scale plot, all centered in just one city. And to be honest, it’s the best story-telling the team at Bungie has yet to offer. As for the rest of the game, it’s just another Halo game with the same enemies, same graphics, same mechanics--same nearly everything (except for the music, which takes a new and refreshing direction), despite the claims of creativity. Going into the game, a gamer shouldn’t expect to get his mind blown away.  Rather, they should expect only to have a pleasurable experience with an above-average piece of work created by a team that knows what they’re doing.

What’s different between Master Chief and the ho-hum ODST (Orbital Drop Shock Trooper)? Well, for one, the troopers don’t have shields, only a short amount of stamina (which serves like a shield), and a health bar. This makes your characters seem more human, more mortal. Secondly, they can’t dual wield, so no more John Woo-style dual wielding. Along with this is the starting weapon--a pansy sub-machine gun with a scope, which is supposedly silenced, though my ears can’t attest to that fact. Basically, it looks like it should be a battle rifle, but is in reality, it's far weaker. Other than these things, and minus a few weapons and items and an incredible jump height, the ODST handles much like Master Chief does and a player won’t experience anything really unique in the gameplay. It’s all the same--you just aren’t as awesome.

The game thrusts the player onto Earth, finally letting them experience what’s going on there and giving them the chance to explore what kind of environments it has to offer--a welcome change from the endless alien archaic structures that a player is forced to get used to while playing as Master Chief, though unfortunately not as extensive as I’d like it to be. For the most part, the environment doesn’t extend much beyond the one central city of the game--New Mombasa in Africa, which attempts to be, with some success, a futuristic, post-apocalyptic setting.

Roaming the dark streets at night, one sees no life save for that of their enemies, the Covenant (whom you must fight, obviously).  The only signs of civilization are long-wrecked vehicles and blank-looking buildings, which are all surprisingly mundane looking. The world isn’t awful looking, but it lacks diversity and the architecture is repetitive, extracting any humanness from the scenery--and, as a result, taking away the unsettled sensation that is usually felt within the post-apocalyptic world. Nonetheless, one is still left tense, for you know you're not alone, and likely there is no chance of reinforcements.

As for the storyline, it’s about the closest to literature Bungie is bound to get in their video games. It has somewhat compelling characters, a sense of development, a frame of a story, an okay (but not startling) climax and, perhaps the greatest shock for Halo players everywhere, a feeling of resolution! Basically, you are put in the shoes of a nameless rookie who is more witness than partaker of the events unfolding around you, which revolve around the two main characters, Buck and Dare, a pair of tough-egg characters who act as the leaders of the group and who refuse to acknowledge their longing for each other. Think Han Solo and Princess Leia.

Even though there is a section devoted to these characters, the rest are rather stale, they receive little limelight, and ultimately are inconsequential to the plot. What appeals to me about this plot as opposed to other Halo plots is that it runs a full arc and flows in an interesting way. As you run around the city defeating foes, you come upon items that trigger a flashback, creating a story that reveals to the player the fate of their squadmates, who were separated from him when they dropped onto Earth (he, unlucky fellow that he is, got knocked out for six hours). This not only sets a nice pace, switching from the dark city to the bright outside, but it also makes for good development, leading the player on until all the answers are unveiled at the end. Once the end is reached, there is a sense of satisfaction that the story of the soldiers is complete, and therefore one isn’t left hanging for yet another sequel.

There is another subplot that can be followed in the form of audiofiles littered throughout the city. It’s called the "Story of Sadie" and it involves the action of a girl native to the city who is surviving during a Covenant Invasion. The voice acting is swell and the story also is pretty entertaining, so if you have time to throw away, it worth going around finding these little treats. You also can unlock caches of weapons and vehicles, as a little prize for savoring the game.

A good deal of the feelings produced from the game--the solitude, the tenseness, the mystery--comes directly from the superb music, which is done by the same guys as before, Martin O’Donnel and Michael Salvatori, but the direction they have taken the music is much different. No longer are they rehashing the well-known Gregorian Chants from previous titles, but have instead gone on a subtler note.  They employ a jazzy theme, replete with saxophone, guitar and drums, among other instruments. The music is neither exciting nor relaxing, but instead, it adds an element of mystery--it goads the player to keep going, making him wonder what’s going on. It has a very distinct noirish feel, so much so that one might feel that Humphrey Bogart is underneath the helmet of the rookie. This matches the tone of the story very well, as it is something of a mystery that is being hatched. The music adapts accordingly to the action, and when enemies near, the drums start beating quietly--more than once I’ve been put on edge by the sharp plucking of guitar strings. When at rest, just meandering through the city, often the saxophone comes in smoothly, thus letting the soul breathe a little. Truly, I could play this game just to listen to the music.

The voice acting should be mentioned as well, for not only is it good, but it also has an interesting cast. That is, to say, talent from the cult show and movie, "Firefly" and "Serenity." Buck, the male lead, is voiced by Nathan Fillion, otherwise known as Captain Malcolm Reynolds, and his female counterpart, Dare, is voiced by Tricia Helfer, who you might remember from the new "Battlestar Galactica" show. Along with this duo are Adam Baldwin and Alan Tudyk, who also are part of the "Firefly" cast. To say the least, the voice acting is nothing to scoff at. The talent helps make the characters more believable, and the jokes are well-executed, genuinely making me laugh at parts.

There are a couple multiplayer options. For one, the campaign can be done with two players, though much of the feel and atmosphere is lost as a result. No longer do you feel alone and slightly scared for your life--you now have a bud, and the game turns into something of a drunken rampage through New Mombasa. And if your friends are like mine, the noir-like instrumentation will be far overshadowed by cursing and hooting. When two chums are just sitting around trying to have some fun, the experience of the story and the emotions that go along with the game all dissolve, leaving them with little more than repetitive architecture and some Covenant to kill. Not nearly as fulfilling an experience.

Then, perhaps more befitting for multiplayer, there is the Firefight mode, which is loads of fun. It plays something like Nazi Zombies on "Call of Duty: World at War," only instead of Nazi Zombies, you’re fighting waves of Covenant. The longer you survive, the harder it gets. The extraordinarily hard part is the fact that they all still retain their AI, making them trickier to kill than your everyday zombies. It’s such a simple concept, but it works beautifully, for basically the mode is an excuse to do what first-person shooter games are meant to do--shoot, shoot, and shoot some more.

As for online play, there isn’t any online mode specific to "Halo: ODST." Instead, one is left with an extra disc that has three extra maps for the good ol’ "Halo 3" online multiplayer, which still holds strong and is still popular. And no, you won’t be able to become an "ODST" in the multiplayer, nor will you take any guns specific to "ODST." It’s the exact same online experience that you’ve been playing all these years. Still a fun time, nonetheless.

The verdict? " Halo: ODST" is a solid game that is worth a look. It’s not exactly jaw-dropping, but for a game that started out as a side-project, it’s grown beyond expectation. Really, this is just a testament to the skill that Bungie possesses-they are able to create a good game at the drop of a hat. There are few complaints that can be had, I think, and the ones I’ve seen don’t state the faults within the game, but rather they state that the game simply doesn’t deliver more of what it has--quality.

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  1. Douglas327 said...

    This is a great review. I would like to play this game someday.