Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Halo ODST Review

 Score: 8/10

How can I accurately describe ODST? It's Halo..without the recharging shields, super strength, or amazing jumping ability. Yeah I thought the same thing too. The good news is that it's not all terrible, and does have a few shining moments that everyone can enjoy.

Pros: Firefight is a blast to play, Sneaking around New Mombasa is quite satisfying, familiar Halo combat still present, Superb voicework/soundtrack, Halo Reach Beta Code

Cons: Idiotic friendly AI, Lack of matchmaking, Relatively short Campaign, the cursed "Library" level's influence is present at certain points, lack of personality with the Rookie, Sixty Bucks?

You play as "The Rookie" dropped into New Mombasa 6 hours after the Covenant invasion and post-subspace rupture leaving the city deserted. On your own, you must investigate the city to determine the fate of your team. Each investigation puts you in the shoes of your fellow ODST trooper to relive their experience after drop.
The investigations combined with the audiophiles you find around the city make for a pretty interesting method of story telling, much like that of Bioshock's audio tapes combined with Call of Duty 4's multiple characters. You don't need the audiophiles, but they make for an interesting side story to get a bigger picture of the situation.

The music of ODST is truly a bold statement. The punk rock chords from the previous Halo installments only occur in the memories, as they are replaced in New Mombasa by a sad jazz overtone. It sounds weird as hell, but when you are moving through the city, the music definitely fits. It enhances the experience of being in this ruined city with nobody around and only laser fire to keep you company.

The voicework is another great aspect of the game. Though the Rookie remains silent, about 1/4 of the cast of Firefly are more than happy to do the talking, and damn is it great. Nathan Fillion, Adam Baldwin, and Alan Tudyk provide one liners that truly bring the necessary comedy to the game, while maintaining the drama when its needed. Though it is quite creepy to see video game Fillion flirting with video game Tricia Helfer, the voices they provide do create characters that I care about...more than the main character.

As previously mentioned, this is like Halo without your Master Chief super powers. This can actually make the game much more enjoyable. You find out quickly that an all out offense of jumping in guns blazing will get you killed fairly quickly. Running around New Mombasa you have an option of engaging the enemy patrols directly or sneaking around - an option I love having in any game as it allows the player to approach a situation to their preference. However this is altered once you get into the memories, where it becomes the classic Halo style of running and gunning action.
Health packs make a return. You have a set stamina that acts like a shield, and once that falls you take damage. This makes you think twice before charging in on a group of enemies, which can actually be pretty interesting on the harder difficulties. It almost forces you to stand back and plan your next moves carefully. Gameplay is split between the Campaign and the Firefight modes.

The double-edged sword that is the campaign's co-op mode. If you play the game by yourself, you get a great experience in New Mombasa. Sneaking around the city with the visor on and looking around, you get this incredible sense of loneliness. This truly draws you into the ODST experience.

Then you get into the memories...and start to wish you had some good buddies. The friendly AI is...crap. Utter and complete crap. The enemy AI on the other hand, smart as ever. They will take cover if shot at, regroup if their numbers fall, and even flank on occasion. Your AI will run headfirst into a turret shouting "TAKE COVAH" while they get pummeled into the ground.
This is where the game loses appeal. On the one hand, having four people in the memories is a satisfying and truly fun experience on harder difficulties. However, when traveling around the city that feeling of loneliness disappears as four people overpower the patrols no problem. It's like a co-op game trapped inside of a single player experience.
The campaign runs about 5-8 hours or so depending on how much you explore, but luckily the audio tape story is worth going back to hear.

While the campaign provides entertainment, Firefight is where you will spend most of your time. This game, similar to horde mode from Gears of War, pits you and 3 friends against endless waves of Covenant with certain amount of lives. You survive 7 waves of enemies per round, 3 rounds per set. The trick to it is that "skulls" are turned on every round, giving enemies more health, you less ammo, etc.
The greatest aspect about this, is the fact that the maps differentiate what you can face. Play Crater during the day and you face snipers from the top, but at night they are replaced with engineers that can give enemies Overshields. It's this variance that makes Firefight so fun, no fight will be the same as weapons, strategies, and difficulty will vary from map to map. Oh and having a bonus round after every 3 rounds where grunts run around all over the place tossing plasma nades is always enjoyable.
The unfortunate side of Firefight stems from a..well..."cap". After set 4 all skulls are basically on, in which you play a game called, how long can I last until I mess up or get stuck by a random nade? Though it takes 2 hours to get to set 4, it's likely you will lose interest/appeal after set 4 before commiting suicide over and over to play on a different map.

Overall ODST provides a game that every fan of Halo will ultimately enjoy. It's maintained the same feel of the Halo franchise, while throwing in a few new aspects to further the fun of the game. It's fun, but far from 'Game of the Year' or 60 bucks worth of fun. But hey, sometime in 2010 you get access to Halo: Reach Beta AND you have a disc with all available maps for Halo 3 multiplayer! That's something right? Maybe? With a few fixes, lengthier campaign, and added Matchmaking, this game could have had the potential to truly amaze people. But unfortunately, it's Halo....minus super powers.