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PLATFORM: Xbox 360
ESRB RATING: M
DEVELOPER:
Bungie
PUBLISHER: Microsoft

A disclaimer of sorts, to let you know where I’m coming from.

I loved the first Halo. Played through the entire campaign day one in a marathon all-nighter in co-op, and many more times with more friends after that. Enjoyed Keith David in Halo 2 and the ridiculous twists the story took, but like many others that was where my interest started siding with the multiplayer. Still, many weekends were devoted to 8-player system link sessions and it never, ever got old. I even read the goddamn Halo novels, and that’s not something I’ve willingly admitted to before. They were fluff but they caught my eye at the library and I blazed through them in a few day’s time, enjoying them enough for the silly crap they are.

And then Halo 3 happened. Ah, Halo 3. I had already ordered the limited edition online but launch day was too tempting, so I ran off to the store and bought a regular copy. Then, the disappointment set in. Not even 4-player co-op could save the game from an incredibly mediocre campaign, and the multiplayer finally became the sole reason to play the game. The campaign wasn’t horrible- there have been many more first person shooters with worse ones, but it was incredibly average. Besides the Scarab boss battles (which got old, fast), can you remember any remarkable moments from the campaign? You probably can’t, simply because there weren’t any. Whereas with a game like Gears of War or Call of Duty 4 you can rattle off a dozen moments of each that stood out, that were remarkable set pieces, the game simply had nothing going for it. Never mind that horrible penultimate level that just went on and on, and an ending that was ripped straight from the first Halo and not executed half as well.

Many, many hours were pumped into multiplayer but the joy of the fast-paced combat soon wore off and we were left with a half a decent game, and one of the more overrated titles of the last few years.

Now here we are two years later with a pseudo-sequel to Halo 3, one that was originally intended to a 3-4 hour DLC pack…and probably should have stayed that way.
    
THE PITCH
 
In this prequel to the events of Halo 3 you play as a faceless, voiceless ODST (Orbital Drop Shock Trooper, for the non-fanboys among you) named simply “The Rookie”. He’s separated from the rest of his crew after a drop gone wrong into the futuristic African city of New Mombasa, which is having a bit of an alien problem. The Rookie spends the whole game walking slowly around a dark, noirish city and finding broken equipment from his friends. Each time he finds a clue he hacks into the City’s cameras and plays through their experiences.

So the main storyline basically amounts to a playable level selection menu where a guy walks around and finds much more exciting moments of gameplay.


CHUDTIP- The enemies are as smart as ever (especially on Legendary) but a good sticky bomb will still take care of any of them.


The teammates’ levels play a bit like a “best-of” compilations of the Halo experience- you’ve got the sniper level, the warthog level, the tank level, and so on. Each one centers on one style of play and each is woefully inadequate, with none of them giving us anything we haven’t done before in Halo 3. The overbearing plot (complete with the now-requisite love story) fills in a few holes of the time between Halos but only the truly hardcore will care.
 
THE PLAY
 
Bungie made a big deal about how this installment wouldn’t center around Master Chief and would have you playing as a regular ol’ non-superpowered soldier, but this turned out to be bullshit.

Sure, your guy can’t carry two weapons at the same time, but he can still flip over overturned warthogs with a flick of the wrist. He doesn’t have a shield but he has a regenerating stamina bar that protects you just the same, and when it’s gone he’s got a health bar that can only be restored by picking up health packs. There’s a reason that health packs were dropped from the series after the first installment, namely because they’re annoying as hell, especially since the game incessantly beeps at you to remind you that you’ve taken damage until you finally stumble across one.

His helmet has a different HUD and a new vision mode called VISR, which makes everything look somewhat cell shaded and highlights enemies and friendlies in red and green, respectively. It’s crucial for the dark night sections of the game and gives the game a new, fun look.


CHUDTIP- Since it’s basically an amplified night vision view, VISR’s useless on the daylight stages. Pop it on every time you go indoors, though.


But the very concept of the game, with its meandering framing device, is its greatest flaw.

See, the main storyline is so incredibly boring that it kills any pacing the game might have otherwise had. If the game had just been incredible battle after incredible battle you might have had something worth playing through, but every time you’re dragged back into the main thread with The Rookie you’ll feel like taking a nap.

They’ve tried to do some new things with the interface and gameplay but completely bungled them on every step. For example- there’s now an in-game map that lets you check out your location and drop waypoints. It’s somewhat useful during the New Mombasa sections but the majority of the game is as linear as you can get. Instead of objectives popping up on screen you’re forced to click the Back button to read them as they come in, even though they end up being the exact same thing you’re moving to anyways and you never have more than one objective to tackle at a time! To make things even sillier, you can simply hit up or down on the d-pad to place a marker on your screen showing you where to go next. So why are we forced into menus for no reason? All it does is muck up the flow of the game even more.

You’ll yearn for a run button, because the Rookie’s leisurely pace combined with a nearly-empty city means that for the majority of the game you’ll be walking slowly around to get to the next exciting part of the game. They’ve hidden audio diaries around New Mombasa to keep your interest but the unintentionally hysterical little radio plays you hear aren’t really worth your time.

The other big issue is that there’s really nothing new here. This is a full-priced retail game that was intended to be an add-on and it shows, completely. GTA: IV The Lost and the Damned managed to pack in 10-15 hours of new gameplay and multiplayer in a single piece of DLC, so how does Bungie have the balls to charge you full price for a remixed version of a two year-old game, one that doesn’t even give you a single boss battle that’s different from what you’ve seen before? Sure there’s a new enemy (a flying creature that shields any enemy close to it) and a couple of new weapons (that feel just like previous ones), but everything you do in this game you’ve done before in a previous Halo game. It’s even got the audacity to tease you with the promise of piloting one of those Phantoms (the giant alien dropships) and then pulls it away from you- letting your crew members man all the turrets while you grab a pitiful banshee!



CHUDTIP- Expect to see a lot of those damn Phantoms. It’s an alien invasion, after all- and it looks like they only have one model of dropship.


It’s a lackluster campaign that might have been ok as a 10 buck DLC pack, but is woefully inadequate for a real game.

The only other new addition to ODST is the co-op Firefight mode, one that many people have already acknowledged as a ripoff of Gears of War 2‘s Horde mode. In Firefight you fight seemingly unending waves of enemies while you and your buddies share a pool of lives and try to survive as long as you can.

Firefight’s easily the best part of the package. It’s a friends-only affair (four online or two on one console) with no matchmaking allowed for some strange reason, but when you get a match going with people who know what they’re doing they’re doing it’s a helluva lot of fun.



CHUDTIP- To get the big scores in firefight go for all the cool kills. Multi-kills, headshots, sticky grenades, assassinations- they’ll all pump your score up tremendously.


There are 10 levels which are ripped from sections of the game (2 are just night variants) and
it’s a much different mode of play as you all end up trying to figure out where best to repel the alien invaders. Each round also throws a new modifier at you that changes up your tactics- like Black Eye, where the only way to recharge your stamina is to melee an enemy.

It’s a lot of fun and will doubtlessly get the most play from everyone, but is it enough to warrant the price tag?

You’ll notice I haven’t mentioned the second disc of content, which includes Halo 3‘s multiplayer component, and there’s a reason for that. Know why? Cause judging from sales the vast majority of 360 owners have played it before and don’t need it, and the three new exclusive maps seem more like a way of falsely pumping up the value of this set. Sure, the multiplayer’s as fun as ever (I hope you got some Rocket Races in this double XP weekend!) but the Bungie fanatics will already have most everything provided here.
   
THE PRESENTATION

Halo 3 looked barely above Halo 2 when it was released in 2007 and the years have not been kind. There’s been some improvements to the visuals here and there and VISR mode look is interesting, but this is not a great looking game.



CHUDTIP- The little Grunts are most easily taken out with the Magnum. Headshots seems to come easier than anything, and the zoom function means you’ll be popping off their little heads with no trouble at all.


The environments in the city of New Mombasa are barren and cold. Halo‘s always had that oddly sterile clinical look for most of its environments but it’s no more obvious than here. This doesn’t feel like a city that was lived in, it feels like a prefab city that was dropped in a desert.

They’ve gone for a lighter, jazzier sound to the music which as you can expect works wonders in a firefight. The weirdest thing is that it sounds almost exactly like the Resident Evil save room music- you know, those tunes that play that sooth you and lull you into a sense of security. Listen to this and tell me I’m not right! It’s not that the music is bad, it’s just not what you want to be listening to during battle.
  

THE REPLAY
 
The regular campaign will take you around 6-8 hours to beat and you’ll likely not want to play through it again, but if you have a friend that will drag you into it again well there’s your replay value.

Firefight will be the biggest seller here, especially since there’s an achievement to nab for each level that requires a helluva score (200,000 points), and it really can be a ton of fun. But with a crew that knows what they’re doing a match can easily last over an hour, so it’s a serious time investment.



CHUDTIP- You can choose from any of the main characters from the game in multiplayer. Too bad they all look exactly the same and have no personalities! (Cigar-chomping Sgt. Johnson here was only available as a pre-order bonus)

 

And then of course there’s the Halo 3 multiplayer that contains all the map packs released to date and those three new ones. The disc that just screams “We don’t care about you as a customer!”, considering how many people have already bought the map packs and faithfully played them since release.

To ensure that you don’t sell your game back as soon as you beat the game they’ve included the promise of an invitation in the upcoming Halo: Reach beta, but can’t give you a better date for it than 2010.

THE VERDICT

This is a DLC pack that should have cost 20 bucks, one that they stretched out and packaged with a needless extra disc just so they could wrangle another 40 dollars out of you. If you’ve never played Halo 3 before and are interested in the multiplayer this is a good starter set for you but for the vast majority of 360 owners out there that made the franchise so successful in the first place this almost a slap in the face, and a rental at best.
 

6.5 out of 10