Friday, October 16, 2009

Halo 3: ODST

As many of my readers will well know, I regard Halo 3 as the perfect console first person shooter. It certainly isn't my favorite game, but that is merely a matter of preference. It does everything so well, from a fantastic to single player to an easy to use, pick-up-and-play multi-player with incredible depth. I could go on. However, this review is about ODST, the half game built off Halo 3. It, regrettably, is not anywhere near as good.

Halo 3:ODST has 3 main components: the campaign, Firefight mode - a co-op mode similar to Horde, and Halo 3 multiplayer with three new maps. You will get all this and the Reach beta for £35.

The campaign was advertised to be a new way of playing Halo 3. Bungie promised a dark story delivered in a novel way, more tactical game play and gritty characters. However, the campaign is dull, short and, particularly near the end, highly repetitive.

You play the part of "The Rookie" a voiceless, faceless entity who walks around a miserable and absurdly dark (in the literal sense) city finding random clues which transport you back to your other, less likeable but equally flat, squad mates. These missions are very much traditional Halo in style except the combat does not seem as fun.

As you have far less health, you cannot simply charge in a-la Halo. However, instead of making the combat more tactical, it simply makes it less enjoyable. It becomes a grind as you take out one enemy at a time, wait for your energy to recharge then take out the next.

The game often feels like it is having an identity crisis. It wants to try and be a more tactical slow paced shooter, which the combat system doesn't seem to support. The permanent health simply does not work with the auto-save system. If you have an auto save that leaves you with no health, and there are no health kits about (or worse, you have to protect some thing which is driving away from you), you are stuck.

The campaign has numerous other problems, ranging from a broken co-op respawn system in one level to copy-and-paste level design towards the end. However, for me, the fundamental issue is it never gets exciting. Everyone remembers the Covenant level in Halo 3 when you had to take down two scarabs, everyone remembers the Hornet sequence, the tank sequence and everyone remembers the end of the last level driving off the exploding Halo ring in a Warthog. There were loads of points were you heart was racing with the whole experience.

There are no such points in ODST. The only "" moment was when you blow up a bridge, and even that was decidedly underwhelming. This is epitomized by the closing sequence - killing the same old enemies that you have been killing for the past 8 years. You find yourself willing it to be over, despite the campaign coming in at under 8 hours. You have to fight off not 1, not 2, not even 3 but 4 ship loads (and checkpoints aren't guaranteed between any of them) of covenant before you can finally close the damn thing.

The whole game is over mercifully quickly, but with an unacceptably large proportion of your time walking round the city and getting lost as you must navigate with a stupid 3D map in a world which is so dark that even your night vision has trouble in some areas.

The one good thing I can honestly say is, when you are able to turn your night vision off, the sky is absolutely amazing. In fact, a lot of the environments are some of the best in Halo yet. The city environment is one that is underused in Halo universe and the game portrays an excellent sense of post-invasion desolation

So once you have finished the campaign you can play Firefight; a cooperative mode for up to 4 players fighting endless waves of Covenant. You actually have to unlock some of the levels, which is very un-Bungie like. This mode is really good. Not because Bungie have done anything to help themselves, simply because Halo combat is fun. It's OK on your own but the multiplayer is intense. Vehicles, tons of grenades and a wide variety of enemies really set this Horde copy cat apart from Horde et al.

So it is a real shame that it has some really basic problems. Things like no saving/continuing mean that each time you must go from the start. Given that to get a half decent score requires about 1 and a half hours, it is as much an endurance challenge as a skill challenge to get far. There are a few pet wishes I have - Forge, play as Master Chief, choosing weapons and skull settings - which are a nuisannce, and most of them are things that Bungie normally do really well. However, by the far the most annoying (and the thing that Bungie is best at) is Matchmaking. The game gets really good with 2 people and the fun just increases as you add more people. However, I don't know 4 people with ODST, let alone have 4 people who are all on at the same time to play Firefight for a couple of hours. I do not know what was going through Bungies mind when they decided to not include Matchmaking for a mode that so obviously needs it.

Which leaves us with the final element; 3 new maps plus all the maps released via Xbox Live Marketplace since Halo 3s launch. If you don't have any of the maps, this is fantastic, but for me, it is 3 maps that are, well, fine. They are Halo maps, they don't stand out as awesome maps like Avalanche or Sandbox, but they were perfectly enjoyable to play on.

Maybe I am being harsh on this game because it is Halo, if it was any other game, maybe I would be pleased. But given that they want a full price for a game where they already had the engine and have been sitting on for 6 months, I think I am being perfectly fair.

If you own Halo 3 and all the maps, this game is simply not worth £35 or even £25. You (and I) can hope they release the maps and Firefight as DLC for ~£15. If you don't own any of the maps, then you should certainly consider it; but only if you plan to use the maps. If you don't own Halo 3 (*shock*), then get Halo 3 because the campaign really is a lot better and there are plenty of maps to be getting started with there. Bungie, I am disappointed.

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