Halo 3: ODST is a solid addition to the Halo universe, but, at least in my opinion, fails to advance the franchise or add anything substantial that couldn’t have been added via downloadable content. It’s not to say that ODST isn’t without it’s merits, of which there are many, it’s simply that those merits don’t add up to enough to push the game into either a new dedicated user base or a whole new product of it’s own.
ODST is first and foremost a Halo game. You can take away all the super powers, the regenerating health, the duel-wielding guns and massive green death-machine that is the Master Chief, but at it’s core it’s very much the same game. And why shouldn’t it be? Bungie long ago perfected the formula for FPS goodness that has launched the to the top of the multiplayer world. They know how this works and they deal in it every day. The game has solid mechanics, good action, very good (and well voice acted) characters and believe it or not, not a half bad story. Actually, I enjoyed the story of ODST more so than I did Halo 3. Then again, ODST is aimed more at my tastes. I enjoy a more tactical, dark, creeping sort of FPS as opposed to Halo 3’s more “in your face neon” variety. ODST successfully has all the subtlety that Halo 3 lacks.
It’s downfall is that it’s the length of one, perhaps two, of Halo 3’s campaign story levels. And that’s not for a lack of trying on my part either. I finished the story, on Hard, in under 4 hours. I was left with a feeling of brief satisfaction followed by wanting more and being pissed that it simply wasn’t there.
Like nearly all the Halo games, I just wanted more substance. Bungie can create just interesting, exciting worlds, characters and gameplay and yet somehow they’ll all are simply vanilla. There is no FPS more generic and uninteresting than Halo. There is also no more perfectly executed and perfectly balanced experience than Halo. It’s quite the oxymoron. How can something be so loved, played and enjoyed and yet be so completely basic?
Regardless, ODST is a comparable shooter, but simply fails to bring anything to the table in terms of “above and beyond” interest. You’ve played this game before. All story arches and little interesting collectible audio logs with back story aside, you’ve played this game, in spirit, a thousand times. Perhaps that’s what people enjoy, the familiarity? It’s like watching Monday night football when you don’t care about the teams. You just watch because it’s football and you like football. ODST is a FPS, and you like first person shooters.
Bad sports analogies aside, there is enough here to warrant a rental of a borrow from a friend, but hardly enough for $60. You can thank me later for taking one for the team. A 4-5 hour story, no matter how compelling, just doesn’t equal out to full retail price. Especially with nerfed multiplayer.
Speaking of which, Firefight mode is both awesome and completely bullshit all at the same time. Again, it’s not a new concept in terms of game play, it’s more of your standard survival mode fair, but it’s extremely well done and a blast to play. Unfortunately it’s completely and totally defeated by it’s lack of XBL match making. That means that you can’t play it with anyone on XBL, unless of course they’re in your friends list, have the game and want to play at the same time you do. You can’t, by design, just hop online and get a quick game in. The greatest single system for playing video games in our current gaming culture, and a direct partnership with the creators and operators of that system, and Bungie still couldn’t manage to open it up to the masses. That’s a huge party foul. I’m sorry, but when you literally create the game AND system that defines a console, and a title in your flagship franchise doesn’t have adequate multiplayer support, that’s bullshit any way you slice it.
So, ODST is really a strange duck. It has everything that made Halo great, but interesting new characters and a fun single-player survival mode, but it’s also ridiculously short and strangely crippled. To which, almost as an afterthought, Bungie throws in a disk that has all of the previously released Halo 3 multiplayer maps on them, all 2 of them (no, Forge does not count). In what I’d consider extremely insulting, everyone who loves Halo and already has all these maps packs gets a disk that they may as well use as a coaster, where as the rest of us, we get extra maps for a game we don’t really play and, after taking a look at them, I can’t really understand how anyone was tricked into buying them in the first place. Are Halo fans really that thick headed that they’ll shell out $10 a pop for a map pack with 2-3 maps in it? That’s nuts. I’m sorry, maybe it’s just me, but the pricing model of downloadable content is complete and total shit. After paying $60 for a game, you want me to pay another $20 to have the “full experience”? Fuck you pal. My price point is $50, anything over that and it better be pretty damn special, and $30 over that is simply out of the question.
All this boils down to an easy to summarize experience. Halo 3: ODST is great for a rainy weekend when you don’t have anything else to do. It will, however, be completely and totally forgotten after the wave of Modern Warefare 2 insanity that’s about to hit. If you have ODST already, hang on to it, let your friends borrow it, whatever, in a month it won’t matter. If you’re thinking about picking it up, I hope I saved you the trouble. You can thank me later.