Naming a game after a made-up acronym for a made-up soldier in a made-up war seems like a bad idea, but that’s exactly where we get the title Halo 3: ODST, which stands for Orbital Drop Something Trooper. I’m not saying that they should have called this Halo 4, because it’s clearly not, but initials don’t really make me want to play a game, ever. The fact that this conversation happened
Girlfriend: “What you playing?”
Me: “The new Halo.”
Girlfriend: “Oh, Halo: ODST?”
is not a testament to its stellar title, but more a warning that my girlfriend, bless her, is actually retaining the ridiculous game nonsense that I’m constantly spewing at her. So, if I could go back in time and suggest a better title? Halo 3: More Halo 3. Here’s my review.
Yep, I played through it, and it’s more Halo. Additional Halo. You’ll shoot aliens. You’ll pick up their guns and shoot more aliens. There will be Warthogs or Warthog-like things to drive. At the climax, you’ll have to race in a Warthog-like thing out of some other thing, because that happens in like every Halo game. That said, because of story-constraints and staying within the boundaries of their fiction, there is no flood, no elites, no Master Chief, no Cortana, and no characters that you’ve ever seen before. There’s also no Halo, which maybe is another reason this game should be named something else.
The story structure of the game allows the developers to refine Halo into smaller, standalone sections that connect to the larger story. For most of the game you play as a faceless, nameless Orbital Drop Shock Trooper who everyone just calls Rookie. I assume that Bungie was trying their darndest to use some of the same tricks they used when creating Master Chief, in an attempt to create another character just as interesting. The difference is that Master Chief was special, Master Chief was the last of the Spartan super soldiers, plus Master Chief talked. He had a voice. By the end of ODST, I felt more like Lassie the Dog than a legendary war hero.
As the Rookie, you spend your time wandering around the mostly destroyed, completely deserted city of New Mombasa, during the Covenant attack on Earth. Despite playing as a character who is barely a character, this is where the game succeeds in giving you something new, something different, but something that at its base is still very much Halo. It’s night time in New Mombasa, the music is jazzy and not so stereotypically Halo, there are no other marines or soldiers, and it’s pretty much lacking the normal run-and-gun you’ve come to expect from Halo. It’s exploration, mixed with stealth, as you try and solve the mystery of your missing team. To put it simply, it’s Halo in a Post-Bioshock world. Things are grimy and war-torn, it’s dark, you don’t know what the fuck is going on most of the time, but you’re looking for clues and finding audio journals to piece everything together.
It’s those clues that activate cinematics, which lead into the flashbacks where you play as your missing teammates, also known as the crew of the Serenity. No, seriously, the voice actors are all the cast of Firefly, except for a chick from Battlestar Galactica and Nolan North, who has a contract to do a voice in every game that comes out for the next five years. It’s in these levels that the game is the Halo we’ve been playing and replaying for so long now, and it excels at that. The gameplay is tight, the action is big, but I couldn’t help but feel that I wasn’t so much having fun as I was remembering that time I had fun playing Halo 1 and 2. More than anything, when I was playing the flashback scenes, I was just hoping for the level to end soon, so that I could get back to the noir-style hub world as the rookie. I just wish the guys at Bungie had the guts to make a game that was all night-time, that was all mystery, and that was not just Halo 3: More Halo 3.
[SPOILER] At the end of the game, after you beat it and sit through the credits, there is an epilogue cutscene where you see a character from the Halo 3 trilogy proper. This was the best directed, best acted cutscene in the game, and in the context of what had come before it, it was little more than a DVD special feature. After watching this cutscene, I became more excited to play Halo than I had been during the entirety of the game… and the game was over. [/END SPOILER]
I think this just illustrates the uphill battle that both Bungie and Microsoft face if they insist on making more Halo games without the characters that caused us all to fall for the franchise to begin with. Maybe the forthcoming Halo: Reach will be really good, and maybe they’ll really be able to create some interesting characters to fight as and aside while we witness the fall of Reach. BUT SPOILER! Kids, it’s a prequel, and it’s called the FALL of Reach, and if you’ve been paying attention, you know that all of those motherfuckers die, minus one most Master of Chiefs. My advice guys? After Reach, stop making Halo games. Not gonna do that? Then just fucking ruin everything and bring back Master Chief, Cortana, Sergeant Johnson, and that fucking Guilty Spark motherfucker. Maybe even give us some HD remakes of Halo 1 and 2, we’d rebuy those again.
Oh, and I didn’t get to play any Firefight, and I know it’s supposed to be real fun, but apparently it’s 1997, and matchmaking no longer comes standard in fucking triple-A game titles. Fuck.
In conclusion, Halo, yeah if you like Halo, you’ll probably like this okay too.