The lights are on
It's been a while since I've played Halo 3, and I had never touched ODST until recently. Now that I've had the time to play this title - without the residual effects of the smear campaign against its sixty-dollar pricetag plaguing my judgment - for myself, I must say that this game, regardless of its shortcomings in that department, does offer a campaign experience that far exceeds my expectations regardless. It also offers acolytes and new inductees of the Halo series a new, story-driven lens, as seen through the eyes of a person who might as well be called Master Chief's long-lost reject of a love-child.
Designed as some kind of quasi-prelude to Halo 3, you assume the role of the anonymous protagonist known only by the name "Rookie." Supposedly the "best of the best" of Earth's Orbital Drop Shock Troopers, players watch as Rookie is eventually stranded from the rest of his ODST squadmates in the sprawling futuristic city of New Mombasa, Africa. It is in this overrun and deserted place, save for the lingering stench and presence of Covenant forces, that the modest journey of Rookie will take place. Compared to the ventures of Master Chief, the adventures you experience through Rookie don't even hold a match. The true meat comes through the evenly-paced backstories of his squadmates, activated by the clues you find while searching for them in New Mombasa; and yes, there will be blood, huge guns, lot's of Covenant enemies, needler supercombine explosions, and major pwnage inflicted upon you.
In terms of gameplay, the campaign mode is superb, refining the intelligence of the AI while entertaining us: I once heard a grunt yell "Feet don't fail me now!" shortly before wildly fleeing off into the distance. The new health system, using a concoction of regenerating shields, and a health meter - this can be restored entirely with the use of medical packs, scattered throughout the city's stages - puts a very human "face" (forgive my oxymoron) on your protagonist, making you feel vulnerable for the first time in the Halo series, even on Normal difficulty. While this new mechanic may surprise anyone who's familiar with the superhuman abilities of Master Chief, it introduces added meaning and depth to your accomplishments over challenging enemies, namely the Axe-wielding Brute Chieftains and terrifyingly-powerful Hunters. The presence of audio logs is an interesting nod to video gaming's most overused mechanic since context-sensitive button sequences, a quaint addition that thankfully isn't integral to the story's development, although they do enrich one's experience of New Mombasa. Bungie however, avoided the errors of taking itself too seriously, and the payoff is excellent. To note, the driving controls of the Warthog and the Mongoose are still pretty lackluster, and in higher difficulties, will undoubtedly leave you more than a little frustrated, especially on Coastal Highway. However, the Scorpion and all the Covenant vehicles still ride like a dream, so that qualm is assuaded. Then there's that annoying thing that happens when you want to listen to your own music...
Formally, the presentation is a mixed bag. With character renderings that might as well have come from the PS 2, the spectacular, intense, and moody set pieces of New Mombasa (try exploring without your VSIR on and marvel at the art direction) make the unremarkable faces of the characters feel a couple gaming generations out of place. The music, while composed with excellence, also holds little rhythm in its execution, resulting in periods where your character will go wandering around for minutes at a time in complete silence. However, each of the jazzy, ensemble tunes give the epic and classical scores a more provincial feel that speaks to the heart while you are out venturing as Rookie. The campaign, clocking in at a little over ten hours, may leave many a newcomer satisfied, yet yearning for more. This most likely will be sated by the new Firefight mode, which makes facing waves of enemies more than a grind through fodder. In this case, the mixed bag that its presentation offers is left up to personal taste. The same can be said in terms of the multiplayer experience.
Longtime diehards of the Halo experience have complained enough for readers of this review to have even a modest inkling about the controversy over the sixty dollar - now a bargain at about thirty to fourty dollars, which some argued should have been its initial sales price - pricetag this game used to have. With twenty-four maps and a fantastic multiplayer experience, Forge, and a Theater mode, it would only seem fitting. However, the consideration that only three of these maps were new, accompanied with the shortened campaigning experience, cast doubts on the minds of a lot of gamers who felt as though their hard-earned money was spent buying the same material they'd already purchased with a game that might as well have been DLC. This of course, is irrelevant now, as the game's price has lowered. However, while perhaps a tad too high - about fifty dollars would have been the appropriate price range, in my opinion - it is definitely worth the purchase, and, taking the addictiveness of ODST's campaign mode and Firefight mode into consideration, one whose quality certainly surpasses its quantity.
Any problems that I had with ODST are, as has been shown, primarily modest and philosophical in nature. Any admirer of Halo or gamer who's interested in the series will enjoy the chance to take the reigns of the franchise in a new direction, however short-lived. We'll just have to wait and see if the Rookie goes anywhere else in his exploits.
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