Master Chief, of course, is an amazing guy.
He’s everything you want in an iconic lead character for an epic story.
Of course, you can’t expect one guy, no matter how amazing he actually is, to be an entire universe, all on his own.
After three Halo games focused on the Chief, Bungie studios offered up a small detour into another part of the Halo universe, and called it Halo 3: ODST.
For the first time in the Halo series, we saw the Covenant war through the eyes of someone other than the strong silent Chief. This time, we stepped into the boots of a group of non-Spartan, though still thoroughly bad-assed elite soldiers, the Orbital Drop Shock Troopers.
The events of ODST occur concurrently with part of Halo 3, in the African mega-city of New Mombossa. During the campaign, the player steps into the role of several members of the team in turn. The story plays out in a non-linear fashion, that does differ quite a bit from the traditional, strictly linear story arc of the previous Halo games.
While ODST is built around its characters much more than other installments of the franchise, it’s tempting to overstate the importance of this. This is still a Halo game, after all, and when it gets right down to it, Halo games are about action and the central story, not necessarily about the personalities and individual foibles of a group of grunts. The ODSTs do manage to express their individuality much more so than, for example, Noble team in Halo: Reach, but to a large extent they are still somewhat 2-dimensional soldier stereotypes. The noteworthy exception is Buck, the non-com leader of the ODST team. Voiced by actor Nathan Fillion (Firefly, Castle), Buck, despite a thoroughly uninspired name, manages to place some humanity into the story through his romantic entanglement with Captain Veronica Dare (Voiced by Tricia Helfer, of Battlestar Galactica fame). The subplot exists almost entirely in cutscenes, so it can be unobtrusive or skipped altogether, but the voice actors manage to bring it to life, and I would have to call it a success, even if it does occasionally show a little strain.
This is certainly not to say that video games in general – and first person shooters in particular – can’t be character based or thoughtful (think Bioshock), it’s just that in the final analysis, Halo is about a war between humans and aliens, so that’s where the game is going to go.
With that settled, I found ODST to be an extremely pleasant sideline in the world of Halo. I was able to play through the campaign once on normal difficulty, and once more on legendary within a week, which is quick for me. Although ODST uses the same game engine as Halo 3, the level design is refreshingly different, and the “Mombossa Streets” segments, with their film noir-esque jazz soundtrack and beautiful visual design, manage to create a welcome and different perspective on the 26th century of Halo.
Still, the gameplay felt quite familiar, and the ODSTs seemed a little more powerful than one would expect when compared to the super-soldier Spartans we’re all familiar with. It also seemed that normal difficulty was more challenging than I was expecting, while legendary felt rather easy in comparison.
The missions are generally a manageable length, providing a nice challenge without seeming to go on forever, as Halo missions occasionally do. The missions are also generally well-balanced, with a nice mixture of ranged and close-quarters combat, some really fun vehicle sequences, as well as some grand-scale firefights. Nothing in the campaign reveals or drives any major plot points in the main Halo storyline, so it can be played just about any time in the sequence of the games, but I would suggest that the best point in the saga to play ODST is right after finishing Halo 3, where the visual style and game engine are familiar.
ODST is a lot of fun, and I highly recommend it to anyone who enjoys the Halo universe, and is ready to see something outside the Master Chief/Cortana storyline. Its place in the overall Halo canon might actually be closer to some of the excellent novels that have been published, rather than to the earlier games, but you can’t play the novels.
If you’re eagerly awaiting the imminent release of Halo 4, ODST would be a great way to pass the time and get your Halo chops warmed back up. At the time of this writing, Amazon.com has it for under twenty bucks, which is a great deal for a great bit of Halo!