Most of you remember the long winded discussions we’ve had in here:http://bonemane.gamerdna.com/game_post/WLdbYpu/is-the-halo-series-overrated
In my continued interest in the highly debated topic of the quality of the Halo series I delved into ODST (Orbital Drop Shock Troopers), the latest in the series. ODST tells the stories of our first line of defense, those who first go into battle at the sign of any covenant. These guys are little more than regular soldiers. They don't have the gift of the super human abilities that characterize Spartans such as Master Chief. Nor do they have the years of hellish combat training that makes them into battle hardened gods.
Now I've said before that Halo 3 disappointed me tremendously. Before I even get into ODST I'm disappointed. I notice that there's no way for me to sign up for the Reach Beta... one of the reasons I even got ODST (yeah yeah I know I shouldn’t have gotten it so late). Once I get into the game from the first cut scene I'm left in disbelief from the graphics. Are you serious Bungie? Halo 3 had better graphics and the graphics on ODST made me remember a few games from the Playstation 2 era. I thought the Halo 3 characters models were bad...ODST’s cartoonish models had me remembering my childhood and the constant spouting of Molly’s catch word "atrocious" coming from my television as I watched 'Arthur'.
After a meeting of characters similar to a predator movie, you get to see who you'll be playing. You play the rookie, and after getting knocked out of an undeserved nap (you're the new guy and you're seriously taking it easy?) you take up arms and prepare to drop into the fierce battle raging below. It turns out the covenant have decided it was a good time to invade Earth and since videogames are in the phase where they have to be set in Africa just to be made, guess where it’s set? Oh yes its New Mombasa, Africa, a huge highly advanced city that the covenant think would also be perfect as a sheet of glass.
As I free fall into the city in my pod I get no feeling of the oncoming epicness like in previous Halos and this is ongoing for the rest of the game. Uh oh something goes wrong and everyone gets separated. At this point I'm kind of frustrated as I'm thinking they hyped this up to be some sort of team based game and already they've pulled out and made it single player. After a quick semi-tutorial you're on your feet and the disappointment reins terror once again. In the middle of my encounter with my first enemies I noticed that I might as well have the Chief’s super jumping abilities (you don't have the same height as the chief, but still it’s almost up there? I thought they weren't super human?) and worst of all, no ability to dual wield weapons... making most of the weapons useless as they do nothing by themselves and special abilities of weapons don’t matter when you have 10-20 enemies on the screen.
The newest weapon special ability made to accommodate to this new gameplay is the plasma pistol. Now an overcharged shot can temporarily disable vehicles (for a ridiculously short time) and blow apart the brutes armor and shields. The latter is the most useful as you'll be fighting a lot of brutes, but is still useless because your pistol shots run down quick and a sniper rifle is way more effective and works against more enemies than brutes. Now I played through this the first time on legendary, but I have to say, for the most part it’s easier than Halo 3. Halo 3 had me afraid of Beam Rifles, but with ODST I felt with the right strategy I could take them since I could take more shots from them before I died. I contributed this to the fact that some sequels are being made easier than the previous titles nowadays (a different discussion I have saved for another day).
Looking around I thought the heart of a technologically advanced city would be more vibrant, a sight to behold, but it starts off after all the action, at night when the city is a desolate ghost town. Everything is so drab, dark, you encounter enemies every once in awhile, but overall it’s boring and doesn't feel like a game deserving of the "Halo" title. All my venturing around the city leads me to a building. I walk inside and to my dismay it looks as if a great battle took place here that was more exciting than any of my previous skirmishes. There's cobalt colored blood sprayed across the walls, bodies everywhere, I can't help but feel as though this was a mistake by the devs. I mean to witness a battle of this magnitude take place would have been on the same level as Call of Duty. I take note of this and proceed throughout the level. A few surprises later I encounter a helmet seemingly blow off of someone's head and into a wall. I think to myself, “wow I would love to see this happen!!!” An option comes up to inspect this helmet and of course with nowhere else to go I end up doing it.
All of a sudden the level is over and a new level begins after a quick cutscene. It's daytime in the city and I'm in the same area as before. Is this my chance to experience what went on? It seems it is. Battle after battle I progress through the level. After all this I notice that nothing is getting me excited about this game. Every AI that comes to help me gets killed in a matter of seconds which is annoying because I give them things like beam rifles, sniper rifles, etc. Things that with unlimited ammo would make you godlike or at least... helpful? I also noticed something taken away in the transition from Halo 3 to ODST; you can't give those random soldiers things like fuel rod cannons and brute shots. This helped me breeze through the later levels on halo 3, especially the levels where you had to be in a vehicle most of the time. Bungie might not have thought of this change as much, but when we're facing wraiths, banshees, ghosts, especially phantoms and only have a sniper rifle or assault rifle coupled with a fuel rod cannon or brute shot with one shot left we wish for things such as this. Another change taken place is the removal of the battle rifle whose introduction made the regular, inaccurate assault rifle obsolete. Instead we get an assortment of silenced weapons like sub-machine guns which are much weaker than the battle rifle, but now have a much appreciated scope. The problem with these silenced weapons is that once you start shooting...EVERYONE knows where you are, making the silencer a pointless addition except for online competitive play.
Back to the story. The gameplay is boring because it’s the same thing over and over. You get to an area, kill everything, another wave comes, repeat until everyone shooting at you has felt the warm embrace of death. Sure when you first enter the first area that first wave or 20 or so enemies might have gotten your heart pumping, but after you realize that its taking forever for the enemies to stop coming and that this is how its going to be for the rest of the game it spoils it for you. Towards the end of the level you realize that you haven't retraced your steps leading up to the massacre that happened inside that building, but instead have been involved in different battles around the same area. Once again, Halo doesn't fail to disappoint me.
Sadly, even after the end of the game you don't really know what happened in this grisly battle scenes you see during after hours in the city. The rest of the levels are simple retellings of what happened to all the ODST members after they got separated. While I appreciate the whole reverse mystery solving aspect ODST strives for, it’s poorly executed and just can’t hold my interest.
Throughout the levels you'll miss that original halo theme song, but there are one or two songs that ODST has that kicks in whenever they want to (mostly at awkward times). I'd be walking around the city for an hour or two looking for those flashy audio logs (which I have to say are more enticing, have a better story and voice acting than ODST) and all of a sudden I hear a song start up for no reason whatsoever when there was nothing but silence up until then. While the background music doesn't measure up to the original and its epicness, one of them is at least endearing and kind of mellows you out.
The rest of the sounds in the game are the typical things you'd expect in Halo. The voice acting could use some work, but that could also be attributed to horrible dialog and sometimes awkward dialog. If I was a voice actor I wouldn't know how to say some of these lines either. Too many times have I had to question someone's motive for spouting some ridiculous dribble. I'd hate to see what they'd say if I actually had the skull on for rare dialogue. The actions between characters seemed forced and not genuine. Several parts of the story such as the "love drama" that they've got in it are obviously thrown in are almost completely unexplained and are pointless altogether. This might be explained in some Halo book, comic, or short, but I shouldn't have to do homework in order to enjoy something.
With all the negatives I wouldn't say that ODST is that bad of a game and I don't feel as though I wasted my time like I would with a bad game. While disappointing the levels in the daytime look nice. They're not as vibrant and war torn as you'd expect from a futuristic city being invaded, but they're decent. After awhile some people might become tired of seeing the city and the mechanized look of thing though. While I hate when people suggest doing things like other games I do think the halo series needs sprucing up and am going out on a limb to say that maybe more destructive environments like Red Faction or seeing the destruction of war happen in-game instead of through cutscenes like COD or Medal of Honor. I would love to be battling enemies then all of a sudden a damaged ship comes crashing into a building, forcing me to run from all the debris or stand there and be crushed alongside my enemies.
Instead in the Halo series the environment is just... there...and you just fight in it. Nothing spectacular happens or anything heart racing. Throughout ODST I never got into the story because there really isn't any. A city gets attacked, ODST drops in, but gets separated, blah blah blah they discover some secret (which technically it is a major advantage for them, but nonetheless that doesn't make it anymore exciting) and have to get it out of there and that’s it. As stated before anything interesting that comes out of this game are the audio logs. They capture the essence of the situation at the time the invasion started. They follow a young girl and her companion as she sets out on this secret mission she has to do before the covenant glass the planet. All of this goes against the wishes of her father and pretty much everyone else in the city.
Just listening to the audio logs you hear several disturbing secrets that (don't worry I won't spoil anything). They aren't told outright, but listening you are able to infer and get excited about several things leading to you wanting to see how they would unfold. Obviously this would have made a better game than ODST. Honestly I thought if done right, playing this girl civilian without weapons, having to sneak past brutes, covenant, etc. while getting help along the way would have made one of the better games of the year. Instead we get ODST a game that was apparently made just to ease along the halo series and get a few things out the way in the form of several secrets. You can tell they didn't try and what they've shown us is a really disappointing game. They hyped up the ODST to be the first ones to fight, the ones that fight these grisly battles as mere humans, not super soldiers against the same enemies that these super soldiers have trouble fighting. This is simply not true. Throughout ODST even on legendary I never felt anything below a lesser version of Master Chief, not a regular human or ODST member. ODST also isn't the first line of defense as there are already soldiers fighting on Earth. The ODST aren’t unique they're more of a ragtag group of people *cough* mercenaries from predator *cough* taken from different military backgrounds and made to drop in and assist the soldiers already fighting on the ground. None of them stand out or are even likeable.
As it stands Halo: ODST gets a meh from me. Buy it for the map packs and extra multiplayer modes like firefight which is great. The graphics aren't up to par, sound is common of the halo series, the levels get repetitive. The game feels half-done as its obvious it was only put out to flesh out some of the halo lore and to make some money until Reach comes out. Most of the characters don't have any real dialogue nor are fleshed out so they either annoy you or you don't care about them. In order to fill the void they introduced a lazily put together relationship between two of the characters which no one in their right mind would buy. Everything about this relationship is blurted out so fast and in such a short amount of time toward the end that it’s absolutely ridiculous. It’s as if one of the characters suddenly got tourette’s syndrome and spewed as much random expository as fast as they could in twenty seconds. This game would've been best introduced as a movie like in the awesome commercials they have.