Like we said at the beginning of this review, ODST is all about mindset – not merely your pre-release expectations for the game, but also your pre-release experiences with the franchise as a whole. Just how big of a Halo nerd are you? How deep is your knowledge, and how honed is your skill? Are you a passionate and devoted lover of the series, or a friendly and occasional acquaintance? The answer will affect your enjoyment of ODST to such a meaningful degree that we recommend adding or subtracting a point from our score in response.
Hardcore Halo fans, for example, will geek out when they discover that the new scoped, semi-automatic pistol (M6C) is as powerful as the original handgun wielded by Master Chief in Combat Evolved (M6D). Casual Halo fans, meanwhile, will be disappointed that such a minor distinction passes for “new” at all.
Hardcore fans will cheer when they first spot the blob-like Engineers, knowing that while the creatures have appeared in novels and were supposed to appear in the first game, this is their first digital appearance outside of Halo Wars. Casual fans will simply shake their heads in confusion, wondering why these bizarre, extraterrestrial Koosh balls are being treated with so much reverence by the plot.
The list goes on. Scrawled graffiti references like “Remember Reach” and “Glass this!” An entire level set in and around the ONI Facility. Unlockable side stories depicting New Mombasa before the Covenant attack. A post-credits ending featuring a familiar face. All of these minor things will add major value to the hardcore Halo lover, while simultaneously flying over the heads of casual Halo fans, if not alienating them altogether.
One element of ODST, however, will bring everyone into agreement, just as one element of Halo has always brought everyone into agreement. Multiplayer.
No matter what type of fan you are, you will find something to love in Halo 3: ODST’s multiplayer. If you’re a nonstop competitive fiend who belongs to a clan and has every map memorized at this point, you’ll get a trio of fresh battlegrounds on which to expand your rampage. Each has been beautifully polished and carefully balanced. Each feels like a completely new experience, while still paying homage to a beloved map in the franchise’s past. Each encourages a different type of play and a different kind of fun. In other words, each has been designed with the usual Bungie flair.
Above: The new multiplayer maps: Longshore, Citadel and Heretic
If you only jump into Halo 3’s multiplayer now and again, ODST is still an attractive package, as you’ve probably neglected – or avoided – the extra downloadable maps sold over Xbox Live. Most of them have been pretty damn good, though, and ODST gives you a chance to get every Halo 3 map – that’s 24 in total – in one place.
But what if you’re tired of the multiplayer? What if you’re sick of being slaughtered and heckled by teenage boys? What if you’re hesitant to dive into those lobbies ever again? For you, there’s Firefight.
ODST’s cooperative survival mode might be the game’s single biggest selling point. In Firefight, you team up with three friends and work together to fight off wave after wave of Covenant enemies. The longer you hold out, the harder they get. Sound familiar? Yeah, in theory, it’s basically the same as Horde in Gears of War 2, Zombies in Call of Duty: World at War or Survival in Left 4 Dead. In practice, however, it’s very different.
In many ways, it’s more fun, too. You’re not holed up in a small house with your allies, or cowering behind sandbags; you’re running and leaping across large, expansive arenas full of multi-level buildings and wide open clearings. You’re grabbing new weapons, and hijacking new vehicles, every chance you get. In one minute of one match, you might be on the roof, sniping Hunters with a Spartan Laser. A minute later, you might be circling the ground below in a Warthog, or running down Brutes with a stolen Ghost. Right after that, you could be holed up inside, searching desperately for health packs and fending off Jackals with a shotgun. The combat is constantly changing.
And while Firefight is obviously more colorful and chaotic than other co-op survival modes, there’s no tradeoff in intensity. Each time you reach another wave, Halo’s famous skulls are activated and additional rules are put into place. The aliens might drop less ammo, dodge more easily and shoot more accurately. Plus, all players share the aforementioned health packs, of which there are a limited supply. You’ll learn to be more strategic than you’ve ever been in a Halo game before.
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