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Sure, this year’s Halo game could be seen as something of a placeholder, a small side adventure to keep fans occupied until next year’s Reach. The graphics are nearly the same as those in Halo 3. So are the enemies, weapons and vehicles. The gameplay feels as familiar as ever. In fact, if you’ve read our review, you know that we believe the older title is also the better.
Not in every way, though. Because ODST is an offshoot of the main trilogy, the developers were willing to break free from the main formula… seemingly for the first time since the series debuted in 2001. The results are refreshing, and we hope that future Halo games remember the lessons learned.
What Halo 3 does: Master Chief is all, and all is Master Chief. He’s a hero, but he’s also a symbol, a logo and a vessel. His green armor represents the entire Halo franchise, his shiny visor sells millions in Microsoft merchandise and his stoic silence enables every player to pretend that he or she is the game’s true star. In other words, Master Chief is too important to actually make interesting. He’ll always be the generic do-gooder.
What ODST does: Introduces real humans with real, relatable personalities. The Orbital Drop Shock Troopers are a bit like the guys in Gears of War; they want to do what’s right, but they’re not perfect angels. They bitch and bicker. They break the rules. They sexually harass, but also have complicated romantic relationships with the opposite sex… no chaste, child-like A.I. love here. Shockingly, they’ll even remove their helmets and reveal their faces now and again. Plus, you get to play as more than one of them during the ODST campaign.
What Halo 3 does: Plunges you headfirst into a tangled, increasingly indecipherable mess of humans, aliens, zombies, plants, robots and naked software programs… each of which seem to flip-flop their allegiances at least three times per mission. Crazy names like “High Charity,” “Forward Unto Dawn,” and “Installation 00” are tossed about with such abandon that only the most hardcore players can keep anything straight.
What ODST does: Wipes the slate clean and starts over. The story takes place between Halo 2 and 3, but you don’t really need any prior knowledge of the trilogy to follow what happens. More importantly, you don’t need a flowchart – the plot is much smaller and simpler, focusing on a single team of soldiers during a single mission gone wrong. Think of Saving Private Ryan; you didn’t need to know about the whole war, just those men’s individual parts in that war.