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Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Player's Club: Halo 3 ODST review

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Halo 3: ODST

Rated M for Mature

Released Sept. 22

Xbox 360

Published by Microsoft

WHAT IT IS: Master Chief returns yet again with… oh wait, that’s right, he doesn’t. Like this spring’s Halo Wars, the newest Halo first-person shooter is entirely without the series’ iconic lead character. It's like those Queen reunion shows without Freddie Mercury, although ODST's Nathan Filion isn't nearly as acceptable a stand-in as Paul Rodgers. Originally announced as a value-priced expansion of Halo 3, Halo 3: ODST arrives with two discs of content and the standard price tag for a new release. The second disc is entirely recycled, consisting of Halo 3’s multi-player mode and all the various map packs that have been subsequently released through Xbox Live. So ODST rests on the first disc, which offers up an original Master Chief-less solo campaign that should take you less than eight hours to play through and the new Firefight multi-player survival mode. There’s a lot happening with Halo 3: ODST, then, but is it enough to justify the price?

YOU’LL SAY “MASTER WHO?” WHEN: The Firefight mode sinks its hooks in you. Forget the short solo campaign; ODST is as fundamentally dependent on multi-player as Left 4 Dead. Yeah, you can play Firefight on your lonesome, if you’re a big fan of tedium, but that’d be like drinking in a hot tub by yourself. Friends make it better. The main draw here is the new Firefight mode, which is the latest in an endless wave of co-op survival games where you and your buddies face down an endless wave of aliens, zombies, Nazis, or some combination thereof. It’s basically Gears of War 2’s horde mode in the Haloverse, with all the familiar weapons and enemies that entails. Any concerns over lack of originality will fade away once you play it. Firefight’s a compulsive blast, and the best thing about ODST.

YOU’LL GO RIGHT BACK TO THE MULTI-PLAYER: After an hour or so of toying around with the solo campaign. Despite a great musical score, a novel narrative structure, and fine voice work from notable actors such as Nathan Filion and Tricia Helfer, ODST’s single-player is a drag. You play a rookie trooper searching for missing comrades after a major battle. This consists of walking through a mostly empty and anonymous open-world city looking for clues which lead into playable flashbacks. These scenes, which make up most of the campaign, are full of acceptable but unexceptional FPS action. They’re a bit too repetitive and linear, whereas the hubworld is not linear enough. (If you were annoyed by Fallout 3’s confusing map-marking system, you won’t be too fond of ODST's.) I don’t know what’s more aggravating, the vaguely defined missions or the even more vaguely defined save system. I had to repeat an entire mission because I didn’t realize the automatic checkpoints didn’t save your game permanently. The solo campaign goes out of its way to inconvenience you.

WHAT YOU SHOULD DO: It may sound weird, but ODST makes more sense for Halo virgins than dedicated fans. The entire Halo 3 multi-player package might be worth the cost even without the excellent new Firefight mode, but not if you already have Halo 3. Then you’d be paying for one excellent new multi-player mode and an underwhelming single-player campaign. If, like me, you don’t own a copy of Halo 3, though, ODST is a decent package.

(Photo courtesy IGN.com)

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