games / Reviews

Halo 3: ODST (Xbox 360) Review

September 23, 2009 | Posted by Greg Bruno

Halo 3: ODST
Microsoft Game Studios
Xbox 360

FYI: I intend to keep this review as spoiler free as possible, so no worries if you want to keep your ODST experience fresh. I will not reveal anything that hasn’t already been made public.

The Halo series has always been (and arguably, will always be) the flagship title of the Xbox. From the original hit, Halo: Combat Evolved, it was clear the Bungie had built a world that fans of the first person shooter genre would fall in love with. This expansion of the Halo story continues that tradition of storytelling and action that Bungie has been creating for us. Halo 3: ODST literally drops players into almost the middle of the Halo trilogy.

The story picks up during the events of Halo 2. If you recall, the Prophet of Regret is about to leave Earth via slip space while inside the atmosphere above New Mombassa. Of course, this nearly flattens the city. You begin the game a few minutes before Regret’s ship takes off.

You take on the role of The Rookie, obviously the newest member to the team of ODST’s (Orbital Drop Shock Troopers). The Rookie is knocked unconscious after the drop and wakes up six hours later. The events of the day have already taken place, but you’ll soon learn what happened to your squad by playing as them.
What sets this chapter of the Halo story apart from the others is the fact that you are not Master Chief. I know, the name Halo is synonymous with the big green man, but it works. Playing as the Rookie requires something that may be foreign to even the most hardcore Halo players; strategy. As the Rookie, you don’t have an over shield, speed, or the ability to jump nearly as high as you could in the other games. For all intents and purposes, you are a peon.

The game plays differently than the other Halo titles as well. While you are given “missions” in the form of flashbacks. These missions play out in the form of levels, more or less. In between these levels, you’re given free roam of New Mombasa to wander the streets and slay any Covenant scum that gets in your way. It’s actually quite refreshing to have a less linear experience in a FPS. Instead of moving down narrow hallways from Point A to Point B, you’re given the time to make as many detours as you’d like.

So how does ODST break down? Well, this review is going to look at two things; the campaign of Halo 3:ODST and the all new Fire Fight mode. The game ships with the entire Halo 3 Multiplayer experience as well. The only difference between that disc and the one you’ve had in your system for the past 2 years is the fact that it contains every map released as DLC and three new ones. So for those of you who haven’t played Halo 3’s online multiplayer, here’s your chance to get it in its entirety. For those of you who have already bought the maps…well…you have them again.


It would be hard not to compare the graphics in ODST to Halo 3, especially since both use the same engine. However, those of you who have played Halo 3 for a while and jump into ODST will notice subtle differences. ODST seems to have nicer textures and an overall “sharper” look to it. One of the glaring differences is that ODST is played primarily in a nighttime setting. The entire atmosphere is entirely different while wandering through the tattered streets of New Mombasa. Bungie has done an amazing job of recreating a decimated cityscape for you to free roam in. Cars litter the streets, some with their lights still flashing. Debris and fire are everywhere. Buildings are crumbling to the ground.

One of the more interesting additions to the franchise is the use of VISR mode, which is essentially night vision. With this enabled, you see the city through an entirely different light. Enemies appear in a red outline and interactive “clue” objects are outlined in a yellow. The VISR mode helps you plan an attack. When you normally wouldn’t see a group of Brutes from afar, switching to VISR mode will allow you to see them from a distance and decide to attack or sneak around them. For the most part, the VISR mode is essential when playing as the Rookie in order to locate the clues needed to progress the story.

When not playing as the Rookie in the nighttime settings, you’re going to take on the role of one of the other ODST squad members to play through their story. These flashbacks are set mostly during the day, while the Rookie is knocked out. New Mombasa looks just as beautiful in the day as it does at night.
The enemies in ODST look as they do in Halo 3 as well. Like I mentioned earlier, the textures of their skins may be slightly better looking, but otherwise there is not much of a difference, and that’s not a bad thing.

VISR Mode gives you night eyes.


Every good gamer knows that it’s gameplay that makes a game. ODST plays very similarly to Halo 3. Again, that is not a bad thing. Anyone who’s played a Halo game in the past will easily get the hang of how to control the game.

You will notice, however, that you certainly don’t feel like you’re playing as Master Chief. The members of the ODST squad are significantly slower, cannot jump nearly as high, and most importantly, don’t have an over shield. These new attributes might not sound like huge differences, but trust me, they are. When you’ve been playing as a seven foot tall super soldier for the past few years and are now just a marine, you notice these things.

As you sneak your away through the city, the A.I. of New Mombasa, The Superintendent, gives you clues along the way. He doesn’t have a voice, but he can communicate with you through road signs and other clever ways. Keep an eye out for his hints and you may find yourself in for a treat or two.

For example, in one instance I was getting my digital ass handed to me by a pack of Brutes and Jackals. I figured I would gain the higher ground by jumping onto a truck, then onto a ledge and showering them with my remaining grenades (which are hard to come by, so save’em!). I then realized that I couldn’t even make it on top of the truck, let alone the ledge, and soon found myself punctured to death by pretty pink needles. That’s the most embarrassing death there is, people.

One thing I did notice was that you’re still able to flip warthogs and rip turrets from the ground. I used to think that things like that were reserved for Spartans. That’s just me being picky though.

Skip to your death, little grunts.


Marty O’Donnell has outdone himself yet again. I don’t know how he keeps setting such appropriate moods for these games, but he does. The music in ODST (the ODST OST, as it were) is a great companion to the gameplay. They literally go hand in hand.

Gone are the Gregorian chants, but instead, here is just a little hint of a jazz feel. Trust me, when you hear it you’ll like it. The music paints a lonely, lost feeling for the Rookie as he wanders the streets of New Mombasa while searching for clues on his lost team mates.

The voice acting in ODST is top notch, as well. The voice work of ex-Firefly cast members Nathan Fillion, Adam Baldwin, Tricia Helfer and Alan Tudyk really give the characters much needed emotion. After playing as the stoic Master Chief for so long, it’s nice to see someone in the Halo universe show a little emotion.

Lasting Appeal

In terms of the campaign, you may not go through it more than once unless you’re one of those players who needs to get every achievement (i.e. me) or see if you can make it through the more difficult Legendary mode. Bungie has woven in a side story that is told through audio files that you find throughout the city. There are a total of 30 files to find which tell the story of a young girl named Sadie in New Mombasa during the attacks. True Halo fans will definitely want to find these and hear the story.

Now we’ll discuss the much anticipated Firefight Mode. If you’ve played Gears of War 2’s Horde mode, you get the general idea. Players begin by select an “arena” to play in. The Covenant will come at you in waves that the players must defeat in order to move to the next wave. Weapons and health packs are hard to come by, so you must strategize.

The players share a pool of lives, so if one person dies, the whole team loses a life. It adds a little bit more of an urgency to stay alive and just a tad bit of “Dude, you used 6 of our 7 lives. We aren’t friends anymore,” which was actually spoken in my house while playing Firefight with my roommate. I won’t say who it was that died that many times, but it sure as hell wasn’t me.

If Firefight starts to bore you, pop in the second Halo 3 Complete Multiplayer disc to jump online and battle it out with others. The disc contains all 24 Halo 3 maps, including three unreleased until now. Heretic is a great remake of the old Halo 2 Midship map. Citadel is a Forerunner structure which is more or less for close quarter combat. Longshore is an open level in New Mombasa. These maps will eventually be released as DLC via Xbox Live, but why wait?

Last but not least, those who purchase Halo 3: ODST are given access to the multiplayer beta of Halo: Reach, due out sometime next year. If the sampling of an all new Halo game doesn’t whet your whistle, check your pulse you might not be alive.

Yea, that’s right. Bow before Sgt. Johnson scumbag!

Fun Factor

While the campaign aspect of ODST may not be as long as some of the other Halo games, it’s still a blast to play. There’s an element of mystery surrounding the entire ordeal that goes down in New Mombasa and figuring it out in pieces is a great way to tell the story. Like I mentioned earlier, if you find all the audio logs, you have an entire side story to learn about as well.

There’s no doubt that the Firefight mode steals the show. While it doesn’t support a matchmaking feature ala’ Halo 3, it does allow you to play with your friends list or locally. Trying to pass even the first set is a challenge enough.

Again, there’s also the entire Halo 3 Multiplayer Experience included with the purchase of Halo 3: ODST. If you’ve played Halo 3’s multiplayer before and loved it, well, that’s good. There’s absolutely no difference other than the addition of the three new maps. If you didn’t like it before, it’s unlikely that three maps will make a world of difference to you.

The 411

What was originally touted as an expansion pack has become a full fledged, self standing game. Halo 3: ODST is a shining example of how Bungie can expand the Halo story beyond the visor of Master Chief. From the campaign to Firefight to the entire Halo 3 multiplayer, you’re getting a hell of a bargain for $60.

Just remember to keep it clean.

Graphics8.5The game looks wonderful. Bungie's certainly got their own style and it shines in ODST. The night levels look great!411 Elite Award
Gameplay9.0Plays just like the other Halo games except you're not a Spartan. Honestly, it's a nice change of pace. 
Sound9.0Absolutely gorgeous sound track and amazing voice work. 
Lasting Appeal9.047 achievements, a new campaign, fire fight mode, and the neire Halo 3 multiplayer...Yeah, this'll keep you busy for a while. 
Fun Factor 9.0ODST keeps the fun coming. Whether it be beating a high score in Firefight mode or unravelling the mystery of the campaign, it's a blast straight through. The campaign could have been just a it longer, but it doesn't hurt the score. 
Overall9.0   [  Amazing ]  legend

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Greg Bruno
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