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Reviewed by Rich DeWester
ungie welcomes you back to the universe of Halo with their new title, "Halo 3: ODST" (the acronym stands for Orbital Drop Shock Trooper). Originally planned as an expansion pack, “ODST” grew too massive, so Bungie decided it would be better as a standalone product – for $59.99 MSRP, of course. "Halo 3: ODST's" story starts right after “Halo 2,” but this time you don't play as Master Chief, because he's too busy kicking Covenant ass, making Prophet of Regret run like a bitch. You, "The Rookie," and a team of others are being sent on a mysterious mission down to New Mombasa. Unfortunately, your pods are descending as the fleeing Covenant ship creates a massive shockwave, resulting in a crash landing. Six hours later, your lazy ass wakes up from the chaos, and you spend most of the game trying to find out what the hell happened while you were napping.
The flow of the game is actually rather unique: you wander around New Mombasa trying to find clues, and as you happen upon these, they trigger side story sequences involving the rest of the team. These all work as an interesting way to catch you up to date as you try to survive to the next clue and, hopefully, ultimately rejoin your unit. As you wander the dark streets, Bungie does a great job of making you feel like there really was a thriving city here once; the ambiance is also graced with a great soundtrack.
There do seem to be huge lulls due to an odd lack of balance in difficulty. I can only remember two or three times the game honestly felt challenging, and one of those was near the start of the story. Most of the time you’ll be systematically destroying enemies en route to your objective with little worry. This might be due to the pleasant upgrade to the pistol, battle rifle and even your visor HUD. The pistol is reminiscent of “Halo” of old, and while you can't dual wield in this game, it does give you a bit of a hand in aiming at enemy heads. The visor HUD was also given a boost and now outlines enemies with red, friendlies with green, weapons with blue, and story points with orange. The visor boost was probably added due to the game’s ridiculously dark environments; maybe even the moon left New Mombasa, I don't know, but it’s way too dark at times. Another problem with the story is that it's short – like “five or six hours if you're lucky” short.
Outside of the game's campaign mode, there is a new mode called Firefight, where you and three other buddies can stand together bravely and fend off wave after wave of enemies together. Wait, what do you mean you've heard of this before? Horde Mode? No, that's not the same, because this is “Halo.” All in all, Horde, er, Firefight is fun to play with your buddies – or it will be eventually, once the servers get their lag issues worked out. Man, you're going to have so much fun imagining with your friends what it's going to be like a few weeks after you buy the game!
So what? FPS fans are used to short stories, and even if Firefight isn't perfect at the moment, everyone gets “Halo” for online multiplayer anyway, just like “Halo 3,” right? Funny you should mention “Halo 3,” because it's that game’s online multiplayer that “ODST” comes bundled with on its second disc. I know what you’re thinking – there are a ton of “Halo 3” maps, and since they're all included here, with three bonus maps exclusive to "Halo 3: ODST," it helps bump up the value – except that most “Halo” fans have already spent the money to get these maps, so it ends up being a bit of a slap in the face. You also don't get to use the new pistol and power rifle I mentioned earlier.
Sadly, "Halo 3: ODST" will probably only appease the most hardcore fans of the franchise, of which there are certainly plenty. But just because they seem easily impressed with whatever Bungie slaps together doesn't mean the developers shouldn't try to recreate something as powerful as what brought them those hardcore fans in the first place. More and more, we're seeing games take advantage of consumers with limited content while still trying to collect $60. If only the ESRB would rate the value as well as the maturity of the content.