Monday, April 19, 2010

Halo 3: ODST review

Name: Halo 3: ODST
System/s: Xbox 360
Developers: Bungie
Release Date: 9/22/09

I am a Halo fan. I played Halo 1 for a long time, then moved to Halo 2 which I played for years, every day. I didn't have a 360 when Halo 3 came out, but found a way to beat it within 24 hours of release. I however, did not like Halo 3. I own all but one of the books, and I have read lots of backstory on characters, and such. It's safe to say I've really loved this series.

ODST started off on the wrong foot for a number of reasons for me, First, I will start with the most minor reason. Why the name? The working title was 'Recon' which I feel still fits it better then ODST; sure you play as an ODST, but Halo 1 wasn't called "Halo: Master Chief". Second, I feel that bungie really sold out with this, one thing about the ODSTs that a lot of people liked, was that they weren't talked about much, and felt kinda mysterious, and when they did show up, it was like 'Woah, it's an ODST!' Making a game which stars one was just riding on the reputation of them as a class, rather then making something new, and just as interesting, if not more so.

Furthermore, Bungie continually talked about how it was a game developed in such a short time, and how it was special because of it. This always disappointed me, as there were games developed in shorter amounts of time, with multiples of content, where the developers didn't tout the development time. Instead, Bungie brought it up time and time again, as if it was something to be proud of, when in fact it really wasn't very unique at all. Lastly, the price, it felt like a completely rip off, especially since they confirmed it would cost less then a normal game before release, then backtracked, and released it at $60, even though it was not the length of a full game.

Prior to playing the game, I had only had one experience with it, watching someone play firefight in a level that completely didn't interest me. I was able to borrow the game (Curtsy of a friend, thanks!) and began playing through it.

The game follows an ODST, who never talks, or makes almost any gestures, making him one of the least interesting silent protagonists I've played as. The concept is giving the player a large(ish) area to free-roam around in, taking missions, and finding secrets.

One thing that struck me right away, was that while it uses the same engine as Halo 3, it looks quite a bit better due to the setting, and lighting. The graphics themsevles, however still have that dated "last-gen' feel to the most of the time, I mean, no, you're not going to think it looks like an original Xbox game, but there are times where the textures look really flat, and the graphical style reeks of Last gen technology. Overall, the graphics stayed at a pretty decent quality, only in some places did it feel under detailed, and while the graphics weren't what I'd call bad, they did not once come even close to awe-ing, impressing, or even making me notice a detail I liked about them. Another issue with the graphics is that a lot of the game, will be spent with night vision on, which makes the graphics look even more flat often.

The gameplay is similar, yet different to Halo 3. To me it seemed as though, while it was good to see changes, it didn't really hit a good balance between new stuff and old stuff. When I heard you were going to play as a ODST, I thought "This will be interesting, experiencing this world from the perspective of a normal person. (Albeit, a badass normal person)." What made this fall apart for me, was, as I said before a balance. While you now have a health bar again, and are much less tough, you can still chuck a grenade a long ways. While you can't dual wield, you can still jump very high. While your melees do much less damage, you can still rip turrets up, and carry them around. There are parts like this scattered throughout the game, making you feel, not like a human at all, but a weaker spartan.

The story falls into the problem of telling a story in a non-linear fashion, but being a linear story, so unless you know what missions go when, the entire story will feel very disjointed. The story itself is very brief, and most of the story itself takes place in the last 60 minutes or so, leaving the rest to be pretty much just be fighting. Even after finishing the game, none of the characters seemed very defined to me. All of them were just thrown at you at the start with no real introductions, and are not fleshed out very well, besides 'Buck' the squad leader. The story was a little surprising, but even during the surprises, it disappointed me, I felt like there could have been something more interesting to fill the cutscenes with.

Musically, this game takes a step in a different direction, and sounds very little like the other Halo games. While I loved the music to the other Halo games, I absolutely loved the soundtrack for this one. Almost all the ambient music in this game I fell for, but most of the action music kinda falls behind. Suppose you can't win em all.

Voice acting in this title is what you should come to expect from a Halo game, though, again the female isn't played by a voice actor that I liked, she came off as unintentionally annoying to me, otherwise, a solid cast.

I touched on it before, but the basic premise of free roaming is quite interesting, I feel it should be done more in First Person games, however, I don't feel that ODST should be taken of an example of how to do it. ODST gives you a area to free roam in that is... Well, it's larger then any areas in the previous games in the series, but for a free-roaming map, it's quite small, making me wonder why they went with this design choice. Not to say anything bad about mixing things up a little, but I feel this could have been done better, even if it used the same system. For one thing, the loading screens hidden by large doors was annoying, a rule of free-roaming games, is don't make people load on the world map. This didn't just make it take a second to load, but it also made you have to get out of your vehicle, and press a button, and get back in, to drive through. Also, the areas nearly always seemed to have enemies spawn in the same places between missions, making it feel like "Man, I've been here before, I've fought this fight before."

The level design is something I feel Halo 3 did horribly, and while this is a lot better then Halo 3 in some places, it has some steep dips. Some of the levels just are uninteresting, and bland, feeling like they fell out of Halo 3, while others I had a complete blast playing. It was strange to see the vast difference between quality of some of the levels (Not graphical, but play-wise).

I was really disappointed that it didn't have it's own multiplayer, ODST style, or at least some options to tweak Halo 3's multiplayer to act like ODST, instead you are given Halo 3's multiplayer with all the downloadable content, which feels like a strange choice, since this is Halo 3: ODST. It does, however, have Firefight mode, which pits you against waves of AI enemies coop. This works out pretty well, but the way most of the levels are set up, makes this feel very repetitive, as you usually need to stay right near the start, to collect supplies. Not to say it's all bad, as it's still a blast to play, but it certainly could see room for improvement.

What I liked:

Setting: I always loved Halo 2's solo levels "outskirts" and "Metropolis" and I remember watching the Halo 2 trailer in New Mombassa tens of times, wishing I could play it. While I will never be able to play that exact level, this is a nice homage to what that level could have been. It's nice to see urban combat in Halo.

Music: Did I mention I loved the soundtrack? It's great, and it's something I will listen to for year to come. Good stuff.

Good ol' Halo: If you like the Halo world, or the Halo gameplay, you will have fun with this. It feels like Halo, which is all some fans will need.

Atmosphere: While I didn't touch on it in the main section of the review, I thought the amazing music really helped set an atmosphere, along with the loneliness and dark sky.

Pistol is fun to use: It feels like they finally balanced it, at least for single player, but where the heck on the weapon to they hide the scope?

Mixed up gameplay: It's nice to see some new stuff done with Halo, not just the Master Chief fighting, but seeing things from another angle, and playing as someone else.

Fun to explore: Unlike Halo 3, but like the older Halos, you can explore, which is always a plus in my book.

Firefight: While it isn't perfect, it's good for some fun, I enjoyed a few games of it.

Things I didn't like:

Level Design: This dipped too much in some levels, and really made me want to just finish the level to get away from it. Not a good thing.

Bland story: It feels like the entire story adds pretty much nothing to the Halo world, almost nothing shown that anyone who played the other games doesn't know.

Bland Characters: I really didn't care about any of the characters until near the end of the game, where I felt like I actually got to know one or two of them.

Disjointed: The whole thing feels like watching a TV show, but putting the episodes in a random order. It is hard to follow at first, and it doesn't flow very well.

Not Human Afterall: It still feels like you are playing as the Master Chief, just like, not as badass. Too many things take away from feeling like a normal Human.

Repetition: Like fighting Grunts, Drones, Jackals and Brutes? Well that's all you'll fight the entire game (besides about 6-8 hunters). It gets very boring fighting the same enemies nearly the entire time, as Drones and Jackals aren't in every fight.

Lack of True multiplayer: Where's my "ODST" fights? I want to try playing as an ODST in multiplayer!

Firefight: While it is fun, I feel it's half-baked, they should have spent more time ironing out how it worked. It would have been more fun to walk around, and have covenant spawn in different places depending on where you are, same with supplies.

Disappointing: There were parts of this game that I just felt "bleah" about, it felt like the dropped the ball a few times throughout the game.

More new weapons please?: Why only 2 'new' weapons? And why are they just modified old weapons? You're more creative then that Bungie...

Free Roaming not well implemented: Like the title says, I feel they really didn't pull off the free roaming in a way that will make you think anything more then "Well.... It's.... Interesting... I guess.."

Story pacing: For some reason almost the entire story of anything interesting happens in the last hour or so of the game, with the rest left to "let's go here".

Grpahics: So, they look better then Halo 3, to me that isn't saying much. While it never felt like the graphics were 'bad' per say (Some parts looked pretty under-detailed), they never impressed me.

Price: Okay, seriously? $60 This is an expansion pack sized game, don't rip people off.

Overall Scores:

Presentation - 8/10: The atmosphere and music alone would have made this possibly a 10, or 9.5, but the lousy story pacing, bland characters, and less then impressive graphics let this down.

Graphics - 7/10: This game is technically proficient, but unless you really don't play many games, it will not awe you even once.

Sound - 9.5/10: Besides the poor female voice actor they chose, there's nothing worth complaining about here.

Gameplay - 8/10: It's Halo, Halo is good. But this game doesn't push it very far in any direction, but it's nice they pushed it the little they did.

Lasting appeal - 7/10: The campaign is short, there isn't a unique multiplayer, so if you didn't like Halo 3's multiplayer (Like me), you are stuck with Firefight, and replaying the story mode, which isn't that much to chew on.

Overall fun - 8/10: While it had many dips, and issues that really bothered me, I enjoyed myself. Though it may just have been since Halo 3 lowered my expectations so much. ;)

Author's Note: Overall Fun is NOT an overall score, it's simple how much fun I feel I had with it.

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