The Halo saga represents a near perfect amalgamation of video game and intelligent science fiction, the games chronicling the epic conflict between mankind and an alien order known as The Covenant. The first game,
Halo: Combat Evolved has spawned two sequels, a real-time strategy game, Halo Wars, and a range of novels with the possibility of a feature film on the horizon.
The latest addition to the series, Halo 3: ODST, puts you in the armour of an Orbital Drop Shock Trooper. You are just a soldier, highly trained, but not the one-man army the Master Chief was in the previous games. You’ve got no shields this time; getting shot will deplete your stamina and then reduce your health. Unlike in Halo 3, your health will not recharge; the only way to regain health is by finding medikits. This makes the game a lot more tactical. To run and gun will get you killed; you may need to pick your battles more carefully.
The game’s plot is set at the same time as Halo 2. You play as the Rookie, a member of an ODST squad assigned to naval intelligence officer Captain Dare. The mission is to drop from a heavy frigate onto an alien assault carrier over the city of New Mombasa, Kenya. During the drop Captain Dare revises the mission just as the alien carrier enters slipspace. The resulting explosion damages the city and throws the ODST drop pods off course, splitting up the team. The introduction sets up an excellent piece of foreshadowing, suggesting all is not what it seems whilst at the same time neatly slotting the game into the established Halo mythos.
The game starts with the Rookie regaining consciousness six hours after crashing in New Mombasa. It’s night time and you are alone. In the distance tower blocks burn, black smoke filling the sky. You must locate your team using their locator beacons and the city’s AI information system. A beautiful, melancholy score from Halo composer, Martin O’Donnell, deftly imparts the solitary situation that the Rookie finds himself in as he wanders the lifeless empty neon-lit streets of New Mombasa.
At the location of each beacon is an object that, when examined, throws the player back to events earlier in the day and into the boots of the other squad members. The flashback sequences are more like the traditional frantic Halo gameplay. Whilst the Rookie must often avoid Covenant patrols by hiding in the shadows, the flashbacks are all-out firefights, often as part of a team of shock troopers.
As well as the campaign, the developers, Bungie, have included a special multiplayer co-op mode called Firefight. In this mode you and your friends face off in fast-paced battles against hordes of increasingly tough Covenant creatures. The only problem I’ve got with Halo 3: ODST, and I had a similar issue with the original Halo 3, is that there is no co-operative multiplayer matchmaking. This means unless you have a healthy list of friends all wanting to play Firefight or the co-op campaign at the same time as you, you are on your own. You can’t just find a game on Xbox Live. Why Bungie left this out is beyond me and, considering other games have the feature for co-op, it is pretty inexcusable. For newcomers and those of us too tight to purchase the Halo 3 downloadable content, Halo 3: ODST also ships with the entire Halo 3 multiplayer game, featuring all the maps available to date plus three exclusive new ones.
Halo 3: ODST is a must-buy for Halo fans and a great way for newcomers to step into the series. The graphics may be starting to show their age, but it is the atmosphere that makes a Halo game. You’ll find few games this year as immersive an experience as Halo 3: ODST.