Following in the footsteps of its predecessors, Halo 3: ODST gives fans of Bungie's Halo series another fantastic first-person shooter (FPS) experience. With the heroic and glorified death of Master Chief (John-117) that concluded Halo 3, Bungie has since taken a step away from the Spartan-II project that dominated the first three Halo (FPS) installments. The new focus now is on other significant units within the Halo Universe, as is the case in Halo 3: ODST which is centered on a team of Orbital Drop Shock Troopers (ODSTs') that are battling Covenant forces in the besieged city of New Mombasa (Earth).
The ODSTs' are essentially the equivalent of elite special forces paratroopers, and though the gameplay is very similar to Halo 3, the fact that you are not playing as a genetically enhanced Spartan-II with demi-god-like reflexes and strength (not to mention the legendary MJOLNIR armor) is precisely what adds a unique and desirable twist to the gameplay. The inability to jump great bounds, survive huge falls, and the lack of an energy shield all generate a strong realization of ones mortality and makes the gameplay a more challenging and exciting experience that encourages combat tactics and team work (when playing co-op) over the usual run-and-gun "tactics". Don't get me wrong, I loved all the previous Halo games and still consider Halo 3 as one of the best first person shooters ever made, but ODST is undoubtedly a fresh retreat from that particular Rambo-style of FPS gameplay.
The campaign mode is a lot of fun and full of suspense as you fight through dark hallways and rooms in abandoned buildings, and run through city streets infested with Covenant forces. The game is a bit conservative in comparison to he previous Halo FPS installments when it comes to firearms as you can not dual wield. This coupled with the fact that ammunition is scarce and what you do have depletes rather fast, can create some undesirable confrontations between yourself and Covenant hordes. Also, it is important to mention that you do not face the Flood in this game. For those of you who have played the previous Halo installments, you know exactly what I'm talking about and it is either a blessing or curse that there are no Flood in this game. I personally found the Flood an exciting and challenging sort of nuisance, but can understand why they would not be in ODST as it would be impractical for the shock troopers' to face an enemy that could easily infect them without any energy shields to repel the menacing swarms. I'm not saying I like it or dislike this decision by Bungie, I'm just saying it makes sense.
Where Halo 3: ODST really thrives is in the co-op experience, whether it is in the Campaign mode or the new Firefight multiplayer option. For anyone who has played the "Horde" mode in the Gears of War series, you will be familiar with Firefight. In Firefight you and three of your friends can take on increasingly difficult waves of Covenant forces in and endless timed-race for survival. There are never-ending sets of covenant forces that you will have to deal with; each one being more difficult than the last due to "Skulls" that are activated at the end of each set which act as a handicap for your team and a modifier for the Covenant. Each set has three rounds, and each round has 5 waves; at the end of each set (15 waves) there is a bonus round in which you can earn more lives for your team, and the lives are shared so you will need to play tactically and cautiously if you and your squad are to survive the set. After each set a new skull is activated and by the time you reach your fourth set you will find yourself between a rock and a hard place as most, if not all of the skulls will be activated. To put this into perspective, it basically means your enemy will charge more often, dodge grenades, throw more grenades, be a higher rank, have better defense, and have double their regular health. In addition to this, there is no radar, you will acquire half the ammunition you normally would from dropped weapons, you will need to melee your opponents in order regain stamina, and finally (possibly the worst of all the handicaps), you will not be able to respawn. Exciting, isn't it?!
I do have one major complaint about the multiplayer function, and it revolves around the ability to join a Firefight. I got excited when I originally heard about this game coming out because I was eager to play Firefight mode, believing that is was exactly like "Horde" mode in Gear of War 2. It turns out I was wrong, because Firefight is a feature you can only play with your Xbox Live friends, not random strangers. In GoW2's Horde mode, you are able to join-up as you would a matchmaking session and the server would find you a group of players who are also searching for a team to play Horde mode with. However, in Firefight, if none of your Xbox Live friends are on, there is no matchmaking join-up process that allows you to connect with complete strangers to take on endless Covenant troops. I found this annoying because after the first few weeks of going Firefight crazy with my friends, they ended up finding more interesting games to play (how dare they?!) and I was left with no way to play Firefight with anyone, and I sure wasn't about to take it on Solo (yes, it actually lets you go solo if you want - it's crazy like that).
Aside from this major issue, I also felt that the storyline was lacking depth and a bit slow at times; not befitting for a game set in the Halo Universe. Halo 3: ODST was originally intended to be an expansion to Halo 3, but due to a variety of developments it was given more content and sold as a full-priced video game rather than a $30 expansion. I had purchased this game the day it came out back in September of 2009 for full-price, and at the time, it seemed like a good idea... and in some ways I still think it was. "Why?" You might ask. The reason I say it was still worth it is because I was fortunate enough to have friends who were willing to play Firefight with me if I called and harassed them enough, and also because Halo 3: ODST came with the exclusive "Halo: Reach" beta (that can only be played with the Halo 3: ODST disc) which went live in May 2010. As of May, I found a rekindled interest in my Halo: ODST game-disc, but only because I wanted to play the "Reach" beta; which may I say, is absolutely AMAZING!... but that is a story for another review.
If this review has not interested you enough to want to buy Halo 3: ODST for the game itself, and you are only interested in playing Halo: Reach, I would say wait a few more months, as Halo: Reach is set to be released in September, 2010. However, If you are a fan of the Halo series, I highly suggest you buy this game as it has a lot to offer and is indeed a uniquely challenging first-person-shooter in comparison to its predecessors. In your case, you are fortunate enough to not have to purchase this game at full price as I did, since it is currently available on Amazon.com for $26.99. If you are a Halo enthusiast, buy this game, Halo 3:ODST is in its own right, a stand-alone first person shooter.