The iconic green suit of Master Chief looks incredibly boring to me. Take on the role of a space marine, murder lots of aliens, watch a cutscene and repeat. Sorry Bungie, but I’ve been there and done it before in dozens of other first person shooters. This is perhaps why I’ve never been drawn to the Halo series, Microsoft’s behemoth whose fame has only recently been eclipsed by Infinity Ward’s Call of Duty. Nothing about it seems particularly fresh or original; the weapons feel too familiar and the sci-fi setting is generic and cliched. Yet despite these observations, I wasn’t going to whine until I’d actually gone hands-on with one of Halo’s instalments. So I picked up Halo 3: ODST, presuming that the latest iteration would also be the most polished. All of my previous fears proved correct.
The budget behind Bungie instantly shows. The narrative starts with a well established cutscene, the immaculate voice acting and animation models giving substantial life to the squad of ‘Orbital Drop Shock Troopers’. The characterisation of Buck and Dare must also be commended, their angry banter imitating a very realistic love/ hate relationship within the battlefield. Even the structure of the game is thought provoking, flipping backwards and forwards in time as you discover and immerse yourself in the memories of your team mates. Yet despite all of these graces, I couldn’t help but feel that there was a lack of heart in ODST. New Mombasa is a desolate cliche, lifeless and desperately trying to imitate Fallout 3’s Washington D.C. Sorry Bungie, but Bethesda Game Studios have not only beaten you to the punch, but done it drastically better.
Certain crucial gameplay mechanics also appear to be missing. Without any form of sprint ability, you’re often left plodding through the city at a crawl, toggling the VISR HUD on and off out of sheer boredom. The exemption of natural cover leaves you constantly in the danger of enemy fire, forcing you to strafe from left to right and shoot in a pop-up arcade fashion. Carrying only two weapons is another frustration, the non-existance of ammuntion causing the player to ditch and switch weapons at every oppurtunity. At one point I grew rather fond of my silenced sub-machine gun, dispatching multiple covenant with ease as I hoped to defend my outpost. Once I has dispensed my miniscule magazine I was forced to run around the entire level uprotected, checking all of my enemies until I could finally find someone with a firearm slightly more powerful than a pistol.
The variety in mission types kept my interest piqued, but it all came to a close far too quickly. The campaign is over in literally six hours. I don’t care if this was originally meant to be an expansion pack or a piece of DLC, that’s simply far too short to warrant a full price tag. The inclusion of Halo 3 multiplayer maps (which i’m sure most people had before ODST was released anyway) doesn’t sweeten the deal for me in the slightest. Collectible audio files help to lengthen the experience, but they’re not dependent enough to the progression of the plot and feel like an afterthought by someone who had recently played Bioshock.
Perhaps I’m being too harsh on the Halo franchise. Not every game can match the pedigree of Fallout 3 and Gears of War, but I’ve always felt that the adventures of Master Chief would be one such a series. Halo Reach is quite possibly the last instalment for Bungie and will be a testament as to how the franchise will be remembered. As it stands, there’s a lot more work to be done.