I’ve been a big fan of the Halo series, having played through all the campaigns up to Halo 3: ODST. The challenge in storytelling has always been that Master Chief is a cipher, a stand-in for male power fantasies of invincibility. He’s not exactly a sympathetic character, and he really can’t be – fleshing him out means ruining the connection between the myriad players who have walked in his suit. So it was a refreshing change when ODST veered off into “normal people” territory, following the exploits of Orbital Drop Shock Troopers (ODST) as the Covenant brings the war to Earth.
What sounds good on paper isn’t nearly as good in game play. Where Spartans have regenerating shields and can jump super high, ODST get hurt, panting and moaning about it until you accidentally bump into a healing pack. This becomes downright annoying after awhile, especially if you can’t find a healing pack quickly. It also has no relevance on game play, as your ODST is still fully functional despite his wounds. In short, playing a wounded ODST in the campaign is an irritating experience.
The other new feature is the ODST visor, which allows the troopers to see in the dark. What it really does is outline different items and enemies according to their utility. This alters player behavior by encouraging them to leave it on all the time and making a beeline for the highlighted items. In short, the city of New Mombasa might be beautiful, but there wasn’t much incentive for me to look at it.
New Mombasa itself demonstrates how the Halo engine has not aged well. Apparently everyone on earth drove three types of cars, lived in giant rooms filled with huge furniture, and never used a toilet. New Mombasa doesn’t feel lived in, and the cutesy sidewalk bots that chirp at you don’t make it any less cold. If there was an ever an argument for an upgrade to game engine, ODST is it.
To make up for the generic blandness of Master Chief, ODST is populated with a cast of characters. There’s Dutch (Adam Baldwin), Mickey (Alan Tudyk), and Romeo (Nolan North). You get to play all of these characters, but despite the occasional verbal aside, they are exactly the same. As a player, you forget very quickly whom you’re playing because it doesn’t make one whit of difference.
Then there’s the squabbling leaders, Dare (Tricia Helfer) and Buck (Nathan Fillion). It’s a credit to the designers that you can recognize the actors by their CGI-rendered faces. The two have a love/hate relationship that progresses throughout the game, and their dialogue is a high point. When they’re both on screen you spend it as an anonymous character known only as Rookie.
Just like Master Chief.
Much of the game is a sniping battle, with huge environments requiring careful ammunition rationing. There’s no other legitimate style of play – brute force characters will get creamed and run and gunners will be sniped in the open environment. Only the very last stage provides some diversions, including a tank battle, some dogfighting, and a battle underground.
The multiplayer has many of the features now well established by games that preceded it like Gears of War. I played it a few times, but it was simply not the new Halo experience we all wanted.
ODST looks and feels like what it was: an interim project that was supposed to tie into a movie that never happened. It makes some half-hearted attempts to be different, but doesn’t try too hard because hey, Halo Reach was coming out soon enough.
ODST Battle Armor (from the D&D Wiki)
- Type: Tactical
- Equipment Bonus: +5
- Nonproficiency Bonus: +2
- Maximum Dex Bonus: +4
- Armor Penalty: -4
- Speed: 30 ft.
- Weight: 32 lbs.
- Purchase DC: 20
- Restriction: Military (+3)
Light weight and strong, this is the armor worn by the elite men and women of the UNSC’s ODST squads. This suit of body armor is vacuum-rated and made up of layered titanium and ceramic composite armor plating to give the user added protection. Along with the increased protection over the standard marine body armor the ODST Battle Armor comes equipped with a HUD and Communications Systems to give more situational awareness to the wearer. ODST Battle Armor can perform in an EVA situation for 15 minutes.