This may come as a bit of a surprise to many people, given how I’ve banged on about Halo 4‘s mastery of story, character development, art design and so on, but overall my favourite game in the series is ODST.
Halo 3: ODST, originally named Halo 3: Recon, before Bungie supposedly decided that they didn’t want the game to sell primarily on the basis that you could now earn Recon armour for Halo 3, was released in September of 2009. I remember being incredibly ticked off because Amazon failed to deliver it to me on the day it was released, despite having ordered it for day one delivery (this happened with Skyrim too), so my first actual experience of the game was walking to a friend’s house to go to school to find that he’d been playing the Firefight mode since the early hours of the morning (bastard!).
Anyway, ODST was intended to be a 2 hour DLC expansion to Halo 3‘s storyline to provide some context that bridged the gap between Halo 2 and Halo 3. Through some fortuitous circumstance, this ended up becoming a full 6 hour long game which, in my opinion, was INFINITELY superior to Halo 3.
ODST opens up about a quarter of the way through Halo 2. You see the Prophet of Regret’s ship (and even a brief glimpse of the In Amber Clad) hanging over the devastated city of New Mombasa, the ODSTs, orbital drop shock troopers, are preparing for an infiltration mission on the ship – however, things go wrong as Dare, the team’s captain, redirects their pods and the Prophet of Regret flees Earth to go to the newly discovered Halo ring, Installation 05.
Your pod crashes, your team is scattered and you awaken 6 hours later. It’s night time and you’re on your own against the Covenant army who have occupied the city.
The first thing that hits you (other than the ground) in ODST is how artistically beautiful the game is. Despite running on Halo 3‘s aged engine, as you switch on your VISR mode, the entire city is illuminated before your eyes.
Unfortunately, Bungie discovered mid-way through the game’s development that the engine couldn’t support rain. Emphasis was instead placed on Marty’s sublime score for the game which beautifully illustrates the noir-inspired mood of the Rookie’s gameplay segments and the more action-driven nature of the flashback sequences where you assume control of different squad members throughout the 6 hour time frame in which you’ve been unconscious. The soundtrack to this game, in my opinion, is not just Marty’s best work, but one of the greatest soundtracks of any video game – up there with the likes of Journey and Shadow of the Colossus.
The meta-narrative of ODST is another thing to talk about. Throughout the city of New Mombasa, you can find a number of audio logs which recall the story of the Covenant’s invasion from a civilian’s perspective, Sadie Endesha.
This story follows the narrative style of Dante’s Divine Comedy, specifically Inferno, as Sadie’s time in the city is very much reminiscent of the 9 Circles of Hell. I honestly think that this is one of the best pieces of story in the Halo series, it shows, above all else, just how malleable and accommodative this series is at adopting a huge variety of themes and tones. Halo is a space opera at heart, but interwoven within that are so many well-crafted tales from the ‘little people’ which gives you, the player, an idea of what you’re fighting to protect in the other games.
I’ll cover this more extensively in the future.
ODST has its share of epic moments as well. From watching the orbital space tether collapse in the early stages of the game to taking on a Scarab in a Banshee, and the Prophet of Truth’s fleet jumping in over the city only to start glassing it seconds later, there is a lot that’s going to stick in your head here when the credits roll around.
The campaign wasn’t all that ODST had to offer, though. One of the most significant additions to the series was Firefight mode, based on survival gametypes from games like Gears of War (Horde Mode) or Call of Duty (Nazi Zombies), though it irks me that people seem to forget that Bungie had come up with a survival mode before either of these games in the Marathon series.
Firefight has you, and up to 3 others, pitted against wave after wave of Covenant on a variety of maps. But I’ll save the in-depth explanations for Sergeant Johnson. ODST‘s Firefight is my favourite, and easily the best, in the series – Reach‘s just didn’t even come close due to the generally poor maps and introduction of Armour Abilities which really messed up the way the game was played. Firefight in this game is merciless, is you didn’t work as a team and play strategically then you weren’t going to last a single set. You had to conserve your ammo for each weapon, especially with the limited number of power weapons, and each one of the four team members had to adopt some kind of role. Player A would be in charge of the heavy weapons for when the Hunters and Chieftains came around, Player B would funnel the enemies into a location while Player C would have plasma weapons to deplete the shields of Brutes and Player D picked them off with headshots. You had a very limited number of lives which you shared between your team mates, tactical play was rewarded while the players who adopted a more reckless, gung-ho attitude ended up with nothing outside of a ‘game over’ screen.
While I consider Halo: Combat Evolved, Halo 4, and Halo 3: ODST to be my trinity of favourite Halo games, the latter manages to pull off pretty much everything bang-on. It fixed most of Halo 3‘s unbalanceed sandbox elements by removing dual-wielding and giving damage buffs so weapons like the Spiker were no longer useless on their own, and there was no Battle Rifle to dominate everything, instead you got the Silenced SMG and scoped Magnum which resulted in a much more balanced experience. The story was phenomenal and the multiplayer (Firefight) is one of the best things to happen to the series, I have many fond (and frustrating) memories of staying up into the early hours of the morning with friends on Xbox Live trying to get the game’s various Vidmaster achievements and it’s a game I still make time for to this day.
The underrated gem of the Halo series.