For over nine years the iconic figure of Master Chief has been the champion of the flagship Halo series. The success of the Xbox console owes a lot to the cybernetically-enhanced super-soldier that has led us through many covenant battles, stretching as far back as 2001 in the first title, Halo: Combat Evolved. Nowadays the series has grown to many avenues and Master Chief sits alongside other gaming-platform icons such as Mario and Sonic. Halo itself has gained a legendary status being named as one of the most important games ever.
It’s very difficult to imagine a Super Mario game without Mario, or a Sonic the Hedgehog game without the spiky blue character… so you have to ask yourself why the powers that be decided that the fourth first-person-shooter in the Halo series would not feature Master Chief. Did someone wake up one day and say, “You know what, I fancy a gamble today!” I personally think they knew they were in a no-lose situation. If it flops and people say it should have had MC in it then Bungie can simply turn around and say, “well it’s only an expansion pack on Halo 3″ (After all it is Halo 3: ODST). Alternatively if it’s a big success then Bungie can shout from the rafters “we did well with Halo ODST”.
So one of the biggest questions surrounding the game prior to release was does the game succeed without Master Chief. Quite simply, yes it does – and it does it very well. In fact it does it so well that by the end of the game you could be forgiven for wondering why we need MC (other than being the hugely iconic figure he is).
For those who are unaware of the storyline behind ODST here is a short insight. Set on Earth, the game focuses on the events surrounding the Covenants invasion of the African megacity, New Mombasa. The storyline is slightly tied into the beginnings of Halo 2. New Mombasa however looks a little better and more like a mega-city. As a squad of ODSTs you are dropped from low-orbit into New Mombasa to begin your fight. Unfortunately all does not go to plan and you, at this point playing the part of the new squad rookie, crash land in the city after the last covenant ship breaks into a slipstream jump. You’re woken six hours after landing and begin to piece bits of the last six hours back together and catch up with your squad. The storyline will take a good gamer about six hours to get through, a little short maybe.
Throughout the game you switch between moving through a quiet night-time city as you hunt for clues to playing the parts of the other team members as you live out their stories after the drops. I found the whole storyline brilliant. It’s perfectly varied and you never feel as if anything is repeating, even though every other level is back experiencing the somewhat quieter night-life of New Mombasa, it simply never feels repetitive. Playing on the Heroic level (leaving Legendary for co-op) it felt like a challenge to get through and outwit the covenant using both stealth and tactical assaults to get through the harder areas. The AI is a little more intelligent than previous Halo games.
Being a run-of-the-mill UNSC soldier you’re slightly lacking in the advantages befallen to the Chief. Your health, for example, doesn’t regenerate and you’ll need to visit one of the various health pack outlets dotted around the city or pick up ones that have been dropped. You can’t dual wield either, but the magnum is back to its best and even on Heroic you can drop some covenant with a single well-placed shot. We also get a silenced SMG which is a very nice gun indeed, just make sure you have plenty of ammo. Your ODST trooper can’t jump quite as high as MC, nor can you fall from great heights without feeling the pain afterwards. No motion sensing radar either – though you can jump to the map to get an idea of where the covenant might be. This though adds to the game I feel. You are a more basic soldier, you can’t go running in guns blazing. You have to think to survive and for me it just adds to the experience.
On multiplayer you have the standard Halo co-op opportunities as well having a second disc with Halo 3 multiplayer and all the DLC content you’ll ever need (slightly annoying if you’ve already bought it all – but a nice addition if like me you haven’t splashed the cash already). One big addition for ODST is the new Firefight mode. For those of us who have played Horde on Gears of War or Zombie Nazi’s on Call of Duty, the new mode will feel similar. Wave after wave of covenant are pushed towards you and your squad and with limited ammo between drop crates you have to make do and remove each and every assault. Its a fantastic experience and it genuinely feels as though Bungie have taken the good points from the other games’ incarnations of this style of play and just added some downright goodness to it.
Overall, taking into account the general atmosphere the game builds for you, the graphics and the excellent soundtrack, as well as looking at level layout, storyline etc. I’d personally (and I’m laying my life on the line here a little) have to say this is the best Halo game yet. Even if it is a bit short.