By the time Bungie began work on Halo 3: ODST, they had been producing Halo-based content for almost 10 years and the window of their continued devotion to their IP was beginning to slip. They went out with a big bang the following year with what I still consider to be the pinnacle of the Halo library (so far): Halo: Reach, but this title seems like a bit of a rather insignificant holdover to that final supernova of gaming glory.
Although ODST contains nowhere near the amount of narrative content (my No. 1 point of interest when it comes to video games) as any other title in the series, it’s by no means a bad game. In fact, though the story only took my brother and I four hours to rip through (which is roughly half of the time it typically takes us with entries in this series), the narrative direction is the most unique of all of the Halo games I’ve played up to this point. The story picks up as The Covenant begin the process of glassing Earth just as they did to Reach before it. Rather than controlling an overpowered spartan, laying waste to every alien in your path, however, this game puts players in control of a rotating team of ODST soldiers (which are the best non-genetically altered soldiers in the human defense effort) who must work together to ensure that the entire squad makes it out of the doomed African city of New Mombasa. The character development of the multi-man team (all of whom the player takes control at one point or another) are far from the well-developed Noble Team from Reach, but the setting works well, the scenery is fantastic, and the battles are as chaotic as ever. The main unnamed protagonist, who is simply referred to as “The Rookie” is even more silent than Noble 6 was, but his somber solo survival mission throughout the darkened streets of New Mombasa as he attempts to find his missing teammates is unique and atmospheric.
As ODSTs are not the battle-hardened super soldiers that spartans are, the fight for survival is more difficult (and thus more rewarding) in ODST. However, whereas Halo: Combat Evolved used long, confusing levels and often a plethora of multiple enemy vehicles or hordes of enemies armed with heavy artillery which almost required a trial-and-error approach, all of the situations in which the ODSTs find themselves during their difficult stay in New Mombasa never seem unfair. It strikes a perfect balance between the badassery of an unbridled Master Chief and the instant and unimportant deaths of the average Marine. Players will need to pull out all the stops to survive, but when you pull off those moments of ride-or-die heroism, the rush of adrenaline is unmatched. Even so, 90% of what happens over the course of ODST‘s story seems insignificant when compared to the grand scope of the overall Halo story, and I certainly won’t be pining for The Rookie when I retake the mantle of Master Chief in Halo 3.
Although ODST is a short affair not altogether important in the Master Chief-focused narrative of the Halo universe, it’s still a memorable experience that I enjoyed even more than the original Halo title. It probably was a bit overpriced and overhyped at the time of its release, but now that it’s seven years old and dirt cheap, it’s a game worth checking out for Halo fans, and a solid entry point for those interested in trying the series for the first time.