By Duncan Voice
There’s something quite unnerving walking around a big city on your own at night. It can be a lonely experience, with the fear of coming across a gang of thugs ready to ruin your evening. Overturned vehicles line the streets, corpses strewn along the pavement. No, this isn’t a stroll around Gloucester on a Wednesday evening, this is a night in the life of The Rookie, an Orbital Drop Shock Trooper.
This expansion-cum-full-game pits you as the aforementioned Rookie, as he tries to uncover the mystery behind the disappearance of his squad after they were knocked off course by the Prophet of Regrets ship, during a drop into New Mombasa. The game attempts to expand the Halo storyline, and takes place during Halo 2 before The Covenant vitrify the city.
Whilst tying in nicely to the events during the second game, it doesn’t succeed in pushing an already convoluted story any further forward. The cut scenes are disappointingly clunky, even with voice acting from FireFly’s Nathan Fillion. An awkward, stunted romance between Buck (a bit of an idiot) and Dare (chin the size of Africa) is tacked on, presumably to give proceedings a splash of humanity. It only serves in demonstrating Bungie’s increasing slip on their beloved story. What once promised to be an epic, space-aged saga is now crumbling into something you would expect to find for a quid in the DVD bargain bin down your local garage.
New Mombasa itself is well designed, and along with another beautiful Halo soundtrack by Martin O’Donnell gives weight to the idea that exploring it by yourself in this African city is a lonely, and sometimes harrowing experience. You do genuinely feel as if you are alone in a massive city, a notion that is accentuated by The Rookies powers, or lack of. Master Chief could jump into the middle of a few brutes, reel off a couple of headshots, cuff one in the face and plant a plasma grenade where the sun don’t shine before he could let his health rejuvenate. The Rookie, along with the other ODSTs, will jump into group of Jackals, then punch one in the face a few times before having to retreat with his tail between his legs in search of a health pack.
The lack of these super-human (ish) abilities initially promotes stealthier gameplay, and adds to the atmosphere, particularly when you spot five or six grunts up ahead and a period of squeaky bum time occurs as you try to avoid being seen. Halo veterans will feel immediately at home with the combat, with the shooting mechanics as solid as you have come to expect. However, it’s certainly not as different as the developers would have you believe, with old tactics such as unloading a clip into a brute before a melee hit still particularly effective.
The troopers have an attachment in their visors which highlights enemies in a red outline, friendlies in green, and points of interest in yellow. It is a useful addition, and gives decent alternative to the super strength and regeneration health of Master Chief. Like Arkham Asylum’s detective mode however, I found it easier to just keep it on the majority of the time, detracting slightly from the visuals. Halo 3 was never known for it’s outstanding graphics, nor is it holding up well against current releases. ODST adds a bit of sheen and a new lick of paint, sanding down some rough edges, but it certainly can’t hold a torch to the graphical flair of games like Far Cry 2.
Taking point from Gears of War 2’s Horde mode, ODST introduces it’s own game of wave based merriment, Firefight. It’s good, very good in fact. Almost worth the cost of entry, but not quite. Only playable with those on your friends list (no, I don’t get it either) the aim is to score as many points against covenant scoundrels of increasing number and toughness. It can get incredibly tense at points, and an awful lot of fun, especially with a party of four. However it does take too long, a good 10-15 minutes before the challenge arrives, and so repeated games can become tiresome, which is also marred by that bizarre decision regarding a lack of matchmaking.
As is customary, after we have both finished the single player campaign, a friend and I take on the legendary mode in co-op. Previous Halos have given an extra eight or so hours onto the playtime. ODST gave about four. Without Firefight and the second disc with all Halo 3 multiplayer content, the ODST campaign could, and should have been DLC (downloadable content). If you think Halo is the greatest gaming franchise to have ever been created, then you will probably happily hand over your money. For the rest of us, it’s difficult to recommend it as a full price game.
7 OUT OF 10