A side-story taking place in the Halo universe, "ODST" puts you in the role of the titular Orbital Drop Ship Trooper - a regular marine compared to the Master Chief, the series' normal protagonist. Using the basic gameplay and graphics of Halo 3, ODST is neat and different in some ways and disappointingly samey in others.
ODST follows a squad of drop troopers - primarily through the eyes of Rookie, a silent protagonist. Rookie proceeds through the abandoned, dead city of New Mombasa looking for records of his teammates, who he was separated from. Finding these records allows you to play a segment as another trooper - Buck, the leader, Mickey, the tech specialist, Dutch, the tough guy, or Romeo, the sniper.
Rookie's segments are really freeform and open - you explore the city, going through apartments and back alleys and occasionally running into random patrols of Covenant soldiers. The city's AI, the Supervisor, will occasionally try to get your attention by hijacking various city systems - signs will change to point you in the right direction, phones will start ringing, ticket machines will start spewing tickets, crosswalks and traffic lights will change, and so on. These directions will lead you to audio diaries - clues to a side-story - or weapon/ammo caches. All in all, it makes for a really great feel - almost to the level of Silent Hill - and it's backed up by some of the best music in the series.
The action stages are pretty good, too, but far more traditional. There is some openness in the levels, but for the most part they're similar to normal Halo 3. This is where the main promise of ODST - the fact that you're playing as a normal soldier - kind of falls flat. You can basically do everything that the Master Chief can do, including but not limited to flipping over cars and punching through tanks. Your health works slightly differently, but it still basically equates to "if you get hit, go duck behind cover until you recover". You can get away with running up to Brutes and punching them in the face until they die. All in all, you basically demonstrate the same level of "super-soldier" that the actual super soldiers have, as opposed to having to rely on your wits and your guns to overcome your weakness.
In addition to the campaign mode, ODST also offers a four-person co-op mode called "Firefight". In this mode, the human players attempt to hold out as long as they can against waves of Covenant troops. Like Gears of War 2's Horde mode, this can be a blast with the right people. To add a bit of difficulty into the mix, each wave of Covenant has a special effect attached to them - the ability to dodge grenades, or being more resistant to plasma, and so on. This ensures that the endless waves of Covenant continue to be challenging for as long as you play.
The graphics are similar to Halo 3's, but the urban environment is much more well-designed than those in Halo 3. A lot of care went into designing the city and the various signs and objects scattered around it, and the end result feels pretty natural. The sound is really good, too. The most obvious change, sound-wise, is that an injured ODST will pant and groan realistically instead of offering a single grunt like the Master Chief does. This makes it feel a lot more immersive, and is almost worth the fact that - for game reasons - you can heal up really easily and dying's not really that big of a deal.
On the whole, I understand why ODST didn't take a more realistic approach, but that doesn't mean it's not disappointing. As a game, ODST is good, but with some eye-rolling flaws that could've been turned into something more meaningful than "another Halo game".
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