Game Night, Halo, Review, Video Games

Halo 3 ODST: Why Open Worlds Don’t Always Work

This is the last Bungie-made Halo game for me to review. I’ve done Reach, Combat Evolved, 2, and 3. With this, I’ll have reviewed every single Halo game made by the original developers.

Which is my long-winded way of saying that this is the last Halo review that’s going to be positive. And considering that I don’t really care much for this game, that’s super depressing.

ODST is an odd game. For every one thing I like, there is another that I hate. It feels strangely half-baked, like the designers implemented their ideas without knowing how they would properly work in the final product. It’s a mess.

Still fun, though. Well… mostly.

Story: A Half-Baked Mystery

Remember when Halo games were allowed to not have Master Chief in it? I do. Those were better times.

You play as an ODST squad, primarily as the unnamed Rookie, who drop into New Mombasa shortly after the beginning of Halo 2 (at least I think; that’s what makes sense to me). During the drop, you got separated from the rest of the team. Now, trapped alone in the streets of a deserted city, you must find clues as to where the rest of the squad has gone and unravel the mystery behind your mission.

Honestly, story wise? This game didn’t do it for me. It’s not a compelling Halo story and it isn’t an engaging mystery. It doesn’t commit itself enough to either one to be as great as it could’ve been. Although I’ll admit that the dialogue isn’t half bad.

Let’s start with the mystery. In a typical mystery, you start off with a question. Who killed this dude, who stole the thing, who is the traitor, so on and so forth. From there, the story is drip-feeds you information that slowly answers that question. By the end, you’ll have all the information you need to figure it out. In a well constructed mystery, you might even be able to figure it out before the story even reveals the answer!

ODST doesn’t do this. It presents you with the question of ‘what is the real mission’ in the first scene, then immediately throws it away for ‘what happened to the team’. Unfortunately, neither one is that interesting and neither one tie into each other in an interesting way. The only reveal for the mystery of the team is that they each had regular adventures and then met up. The answer to the mission isn’t focused on at all, giving the player few to no clues to solve it. There is no ‘aha!’ moment to either of these. It’s just “Oh good, they’re fine” and “Oh cool, we’re here to save an alien”.

All the levels taking place in the open world feel distinctly pointless to the story. Seriously, you could have structured this like a regular Halo game and remove the open world entirely and the game’s story would be completely unaffected. Fuck, dude, most of the mission playlists do this exact thing!

So, question: why the fuck is it in the game?!

The characters within this story aren’t all that great, either. Buck is the only one I can remember, and that’s because he’s played by Nathan Fillion! None of them are all that compelling or deep. In fact, I found them to be quite annoying! I didn’t care for any of them and deleted them from my memory the moment I finished the game!

I do not like this story. Sure, the dialogue is plenty witty and it sounds pretty natural. But the plot and characters feel half-baked. It adds so little to the story that it doesn’t feel necessary to play. The only thing it adds to the story is ‘this is how the characters new what the Covenant was up to at the beginning of Halo 3’.

Wow. How compelling.

Presentation: The Eternal Night-Vision Filter

Holy shit is Halo 3’s engine gorgeous! Sure, the character models definitely show their age, particularly in their faces and hands. But if you can ignore the sausage fingers, it all looks great!

Especially this game! New Mombasa is a downright gorgeous environment! The game utilizes darkness to brilliant effect not only to hide the blemishes, but to create a unique and distinct aesthetic unmatched in any other Halo game.

Unfortunately, it’s too damn dark to see anything, so you’ll spend the majority of the game using your night vision, dying everything in this gross looking green filter. So… all that praise is kind of null and void, innit?

Plus, all the levels kinda feel the same. There are a few exceptions, but the overwhelming majority of them kinda give me flashbacks of Halo CE’s Library mission. The same repeating hallways, over and over again. The same looking city streets, over and over again. Compared to Halo 2 or 3, which had an incredible amount of variety between missions, this is just… so dull!

Although, in all fairness: this game’s got a killer soundtrack. I never knew I needed Halo jazz before. But now that I have it? I don’t think I can ever let it go. ODST’s music has an identity that is distinctly Halo while still standing out compared to all the other games. This music is absolutely fucking killer, dude!

All in all, this is a solid looking game. I fucking hate the night vision thing, but aside from that it looks great. Besides, given how beautiful the music is and how gorgeous the environments are (even if they are repetitive), I think I can forgive it.

But only kind of.

Gameplay: Wait, what the fuck do you mean there’s no PVP?

Is that allowed? This is Halo! What do you mean the only multiplayer is Firefight?!

This game plays exactly the same as Halo 3. The campaign presents you with eleven new missions (seventeen if you count the open world segments), each with their own unique objectives that are pretty fun to go through. The multiplayer, while it doesn’t have the traditional PVP, is more like a COD Zombies mode, only with Halo.

Ergo, better. Because Halo has good enemy AI. Unfortunately, Firefight doesn’t leave much to be discussed. It’s a fun little game to play with your friends, but doesn’t make the best online experience.

The big thing that separates the campaign from other Halos is the open world. Unfortunately, it’s a big ol’ waste of fucking time and I hate it!

Typically, the first thing you’d want to do when making an open world game is to fill it with stuff to find. Side quests, collectibles, upgrades, stuff like that. ODST does none of that. There is nothing to find in New Mombasa. At all. It is literally fucking hollow. All you do is walk to the next waypoint to go to the next mission. And rest assured: it is a long walk.

So again, I ask: why. The fuck. Is. It. In. The fucking. Game?!?!

“But what about the audio logs?!” I hear you asking. “Those are collectibles! And they play into the story! You gotta find those! Those justify the open world!”

Here’s the thing, fucko (I’m sorry I insulted you, this point makes me angry as fuck). Halo has had collectibles like this before. Like the skulls hidden throughout Halo 3. And you know what they did? They put them in the levels! Why the fuck couldn’t they do that here?! If you ain’t gonna put anything in your open world, whey the god damn fucking shit did you make a god damn fucking open world?!?!

Deep breaths, Jonah. Deep breaths. Calm down.

That complaint aside, this is still a plenty fun game. I mean, come on! It’s Halo! By Bungie! At its core, it’s still plenty of fun! It’s just that the open world part of it is the fucking worst thing ever and I hate it and I never want to go back to those city streets again.

In retrospect, playing this after revisiting Breath of the Wild might’ve been a bad idea.

Conclusion

ODST is an odd game. I don’t hate it, but I also don’t love it. There are aspects that I like and aspects that I loath with a fiery passion. But in the end, it’s still a Halo game. My affection for this franchise is too great for me to be too mad at it.

If you love Halo, you should play ODST. But if you want a compelling open world game, or a game with fun multiplayer, you’d best look elsewhere. It isn’t a bad game by any means. I can still very much see why people would love this game. But I found it to be lacking compared to the other games.

And with that, we’ve finished the golden age of Halo. These five games, while I do have my grievances with some, are among my favorite games of all time. This franchise means a lot to me. It’s been a source of comfort and fun for as long as I can remember. It’s brought me closer to my family and friends. And even this year, these games have helped me get through all the bullshit. These games, faults and all, are so very special to me.

Unfortunately, I can’t say the same about the 343 games.

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