In hindsight, Halo 2 wasn't quite what we'd expected. After the original Halo single handedly made the Xbox a legitimate rival to Sony's PlayStation 2 console, early videos promised that it's sequel was due to include battles on a ruined earth, taking place huge cityscapes. It didn't. And as fantastic as the series continued to be, it sadly missed out on what looked to be a brilliant turn for the Halo games. Halo 3: ODST feels just like Halo 2 could have been.
Everyone knows by now that the star of the first three games, the tall figure of the Master Chief doesn't reprise his role in ODST. Instead, you take control of various members of a squad of Orbital Drop Shock Troopers. Hence, the overwhelming brute force that we all loved to wield in the first three games has now disappeared, with the various ODST members certainly more than a few notches below the skills of the Chief.
The story itself – which Bungie seem desperate to set as the new "star" of the Halo show – is played out in a novel manner. Each section begins with The Rookie, who was knocked out for 6 hours after plummeting towards the Earth city of New Mombasa, stealthily stalking the streets, picking off a few enemies, and ultimately discovering an item that induces a flashback towards the events surrounding the rest of the squad during the previous 6 hours. Each character's sections play a touch differently, with some focusing on brute strength and weaponry might, and others utilising all those Halo-developed FPS skills we've practiced over the years.
This change to how a Halo game is set out at first feels awkward. Characters feel so underpowered that deaths are frequent as you struggle to come to terms with the lack of the Master Chief. Stealth sections feel slightly cumbersome, particularly as you struggle to understand just what an enemy can't see/hear and what it can.
But, the sections using the other characters, which consists of the major part of the single player campaign, feel much more Halo. Well, like the original Halo: Combat Evolved. Gone is the ability to duel wield, take out bigger enemies with a single melee assault, and make huge hulking jumps. Instead the scaled back nature does hark back to the absolutely sublime combat of the original title. And that's certainly a major plus for Halo fans.
The other change is to the health system. Gone is the fondly loved recharge system, replaced by both shield and health stats. Once your shield has been knocked through – which still recovers through avoidance of combat for a short period – your health will be eaten up. And this can only be recovered due to picking up health packs scattered around the game world. It's an awkward change, and certainly makes things much more tactical when taking on a large group of enemies. Halo veterans in particular may find it a little tricky to get used to.
So the single player campaign is fun and action packed. It's a touch shorter than the rest of the series, but it certainly keeps you gripped for its entire lifespan. But the Bioshock esque influence hits again, just like it did in the recent Batman: Arkham Asylum, by allowing you to discover the back story by listening to snippets of information you pick up during searches as The Rookie. It's a much more complex tale than the series has told before, and it certainly adds to the somewhat depressing tone of The Rookie's in-game sections. Whether it's for everyone however is a different matter. Some Halo fans might just tire of these sections which lack pace and urgency, and just be desperate to rack up the kills.
Thankfully for them, Firefight mode is fantastic. After the popularity of Gears of War 2's Horde mode, Firefight allows you and up to three friends the chance to take on wave after wave of enemies, holding out for dear life. As the kills progress, the waves get tougher, and your score mounts up to wicked levels.
The addition of skills which give certain rounds a specific gameplay nuance makes things even more exciting, and Firefight will undoubtedly prove to be a real time drain for all multiplayer Halo fans. The only minus point is you can only play with friends. There's no chance to hook up with randoms and take on the onrushing hordes. A real odd decision from Bungie, particularly if you're lacking the online friends packing copies of ODST.
Also for multiplayer fans, the second disc comes complete with the entire Halo 3 multiplayer mode and maps, and tosses in a few more for good measure. Everyone knows how popular and brilliant Halo 3's multiplayer modes have proved to be, hence it's a terrific bonus to the entire package.
Halo 3: ODST is a truly terrific game. While the single player campaign might not be quite to everyone's taste due to its more structured and story-driven nature (though it's certainly a blooming brilliant ride while it lasts), the mutiplayer options are guaranteed to keep us all gripped for months on end. Yet another Halo must-buy.