I’ve never liked the Halo franchise, probably because I’m a hopeless contrarian who refuses to enjoy anything if anyone else already likes it, or something. It’s just always struck me as a fun, pretty FPS, but nothing more – it’s nice multiplayer and mildly diverting and all, but the gameplay doesn’t seem much more advanced than GoldenEye 007 was for the Nintendo 64 – and that was years ago. You point, you shoot. Headshots are good. When you win, you teabag your downed opponents, if you’re a drooling nincompoop. Sure, there are four different kinds of grenades (which all seem to do the same thing – that is, explode), and lots of large penis metaphors, but that’s not anything mindblowingly new. And yet every new release seems to get all kinds of purple-prosed reviews which read more like advance promotion than any kind of legitimate criticism. I don’t get it.
Not that Halo 3: ODST doesn’t have any ideas. It’s really trying for something with its disjointed narrative, and the framing story – wherein a character known as The Rookie wanders the fallen city at night, looking for clues as to the whereabouts of his squadmates – is effectively lonely, with a moody piano score and lots of soft, vibrant lights shining out of the darkness. One thing I’ve always liked about the Halo franchise is that rather than going for the traditional washed-out, grimy look of most war games, they’re generally full of vibrant purples, greens, and blues, as well as massive, gorgeous views of bombed-out, futuristic worlds. But ODST never quite nails the mood perfectly, mostly because the other half of the story is your standard rehashing of all war games – manly men, lame attempts at witty rapport, a half-assed love affair. And it’s hard to take a game seriously, no matter how much it wants you to, when the most common enemy you face is a tiny pear-shaped creature with a squeaky voice who repeatedly yells things like “run for your lives!” That just feels like a cartoon, no matter how poorly lit its surroundings are.
By the way, game developers should just stop trying to do love stories with uncanny-valley CGI – the only effective video-game romance I’ve ever played was Shadow of the Colossus, and that works basically because the object of your desires spends the whole game in a coma, looking pretty. When a pair of pixel-people have a climactic make-out session, it’s hard to feel triumphant when you can still see the empty, soulless look in their eyes.
Oh, and the new multiplayer mode – Firefight – is fun, but Left 4 Dead’s Survival mode is essentially the same thing and way better.
Published by: Microsoft Game Studios
Developed by: Bungie
Genre: First-person shooter
Number of Players: 1-4
Release Date: September 22, 2009
ESRB: M BBFC: 15 OFLC: M PEGI: 16+
Also Available On: Absolutely nothing!