With the recent release of Halo 5 we at N4L Gaming thought it was a good time to look upon the good ol days and reminisce about the series. The following piece is written by Anthony Fuentes and his thoughts on this why ODST could very well be THE definitive halo experience.
One day my nephew, a bright boy of age 8, saved enough money to buy two 5 dollar games from GameStop’s bargain bin and a toy. Initially, he was most excited about the toy (Minecraft figure, because 8) but he also felt he got a good deal with the bargain games. One immediate choice was Assassin’s Creed: Revelations, because he loves scaling virtual buildings as well as murdering those poor CPU guards in creative ways (he really loved Rogue for the ability to kill citizens). The other: Halo ODST. His reasoning was less rooted in past experiences with the franchise but rather an 8 year old’s insatiable need to shoot things and do it fast. He comes from the school of Call of Duty and figured the experience would be similar: twitch reflex shooting and a linear, Michael Bay like campaign. His previous experience with Halo was 4 so he didn’t have a reason to really think otherwise. When he finally jumped into the single player portion, having exhausted the poor Minecraft Creeper, something strange happened.
Rather than play a level or two, discard and resign himself to boredom like so many other non-COD shooters (poor Bioshock: Infinite), he found himself engaged in a way he I hadn’t seen with this kid. Where COD games have taught him to take a shot or two at an enemy and rush to the next zone, ODST made him think about how he approached a herd of enemies. The fodder enemies weren’t soulless CPUs with machine guns but rather funny sounding grunts with alien weapons vastly different from what he started with. The big bads didn’t just duck and cover, they rushed, rolled and took as much punishment as they could before finally succumbing to his bullets and timed melee attacks. Not only that but the mixes of enemies provided a different strategy each time: He could grenade the bunch of Grunts, eliminate a Brute’s shield with a well-placed plasma blast and provide a crunchy melee attack that turned these menacing beasts into ragdolls OR use an alien sniper rifle and go for some clean headshots. When things seemed too stacked against him he made a decision he never made in FPS in all his 8 years: He assessed whether it was worth confronting the enemies and decided it was better to find an alternate path, a decision only possible through the structure of ODST’s unique campaign set up. This was truly like nothing he’d ever played before… and then he discovered Firefight.
I’ll get to the specifics of the cataclysmic experience that was Firefight further down because seeing this total franchise noobie really embrace Halo for the first time brought home one thought: Halo: ODST is the perfect entry point to the franchise and it contains a campaign that is unique to itself while remaining entirely “Halo.” This is a game that doesn’t rely on the journey of Master Chief and Cortana (before she started competing with Siri and starring in commercials), thus eliminating the need to stay up to date on the lore of the franchise. The Flood are completely absent, allowing new players to get acclimated to the Covenant (who are a persistent force throughout the series) and hone their tactics enough so that if they are overwhelmed it’s against an enemy they know how to fight. The player is an underpowered grunt compared to the Spartans that typically headline each campaign, allowing newbies to learn the dance that is a confrontation in Halo. The best part, however, is the very freeform nature of the campaign that not only allows first timers to go at their own pace but provide a very distinct experience that even vets will appreciate. Let me explain.
In ODST the player is a rookie Orbital Drop Shock Trooper (ODST, heh) transplanted into the city of New Mombasa after a botched mission (thanks, bad guys). The whole place is in ruins and patrolled by Covenant forces, which is bad news for anything that bleeds red. Throughout the campaign the player will attempt to navigate this hell hole with a wonderful piano based soundtrack and a unique HUD that allows the player to scout ahead and outline enemies and obstacles. This is important as sometimes you might want to avoid a fight so you can get to the next beacon, which prompts a flashback that allows you to play a more typical Halo mission. Did I say typical? I meant fantastic. You’ll play levels that go back to Halo’s corridor shooter roots but this time you’ll do it in a Scorpion tank and your “corridor” walls will be ruined city buildings, and your enemies? Wraiths and Ghosts looking to flank you like an armored Brute (to which there are still plenty). That’s just one level, however, as soon after you’ll be able to do the same thing with a Banshee, in the sky, while you escort a giant Covenant dropship that you and some other ODST troopers hijacked. Not bad for the grunts of the franchise. Did I mention that often times you can pick and choose which mission you want to take first? So long as you can make the trek through the overworld, with that sweet piano score.
Veterans will relish in these missions, which provide the best of what series has to offer. The campaign moves you from feeling weak and feeble as an ODST with diminishing ammo and increasing enemies to all powerful, switching you from a Warthog to a Scorpion tank in a narrow stretch of road with enemies who just can’t roll away from your blasts fast enough. Newbies will get a greatest hits rendition of what Halo campaigns have to offer while also getting a bit of an open world experience to boot. Hell, there’s even a good amount of banter between the enemies AND your allies, making progression quite entertaining. The final mission, while starting in that corridor Halo fashion, also serves as an introduction to one of the franchise’s greatest (and most sorely missed) modes: Firefight.
Firefight is Halo’s horde mode, done in various rounds with new obstacles placed each time to make the fight a bit tougher. Your skills, experience, and ability to run efficiently will come into play here. You have a small safety room to pick up spare ammo should you need but for the most part you’re on your own (or with friends) against increasing numbers of agitated enemies who will come at you from every angle possible. Not only that but they are VOCAL, allowing for some charm to the experience. There’s a certain joy to killing a grunt in front of a pack of them only to have one shout “He was my best friend!” You can be sure that’ll be the one that charges you next. My nephew couldn’t put Firefight down, and not just for aforementioned banter. Each time he can’t quite make it to the end it’s not enough; after going through so much escalation only to be taken out near the end there is a compelling sense to come back at it again. Your heart rate will not go down until you’ve seen that completion screen. Firefight is not only a test of skill but a test of will: How many rounds can you go of full blown, overwhelming panic?
The only thing missed by giving a contemporary audience ODST is the now killed Halo 3 multiplayer. It’s a fantastic multiplayer that comes on the disc (with nearly all available levels) but the lobbies are pretty much dead. The Master Chief collection is an option, but the audience has most likely moved on as Halo 5 is already on shelves (without split screen, by the way). So at the end of it all, what exactly is ODST and why is it the best possible entry point? I’d say it’s the culmination of Halos 1-3’s strengths, with a sweet new mode that can even turn adolescent COD fans into addicts. It’s paced in such a way that vets and newbies alike will find something to admire and can be both empowering and overwhelming. It’s a corridor shooter and an open world game rolled into one. Is it the best, most polished Halo? No, I’d argue that it’s Bungie’s final game, Halo: Reach, that really nails down the concepts with an even more polished Firefight and campaign that is a relentless thrill ride (though far more linear than ODST). That, however, is an article for another day. ODST is Halo to its core, while being something all its own. Find it in a 5 dollar bin somewhere, split screen the campaign and really put yourself to the test with a bout of Firefight. Play it with a franchise newbie and be happy knowing that they’re going to get the most complete first glimpse of what Bungie’s fabled franchise has to offer. Plus they get a sweet version of that immortal pistol from the first Halo game. 343i could take some notes.