2014 left release-day loyalists, those that purchased games on the day of release, a little bitter. Many games were released glitchy, unfinished and in some cases, unplayable (see Assassin’s Creed: Unity). The king of Xbox exclusives, the Master Chief himself, was sadly not immune to this phenomenon and so Microsoft and 343 Industries had some apologising to do.
Developer: 343 Industries
Publisher: Microsoft Studios
Reviewed on: Xbox One
Also Available On: Xbox One Exclusive
In all fairness, it turns out they’re pretty good at apologising.
In addition to a free month of Xbox Live Gold membership, Halo fans who purchased and played Halo: The Master Chief Collection within the first month (sorry guys that received the game for Christmas) were promised a substantial free DLC for the game, the full Halo 3: ODST single player campaign, remastered in full 1080p with 60fps. So six months on and that promise finally came to fruition at the end of last week.
For those a bit rusty with the Halo series, Halo 3: ODST was released by Bungie in 2009 to fill the gap between Halo 3 and Halo Reach. Conceived as a small expansion project, it quickly grew into a full game in its own right which would do something that no previous Halo game has done, take the Master Chief out of the story completely. Instead of everyone’s favourite spartan, players assume the roles of a group of elite soldiers known as “Orbital Drop Shock Troopers”, ODST for short.
Despite the game’s title, the campaign actually takes place during the events of Halo 2, with the central focus on the rookie of the ODST unit searching the ruined city of New Mombasa in an effort to discover the fate of his team. As he discovers clues around the city, the story plays out through flashbacks where the player takes on the role of each of the ODST team members and their experiences.
The developers took a big risk on ODST, to change the established format, taking away the super soldier hero of the story and instead focusing on a group of normal humans, it was a bold move which paid off when the game was originally released six years old.
The other big change in this story is that there is no flood, no singular maniacal bad guy, the game purely focuses on one team’s mission and their survival through dangerous terrain.
The whole campaign plays out more like a noir murder mystery than the sci-fi opera we’ve come to expect from the Halo series and it is a refreshing change. Replaying it now, the story adds it’s own unique value to the Master Chief Collection, it gives the game a bit more variety than just the four mainstream Halo can.
The gameplay itself plays almost identical to the newly remastered Halo 3, in fact, the campaign actually appears as a sub-option of that game within the Master Chief Collection. The controls system continues the template used by the other Halo games and so it’s very easy for anyone who missed the game first time around to jump straight into.
Where this game sets itself apart from the other games in the series, however, is how the player plays the game. This time you don’t have a super-suit with the same capabilities are the Master Chief, there are limitations regarding health regeneration, jumping and all around survival compared to the mainstream games.
Playing that slightly more vulnerable character adds a new level of tactics to the experience. While you may be a Halo veteran and have very little problem blitzing through a Master Chief campaign on Legendary, you may not have the same experience from ODST. That hasn’t been lost in the transition from 360 to Xbox One, this is still a fair challenge compared to Halo 1, 2 and 3.
As with the Master Chief Collections version of Halo 3, not much work has been done to improve on the graphics in ODST. Yes, it has had the 1080p treatment and there’s been a framerate increase but the cut-scenes look very dated compared to the anniversary Halo’s and Halo 4. Unfortunately Halo 3: ODST suffers from the same issue as Halo 3, it’s too old to look fantastic next to today’s games but not old enough to have enjoyed the anniversary treatment.
Does this take away from the gaming experience this time around? In one word, no. The playable environments are still stunning enough to bolster the game’s appeal. With the same quality as the Halo 3 in this collection, you’re unlikely to be disappointed if you know what to expect. That said, the resolution and framerate improvements do make a difference as I discovered after dusting off my original Xbox 360 version of the game for a side by side comparison.
The Halo series is renowned for its amazing soundtrack, it has always helped define the series and Halo 3: ODST doesn’t disappoint. Much like the story, the audio is something very different from the rest of the series. As the story centers around much less out-of-this-world characters, the soundtrack was composed with a much more personal and intimate tone in mind.
The voice acting for Halo 3: ODST’s main cast is superb, made even more awesome when you realise that three of the main ODST squad were voiced by the cast of Firefly due to the development team being fans of the show. With Nathan Fillion, Adam Baldwin and Alan Tudyk all adding their unique vocal talents and Battlestar Galactica’s Tricia Helfer completing the cast, it’s hard to find any fault with any aspect here.
There is, unfortunately, one BIG downside to the new version of Halo 3: ODST, no Firefight mode and according to 343 Industries, no plans to ever add it to the collection. For those not in the know, Fireflight was ODST’s unique multiplayer function, it was basically a horde mode and proved quite popular with fans. Players would battle increasingly difficult waves of bad guys to score points and survive as long as possible.
The original version also contained the Halo 3 multiplayer functionality, this is, of course, already included in the Master Chief Collection so there was no need to include this functionality in the new DLC.
Halo 3: ODST is a fine addition to Halo: The Master Chief Collection, it was an extremely successful release back in 2009 and it has transitioned well to the Xbox One. With a story that offers something very different to the overall Halo experience, this campaign gives players the chance to take a break from the Master Chief and focus on something a bit more human while still maintaining what has made the Halo series so successful.
The visuals, while not as polished as a full remaster would have allowed, like the anniversary editions, the story and gameplay more than make up for it, much like it’s parent game Halo 3.
The lack of Firefight mode is a little disappointing, it’s inclusion would have provided even more variety to the already packed out multiplayer. As with the Halo series as a whole though, the hard work and passion has gone into the single-player elements as a priority and so this isn’t a huge loss overall.
Halo 3: ODST is currently available as a DLC to Xbox One users who played Halo: The Master Chief Collection between 11th November and 19th December last year. If you are one of those gamers then please check your Xbox Live inbox for a message containing the redeemable store code.
For those of you that sadly weren’t able to play the game during that time period, the Halo 3: ODST DLC will be made available to purchase from the Xbox One store in the not too distant future, for now though the priority is to say sorry to those who suffered the glitchy early days.