Until as recentlty as Friday night, I hadn't played Halo 3: ODST for more than 10 minutes. Now that the Reach hype-machine is in full swing however, I found myself loading up the glorified expansion on Friday night and resolved to, as Bungie put it, "Finish the Fight." I must admit that after about 5 hours of solid play, I wasn't bored, and I wasn't in pain; I had actually enjoyed myself. It isn't the most innovative game I've ever played, but it's paced exceptionally well, and some of the characters are actually likeable. Further to that, the story (with the exception of the concluding chapter) is intriguing, and provides enough of an incentive to reach (ha! Halo pun) the conclusion. The last level adds further weight to the argument that Bungie cannot close a story well, if at all. An excrutiatingly long vehicle sequence, followed by a disappointing three wave set piece concludes with an underwhelming cutscene that brings little resolution to the events that have transpired. Despite claims to the contrary, ODST plays exactly like any other Halo title except for the lack of the ability to dual-wield weapons. There were however, some aspects of this installment that set it apart from its predecesors.
While the visuals are of an impressive scale and are generally of high quality, the lighting effects employed in Halo 3: ODST served to frustrate and bemuse me. Most of the game is played in low light situations, and while you can change your visor settings to illuminate areas and highlight enemies, the effect rarely assists you and in some cases can lead to discomfort. Indoors, most features are bathed in a warm yellow, but it is still hard to find your way around. In exterior locations, switching on the light visor causes a harsh glare which usually subsides to the point where your eyes won't dry completely. This effect occurs in all but darkest night. Even when the sun has set, and all that can be seen is a lovely, dark pink hue in the heavens above, turning on the light will cause brief agony.
I appreciated the Orbital Drop Shock Troopers and their plight more than Master Chief, Cortana and the principal narrative and character set of the Halo franchise. Save for the awkward romance between Buck and Dare, and the ever-whinging Romeo (I know you've got a punctured lung, just shut up already), I enjoyed viewing and playing the Covenant invasion from each of these soldier's perspectives. The Rookie is also a bit of a missed opportunity, with Bungie opting to not have him/her speak or emote so players can still imagine themselves as being part of the action. Speaking of action, the level design in ODST is a step up from that found in Halo 3. In this case, quality outweighs quantity as the often bite-size levels still manage to condense all of the scale and intensity of the series' greatest firefights into mercifully shorter sequences. The only exception to that statement is the last level, which as previously discussed falls just short of abject failure.
I played through the campaign alone, which is a first for me with the Halo franchise. Even against as much as twenty enemies, I was rarely frustrated and almost always could acknolwedge that my deaths were the result of my own reckless behavior. Halo 3: ODST showcases the best aspects of Microsoft's flagship franchise, and it also manages to avoid most of the pitfalls found in previous installments. I'm glad that I finally invested some time in the game, and it has acted as an effective prelude (gameplay-wise, at the very least) for the incoming chapter of the series, Halo: Reach.
Who else will be buying Reach this week, and anyone attending a midnight launch? Has anyone ever attended a midnight launch for a game previously?