In what began as a simple expansion pack to Halo 3, Halo 3: ODST evolved into something much more. With a new story, and a new cast to work with, ODST gives fans of Halo an enjoyable game to hold us over until next years Halo: Reach. Included in the game is a standalone campaign, a new co-operative mode called Firefight, access to the Halo: Reach multi-player beta and the inclusion of a second disc that contains ever multi-player map released by Bungie, plus three new ones, for Halo 3. While some may have doubts as to whether it’s worth it’s price tag, after playing through everything offered it can easily be said that you are definitely getting what you paid for. Halo 3: ODST is well worth the price of admission.

Let me be perfectly honest here, my initial review of Halo 3 was not very kind. I was new to the Halo universe and after giving it a once through I wasn’t impressed. Well times have changed. After a couple years I’ve become a fan of the Halo series, and have immersed myself in its mythology, reading the various novels and comics. Once you get in depth with it you can appreciate what Bungie has done with the franchise. So when they announced a game without Master Chief, and told from the perspective of a squad of ODSTs my curiosity was immediately piqued. Being able to play as an ODST would bring about a new style to the Halo franchise. You could no longer charge in head first and just know that you’re nearly invincible. Now you’d have to take a different approach to tactics and gameplay, and it made the experience all the more enjoyable.

Halo 3: ODST places you in the boots of an Orbital Drop Shock Trooper, the Halo-verses equivalent of a Special Forces soldier. They ODST, or Helljumpers as they’re also known as, are as hardcore as you get when it comes to the UNSC’s troops. You play as an unnamed Rookie in an ODST squad that’s forced to go behind enemy lines in New Mombasa and help an ONI, Office of Naval Intelligence, liaison recover something very valuable. Unfortunately things don’t go well during the drop and your squad is scattered throughout the city. It’s up to you to reunite with the group and complete the mission.

Making up your squad is Gunnery Sergeant Buck, voiced by Nathan Fillion, the squad leader; Dutch, voiced by Adam Baldwin, is the teams heavy weapons expert; Mikey, voiced by Alan Tudyk, is the teams medic and finally Romeo, voiced by Nolan North, the teams sniper. Lastly there’s Captain Veronica Dare, voiced by Tricia Helfer, the ONI liaison that’s leading the squad for the mission. Her and Buck seem to have a history together, one that Buck would like to rekindle but Veronica has no desire to. While it’s great to hear a lot of the Firefly cast in the voices, it’s even better that Bungie licensed the likenesses for Buck and Dare, so when you see the characters without their helmets on you’re seeing Fillion and Helfer.

You’ll find yourself starting as the Rookie, regaining consciousness six hours after the initial drop that scattered your team. By that time, most of the battle for New Mombasa has played out and Covenant forces are now in control of the city. There’s a light rain falling across the darkened city, lit only by a few lights that remain lit and fires that continue to rage. There’s destruction throughout the entire city, from burning cars to buildings being shot out. It’s clear that humanity lost this battle, and worst of all you’re all alone in a dark city filled with enemies lurking behind every corner.

In order to survive, you’ll have to find the other ODSTs you dropped in with. The entire campaign takes place within the New Mombasa city limits. Forcing you to make your way through a huge and uninviting city. Fear not because you’re not totally alone, there’s the cities AI construct that will help you make your way to squad mates. The Superintendent as he’s known as will guide you throughout the city, offering tips on where you can replenish your health and also point you in the direction of scattered audio files. Collecting each one will give you an unrelated story about the fall of New Mombasa and the plight one Sadie, a girl the Superintendent has been looking after since her youth.

With a little help from the Superintendent, the Rookie’s story plays out a bit like a murder mystery. There’s the central story line of the Rookie, but we’re also treated to mini-stories involving each member of the squad. Each time you come across a remnant connected to one of your squad mates you’re transported to a flashback where you play as that particular ODST soldier. The blanks will be filled in as to their plight, slowly unraveling the entire story. The action switches from night to day as well, allowing you to view the city in its entire glory and also its shrouded mysteries.

Helping you traverse the city at night is your ODST visor, a unique feature to the ODSTs helmet. The visor allows you to see in low light casting a green line around almost all items. It will also help identify enemies from friendlies, casting a red outline around Covenant forces, while friendlies will remain green. It will also cast a blue outline for any weapons, as well as a yellow outline for audio files. The visor is key in identifying the enemies in the distance and whether you want to take them head on or try to sneak past. Since the visor casts a dim light from your helmet you may want to switch it off when sneaking around enemies, often times you’ll be able to get by but when you try it with your visor on you’ll stick out to enemy forces and they’ll immediately engage you. You’ll also be able to gauge your ammo count as well as your health bar from the visor. Lastly, the Superintendent will patch into you visor and guide you to you next destination.

The campaign in Halo 3: ODST is a lot of fun and very satisfying for its approach to story telling within the Halo universe. The action is what you’ve come to expect from a Halo game, yet its approach sets it apart from the other games. You’re no longer a super-soldier wrecking havoc everywhere you go. You have to think things through a little more and use different tactics. While you may have a small energy shield that protects you, you can quickly loose it and loose health as well. Your health won’t recharge and you’ll be forced to seek out health packs to help you recover. This adds an extra element to the gameplay, forcing you to take different approaches. You’ll also be treated to two new weapons, exclusive to ODST. First there’s the ODSTs standard silenced SMG, it’s quite, quick and deadly. Then there’s the Automag Pistol, which is deadly accurate. The pistol will be familiar to fans of the first Halo, and a welcomed addition to the game.

While I do love what they’ve done there a couple minor gripes I’d like to mention. The first being how the co-op mode isn’t woven into the story, it’s simply placed on top of it. Second, you’d do best to play the campaign in single player the first time through, since on Legendary difficulty it took roughly seven to eight hours to complete.

While you may only spend seven hours in the campaign you’ll spend endless hours playing the new Firefight mode. Similar to the Gears of War 2 Horde mode, Firefight has up to four players playing co-operatively to fight back waves of Covenant forces. There are eight maps available, with two of them coming in day and night settings taking the total to 10 different settings. As great as Horde mode is, Firefight takes it to a new level and makes it even more addicting. With non-stop action of wave after wave of Covenant forces, you’ll find that as you make it further into the match the more difficult it becomes. After the conclusion of each round, a different skull is turned on and these difficulty modifiers increase the Covenants capabilities and dramatically increase the difficulty of the challenge.

Making Firefight a challenge is the fact that the four players share a pool of lives, as well as a limited stash of weapons and health packs. Communication and co-operation is key here, and making the best of your supplies. To get far, and earn those high points, you’ll want to make sure the team works well. To say that teamwork is essential would be an understatement.

In addition to the Firefight mode, Bungie has released the last three of the Mythic Maps on the second disc. The three new maps; Citadel, Heretic, and Longshore also tie into Halo 3’s achievements. Also included on the disc is all 24 of Halo 3’s downloadable maps released to date. The matchmaking, gameplay and general layout remains unchanged from Halo 3. This is simply more of the Halo 3 multi-player game that’s been around the past couple years. If you haven’t downloaded all the released maps, or are new to Halo 3 then this disc is ideal for you and is a great value.

If there’s one thing Bungie is known for it’s their quality games. The always manage to excel at the little things, making the experience all the greater. ODST is no different. The voice acting is top notch, the games story is one of the best ever and the presentation is very well done. Still it should be mentioned that ODST was built on the Halo 3 engine and while the graphics really do look good, there’s room for some improvement. While the artistic direction is new and different, focusing on a dark mood it’s showing signs of aging. Still, it looks better than a large majority of games out there, and fits really well it’s the Halo we’ve become familiar with.

One thing that really stands out is the games powerful score. Few games have soundtracks that are as widely admired as Halo. Bungie has developed a tradition of excellence with its musical sore and ODST is no different. Martin O’Donnel’s given Halo 3: ODST one of the most adventurous scores in a game yet. He’s managed to perfectly blend the melodic themes we’ve become used to while introducing a new and experimental sound to really bring out the dark mood of the game. His heavy use of saxophone really sets a tone like nothing we’ve heard before in a Halo game. It’s almost reminiscent of the Blade Runner soundtrack. It’s so good, I went out and got a copy of the soundtrack for myself.

Overall, Halo 3: ODST is a welcomed addition to the Halo universe. The game takes the classic gameplay and presents it in a new way. New characters involved in a new story really fleshes out the Halo story, giving it an even deeper background. The addition of the Firefight mode as well as the new and existing maps on an extra disc just make the game worth its price tag. Fans of Halo will have to pick this up, but newcomers should also welcome a new look into a game and it doesn’t hurt that they’ll be able to jump into the multi-player and be on level footing maps wise with everyone else. Bungie definitely has a hit on their hands, and have kept fans engaged until next years release of Halo: Reach.