Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Game Talk #4: ODST

Okay, I'll admit it: At first, I didn't like ODST. Or, at least, certain parts of it.

Let's get started.

I'm not sure how I first heard about ODST, but it was probably this trailer.

Not only is that the best video game trailer I've ever seen, it's one of the best trailers I've ever seen, period. When I saw that, I wanted ODST immediately. It didn't even bother me that the trailer technically had nothing to do with the game itself, it was really meant to more capture the overall feel of the game, of being an ODST.

I had been looking forward to something like ODST for years. My very first fan fiction was called Through the Eyes of Another and it featured a Marine named Alex Steele. It was basically just a survival story set during the original Halo. I wanted to showcase the struggle of someone who wasn't a Spartan, someone who was just a Marine in the world of Halo. It was a lot of fun, and my next big story was Owen Frost, Helljumper which was about...well, a Helljumper, or ODST, obviously.

Naturally, I was looking forward to ODST, especially when I heard reports from Bungie that it was going to be a shorter campaign, maybe five hours long, and they would be selling it for half price. 30$, or 35$ after taxes. Which sounded awesome. I thought it was perfect.

Then I actually bought the game...for sixty dollars. So at first I thought, "Oh...huh, I guess they must have extended the campaign long enough to make it full campaign?"

Only that wasn't what had happened at all. Although, I have to say, looking back on it now, ODST does have a full-length campaign, at least, that's what I think now. It's weird how perception screws with you.

So, here are the complaints I had at the time. Some of them are still valid, I think.

The campaign itself. Although I think it might actually be my favorite Halo campaign (I know, such fucking blasphemy), there are portions of it that don't make sense. Like, the main story for example. If you haven't played the game or it's been a while, let me give you a brief rundown.

You play The Rookie, an unnamed ODST, preparing to drop onto Earth as the Covenant invade it during the Halo 2 campaign. As you and your squad jump from orbit in single-man drop pods, suddenly, a colossal explosion devastates the city and sends your pod heavily off course. You crash into the side of a building and pass out for a solid ten hours. When you wake up, you are alone, the city is dark, rainy and overrun with enemy forces. You must search the desolate ruin of New Mombassa for clues as to what happened to your lost squad.

That sounds SO FUCKING AWESOME, doesn't it?

Now, I have to say, they fully delivered with the parts featuring The Rookie. Giving Halo a sort of open-world map to play with, an open world that is saturated in rainy gloom, was fucking awesome. This is my favorite part of any Halo game's campaign. However...well, let's first address the issue of how the plot advances.

As The Rookie, you are tasked with crossing the map several times, hunting down 'clues'. When I first heard this, I imagined that you would be finding like...I dunno, terminals? Consoles? Information or data of some kind that would help relay to you what had happened, fill in the blanks in bits and pieces. But that's not what happened at all. In fact, it flat out didn't make sense. Instead of finding actual information, you find random objects: a bent sniper rifle, a canister of BioFoam (a medical substance), a wrecked vehicle. And then, suddenly, whenever you located one of these things, you would get a flashback and see exactly what had happened. You would take control of one of your squadmates and play through a level, with that level ending with whatever random object the Rookie had come across.

Is it just me, or does that not make sense?

I get that this style of storytelling can be difficult to pull off, especially in a video game, but...I dunno, I feel like they could have at least done a little bit better of a job.

The good news from this, however, was that it spawned one of my coolest ideas ever for a fan fiction. One day, I was at work, thinking unhappily about ODST, turning it over in my head, and it suddenly hit me like a hammer: what if the campaign makes no sense because THERE IS NO SQUAD? What if the Rookie suffered brain damage in that crash and dreamed up four people to search for? That would explain why, whenever he finds some arbitrary piece of equipment, he suddenly knows what happened: he's making it all up without realizing it.

I quickly got to work on a novelization of ODST with this twist in mind. Personally, I think it came out really well and I loved it.

But, anyway, about the game. ODST saw the inception of Firefight. Now, I really like this concept. Essentially, it's you and up to three of your friends in a map fighting against increasingly difficult waves of enemies. That's a lot of fun. Unfortunately, the delivery in ODST was pretty basic. All of the maps are just copy/pasted from the campaign and it's just...boring.

Firefight was one of the things I believe they quickly shoved onto the disc to justify charging full price. Then, on top of that, they added in a second disc that featured all of the Halo 3 maps, including the DLC map packs. And, okay, I guess that technically that does make it worth more. Though, to be totally honest, I think most people who bought ODST were people who would already have all those maps so...maybe not?

At the time, I felt ripped off. I mean, this was touted as basically an expansion pack, and suddenly it costs as much as a full game. But, in time, like with Halo 2, after the initial anger had passed and I was able to judge the game on its own merits, I liked it. A lot. It has some interesting ideas and it was great to see the world of Halo through the eyes of someone who wasn't a Spartan. Although I think it was a little silly that they added in a 'stamina' bar, like, they couldn't not have some kind of secondary, replenishing form of health.

Honestly, I think that ODST has the greatest atmosphere and aesthetic of any of the Halo games, but I love dark, rainy, devastated settings. The soundtrack was also fantastic. All of the visuals and the audio design and the soundtrack, everything came together. The headshots in the game also felt extremely satisfying, more so than any other Halo game, and the silenced weapons were great additions to the Halo arsenal.

One thing I didn't like was the side-plot. The plot you unlock piece by piece by picking up the transmissions from all over the city. I finally actually listened to every single one of them and I have to say, I wasn't too impressed. Ultimately, the story just felt...unnecessary. Pointless. There was hardly a reason for it. I mean, yeah, the cop at the end is more relevant, but they could have cut out the cop and the story and nothing would have changed. I mean, I get that it's extra content, but I just wish it was better written, or maybe just a more interesting story.

All in all: ODST a solid game and entry into the franchise.

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