Halo 3: ODST is the most unusual of the main-series Halo games (not counting spin-offs like Halo Wars), and as a result, it’s also one of the most underrated.
You don’t play a Spartan in ODST. Instead, you play one of the Orbital Drop Shock Troopers, still elite soldiers, but not as powerful as the Spartans. Additionally, while the core components of the gameplay are the same – it’s still a first-person shooter, with Halo gameplay – other parts are quite different.
Most Halo games are fairly linear. A given level might have wide open spaces, but you generally travel from point A to point B to complete your objectives, from the start of the game until the end. ODST took a different approach. You awake in New Mombasa, an open city that serves as a hub world for the game. (As a fan of hub worlds, I really loved this.) You have no idea what happened to the rest of your team, so you set out to find answers in the Covenant-infested city.
This adds a mystery element, and some parts of ODST were actually inspired by film noir. As you explore New Mombasa, you’ll often get into fights with the Covenant, but other times you can sneak past them. The city is also filled with hidden terminals for you to find, which gradually tell a side-story.
At various spots in the city, you’ll find items that belonged to your fellow ODSTs. Once you find one, it will trigger a flashback from that team member’s perspective. These flashbacks play in a more traditional Halo style, and show you what happened to that character. Then you return to the city, and your search continues.
ODST also included the Huragok, or Engineers, the only non-combatant (pacifist, to a large degree) race in the Covenant. They previously appeared in the novels and Halo Wars, but to many players, ODST was their first encounter with the Engineers. The game plays with that, revealing the peaceful nature of the Engineers through the story. There are even two achievements directly related to the Engineers – one for killing every Engineer you encounter, and one for not killing any.
I loved the other Halo games, but there’s something really special about ODST. The new gameplay was a surprise, but refreshing and fun. I loved exploring the city, both to find things and just to look around. It was fun to search every corner of New Mombasa for the terminals, and to slowly unravel the mystery around the missing ODSTs. And as a fan of the novels, I was delighted to see the Engineers. I knew what they were, and it was great to see the characters learn about them.
Halo 3: ODST isn’t like other Halo games in a lot of ways, and that means it’s often overlooked. It’s a pity, because it’s quite fun and unique. A hub to explore, a bit of a detective story, and classic Halo shooting at the same time – ODST is different, but definitely worth playing.