You There Chief?: Master Chief will not be appearing in tonight's performance. He's tired from fighting Covenant and Flood in three wars spanning the distance of most of the known galaxy. The guy deserves a break, don't you think? In his place will be the ODST -- short for "Orbital Drop Shock Trooper." Unlike Master Chief, the Trooper doesn't leap tall buildings or inhale bullets and spit them out. He's a regular human, just like you and I. Therein lies much of the appeal to this pseudo-sequel to Halo 3, titled Halo 3: ODST. You have to learn to make do without the superpowers. Hopefully you fare better than Clark Kent did in Superman II, when he shed his powers only to get beat up by a random trucker in a diner. The game uses a clever plot device where you control different soldiers for each level, one picking up where the other leaves off in a kind of Lost-style flashback scene. By the end you will have felt like you watched a classic sci-fi film, much like the previous three Halo titles.
Trooper Needs Food: Remember how when you got into trouble you could hide behind a corner and recharge your life meter, and everything would be OK? Can't do that anymore. You still have a shield that you can recharge, but under that shield you have a life meter that can only be refilled by finding a medpack somewhere.You also can't jump from tall buildings all the way down to ground level. If you do, your shields will drain and your life meter will take a hit. This mortality business takes some getting used to, but the upside is you have to use more "strategerie" before rushing wanton style into battle in the higher difficulty settings. (If you are playing in anything less than heroic mode, then you'll have to start hitting off the ladies' tee.)
Weapons Upgrades: First another of the new limitations -- no more double-wielding. At least not in campaign mode. However, this is more than compensated for by being able to carry four types of grenades -- save the incendiaries for the big guys -- and up to three of each kind. And the weapons at your disposal have undergone a nice upgrade. The useless Assault Rifle is no longer the default weapon when you respawn. Instead you get a refitted SMG with a nice mid-range scope and serious punching power. Nearly every weapon feels perfect, from the redesigned Covenant Plasma Rifle to the Pistol, which is now absolutely lethal. The shotgun and other close-quarters weapons -- such as the Covenant Staff -- are mostly useless because the battles take place over wide-open landscapes. And, yes, you still get to ride all the same vehicles -- including the Tiger tank.
Firefight Mode/Multiplayer: Veterans of Gears of War 2 will be familiar with this setup (think: Horde mode). You and up to three of your friends hunker down and take on endless waves of enemy Covenant. Though it's not a completely original concept, it's still a flat-out awesome experience and in many ways this is better than the campaign mode. The big twist is that you really do have to have each other's back because you all share the same pool of lives. When your buddy gets killed, that's one fewer respawn for you. And you share all the medpacks and munitions as well. So teamwork is of the essence. The deeper you get, the more difficulty modifiers -- skulls -- are turned on, making it even tougher to advance. If you still yearn for Halo 3-style online multiplaying, the game comes with an extra disc that packs everything from the Halo 3 multiplayer experience, including every map and a few other add-ons. It's worth noting here also that you can play co-op on the campaign mode and it can prove quite challenging on the higher difficulty settings.
Halo Reach: At some point, buying this game will give you access to an online demo of the real Halo sequel in 2010. You're gonna want that.
Repetitive Scenery: This isn't a particularly long campaign mode. Many Halo veterans will plow through it one sitting or two at most. And by the time you are done you will know the layout of New Mombassa like the back of your hand because you end up backtracking over all the same streets so many times. Half the time you're roaming the city at night and the action level is low. No real excitement -- no fighting patrols off. And there's zero vehicles to have fun with. When you see a police car with the lights blinking, it'd be nice to be able to ride it, blow it up ... anything.
Night Vision: At night you have to activate the visor feature, which highlights enemies for you with a Tron-like glow. The downside is it degrades the graphics, makes them dull, and takes away much of the detail of the levels.
Side Story: Just like Gears of War does with the medals, ODST has audio files you download from the New Mombassa city mainframe to collect. I see what they are trying to do, but I could do without the side story of the girl on the train and the cheesy still images that accompany the audio files. You get achievement points for finding these scattered items throughout the city but otherwise it doesn't add to the game experience.
If you are a Halo veteran, who are you kidding? You have to have this. If you are a newcomer, this is a great way to ease yourself into the series, especially with all the multiplayer modes included.
Gameplay: 9.5Graphics: 9Audio: 9Online: 9Overall: 9