When Halo: The Master Chief Collection was first announced for PC, I do not believe I saw many fans in discussion threads excitedly talking about or specifically wanting to get their hands on Halo 3: ODST. Obviously, much of the hype was surrounding Halo 3, with the rest of the hype-pie being shared by the fan clubs of Reach and the Anniversary-enhanced original duo. You would think Halo 3: ODST was unpopular at launch or something, but as par for the course for the Bungie entries, it sold exceedingly well on the Xbox 360 in 2009. I feel like this strangely unknown nature of the product was also felt during its testing phases on PC. 343 Industries said the flighting sessions for Halo 3: ODST suffered from "lower than average participation" compared to previous releases.
My Halo journey had only included Combat Evolved and Halo 2 before the Master Chief Collection party finally rode to PC town last year, and the general lack of excitement surrounding ODST made me go into this adventure not expecting much, and boy am I glad I did that. The main course of Halo 3: ODST is its campaign, as a dedicated multiplayer portion was never attached to the project, and that would have been the only item on the menu if it weren't for 343 Industries bringing the missing cooperative Firefight horde mode back from the Xbox 360 version's depths.
My thoughts in full regarding this enhanced re-release of Halo 3: ODST and the current state of the Halo: The Master Chief Collection follows from here.
Gone are the colorful vistas of Halo 3, with imposing skyscrapers of a dead city and gloomy skies littering the landscape, all held together with an astounding soundtrack that radiates atmosphere. Even though this game has Halo 3 attached to its name, the campaign takes place during the events of Halo 2. Specifically, in the city of New Mombasa right after a Covenant ship hightails it out of the system through a Slipspace portal, taking out much of the nearby concrete scenery in the process. The post-evacuation alien-infested landscape is our home for the entirety of the story. This is a departure from all the previous games in the Collection so far, where the escapades took us to exotic locations, and frankly, this is a contained storyline focused on a group of very regular humans that doesn't need the grand road trips or shocking revelations of ancient ruins.
Right off the bat, it is clear Bungie wanted to go in a different direction with the campaign. The story is presented in a unique multi-perspective structure, jumping between the various members of our colorful ODST squad - I should mention here that I did not expect to see Nathan Fillion - who became separated during their entry into the city. Mjolnir armor-wearing superheroes that can survive being punched by a planet are nowhere to be seen here. The game's name comes from the special military force that we take control of in the game, the Orbital Drop Shock Troopers, which are human soldiers with only their training and minimal armor to help them stay alive. As their name implies, these soldiers - or Helljumpers as they are affectionately called - simply drop out of the sky from orbiting frigates, riding tiny capsules straight into alien-infested grievous situations, quite literally out of the frying pan and into the fire. To sidetrack a little, this mechanic is just asking to be used as a battle royale entry method if Halo ever goes that route. But back to the matter at hand.
A significant portion of the story does not rely on the series' usual linear mission structure, where set-pieces guide you from arena to arena. While those 'go from A to B while killing everything' missions still exist, and offer wildly enjoyable over-the-top ordeals, Halo 3: ODST actually presents multiple scenarios where it opens up the city so you can utilize it in your own way as you journey towards objectives. Starting off, you take the role of Rookie, the newest member of your ODST squad, and since you drew the lucky straw to wake up hours later than everyone else, it's your job to go around the city to try and piece together the events of the day surrounding your missing squadmates. Whenever you come across a clue, a flashback pulls you into the shoes of that squadmate and their journey.
This is not an open-world game by any means, but there are usually at least a couple of main roads you can use to reach missions when roaming around the city. There are even building interiors just waiting to be employed as shortcuts through blocks. The game also rewards exploration in the form of audio logs you can find that tell the riveting tale of a civilian during the evacuation of the city. Interestingly enough, if it weren't for the special visor we are equipped with that enhances darkened areas and enemies, I could easily see Halo 3: ODST turning into more of a horror title. Some of the alleyways and building interiors can get creepy when sneaking through. Yes, surprisingly enough, stealth is an actual option. You can utilize the map and roaming patterns of Covenant forces to simply avoid fights during these open levels. This becomes neater when you realize that even Grunts can pose a threat to ODSTs depending on the difficulty level. The late-night trips are absolutely brilliant and atmospheric, carrying you across New Mombasa-like sightseeing tours that connect every squad member's unfortunate entrance into the city.
As you might have noticed, I mentioned a map. Taking things even further away from a traditional Halo game, there is a 3D city map you can pull up to orient yourself in the city sandbox. This addition lets you find objectives, track enemies - since the series staple motion sensor is missing here -, put waypoints, and locate alternate pathways. I've never needed a map in a Halo game before, since who actually has time to read maps when there are aliens to kill, so it was surprising to me how well it just fit in and elevated the experience. The implementation reminded me quite a lot of what we saw in the recent Halo Infinite gameplay demo, which also seems to be going for a more hub-like approach similar to ODST, but on a much grander scale.
ODSTs aren't wearing power armor like Spartans, so we are much more vulnerable and less powerful in every department. Simply dropping from a small height brings down health, and capabilities like dual-wielding or shrugging off alien hammers have been deemed impossible. Old school fans will be happy to know that the health bar is back from Combat Evolved. This pool goes down very quickly after your stamina (which is what your shield is called here) is depleted, and the only way to get it back is by finding health packs like in the history books. At the start of the game, the semi-transparent overlay emulating the helmet seemed very distracting, covering large portions of the screen at the top and bottom - no wonder the UNSC suffers massive losses against the Covenant, their soldiers are half-blind. But seriously, I failed to notice it bothering me when engaging in combat or drinking in the views, making it a throwaway concern.
As you might have gathered from my thoughts, I really enjoyed this campaign, and at the end of it I was wishing to return to the New Mombasa city streets to uncover more of its secrets. This campaign also falls onto the growing mountain that has formed out of Halo storylines you should not miss out on.
If you were around for the Halo: Reach launch, you should know that Firefight is Halo's take on the horde mode, and Halo 3: ODST delivered the first iteration of this venture back in the day. However, when the Xbox One Master Chief Collection version of the game came strolling through, it lacked the cooperative mode, which is what 343 Industries has finally dragged back from the depths. This is not just a PC-exclusive addition either, as the Xbox One version also received the mode as a free update.
With the implementation, you can now matchmake into surviving against Covenant waves alongside random ODSTs or pull up the friend lists across Xbox Live and Steam to invite up to three friends. Apart from the cookie-cutter matchmaking options, you can also apply custom rules to a Firefight match if you host your own game after selecting one of the available 10 maps. The variants, options, and skulls can give you rounds that range from hard as nails to mindless fun. Obviously, the campaign is the main draw of the package, but don't sleep on Firefight too much if you got some time to kill between multiplayer antics.
Graphics, Music, and Performance
No Halo conversation is complete without mentioning the soundtrack, and nobody will be surprised to hear that the soundtrack here is phenomenal. Electric guitars, tribal drum beats, and piano solos spice up everything they touch; however, it wasn't very Halo-like at various points, and the changeup really added to the game. The wave of saxophone-ridden jazz that mixes in thoroughly with the murky and wet atmosphere of New Mombasa is just perfection.
The graphics are truly the only weak point of this release. While the art, lighting, and the atmosphere I keep harping about keep the highpoints at a high, just like on Halo 3, it's the human models that drag the image down and make you remember this is still an 11 year old game that was designed for a console two generations old.
The performance of these classics on modern hardware hasn't let me down yet, and continuing the streak, 343 Industries and its development partners have delivered another experience that is smooth as butter from start to finish. Support for high-resolution displays, ultra-wide monitors, as well as field-of-view sliders, completely customizable controls on a per-game basis, and more come in to make PC users' lives better.
My cooperative play journey continued through Halo 3: ODST as well. I went through the entire campaign in two-player co-op, though up to four players are supported. Just like in the previous releases, while the implementation works fine without any instances of weirdness, crashes, or glitches, one thing I will say is that having good ping to each other is highly recommended for a lag-free session. At one point, a routing issue bumped up the latency to my co-op partner to around 200, and the peer to peer connection could not handle that very well, adding movement hitches and cutscene audio syncing issues that ruined the moment.
Master Chief Collection
343 Industries continues its expansion of the Halo: The Master Chief Collection, but that does not mean it's all about adding new chapters of Halo. You could say that all the previously released games are still in active development, as game-specific features, bug fixes, alongside Master Chief Collection-wide changes are still being worked on in the background.
Alongside Halo 3: ODST's release came through another suite of updates and upgrades to the evolving collection. If you felt like the hit registration was off in Halo 3 at launch, this is probably the update you want to check out as the developer has made some big changes to how your bullets reach the noggin of others. I didn't really suffer from the issue previously, though, and thankfully, post-patch shooting feels just as good.
Halo 3 enhancements do not stop there, as the silenced weapons of ODST are now available for use in multiplayer for the first time. Moreover, customization has been turned up a notch to include weapon skins and visor colors. Fans of the classic that don't like seeing bright and colorful weapons on the battlefield can disable these skins entirely through a setting in the options menu, just like it was possible for the Halo: Combat Evolved cosmetics. This is simply an excellent option to have. A new season of cosmetic items to unlock using your hard-earned level up points or as challenge completion rewards has arrived too alongside Halo 2: Anniversary per-piece armor customization.
These are great and all, but it's the planned updates to the Master Chief Collection that excite me the most. The Halo playerbase in the Asian region has not been very healthy for a while, so the upcoming region selection, custom server browser, and cross-play features will be very useful for players like me who don't live near the most active territories.
Compared to all the injections of Halo that have appeared through the Master Chief Collection on PC, Halo 3: ODST certainly looks like a rather small and skippable update from the outside as it does not seem to carry a large presence in the fanbase and lacks its own multiplayer companion. Obviously, this is a miscalculation that even I made as a fresh player. It is also a fine farewell to Bungie as this will be the final Halo title from the original studio to reach PC.
Halo 3: ODST is a campaign that easily stands among the greats. The isolated entry presents its own unique story in a unique way without ever even mentioning the hero of the saga, all the while building up a new cast of characters that you instantly get attached to. This is like a pocket universe of Halo goodness that can easily go under the radar due to other stories having such huge followings attached to them. Sparks of brilliance like Reach, ODST, and even the Halo Wars games, that deliver saga enriching standalone storylines just leaves me wanting for even more spin-offs and side stories.
You can purchase Halo 3: ODST on PC through the Microsoft Store and Steam for $4.99. The Halo: The Master Chief Collection is also available for $39.99 from the Microsoft Store and Steam if you want access to all the games. The Collection is a part of the Xbox Game Pass for PC library as well.
This review was conducted using a Steam copy of Halo: The Master Chief Collection provided by Microsoft.