The latest first person shooter to hit the XBox is Halo 3: ODST. I introduce it as an FPS because it compares well with others and invites such comparison as well as to the world of Halo. That's something unexpected.
Clearly, as Halo Wars has shown, some of the best talent in gaming is attracted to the Halo universe. More than any other series, save perhaps Dr. Who, Ender, Star Trek and Star Wars, the Halo universe continues to remain compelling over various tellings. It has been a book, an FPS, an RTS, a campaign game, a co-op game and now a squad game. Of course it has always been greatest, since Halo 2, as an online multiplayer. ODST is better because it is different.
The first thing you notice about ODST is that it's quiet. It's night. You're lost. You're sneaking around trying to find your way around New Mombasa and there are patrols of Covies around every corner. But you've got silenced weapons, enhanced vision and your Halo skills. Fair fight.
The music is thematically very different. It's occasionally noir, jazzy, solemn. It feels like the music of the dark and lonely night. For moments, ODST approaches Splinter Cell. In fact, that's the first way to think about it as an FPS, because you are not the Master Chief, the monk's chant is not in the background, you are on Earth and there are no Elites to be found alive. What the heck is going on here?
You are on the front lines.
The hardest thing, and the greatest thing you have to get used to in ODST is that you start to realize how deadly the Covenant are. Sure, when Brutes were introduced in 3, it took a minute to figure them out, but after a while you mowed them down. You were the Chief. Now you're not and it takes two, maybe three melees to take out a grunt. And if you think you can just melee a brute because his helmet is off, think again. Your combat style has to change. Heroics will get you killed. You are not a Spartan. This is not Sparta!
Instead, you find yourself gravitating to the shadows, making flanking moves, plinking off headshots with your incredibly accurate headbursting magnum. Double kill, triple, killtackular, spree, running riot. No wait. That doesn't happen in the campaign. That only happens in Firefight. In the campaign, you run, you hide, you search for health packs (which are plentiful on Normal), you make the most use of vehicles and other marines when you can find them.
The most important thing is the feel of being differently abled than a Spartan, and I'd say that you take damage almost exactly like a Gear from Gears of War. You are more robust than Rainbow Six, so you live longer. In fact, in Firefight, you live a lot longer than you do in Halo multiplayer. It's more like the best battles of Halo Co-op without the aggrevating plot devices and cut scenes. Like Gears, it's straight to the action. So let's do that comparison.
Firefight is like Horde. Firefight is better than Horde but exactly in the same way that Halo is better than Gears which is according to your tastes. Firefight has vehicles. Firefight works at night. Firefight has more kinds of weapons. Speaking of weapons, did I mention that ODSTs can carry 12 grenades? Yep. Makes up for the lack of dual wielding.
Firefight is organized into 3 sets, each with 3 rounds each with 5 waves. That's 45 waves of baddies to shoot, snipe, melee and blast your way through. Me and and two other guys got up to 3.3.4 on Normal but couldn't get past 1.1.4 on Heroic. The fifth wave is always the toughest. Remember what I said about the difficulty with Brutes? Imagine three chieftains swinging hammers with invulnerability on. Literally brutal. And boy to they talk smack.
If you do good, you can earn extra lives and weapon drops, but the Covenant get power ups too. Let me tell you something. There's a skull called 'Catch' and it means that the Covies throw lots of grenades. The guys at Bungie amped up the AI and those grunts are deadly with grenades. And you can no longer dodge the Phantom drop ship cannons, you basically hide until they're gone. And even worse are those pesky Jackal snipers. Carbines hurt. On the map we played, Crater, putting snipers beyond our immediate reach (and not part of the enemy count) made a huge difference.
You need to do a lot of weapons trading in Firefight. More than you do in Halo multiplayer. A new tactic we've used is to get a pistol (which we've got some stock of) and go into the field and find a hammer or needler, then bring it back to base, trade back down and drop it for later use. Near the end of the wave, you get less and less time to scavenge ammo.
I haven't figured out all of the skull power ups that the Covenant get other than the basic three. But I know that when they're all turned on (because there are bonus rounds between sets) you find yourself banging away at grunts who just won't die, that is unless you headshot them with your trusty magnum, which is super deadly head on, but won't leave a mark if you shoot them in the back and can't penetrate a shield worth diddly.
No swords. Don't miss 'em. No BRs, no big deal. The minigun rules. The magnum is awesome. The fuel rod gun is very useful. The needler is a staple of combat, the shotty is not. That's because you generally don't want to be so close that you have to rely on melee and by the time the shotgun is available, the Covies have damage skulls, anyway that's how I've been playing.
Grunts are tougher, Jackals are peskier and you can't blow through their shields as easily. Brutes come in larger packs and the chiefs use invulnerability. Buggers have been cranked up a notch and are way more difficult and deadly. No Flood. AI is better all around. New Mombasa is gorgeous.
The best thing about ODST is that you play Firefight with your friends, not with anonymous jerks like in Halo multiplayer, and suddenly Halo is civilized again. You focus on fighting the bad guys, and their AI is so good that outsmarting them is non-trivial. Smarter than Rainbow Six, smarter than Gears, as deadly as COD Modern Warfare.
On the Downside.
The VISR is useless during the day. I'm sure they wanted it that way. It would have complicated things to have multiple modes on the X button.
On the Whole
Solo play in the campaign is dramatically different as ODST. This is a great way to extend the series. Firefight means that tactical fighting has returned to Halo. You must flank. You must coordinate. You must have ammo and weapons tactics. There are no patterns to memorize, you have to think on the fly. It's right where I like it, more Rainbow Six-ish but nowhere near as predictable, more Gears-ish but very Halo. Definitely an improvement over Halo multiplayer, where people gripe in the lobby and say 'Veto! Veto!'. No more of that. No vetos for ODST.