Ahhhhh Halo - one of the biggest selling title in Xbox history - a console shifter when it was released & Halo 2 was bigger still. Then, when Halo 3 came out, the hype was epic. For the new outing from the Bungie team, (originally called Halo 3: Recon, but renamed later on) Halo 3: ODST had a lot to live up to, but but there was not the hype of previous games. However, I was still excited & brought it as soon as I could afford to.
But all that is background - what's it actually like - that is the real question.
It is very different not playing as the enhanced hero of the series: Master Chief, but instead as one of the elite soldiers known as Orbital Drop Shock Troopers (ODST's - hence the game title). The most noticeable difference is the fact that your shield does not re-energize - you actually need to find medipacks, which are scattered in places around New Mombasa.
The key element of the game is to explore the deserted city of New Mombasa, which is filled with squads of Brutes & their minions, trying to discover what happened to you missing teammates, separated from each other as they entered the city.
You play as the rookie (ironic really) exploring using your VISR (Visual Intelligence System for Reconnaissance) to get a better look at the city. The VISR creates a line around specific features on the landscape, so enemies show up in rad, ammo & weapons in blue, teammates in green & yellow for important items. As most of the play that happens with the Rookie takes place at night, the VISR is indispensable as it also acts like enhanced night-vision goggles.
As an ODST, you get some rad weapons, including a silenced machine gun and pistol that is not just an emergency weapon - it's really accurate & ranged enough to be able to take out snipers with single-shot head shots. However fans of the previous games will love the fact you can still get shotguns, assault rifles, sniper rifles, from the marines & a load of plasma guns from the Brutes. One thing to note is that there is no dual wielding as an ODST & ammo & fresh weapons are few & far between!
When you're searching for clues as the Rookie, you will pick up different objects which take you to different events which have caused your team to go AWOL. These break up the game nicely & are very reminiscent of the old Halo levels - bright sunlight (very different to the darkness of Mombasa), epic battles against the odds & great level design.
There are many different levels types highlighting the best of the Halo series: flying, group combat, run & gun, sniping, driving & big bad-ass weapon levels...oh & tanks - never forget about tanks. Although at first this makes the main detective story feel a little bit like a side quest - once you start to encounter multiple Brutes, a Chieftain or 2 as well as a pack of jackals - the challenge is really noticeable - mostly because of the non-recharging shield.
Overall - this game is really spectacular. Taken on it's own merits it is outstanding. When you add it to the Halo series, it will stand out as being rather difference to the previous Master Chief outings. However my rating is a well deserved 5 out of 5