Kotaku AU Games Of 2009: #6

The countdown of my personal picks for the best games of 2009 has now reached its halfway point. Next week I'll reveal my top five, but for now at #6 we slaughter Covenant in a smoky jazz bar...

6. Halo 3: ODST (360)

Bungie took me by surprise with ODST. Going in I knew there was no Master Chief and I knew it was an expansion intended to complement the Halo story, filling in some of the blanks between the second and third chapters of the series. So playing as the unnamed Rookie and his squadmates over the course of a slightly shorter campaign didn't phase me.

The first thing that surprised me was how engaging I found the city of New Mombasa to be. I appreciate games that have you revisit areas, coaxing you to pay attention to the environment, recognising landmarks and learning the layout. As a hub area traversed between missions, ODST's city space provides a real sense of place often lacking in more linear games. That it looks and sounds beautiful - the sombre neon haze and synth-noir soundtrack is quite unlike any other Halo game - and is populated by a mix of set-pieces battles and random skirmishes makes it a place that's worth returning to each time.

The second thing that surprised me was Firefight, the co-operative multiplayer mode introduced in ODST. I'd played Gears of War 2's Horde mode, of course, so the concept of fending off waves of enemies in a single location wasn't a surprise. But Bungie's masterful execution of it was.

The maps, lifted from familiar areas of the campaign, are uniformly well-tailored to the new format, each offering a multitude of tactical avenues depending on your personal play style. The skulls, which switch around some of the game "rules" between each wave, heightened the unpredictability and forced you to rethink your approach.

And of course, Halo's peerless core combat - the rhythm delivered by shield regen, the choices afforded by its two-weapon limit, the strategic nuance of facing swarms of multiple enemy types, each requiring a different method of confrontation - translates effortlessly over to Firefight, elevating an unoriginal idea to best in class status.

As a package, ODST is the best in the Halo series. Not bad for an "expansion pack".

Kotaku AU's Games of 2009 are my personal picks for the best games of the year. I make no claim to have played everything released this year, nor do I pretend to be any way objective in my rankings. I look forward to debating my choices with you in the comments.


Comments

    I'm a fan of ODST. I love the soundtrack first off - to have a Halo game with a jazz soundtrack is great!
    The core gameplay is there and fantastic as usual, but to me it seems a bit of a cop-out. All along it was hyped that in ODST you wouldn't be as strong as Master Chief and you'd have to rely on your squad - my question is what squad? You spend perhaps even more time by yourself killing large amounts of covenant than you do as Master Chief. Essentially it seems as though they've taken the Halo 1 health system and put it in Halo 3's engine - job done. I'm not saying it's bad, because I enjoyed it, but it certainly wasn't everything they were hyping it up to be.

    I liked New Mombasa, but it felt a little unnecessary sometimes. The atmosphere was great, but they could have had much more to do in such a large area.

    My other gripe was with the save system - I played the last 3 levels in one sitting, and was right near the end when I suddenly had to run out the door, so having seen all the checkpoints I'd reached, I figured it would have autosaved. Wrong. It was my fault of course, for not checking and for turning it off without saving, but surely they can implement an autosave at checkpoints? Nearly every other game manages to do it.

    Anyways, I did like ODST. It wasn't what they were hyping it up to be in my opinion, but it's a solid game, especially for something designed as a filler.

    I’ve never played it myself, this game is interesting because half the people I’ve spoken to swear that this is a milestone for the series and one of the best games of 09. The other half swears this game is the biggest disappointment in the entire Halo series. I don’t get how a game with such high scores can be split right down the middle. I think one of the reasons ODST had its critics was because Bungie said at first that this was an expansion, then they said it would be like a full game that plays like an expansion but it’s really a full game. I just think it put these weird middle ground expectations in people’s heads.

      You got it pretty correct. I felt that Bungie only showed the interesting snapshots in the pre-release media like the trailers and ViDocs. I personally felt that there wasn't enough content to warrant a full game. If the campaign had been bumped up to 10-15 hours, and there was Matchmaking for Firefight, plus possibly another PvP or objective mode that pit squads against each other would have made it definitely worth a purchase. I'd suggest renting it first, as nobody on my friends list plays anymore, and you'll probably only get twelve hours max out of the campaign with the Audio Logs. Also, if you've played Halo 3 on Legendary, you may as well jump straight into Legendary on this, it's a lot easier this time around.

      Well, I won't say it was a major milestone but it surely was not a dissapointment. The game really gave you more insight to what really happened on Earth when The Amber Clad jumped into slip space with the Covy Carrier. The gameplay was fun but a bit easy.

    i dont agree with this. I played ODST expecting it to be quite engaging, playing as members of a squad and learning about the characters around you. But i became bored of the campaign. I guess i just wasnt feeling it, and it played, in my opinion, worse than halo 3.

    Firefight was certainly the best mode and the one i spent the most time on. Unfortunately i only liked a couple of maps from it and so it too got boring quite quickly.

    i wouldnt rank it in my top ten at all!

    I didn't like ODST as a whole: While the combat held up (mostly), the open-world aspect and free-form campaign were really wasted, and it was WAY too short. Firefight was slightly fun though. I probably wouldn't have bought it if it didn't include the Halo 3 multiplayer experience.

    Wow - being a big Halo fan i was shocked that this was to make it, let alone #6.

    But i did love ODST so i'm glad its here and it totally passed my mind when trying to predict some games you would list.

    As much as ODST has its faults of short campaign, no matchmaking etc... it is still a classic Halo game. Give another developer 12 months and i don't think they would come to close to what Bungie delivered.

    Firefight is just the funnest experiences i've had in those type of game modes. It's fast paced and exciting - great for beginners and damn right a challenge for experts. HOWEVER, being someone who follows the Halo story and semi-understands it, it didn't really explain (or without reading on Wiki or some Halo fan page) the story of bridging the two games together properly. Well, for me anyway. But i still loved it!

      I wouldn't go so far to describe it as classic Halo, as I've come to expect epic galaxy-traversing adventures from Halo. ODST could have delivered, but it didn't.

      I would call it an experiemnt with Halo's definitive style that was a good attempt, but failed. But, each to their own.

    I didn't like this game at all. It came free with my second 360 and I played it for 10 minutes. As soon as I started in the city it was bland and reminded me of an old PS1 game.

    I agree with it being in the top 10, but I think it was more a 10 than a 6. It was engaging, fun, had a good story mode, but it just didn't have the replay value needed for a short game.

    Also, happy new year, Kotakuites!

    I didnt like ODST. The combat was good as usual but Mombasa was boring and too dark and the chapter story points were confusing. I hated the new illumination instead of a flashlight and health system (extremely red HUD after one or two hits was also annoying).

    ODST was fine, but a disappointment for me. I, like many others, was really excited from all the hype and marketing that Bungie did pre-release, yet the final product turned out vastly inferior to my expectations. The music was the best part for me. Haunting at times, yet melodic and pitched when it had to me, it perfectly fitted the atmosphere of a ruined New Mombasa. The new ODST mechanices felt stupid to me, as Bungie and others hyped up the change from Master Chief, yet you could still jack cars among other things, and it felt like no difference from Master Chief.

    New Mombasa itself was a really good part of the game. While some of the scenery was bland and repeated, the city was interesting enough with nooks and areas to explore. It was a nice diversion from the mission playing. I also appreciated the patrols, but I tended to notice they got old really quickly, and secluded areas often had the same Covenant populating them, so I was easily able to overwhelm them by planning ahead.

    For me, the co-op mode was simply tacked on, with no explanation as to why other ODST's were accompanying you in the city when you'd supposedly dropped in isolated from your squadmates. I was impressed with the missions though, since they were snapshots of events happening around New Mombasa, and no two missions felt the same for me. Also the Audio Logs scattered around Mombasa were nice, as they were clearly illustrated for once, but still remaining hidden enough to provide a challenge. Especially how they gave an insight on the invasion of the Convenant in Sadie's Story.

    Firefight was a letdown for me, truth be told. The lack of Matchmaking was a disappointment, as it easily could have been accomplished. The skulls were good, as they provided a challenge that evenly ramped up as you progressed. The maps sucked, despite them looking different, there was no real variety in strategy for me, I ended up doing much the same thing on every map.

    Yeah, tl;dr version: ODST shined in a few ways, but not enough to warrant the purchase.

    This is turning into the most despressing top 10 I've seen in a long time.

    I'm a massive fan of what Bungie did with ODST. You get a real sense of lonliness and foreboding in the New Mombasa sections - mostly due to the colour palette and excellent (as always) soudtrack from Marty O'Donnell and co.

    The flashback levels offer traditional Halo action: awesome set-piece battles (the standoff atop the tower comes to mind) and trusty run-and-gun sections. While there's level design monotony in the endgame (I'm looking at you Datahive) the combat keeps you going, and I cared more about Nathan Fillion and his team more than anyone else in the Halo franchise.

    I'm replaying the campaing on legendary at the moment, and I'm just and enthralled the second time through. I haven't even scratched the surface of firefight yet...

    Wow, just wow.

    You were on such a roll with your top games David, how did you drop the ball with this one?

    The balls short story mode (which can be finished in about 4 hours by any experienced gamer) set in very repetitive locations (Dark gritty city, endless, identical underground corridors and the occasional outdoor sequence) was bad enough by itself, but then they added a horrible 'detective' sequence, which had you go back over the very same levels twice!

    While it was fantastic to see the firefly crew doing the voices, not even they could save it's god awful script.

    I do agree with one thing, however, firefight is incredibly fun and surprisingly well made, however, it is certainly not worth the price of admission

    Please don't call it an 'expansion pack' David, I know as a member of the press you probably don't realise how much games cost, as you receive them for free, but ODST was not sold at an 'expansion pack' price, it was sold at full game price ($120 RRP in Australia)

    Half the content for double the price? Where do i sign up?

      I get what you are trying to say here mate, but $120 is grossly incorrect. It's a $99.95rrp (standard edition) and most places were selling it much cheaper from day 1. Yes there are some games that retail for $119.95 or even $109.95 but all first party Microsoft titles are $99.95 or less.

      Also, I highly doubt David is that far out of the loop with game prices that he doesn't know the standard pricing for games. And I believe he says "expansion pack" in reference to how media and others were originally referring to the game. Hence the inverted commas around the words expansion pack....

        Yeah, and it's about eighty bucks now at JB Hi-Fi. And on that point about it being sold at expansion pack price, since Bungie thought a six hour campaign and a lackluster multiplayer mode justified a full game pricing, therefore they decided to go for the $100 dollar price. IMO, ODST would have sold a lot more if it'd retailed here for 50 to 70 bucks, as that's appropriate for the content we got.

    I loved ODST, definitely in my top 10 games of the year, and I'm not the biggest fan of halo. (I didn't even bother finishing Halo 3's campaign until after playing ODST, because ODST actually pulled me into the universe.)

    New Mombasa was really nice, as with the music that went with it and the levels were really nice. Firefight is still a weekly thing for me and my mates as well. :D I don't care for the "Halo 3 Multiplayer Experience" and I'd keep the game (which I bought for $90 AUS) without the disk.

    i want to egt ODSt but only when the price is =>$50 i cant justify paying more than that for a 4 hour game i just cant do it

    ODST flat out sucked. the campaign was tiny, and i lost interest in it half way through- and recycled multiplayer all for full price.

    This was the most disappointing release of 2009 for me.

    Rubbish

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