Friday, September 18, 2009

Halo 3: ODST Review

This review is 100% spoiler-free so you can read it in full confidence. I hate spoilers. Alot. Thanks for reading.

Disclaimer: I am only reviewing the single-player campaign here, I'll review multiplayer later.

Hi gang, I just finished playing through the campaign of Halo 3:ODST and a short way to describe what I thought about the game would be: I really liked it. To start with, if you've played Halo 3 then you know the mechanics of how this game works. The weapons work the same way they did, the enemies act the same way they did, pretty much everything else is nearly identical to Halo 3. There are only a few features that the Halo veteran will need to get used to but, none are difficult to understand or implement. The VISR addition to gameplay was a very neat and useful tool and does change the way the game is played. The standout and unique features of ODST would definitely be the way the story is told, its effectiveness and the new art and sound direction.
The story is told from the point of view of "The Rookie" who is separated from his squad at the beginning of the game and sets out to find his squadmates. Without giving very much away the rest of the game is sort of like vignettes of the stories of his squadmates and what happened to them after they're all separated. Each vignette takes about 35-85 minutes to complete and give you one slice of the total story. All of the missions were fun and had a lot of variety in what your objective was and how you completed that objective. The stories are all woven together by a central game mechanic that I found to be very neat and enjoyable.

The most impressive and unique thing about ODST is the art and sound direction. New Mombasa is so very moody and dark and has very cool lighting effects. As you're walking through the city it has a very "lived-in" vibe. There are cars and apartments and subways, all things that you would find in any major city, along with garbage, and each of these elements makes New Mombasa seem very real and I have to say it is the best feature of the game. The music is also extremely incredible because it helps set the mood so much in the story. The game would not be the same without the particular style of music that is backing the action onscreen. The composer, Marty O' Donnell, has worked on Halo 2 and 3 but he really outdoes himself this time with the jazzy muzak-inspired soundtrack that follows you through the game. The tone of ODST is dark and moody and so is the music; an absolute standout feature of ODST.

The game is not without its problems however, and I will be blunt about them. First of all the graphics engine is showing its age. The lighting is very good and atmospheric but a lot of the buildings and outlines of objects are very jaggy. I was playing it on a 42" HDTV screen at 1080p, so maybe that won't show up for the majority of people who will play the game. The jaggies were distracting at times and that is unfortunate. I can't stress enough however, that the art direction and textures were all top notch and there was no slacking in that department, it's only the graphics engine that is a problem. The textures are usually beautiful and some are really great, especially the way the cars, buildings and electronic signs are displayed in the city. The electronic billboards even detect your presence and change accordingly if the situation calls for it. Very good design in that respect and a really neat feature. The way the sky is done in ODST is also particularly impressive. Buildings in the background tower over the city in great detail and in times when there are no buildings clouds and smoke are visible along with the occasional rain shower. There's one particular skyline in one part of the game that affords a completely outstanding view that was so breathtaking and beautiful I literally sat and looked at it for 5 minutes before I left the area. So really, all in all, the graphics aren't all bad, it's really only the engine that is lacking.

The final problem that ODST has is the length of the game. I won't give specifics on how long it is, so as not to give anything away, but it's shorter than a $65 game ought to be. I wouldn't say that they just tried to stretch an expansion pack into a full game however, as each vignette is fully featured and not just tacked on, but I do feel they could have added about 2 to 4 more hours of gameplay to better round out the experience. As far as it goes, the game's story doesn't suffer as a result of the length though, so really I suppose that's just wishful thinking on my part that I felt it should be longer.

So, how do I rate Halo 3: ODST you ask? Well it's really a tough call, but I'll go with an 8.8 or 8.9. It's a really great game, and if it had a newer engine and was a bit longer I would have had no problem considering a 10 for this game. It has all the right stuff in all the right places but not enough of it. I know some people will say, "What did you want them to do? Force themselves to add more hours if they didn't feel it needed it?" Well, no I wouldn't, but since I know how talented the writer of ODST was, I think he could have added another few hours and made it gel with the story and probably be more in-depth as far as the characters and the world.

I definitely recommend this game for pretty much everybody and I know you'll have as much fun with it as I did. Just remember action junkies, this is a different game than the original Halos, it is much more stealthy and low key and it's not non-stop rip roaring action like the first 3 games in the series, so be prepared.

Gameplay: 9
Graphics: 8
Control : 10
Sound: 10
Length: 7.5
Overall: 8.9

Email with any questions.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Marvel Ultimate Alliance 2

MUA2 is a game that is so similar to MUA1 that you might do a double take now and then and have to subsequently remind yourself you're playing a different game. There are no new features, aside from the incredibly bland and non-fun "Fusion" attacks which, while sometimes useful, don't serve as a good enough distraction from the fact that you're playing nearly the same game over again. The worst part of this game unfortunately, is the graphics. I literally, and when I say that I mean it, thought that my 360 had somehow decided to display the game in standard definition instead of the 1080p it was supposed to. The characters and environments are blocky, with straight jaggy edges all over the place. There's not one smooth texture in the whole game. I mean, they did that for a reason, so they could run the game with tons of stuff going on at once without slow-down and well, they've at least accomplished that. I can't help but think they might have went a little too far, because I think the 360 could have handled a little bit higher graphical fidelity. The gameplay is identical to the original and most of the characters are also. You have a few new ones like Daredevil, Nightcrawler and some others, but the biggest downgrade is the costumes of the heroes from the first game. They look awful and ridiculous. Iceman in particular looks so horrendously lame that it's hard to fathom that somebody checked the illustrator's work and decided it was good enough to put in the final version of the game. I mean, it's stupid looking even for a comic book character, so that's saying something. I guess MUA2 is fun, it has shiny colors and everything and you can play as some of your favorite superheros but it is just bland and as far as I'm concerned lacking any personality. I hate to do this but I'm giving it a 6.5. Save your money folks, unless MUA1 was your favorite game of all time and you want to play it again, otherwise, don't do it. I would have given the first MUA a 8.25 so don't just think I'm a comic book game hater.

-The Only Honest Film and TV (and videogame) Critic