There, I said it. It is Valentine's Day, after all ... isn't that what I supposed to do today? The calendar, society and the street peddlers shoving cheap flowers and anything-but heartfelt gifts says I'm supposed to "show my love" today.
My opinion on Valentine's Day may be unpopular to the mass consensus, and that's fine. Funny thing is, my opinion on Halo 3: ODST fits right in to the theme of today. I absolutely LOVE this game. This is far and beyond my favorite Halo game of the series, and I realize that I am in the far minority when it comes to that opinion.
I can't recall ever talking to any Halo fan that has put ODST in the top three of their list, much less perched atop the mountain. I even checked Metacritic, and except for Halo Wars (which isn't a true Halo game, just a spin-off) and the Anniversary Edition of Halo: Combat Evolved (which I don't count because it's a remake, and the original one is the highest rated Halo game), ODST is the lowest rated true Halo game of the bunch. Numbers don't lie, folks.
Aside from the first Halo game, which I stumbled upon by dumb luck, this was the first Halo game I got day one, and easily the first Halo game I was truly excited for and anticipating its release. Granted, all the other factors that kept me away from the previous Halo games could skew this outcome, but it is also a part of why I have such fondness for it. My love for the game, however, goes well beyond the sentimental ties I have with it.
First, it is the first Halo game to not have Master Chief, and I think that is a bonus. Sure, being the tough badass Spartan is cool, but for the first time, there was a human aspect of your character. You didn't have amazing armor protecting you that quickly recharged before you had a chance to sweat it out. There was a sense of urgency with your health, and if you weren't careful, quick, agile and skillful, you would be dispatched quickly, especially on the harder difficulties. You never feel overpowering, but instead vulnerable.
Also, you have a squad that you are fighting with, not just a bunch of soldiers following you around. There is a sense of brotherhood, and while the AI teammates don''t really effect your game play, the cut scenes depict more of a realistic story of why you are doing what you are doing. It's not the standard maverick storyline that Halo used with Master Chief. Again, that human aspect is powerful and gripping.
Another thing I love is the mood and the atmosphere. Playing levels at night time, in the rain is an amazing experience, which is amplified by what I believe is the best Halo soundtrack ever. The music, and sometimes just the lack thereof, adds so much emotion to the game play. There are other times when the darkness, rain and silence, coupled with empty streets and lifeless structures engulfs you into a sense of loneliness, one of which they were never able to create before ODST with Master Chief. That in itself is ironic, as Master Chief is the epitome loneliness, who finds his only true companionship with an AI named Cortana. Talk about a loner!
To piggyback off the mood of the game which I love thoroughly, they added a new feature where with the push of a button, you can turn on a night vision-esque type of view where objects are highlighted in a certain color to depict what they are, even from a distance. Objects are yellow, allies are green and enemies are of course red. With the dark, damp and dreery setting of the game, this is the perfect addition to give the player a slight advantage over the ugly world they are fighting.
I personally think the campaign and storyline is much more engaging, easy to follow and believable than any other Halo storyline. Another favorite part of the game for me was the inclusion of Firefight, which adds so much more depth and replay-ability value to the game. Where Bungie went wrong, I believe, is adding the "3" in the title, as it immediately made the general population assume it was either a spin-off game or an extended DLC type of game. This is a stand alone game, and while I understand Bungie's perspective of it being a prequel to Halo 3 and wanting to make that clear, I think they did the game a disservice by making it a subtitled game. If they had just called it Halo: ODST, I think public perception would have been better from the get-go and it wouldn't be the "forgotten" title it is today.
As all good companies do, however, they learned from their slight misjudgement of marketing and named their next true Halo game, Halo Reach.
Needless to say, Caleb and I had so much fun playing this game tonight. I might have had more fun then he did, for the first time this week. We got back to the sprinting question, which is funny to me still. I realized the hardcore Halo player in him prevents him from liking the outline vision, as he would rather shoot randomly into dark alleys then to see his target.
Also, for the first time this week, we played something other than just the campaign. We played a lengthy match of Firefight, in which I narrowly edged him out thanks in part to an awesome gravity hammer kill streak towards the end. While he ended up being Last Man Standing, he couldn't squeeze out enough points before the dust settled and it was all said and done.
Oh, and one last thing - turning the skull on for confetti grunts, causing them to explode in a burst of confetti with a "YAY!" shouted out every time you terminate one with a well-placed head shot might be the single most rewarding experience in any aspect of the Halo series.
So yeah, I love Halo 3: ODST. Deal with it, haters. Happy Valentine's Day to the rest.