What’s the Story?
During Halo 2, the Covenant attacked earth. This is the story of a group of Orbital Drop Shock Troopers who land in the city right after the Covenant leave. Specifically, the story of the Rookie, who loses consciousness and wakes up at night. He then retraces the steps of his fellow squad members by following clues (mostly wreckages) they left behind (at which point, the player plays as that squad member until whatever was wrecked gets wrecked).
What’s the Problem?
This is a very focussed story for Bungie. Rather than dealing with the fate of the universe, it’s just a story of a lost marine trying to find his friends. As such, it doesn’t have the overarching structure that most of the others do.
Since this is a stand-alone game (and a short one; it was intended as an expansion to Halo 3), there isn’t a lot of time to develop characters (especially since they only really talk or do anything during cutscenes at the beginning and end of levels). There’s the captain, the snarky woman, the jokey pilot, the tough guy, and the wise-cracking sniper. That’s about as developed as they get.
But they’re voiced by Captain Reynolds, Wash, and Jayne from Firefly,
with Cylon Six from Battlestar Galactica as the woman.
So I can’t fault that. I can fault that she doesn’t look quite so good ingame…
…but she keeps her helmet on for most of the game and everyone looks a little dumb in Halo games anyway.
There’s another one. Maybe Bungie is worried that if they write deep, interesting characters they’ll scare all their fanbase away. Whatever the reason, the Rookie doesn’t utter a single word throughout the campaign, as if he’s in competition with the Chief for the coveted Most Silent Protagonist award.
Honestly, I’m not sure why any of the other squad members try to contact him on the radio. Even if he does hear them, he’s not going to respond.
You aren’t the Master Chief in this one; you’re an ordinary trooper. However, since it’s still the same engine as Halo 3, you have the same abilities. Including the ability to tear machine guns from their supports and walk around firing them from the hip.
Which is a bit ridiculous, considering your character apparently can’t hold a gun in each hand.
You don’t fight any. At this point in the Halo timeline, the Covenant were still all together: Elites and Brutes side by side, with the Elites being on the front line attacking the humans and the Brutes lurking behind the scenes.
However, because this was based on the Halo 3 engine (where Brutes are the bad guys and Elites are your allies), they had to make the Brutes the enemies (or go back and program the Elites for battle and record new dialogue for them, which is way more than an expansion pack).
However, from a story point of view it doesn’t quite make sense and it’s a noticeable lack from a playing point of view. The Elites are the baddies as far as all our characters are concerned; I miss fighting them and it’s odd that there’s about two lines of dialogue written to cover this up: you find a few dead Elites, ask “What happened here”, are told “That’s classified”, and that’s it.
It’s nice that they put in the two lines of dialogue, but it would have been nice to see something more.
What’s the Solution?
ODST is a single-minded piece. It’s not about the end of the universe or vast intergalactic plots. You’ve lost your squad, you need to find them. It does this well; the night-time bits are eerie and quiet; the flashbacks are all action and noise. It would have been nice to have a bit more character depth, but they couldn’t easily fit that in without making the cutscenes prohibitively long.
A barely-glimpsed fight at the start of the game between the Elites and the Brutes with a couple of extra lines of dialogue could have smoothed over the tokenism of the “Oh, they’re dead”. You could have seen the Brutes rise up against the Elites rather than being told about it.
As much fun as it is duel-wielding weapons and laying waste to all that is before you as the Master Chief, there’s more fun in my mind being the weaker, unarmoured, single-weaponed marine who has to snipe and strategise instead of rushing in guns blazing every time. Also, I like sniping and the pistol is built for it. Even the machine gun has a zoom on it…