Available for XBOX 360.

Halo is one of the most recognizable and loved franchises in video game history.  Over 27 million Halo games have sold since Halo Combat Evolved launched in 2001, which means each title brings with it big expectations and big shoes to fill. Halo ODST is the latest title in the franchise and fills those shoes to a point.  Originally meant to be an expansion to Halo 3 in an effort to tide over loyal fans until Halo Reach's 2010 launch, Halo ODST has packed two discs full of campaign and multiplayer experiences.

Storyline

The game takes place during the events of Halo 2.  If you remember anything about the Halo 2 storyline, you will know this isn't a good thing.  Trouble down on Earth brings ODST soldiers into the fray, and you get to play a rookie in their midst.  ODST stands for Orbital Drop Shock Trooper, which basically explains what it is they do.  ODST soldiers are dropped from space to Earth in one-man pods to wreak havoc on Covenant bad guys.  At the very beginning of the game, the events of Halo 2 cause the Covenant's Prophet of Regret to make an emergency slipstream exit, which sends out shock waves separating the ODST soldiers in mid drop and scattering them all over New Mombasa.

For those not familiar with the Halo story let me offer a brief explanation.  The Covenant are a theocratic race of aliens who invade Earth after their "Prophets" declare humanity an affront to their religion.  The thing is, the "ringworlds" or "halos" they believe are paths to salvation are actually giant weapons.  In the end, it's fairly basic "science fiction crazy-alien zealots try to destroy Earth but humans won't let them."

The campaign story in ODST is darker than the other Halo stories but is the main reason to buy the game. You wake up six hours after your initial crash landing and things have not gone well for your peers.  Your job is to eradicate any Covenant baddies still around while locating your team.  Various flashbacks occur, allowing you to play out the last six hours as members of your team.

Because you play both your rookie character and others in your team during the time you were unconscious, the plot shifts back and forth in time.  While in many titles this is confusing and all-together unsatisfying, the use of this story telling technique in ODST is both successful and rewarding.  Small details like keeping the same weapons you had when you left off with a previous storyline, and audio clips that give you a taste of New Mombasa during the initial Covenant attack and add the authenticity.

Gameplay/Controls

The gameplay during campaign mode is as solid as ever for a Halo game.  The storyline is very much at home in the "Halo Nation" of products, bringing with it a nostalgic feel of weapon choices and player controls.  Unlike in Halo 3, ODST takes on the story from a perspective vacant of Master Chief,  and his better-than-normal suit and weapon capabilities.  Halo ODST Players cannot jump ten feet or heal miraculously like in the past, and their starter weapons are reminiscent of a more gritty Halo experience.  In fact, your character handles much more like Master Chief did in Hal Combat Evolved and his long-range, scoped pistol just about completes the throwback package. 

While the campaign mode is by far the best part of ODST, gameplay has improved on co-operative mode by introducing the Firefight mode.  In this mode, players battle wave after wave of Covenant bad guys on maps from the Halo ODST storyline.  Also, playing split screen co-op in the main storyline is a favorite of mine.  And when there's no one around to play with, pop in disc 2 and go online to battle on all of the Halo 3 maps and three new ones.  While this online multiplayer experience is really nothing new to those who played Halo 3, the online experience is a solid environment which will provide for months of online first person shooter action.

Graphics/Soundtrack

Like all Halo games, Halo ODST is beautifully constructed.  Since Halo 3 is both recent and graphically pleasing, ODST doesn't offer any huge leaps in that area.  The dark city environment of New Mombasa can be eerily exciting, and lends itself well to the dark storyline.  The excellent score helps make the action-packed parts of the game that much more intense.

Appropriateness

Halo ODST is a first person shooter in which humans in spacesuit armor attack alien invaders with rifles, machine guns, laser weapons, and grenades.  It's rated Mature by the ESRB for Blood, Language and Violence.  Violence in a first person shooter shouldn't come as a surprise to anyone.  Players see the end of their guns, aim and fire upon enemies.  The good news is these enemies happen to be blue, green and grey aliens, not human beings.  While this may not put every mind at ease, it will certainly ease some that the violence depicted in Halo ODST (while rooted in gun combat) is highly fantastical.  As far as the use of Blood in this game is concerned, it's generally for scenery.  The alien blood is not red, which makes it appear more as a jelly than actual blood.  Dead soldiers laying here and there are fairly lifelike though, and may be soiled with red blood.  The use of vulgarity by the characters is tossed in here and there throughout the storyline, but isn't gratuitous.

This games Mature rating seems unfitting for the highly fantastical violence and blood during gameplay.  The language is also barely comparable to a PG-13 movie.

Conclusion

For Halo fans, Halo ODST is both welcomed and disappointing.  If you're expecting a new storyline packed with detailed event descriptions and solid campaign gameplay, you won't be disappointed.  If you're looking for a more robust multiplayer experience with new weapons and a plethora of new maps, you'll be highly disappointed.

If you've never played a Halo game before, or you dabbled here and there but haven't kept up with the storyline, the campaign will likely be somewhat confusing for you.  In fact, you'll be all but in the dark unless you do a little online reading of the past plotlines.
If you enjoy first person shooters like Gears of War, Call of Duty, and Resistance you'll likely find the gameplay of Halo games to be somewhat slower than you're used to.  Some prefer the speed while others do not.  Either way, Halo ODST deserves a try.

(Rated M for Mature | 17+ age | Blood, Language, Violence)