The world of Halo ODST is dark and somber, lit by the glow of a shotgun or a sparking street light, while a drizzling rain falls over the broken streets of New Mombasa. ODST undoubtedly is different, moving away from the bright, colorful alien-infestation of previous games while traversing the extensive roads with only partial Covenant troops remaining.
In terms of atmosphere, ODST succeeds. Marty O’Donnell returns with another effective Halo score, one that builds with the story. Early action scenes are punctuated by deep throbbing drums, and are eventually accompanied by full orchestration and electric guitar. It is Halo despite the removal of the familiar four note cue that has been a hallmark of the franchise.
While all of this works to differentiate ODST as more than an expansion, New Mombasa serves as little more than a hub, one this rather short adventure uses to pad its running time. Initially crash-landing in the city and waking up from the shock of impact, it is new, mysterious, and involving. Late into the game (prior to multiple back-stories converging into one), it is familiar, lacking the genuine moodiness it was intended to provide.
Outside of darkness of New Mombasa, ODST is Halo. Familiarity sets in, the ODST troopers only marginally a step down from their Spartan counterparts. They carry degenerating health, not simply shields. Their suits deem it necessary to annoyingly beep when death is near, as if the bright flashing red light at the top of their visor wasn’t noticeable enough. They otherwise feel the same, maintaining the same smooth and loose feel that makes Halo a perfect console shooter.
The action scenes betray the concept of New Mombasa, which seems to be pushing towards something new for the series. They are wonderful to play, as any Halo would be. Large-scale action remains open, creating another game in a series that is fresh each time through. Nothing can go as planned in Halo, the nature of the franchise remaining free to create varied chaos against a foe spread out over a wide battlefield.
This is used to the advantage of Firefight, a four-player co-operative survival mode which uses maps from the campaign to furnish its levels. A never-ending horde of enemies are dropped across the landscape as players rack up a score for wiping them out until defeated. The basics, from health packs, scoring, levels, and lives turn Halo into a piece of modern retro design that provides another outlet to packs of multi-player fans.
ODST ends, as all the good Halo’s have, with a vehicle section, or at least before a somewhat unnecessary final last stand. Futuristic skyscrapers dot the landscape, towering over the player as Covenant Scarab tanks march into the heart of the city. Banshees swarm the troops from the air, while Ghosts fire plasma from the ground. It is everything Halo should be, and almost makes you forget about the darkened streets of New Mombasa… almost.