Review: Halo 3: ODST – Narrative Evolved
I may be crazy enough to call Halo 3: ODST the best installment in the Halo franchise yet. It seems particularly insane, since the game started off as DLC, then sprawled into a full release. All of this while not shaking the Halo 3 umbrella, because it wasn’t long enough, it wasn’t a full game, et cetera, blah blah. But I’m going to lay it on the line: ODST is shockingly superior in narrative and presentation to all the other Halo games. It left me with a sense of satisfaction that I haven’t gotten since the original Halo. And that’s what, eight years ago at this point? But I’m not bullshitting you.
Master Chief Sucks.
Oh my god fifteen million people just shit their pants. Fanboys are falling over and fainting and arming electronic messages of hate. But I love ODST so much more than the other Halo games because it finally put a human face to the epic, generic sprawling war that encompasses the Halo mythos. Master Chief is awesome because he can take an ass-kicking that would fell a tank, he does cool shit like hop out of spaceships, and he’s apparently schizophrenic and talks to computer AIs in his brain.
But can anyone relate to Master Chief?
I CAN, I TOTALLY READ THE SEVENTEEN BOOKS PLUS I FOLLOWED ALL THE VIRAL MARKETING, AND OH YEAH, I’M AN OVERWEIGHT GAYLORD FANBOY
Yeah well, let’s say that you’re someone who hasn’t read all the books, decoded all the messages, spent a million years on the Bungie message boards ruminating with fellow Halo fanatics. Is Master Chief anything more than the standard John McClean trope? No, not really.
I can’t tell you anything about the first three Halo games at this point. It’s been what, two years since the third installment came out? It’s forgettable slop. Yeah, I said it: forgettable slop. It’s a mushy Sci-Fi tale that borders on non-sensical for anyone who doesn’t want to sit down and hash everything out.
So what you’re saying is that the storyline sucks because you’re too stupid to understand it?
But what I’m really trying to emphasize is that I haven’t connected with Master Chief and the primary storyline because it stars a sterile, unrelatable hero, with poor presentation.
So prior to playing ODST I thought that telling a lovable tale in the Halo universe was impossible.
Then I met Buck and Veronica.
For all the ballyhoo about the main character being the Rookie in ODST, it’s really a storyline that’s centered around the character Buck (voiced by nerd lord Nathan Fillion) and his search for his main squeeze and squad leader or some shit Veronica Dare (voiced by none other than Six from Battlestar) through the wreckage of New Mombasa. It’s love on the battlefield, baby! Solid Snake, eat your heart out!
Buck is the anti-Master Chief. Instantly relatable, instantly lovable. He’s a wise-cracking smart ass – this hopefully doesn’t surprise you, since he’s voiced by Nathan Fillion – with that predictable soft side. I was in love with Buck and his Shock Trooper squad before the first cinematic was over.
Let me get this straight, you’re happily exchanging one tired trope for another? How is this guy any different than the thousand other wise-cracking smart ass video game character? He’s just Nathan Drake from Uncharted!
I don’t fucking care. I can submerge into a storyline centered around a band of ragtag regular guys wanting nothing than than to escape some bloodbath than I can an uber-warrior. That’s just me. And it isn’t like I didn’t jerk off to Master Chief and Solid Snake homo-fiction when Halo first game out. Rather, it became tired over time.
Buck and his squad of Shock Troopers are the lovable characters in ODST. And through them, Bungie finally did something amazing: They told a good story.
The story is enjoyable for several reasons. For starters, they stripped down the usual Halo lore. Halo’s mythos has become cumbersome to the regular gamer like myself. I can’t follow that shit anymore. Instead of perpetuating the Halo mythos, they told a classic love story within it. And secondly, they use a narrative structure that’s gimmicky, but effective.
I hate the use of a hub world in ODST. You guide the rookie around a blackened New Mombasa finding various beacons that then engage flashbacks detailing the happenings of Buck and the rest of the squad. It was a pain in the ass romping through the remains just to trigger the next level. I hated it. But I appreciated how it built the narrative.
The gimmicky hook builds an intriguing narrative. As I was playing, I actively wanted to see what happened next. And as the pieces pull together, I dug the simple storyline of survival. These Shock Troopers may be like, you know, the equivalent of the Marines. But they eat bullets and have flesh shredded just like all us fat ass gamers sitting in our seats. For once, you’re dealing with mortals in the Halo universe. You don’t control a tank with opposable thumbs.
And so you continue playing through the title, engaged in the struggle until the entire squad meets up. Veronica turns out to be alive, and Buck and her embrace in classic action movie fashion. Right down to the awkward glance at the bystander who saw them swapping spit.
It’s a simple, classic storyline built around tried and true characters and plots. It doesn’t redefine the wheel. It doesn’t really do anything new. But it is so clean and so stripped down that I fell in love with it.
I can’t remember the last time I felt satisfied with the ending of a Halo. Generally they’re anti-climatic assvomits that build upon the idea that the next installment you’ll FINISH THE FIGHT or some bullshit. Snoretacular. The defense about the shitty story in Halo 2 was the Matrix: Reloaded defense. It’s a set-up movie! The answers will come in the next one!
BLAH BLAH BLAH. Then Halo 3 came out and was equally sucky, and equally unsatisfying.
Nothing is resolved in the grand scheme of things in ODST. There’s still a war going on. You don’t know what’s going to happen to Buck or Veronica or Romeo or the rest of the squad. But it’s still satisfying. It builds a story within a story. It ends on a cliffhanger, but you still feel like you’ve been told a great tale. It’s Empire Strikes Back or The Two Towers, not The Matrix Reloaded.
I fell in love with the characters of ODST. I feel more connected to them than I do Master Chief, or Guilty Spark, or anyone else. And one of the saddest moments I had while playing ODST was when I realized I’m probably not going to get to play as Buck or any of these guys anytime soon. Buck references the Fall of Reach, and I’m sure we’ll see him and others pop up at other moments. But soon enough we’ll once again be controlling the Tank with Thumbs, plowing through ugly looking brutes and trying to decipher the cryptic mythos of a storyline gone too long.