“Halo 3: ODST” (rated M, $60 on Xbox 360): The latest game set in the “Halo” universe will confuse folks who are only passably familiar with the game’s universe. Let’s start with its ill-conceived name. See, unlike most video games with a number and a colon in the title (“Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare,” for example), “Halo 3: ODST” is not “Halo 3” for short, as “Halo 3’s” been on the market for a couple of years now. Nor is this a special edition of “Halo 3.” It’s a brand new game, and it’s called “Halo 3: ODST” and not “Halo: ODST” because its story is concurrent with the events of “Halo 3.” Got it?
Now, you may be wondering, what the heck is ODST? Ostrich DrumSticks and Thighs? Nope. It stands for Orbital Drop Shock Trooper. See, instead of starring Master Chief, the man of few words who’s been the face of every “Halo” first-person shooter, this game stars a cast of orbital drop shock troopers. Think of these guys as sort of the elite paratroopers of the “Halo” universe. But despite their elite status, they’re still no Master Chief. So you’ll be scrounging for health packs and generally trying to stay out of full-on engagement. You’ll start off the campaign as a rookie and try to piece together what happened to your comrades, who’ve all gone missing.
This campaign is kind of short, though, short enough that developer Bungie originally hinted it wouldn’t be a full-fledged $60 game. But somewhere along the line, Bungie and Microsoft decided to throw in enough extras to try to persuade gamers the title was worth full price. So in addition to the campaign, we get Firefight mode, a you-and-your-friends-vs.-hordes-of-computer-controlled-baddies game type along the lines of “Gears of War 2’s” Horde mode or “Call of Duty: World at War’s” Nazi zombies. The game also ships with a bonus disc that includes the totality of the “Halo 3” multiplayer experience, plus three new maps. If you haven’t sprung for the downloadable “Halo 3” maps yet, you’ll find a lot of value here.
Lastly, buying “Halo 3: ODST” close to launch will qualify you to participate in the multiplayer beta for “Halo: Reach,” next year’s planned fall blockbuster. While no date’s been given for the beta, if “Halo: Reach’s” beta test is anything like the one for “Halo 3,” you should expect it to go live sometime in early 2010.
“Fallout 3” (rated M, $60 on PlayStation 3): The first downloadable add-on for Bethesda Softworks’ postnuclear role-playing game finally arrived on the PS3 this week. The PS3 is getting the content in a little bit different order from what the folks who played the game on the Xbox 360 and PC got. First up is “Broken Steel” ($10). Honestly, it makes sense to have this one come first, as it raises the game’s level cap from 20 to 30. It does, however, require that you’ve finished the game to play it. Actually, it requires you to almost have finished the game. Load a save file from right before the end of the game, then play through the game’s ending to get a reworked finale. Regular readers of this blog may recall that while I enjoyed “Broken Steel,” I wasn’t a big fan of the idea of revisiting a game’s ending after receiving negative feedback from fans. (Note: Spoilers abound in that link.)
“Aion” (rated T, $50 on PC): It’s a new massively multiplayer online role-playing game from Korea’s NCSoft (“Lineage,” “Guild Wars”), in which players are part of a massive celestial war between two heavenly factions. That means you can fly, dude. Early reviews suggest the game looks fantastic, and has an interesting game world and story. But gameplaywise, it sounds like a lot of level grinding.
“Katamari Forever” (rated E, $50 on PS3): The original “Katamari” games cost $20 on PlayStation 2. Then the series hit the Xbox 360, and the price went up to $40. Now, here we are on the PS3 and publisher Namco Bandai wants $50 for the thing, just $10 shy of the standard $60 point of entry for most new games. But aside from the obvious new stages, this game sticks to the “Katamari” formula, which has you using a little sticky ball to pick up paperclips and other detritus, until your ball of junk gets large enough to suck in cars, streetlights, even entire planets. Worth noting: “Katamari Forever” lacks online multiplayer.
“Shin Megami Tensei: Persona” (rated T, $40 for PlayStation Portable): The last two releases in this long-running PS2 role-playing series have generated rave reviews and decent buzz. So they’ve dusted off the first game, more than a dozen years old. The presentation — sound, graphics, localization — has been reworked and expanded, with the aim of giving a younger, western audience a taste of the fairly cerebral series set in a high school.
What I’ll be playing this weekend: I’ve suddenly found myself buried beneath games I want to write about. So I’ll be playing the “Brutal Legend” demo, “Halo 3: ODST” and “Wet.” Might sneak in a “Culdcept Saga” league match if time/circumstances allow.