If you haven't noticed by now, I'm going through the Halo Collection by order of original release, not by order of story. This installment follows the stories of a team of drop troops during Halo 2 and 3. Halo 3: ODST largely slipped by me unnoticed when it first came out 10 years ago. I don't recall any of my friends getting psyched out by it. The hype machine was more restrained.
I came into this expecting mission and level philosophy matching the rest of the series (as alluded to by "Halo 3" being in the title). I was wrong. It has an open world, where you are roaming somewhat free throughout a city. But since there are so many road blocks and closed doors, the city is effectively a bunch of corridors. Most of the time, I was running back and forth through the same city streets, often as different characters, trying to piece together what happened. I was expecting to leave at some point and get this show on the road, but that only comes together in the last mission or so.
The writing is pretty good, but the story meanders around. Your team recognizes your character, and there are a lot of team dynamics going on between them. You play as the Rookie, a silent protagonist, and since you wander around alone, being mute doesn't get in the way. For two-thirds of the game, you fight around to random points the same city. The Rookie must be junk whisperer, because he has flashbacks of how that thing got there, just by picking up random stuff off the street. Luckily, those stories always involve another team member. While I appreciate a story told from multiple perspectives, I can't shake the feeling that I'm watching recaps of what just happened. Six hours pass from when The Rookie crashes into the city until he wakes up and starts looking around. Most of the story happens in those 6 hours, so in a way, this game is looking back on itself. At least those story pieces are more focused than Hotline Miami 2 or Mass Effect 2.
The game has as much graphical fidelity as Halo 3, except it's desaturated. While there are occasional bright colors, the game reeks of monochromatic environments. To work around that, each soldier has night vision that outlines and color codes relevant items. I think Bungie was trying to ape the gray and brown modern warfare look. The music is different from the rest of the series, reflecting smaller, more personal stories that happen in the shadows of a galactic war.
Gameplay is a bit different. Since you aren't a super-powered cyborg warrior, you don't have as many capabilities. The most notable, is that you don't have shields and can't dual wield anything. The enemies are the usual fare: grunts, jackals, brutes, and hunters. (The elites you come across are dead: a symptom of what was simultaneously happening.) Taking damage in combat turns your vision red fast, and you need to take a few second breather to avoid making your health bar go permanently down. And to rectify your permanent not regenerating health, health packs make a return to the series. Despite your weakness, taking down small squads isn't much of a problem. However, there are occasional packs of brutes or hunters, where grenade launchers or ripped turrets come in handy.
In the last installment, I noted that level design was disorienting and that the way forward was sometimes unclear. That got rectified, as you can activate waypoints. Because this is the future, almost everything has a screen embedded in it. Sometimes, the city AI will take control of screens and point the way forward, but since everything in this city is on the fritz, I never trusted them, and ignored them. In night vision, there's strange symbols on some walls, but I was never able to determine what they mean.
I'm not sure what to think of Halo 3: ODST. From what I can tell, it's not objectively bad. It's not a bombastic shooter like the others in the series. It takes a personal approach to the storyline, even if it is a bit unfocused. I guess that's a good thing.