Halo 3: ODST

Fans of the megahit Halo (the alien-killing Xbox extravaganza, not the Beyoncé power ballad) wept onto their joypads when a movie adaptation and new videogame produced by Lord of the Rings helmer Peter Jackson got eighty-sixed because of bean-counter blah, blah, blah. But the consolation prize is pretty crackerjack: Halo 3: ODST, developed by the same team that had been working on Jackson’s aborted game. A pivotal untold story set within the larger Halo saga, ODST tracks a team of Orbital Drop Shock Troopers on a secret mission in an African city decimated by intergalactic invaders. You are the Rookie, silent and green; your seasoned squadmates are enthusiastically voiced by the likes of Nathan Fillion (Firefly) and Tricia Helfer (Battlestar Galactica) — very geek cool. The gameplay is challenging but not intimidating, the suspense is sweaty, and the sights and sounds are James Cameron-esque; it’s like being plopped into a virtual-reality Aliens. If only the game’s own ETs — a malevolent menagerie known as the Covenant — were as inspired. the lame threats (”I’m gonna rip your throat out!”) and hammy cackling diminish the reality. Still, Halo freaks will dig the tweaks (pistols are back!) and commitment to quality. Halo 3: ODST could have been cynical product, a half-assed salvage of Jackson’s what-could-have-been. Instead, it’s a full-blown powder keg of entertainment that honors the franchise. B+