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Contrary to popular belief, Master Chief didn’t defeat the Covenant’s alien hordes all by himself in the “Halo” series.

In “Halo 3: ODST,” we get to learn about another branch of Earth’s United Nation’s Space Command: the special forces unit composed on the Orbital Drop Shock Troopers.

In “ODST,” the M-rated shooter from Bungie and Microsoft Game Studios, you play as “the Rookie,” the new guy in a unit that gets to the fight by plummeting from orbit in special pods. The troops are also equipped with new weapons and a special heads-up visor that conveys much more information than Master Chief’s.

As the campaign begins, your unit is assigned to retrieve a mysterious item in the African city of New Mombasa, which is under attack by Covenant troops. Unfortunately, on the way down, the alien starship engages its engines and sends the ODSTs careering out of control. You wake up six hours after the drop in a darkened city. It’s your job to fight your way through the city while searching for your missing squadmates.

The game’s story line delivers a good dose of mystery. What happened to your squad? What were you supposed to be retrieving? What’s going on with all these mysterious messages? It’s a very interesting and rewarding departure from the standard “Halo” formula.

As you wind through New Mombasa’s dark, war-torn streets, you’ll find many clues to the fates of your squadmates. These trigger flashbacks featuring the different soldiers. Each has a different task to accomplish and a different set of challenges to overcome.

The result is a very good balance between the stealthy nighttime mission and the high-intensity combat of the daylight battles.

Although the familiar “Halo” weapons and vehicles return, “ODST” also includes a couple of cool new weapons: a silenced and scoped pistol and an assault rifle. Both are great additions to the arsenal, but suffer a bit from a lack of readily available ammo.

As in previous games, the campaign can be played solo or cooperatively.

But “Halo” games are always about much more than the campaign. “ODST” offers a second disc that contains all of the original multiplayer maps from “Halo 3” and from the downloadable map packs on Xbox Live, as well as three new settings — for a total of 24 multiplayer battlegrounds.

For the first time in “Halo” history, “ODST” also offers a special survival mode. In Firefight, you and up to three friends can battle waves of Covenant attackers. Not only do the attackers get progressively tougher, they get different bonuses with each assault — such as extra grenades or more health. It’s a very difficult fight even on easier settings.

The game play and controls are basically the same as in earlier editions. The biggest changes reflect the fact that you’re not a 7-foot-tall super warrior like Master Chief. That means that you can’t leap as high or bash alien Brutes with ease. However, fans should be very pleased.

The game’s graphics are a step up from those in “Halo 3.” The weapons, characters and settings contain a bit more detail and texture.

The new characters and mission format make “ODST” a good bet for longtime fans. However, the new Firefight mode delivers something “Halo” has been lacking, a fun survival challenge that can stand beside the Nazi zombies of “Call of Duty: World at War” and Horde of “Gears of War.”

Platform: Xbox 360

On the Web:www.bungie.net

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