Halo 3: ODST is out on Steam today, a fresh addition to the Master Chief Collection, letting a whole new generation of players take part in one of the defining games of the series’ golden age. But today, I don’t want to look forwards, I want to look back, to the game’s 2009 release.
When I say this was the series’ golden age, I mean the years 2007-2010 were probably the apex of Halo’s popularity, the point between what had been one of the biggest video game launches of all time (Halo 3) and what’s generally considered the franchise’s critical high (Reach), before things started tailing off after the series moved from Bungie to Microsoft.
Coming in between those two games was ODST, ostensibly a mini-sequel for Halo 3 (and actually set during the events of Halo 2) but really more of a spin-off which put players in command of a squad of elite ODST troops operating behind enemy lines. It was the first time we’d been in control of mere mortals instead of the god-like Master Chief (or his Covenant counterpart), and its Firefight multiplayer remains one of the best horde modes ever made.
But whatever, we’re not here to talk about the game, we’re here to talk about its trailer. Like I’ve said, this was the time of Peak Halo, when Microsoft’s marketing budget was out of control and everyone thought Peter Jackson or Neil Blomkamp were going to make a big Hollywood movie.
So when Microsoft made a Halo trailer, it went big. Halo 3's Believe video, for example, goes down as one of the best ever made, and it looks as good today as it did 13 years ago:
Two years later though the creative agency T.A.G. (part of McCann Erickson, the same firm behind Believe) would go one better. ODST’s The Life video isn’t just an incredible piece of work in its own right, absolutely nailing the tone and feel of the game it was about despite not showing a single second’s worth of gameplay, it’s also the single best piece of live-action Halo media ever produced.
We may not have got a blockbuster Halo movie, and may well never, but we’ll always have this.
The Life was shot in Hungary, which partly explains why Hungarian is the language spoken by the soldiers in the trailer. The song, though, is in Welsh. The music is actually a remix of this 2005 track, called Lament by Light of Aidan, also sung in Welsh:
For the purposes of the trailer, T.A.G. approached Welsh song-writer Peter Freeman to create new lyrics. So where the 2005 original said:
You say you will not return
Sweetheart, since you flew away
I have no summer.
Only the worst of winter
Since I lost you.
The ODST version says:
We cheat death
From his rightful victory
No one can overcome us
We are glad to plunge
Feet first into Annwn
In the knowledge we will rise.
The rights to the song were sold a few years back to Tower Music, which is why Guy Ritchie’s recent King Arthur movie features it (composer Daniel Pemberton is a fan of the ODST trailer):
The Life was directed by Rupert Sanders, at the time responsible for advertising campaigns for companies like Nike, but who has since gone on to direct movies like Snow White and the Huntsman and Ghost in the Shell.
The trailer wasn’t just praised within the video game industry, either. It scored multiple wins at the Cannes Lions International Advertising Festival, as well as the London International Advertising Awards.
But really, its biggest achievement might simply be that in an industry full of disposable marketing and forgotten franchises, the mere mention of ODST, an 11-year-old game, will remind people about this trailer as much as the game itself.