Halo 3: ODST Preview (Xbox360)

Halo is a phenomenon of immeasurable proportions, spawning countless spin-offs in various forms whether it’s comic books, novels or merchandise. More important though is its status as the game most played online with Halo 3 attracting millions of players every day, beating Call of Duty 4 to the prestigious title of multiplayer king.

Halo 3: ODST is the fifth title in the series, following hot on the heels of Ensemble’s RTS realisation of the Halo universe, Halo Wars. As the title suggests, you’re an Orbital Drop Shock Trooper whose drop pod is knocked off-course when the Covenant unleash a slip-space rupture in the city of New Mombasa. Consequently, you’re separated from the rest of your squad and stranded in an urban maze inhabited by Covenant forces.

According to the game’s Senior Designer, Bungie’s Lars Bakken, ODST is a mystery story wherein you must learn what happened to the rest of your potentially doomed team. As a recon trooper, you’re shorn of the genetically enhanced abilities that you’ll have previously taken for granted as the Master Chief. You play as ‘the Rookie’ who is a normal human with none of the superhuman skills of a Spartan, so you’ve no regenerating shields, lower jumping capability, slower movement speed and you can sustain falling damage. He is however, a strong, silent cipher cast firmly in the Master Chief mould, even if he is a more fragile and inexperienced soldier.

Having played so much of Halo 3, ODST is a markedly divergent experience thanks to the subtle adjustments to the gameplay mechanics. Although we’ve had no hands-on with single-player as yet, it looks remarkably compelling, unfolding as you recover lost items from certain members of your team. Discovering each article initiates a playable flashback sequence, played from the viewpoint of the owner of that particular item. Through completing these chapters, you garner another piece to the puzzle in your quest to ultimately solve the mystery.

As Bakken again states, ODST is “a new perspective on the Halo universe,” and one that’s offers up a completely fresh challenge compared to Halo 3. There’s a greater emphasis upon exploration, complemented by the VISR, a function activated by a tap of the X button that transforms your view to highlight clues and points of interest. Communication links in the city allow you to connect with ‘The Superintendent’, the AI responsible for running New Mombasa that acts as a download point for maps, waypoints and other vital information. It also allows you to see in the dark and outlines enemies in red, allies in green and weapon pickups in blue as well as illuminating any point or item that’s of significance.

As a less battle-hardened class of soldier, you have to exercise a great deal of care as you search the city, as a sustained attack can kill you very quickly. The Rookie can take a few hits, turning the edges of the screen red, but any subsequent impacts will deplete your health and eventually kill you. Your health doesn’t regenerate either meaning that you need to rely solely on grabbing medikits to replenish your vitality.

The Rookie can’t dual wield weapons either, so generally you’ll be rocking your standard issue weapons, which are new to ODST. Actually modified versions of Halo 3 weapons, the new weapons are a silenced SMG and the Auto Mag, each of which have been significantly beefed up to provide a bit more force than their regular counterparts. Unlike the Magnum in previous Halo games, the Auto Mag is actually a rather decent secondary weapon that lets off rapid-fire rounds with the added benefit of an in-built zoom function. The silenced SMG is the most versatile weapon though, enabling you to get a drop on hostiles while tearing into their hides with powerful gunfire. It kicks like a mule too, so maintaining a steady aim is important.

Single-player is not all there is to Halo 3: ODST however, as Bungie has created a brand new multiplayer mode specifically for the new game. Entitled ‘Firefight’, the multiplayer portion is much like Horde from Gears of War 2, sending waves of Covenant dropships into battle. The main difference is that the waves and sets of enemy units are endless, so it’s a test of endurance as well as your gunning aptitude. The mode supports up to four-players co-operatively, giving you a collective set of seven lives, lending individual responsibility for each player to do their bit and conserve the team’s reserves. After each wave, your lives are restored but the enemies gradually increase in number and difficulty, further complicated by skulls modifiers that throw further encumbrance into the mix.

Starting with Tough Luck, the Catch! and Black Eye skulls soon come into play adding more and more factors to the Firefight action, escalating the challenge. Online leaderboards keep track of the best scores, so there’s still a competitive element to the frenetic chaos. Achieving the highest score requires a united effort between you and your team though, so wandering off and attempting to take on the Covenant alone might earn a handful of short-term points, but you’ll more than likely get killed in the process. Multipliers and medals help boost your score too, as one instance during our hands on with the Gravity Hammer proved. Leaping down into a large group of enemies followed by a single well-aimed swing of the Hammer granted us a ‘Killtrocity’ medal, racking up a massive score and an extra multiplier bonus.

Playing Firefight on the Alpha Site, Security Zone and Crater (Night) maps amply demonstrated to us how utterly compulsive and fun the multiplayer mode is, and if the single-player follows suit then Halo 3: ODST will be an essential purchase come September 22nd. And that’s before you consider the bonus disc that bundles the Halo 3 multiplayer with the previously downloadable Mythic maps. Bargain!

Visually, Halo 3: ODST looks superior to Halo 3 too, reinforcing the notion that this is worthy of standalone status, despite its initial positioning as an expansion. Principally, it’s more Halo and as such plays in much the same way, although the adjustments to the formula make ODST an intriguing proposition that would be churlish to pass up. This is Halo after all, and since when has that ever been a bad thing?

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By herodotus (SI Herodotus) on Jul 24, 2009
Sounds like Bungie are delving in to the Adventure gaming world, after their questionable attempt at an RTS. For HALO fans only, I would dare say.
By melzerith (SI Core) on Jul 24, 2009
Dare to say Hero! Dare to say!
By herodotus (SI Herodotus) on Jul 24, 2009
I just did...and will say so again. For HALO fanboys only:)))
By Jake_SI (SI Elite) on Jul 24, 2009
Hm, I'm not a big halo fan, but I must admit I do play it occassionally with some friends, usually drinks are involved though... might give this a go.
By melzerith (SI Core) on Jul 24, 2009
(Hero) LOL................. go man go!
Even though i'm sooooooooooooooo against consoles. I will get this game for my step-son and yez I'll be playing it with him. So does that make me a fanboy? Can I atleast be a fanman? "Wink"
By noobst3R (SI Core) on Jul 25, 2009
Can't wait for it to come out! I'm enjoying Halo3 for more then a year now, i wonder if ODST could do that too...

I'm actually more curious to Halo:Reach and a Halo game that continues the Master Chief story.. : /
By herodotus (SI Herodotus) on Jul 25, 2009
I have to admit, if I had a XB360 and my son was over more often, I might plump for this. But I am a PC man at heart, and will be buried with an old XT beside me, so if they change HALO titles on PC for every OS (not just sucks-Vista), I'd give it a go.
By melzerith (SI Core) on Jul 25, 2009
By Fenske (SI Newbie) on Jul 26, 2009
I don't think I'm going to get it.. I don't spend enough time on my box .
By BlitzKrieg (SI Veteran Member) on Jul 30, 2009
i gettin it for sure