PARTWAY into Halo 2’s campaign, an alien assault carrier ship hovering over the Earth-based city of New Mombasa suddenly enters slipspace, decimating the city in the process. While the remainder of Halo 2 and Halo 3 takes the player to new locales, Halo ODST revisits New Mombasa and provides an insight into the events that unfold there shortly after its destruction.
Over the course of Halo 3: ODST, you will take command of a variety of Orbital Drop Shock Troopers (ODST) – special tactics soldiers that are deployed into battle via ‘pods’ dropped from orbit. Your team of ODSTs was in transit, plummeting to New Mombasa at the same time the slipspace rupture destroyed the city. Subsequently, the members of your team are scattered throughout the ruins of New Mombasa, and as the ‘Rookie’, you’re tasked with exploring the ruins in an attempt to reunite your squad. You’ll have to watch out for patrolling Covenant troops as you search for clues as to the whereabouts of your missing comrades. And with each clue you find (say, the helmet of a missing squadmate), you’ll trigger a story event that will see you relive a ‘flashback’, taking control of the missing ODST.
In terms of gameplay, the most notable difference from previous Halo titles that players will encounter is that the protagonist is no longer a super-powered SPARTAN soldier like the Master Chief from the previous games. In other words, the ODSTs you’ll command have not been trained in military tactics from infancy, and they certainly don’t enjoy the luxury of a rechargeable body shield. So while the control scheme will be most familiar to Halo fans, the subtle differences to the characters under your control will force players to approach combat in a different manner. I suspect that many Halo players will initially try to employ the Master Chief’s Rambo, run-and-gun stylings to poor effect when they fire up ODST for the first time.
First of all, ODSTs are weaker, cannot dualwield weapons and, as previously mentioned, don’t have a rechargeable shield (you’ll have to find health packs à la Halo: Combat Evolved) or even a radar, so they’re naturally more vulnerable than their SPARTAN counterparts. To this end, ODSTs must employ more stealth tactics and make better use of cover than Halo players might typically be used to. Secondly, the enemy AI has seen a fairly drastic overhaul from that of Halo 3.
And finally, ammunition is, seemingly, a scarce commodity in New Mombasa. Weapons that you pick up tend to be almost depleted of ammo, so you’ll find yourself constantly scrambling to make use of whatever weaponry is at hand. This makes for some quite interesting battle scenarios, and you’ll often have to get quite creative in the face of ostensibly overwhelming odds.
Combined, these differences create more of a sense of urgency, desperation and vulnerability to ODST, and a nice, humbling touch to the traditional Halo engine. And nowhere is this more apparent than the all new Firefight mode; a brand-new cooperative multiplayer game type. Taking an unashamed cue from Horde mode from Gears of War 2, Firefight pits a team of up to four ODSTs against wave after wave of Covenant troops that become increasingly more difficult with each deployment. This mode is an absolute blast to play, and even improves on the formula pioneered in Gears 2 in many ways.
Points and medals will be awarded to individual players as the game progresses depending on the type of enemies you dispatch and the manner in which you do so. The familiar voiced announcements of “Double Kill”, “Triple Kill” and “Killing Spree” will abound in Firefight, with a bunch of new medals specific to Firefight mode also included. Not only do the waves of enemies become stronger and more difficult, but one of Halo 3’s notorious skulls will activate with each new set (five waves to a round, three rounds to a set). The skulls place an additional condition on the gameplay that will most likely hinder your efforts. For instance, the Tough Luck skull improves your enemy’s AI, and they will have a higher success rate when dodging grenades and the like.
Your team shares a pool of lives in Firefight – effectively rendering your party as strong as its weakest member – so you’ll really have to work together and cover each other’s backs.
Along with some other members of the local gaming press, I only got to play ODST for about two hours, which was split fairly evenly between the campaign and Firefight mode. It really is splitting hairs when it comes to the things I disliked about ODST. I was disappointed that the facial textures of the human characters look as bad as those from Halo 3, and they stick out like a sore thumb given that the environment textures and the rest of the character models look so excellent. Also, I fear that the darkened ruins of New Mombasa may prove to be a bland and uninteresting environment to play through for the duration of a whole campaign, although I didn’t play through nearly enough to see what surprises are in store.
I genuinely look forward to playing through more of the campaign – things were starting to get really interesting just as I had to retire the controller – but Firefight was definitely the star of the show and quite possibly worth the price of admission on its own. The game type seems to suit the Halo engine more than any other title that has attempted similar modes (or pioneered them, for that matter), and Bungie has even
added its own flavour with some brilliant additions. As a Halo fan, I probably would say that this is a must-buy, but I’m now confident I can say the same as merely a social gamer.