Eyes-on at E3 / Halo 3: ODST

It stands for Orbital Drop Shock Trooper. Just thought that should be shrugged off now. So this game was revealed about a year ago, and shortly thereafter, I actually started playing the very first Halo. I decided to finally see what all the hubbub was about and opted to go from start to finish. A couple months later (I’m a busy man!), I completed part 3, and felt I had experienced some solid first person shooting. Floaty jumps, driving around, cool scripted events, and the Plague never ceased to thoroughly annoy me. Was I floored? Not really. And then there was the fact that each sequel built on the foundation of the first in very cosmetic ways. Bigger guns, bigger explosions, more gameplay, more drama… the kind of stuff a “we want more” culture just gobbles up by the droves. So when I did finally finish the third chapter, I remembered that this side story game was on its way, which I believe was still called Recon at the time. My initial instinct was that this game was, also, going to be bigger and more like its predecessors. Maybe you wouldn’t be Master Chief, maybe they’d change a mechanic here and there, but it’d ultimately be the same game. I shrugged, and figured I’d play it when I got the chance.

Something happened, though, when I saw the game played for me at E3. Just as I had anticipated, the game touts improved visuals, altered mechanics, and some new bells and whistles here and there that you’d expect from a follow-up of sorts. The Bungie rep even conceded that this is a Halo game at heart, and they never lost sight of that fact. If you were to tell me this much, I’d have felt my shrug all those months ago was warranted, and that I could go on looking more forward to other games I saw in the week. But what happened was I actually got a little excited for this game.

How could such a thing happen? Well, it seems even Bungie was getting over the visual style and combat formula in the Halo of old. They decided to satisfy fans and themselves by shifting focus from Master Chief, which is probably the best decision they could have made at this point with the franchise. The new focus is on an ODST who goes by, quite simply, Rookie. In the Halo universe, it takes place during the second game, just as the Prophet of Regret makes his slippery slipspace escape causing a rift that reduced the city of Mombasa to ruins. You were one of the ODST’s meant to support the troops already down there. Your team just had terrible timing.

Or maybe not so terrible, at it seems at least some of them survived the rift, including you. Once down, you’re treated to a pretty slick-looking pile of rubble and destruction. You’re also pretty much dumped into what looks like a complete disaster for you and your team, since you can’t find any of them and you come to six hours after the actual drop happened. It’s not your typical Halo fare where all looks prim and shiny and 70’s sci-fi. This is Gears of War stuff here. It’s bleak, beaten down and saturated into those sapped color schemes that seem to be driving everyone batty these days. I’d normally be driven in that general direction as well, but I’m curious to see what Bungie, a team that normally has not gone that route, will do with it. From here, you explore the city in any direction you wish, slowly gathering evidence and clues suggesting what exactly happened. This is their words, from what I can tell, the Prophet of Regret entered slipspace, caused a really destructive rift, and now you’re missing your team. “What happened” seems more like “where’s my team?” from what we could all tell. I’m imagining there are details yet to be revealed to us all. Anyway, the massive city space, the largest level Bungie’s created, is now your space to uncover what they referred to as a noir-esque story, and the visuals certainly back that as well. This setup also means that the main goal isn’t to simply kick ass and save the day, but to unfold a story.

We also got to see a few things to distinguish our Rookie from our Master Chief. First off, you’re shorter. Second, you’re slower. Third, you don’t jump as high. Fourth, your shield recharge isn’t as awesome, and this one warrants a little explanation. While there is some recharge element to your armor, it’s not going to last forever, and you can permanently lose some level of health that requires finding actual aid throughout the city. Also, your visor is actually cooler than the Big Man’s. It’s able to go into night vision mode that outlines enemies in red. This, along with weapons containing silencers, makes for some potentially fun stealth gameplay that can completely evade the balls-out action the series is known for.

Also, as you unfold the story and come across key points or remnants in the city, your point of view will shift to another member of your squads. The bleak night time before Rookie becomes day as you assume control of one of his mates such as Dutch or Rodeo… two names that were shown. From their point of view you’ll have some of those fragments of the overall story revealed. A much more interesting choice than a mere cutscene, to say they least. The idea of shifting points of view is also always a fun one to check out in games.

Now, what Halo experience is complete without some multiplayer fun? None, and that’s why Halo 3: ODST is going to come packed with a second disc that will contain the complete Halo 3 multiplayer experience. All the recent maps and all the goodies you’d want are there on one disc to soak in and enjoy for as long as you can stand it… or the adolescents with headsets. That’s bright and shiny and cool, but ODST offers a brand new multiplayer mode. Well, it’s new to Halo at least. It’s called Firefight, and it’s basically Horde Mode from Gears of War 2. You play with three other team mates and the game will send waves of enemies at you, starting out easy and ramping up in difficulty. A couple differences are that lives are shared this time around. So while you can respawn, if you die too much then your team mates won’t. Sounds like it should be fun stuff. In addition to Firefight, there will also be a more elaborate single-player co-op mode that allows players to set waypoints for spreading out and being all efficient and whatnot (good luck pulling this in a public game!).

Oh and that sweet pistol from the first game? It’s back. Sweet.

This game feels like Bungie recharging their creative juices. It’s like when The Beatles wanted to break their own mold and went on to make Sgt. Pepper, only nothing is as awesome as The Beatles so it probably won’t be that much of a landmark in gaming. Still, this is looking like a fresh enough take on the Halo series that’s not crossing over into an RTS or anything, and hopefully this change will show Bungie in full force making something more valuable than a continuation of Master Chief’s saga. I have to hand it to them… they have me excited for September.