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Halo 3: ODST Hands-on Preview

Halo 3: ODST Hands-on Preview

Platform: Xbox 360 exclusive
Publisher: Microsoft
Expected release date: September 22nd 2009

Halo 3: ODST is trying very hard to do something different to the other Halo games – or at least the shooter-centric ones. It doesn’t want you to feel like an unstoppable killing machine and at every turn it gives you a little reminder that you’re not the hulking cyborg known as Master Chief.

Instead, ODST wants you to feel isolated, alone and confused. It wants you vulnerable and afraid. Achieving that is the game’s first major success and something that singleplayer game seems to excel at imparting; constantly hammering home that you’re stranded in a big, dark and unfriendly city and that you are just a man with a gun against an entire army of aliens.

You don’t start the game that way though – as ODST opens you’re with a bunch of your fellow Orbital Drop Shock Troopers, all of whom get quickly introduced. There’s The Guy With The Sniper Rifle, Explosive Expert #1, Mr Redshirt, Sexy Navy Lady Who Gets Everyone In Trouble and Buck, who’s voiced by Nathan Fillion and is pretty much identical to Mal from Firefly.

*Halo 3: ODST Hands-on Preview Halo 3: ODST Hands-on Preview
The city of New Mombasa is a dark, empty and eerie place

In other words, the characters aren't exactly unique or immediately likeable, nor does the intro sequence do a great job of hiding the coming calamity. It's a good job that the actors behind the characters are up to the task, as the characters themselves are predictable and dull stereotypes who really only endear themselves on the ability and geek-cred of the actual actors - we heart Captain Mal, etc, though we still couldn't be bothered to actually learn the names of the other characters in the game.

Fortunately for the sake of the story, the situation that the characters find themselves in is a lot less predictable, especially within the Halo universe which usually prefers a straight-up and very linear approach with action-orientated storytelling. ODST is a lot more free-roaming, with an enduring sense of mystery that promises to pull players through of their own volition, not just funnelling them to the next setpiece.

The story begins in space, with a semi-destroyed Earth far below and the Covenant warship which houses the Prophet of Regret floating over the city of New Mombasa – it’s that very ship which is the squad’s target, though things quickly go off-mission when it makes the jump to slipspace.

*Halo 3: ODST Hands-on Preview Halo 3: ODST Hands-on Preview
It wasn't me, honest

As The Rookie of the squad though (and that’s literally the name of your character) you aren’t immediately concerned with where the ship is at the start of the action. Instead, you need to find your squadmates, who all get separated upon landing in New Mombasa. You're not sure what, but something has gone horribly wrong during your orbital drop. Everyone gets scattered and people go missing.

None of them are responding to your radio calls when you stir from unconsciousness more than six hours after your landing first started to go awry. It’s night, the city is blanketed in darkness thanks to failing power systems, the civilians have been evacuated and it really does seem to be just you and the stranded Covenant forces.

Alone and in the dark. It’s at that moment that Bungie succeeds in it’s attempt to do something different with the Halo franchise – making you afraid. There really is nothing eerier than a deserted city at night and the knowledge that your only guide is a peculiarly silent and obviously damaged city-wide AI.

As you continue to get your bearings it quickly dawns on you just how different ODST might be too – the city is huge and completely open to you, allowing you to scour it for clues at your own pace and not as dictated by the design. The more you explore though, the more it becomes apparent that you’re not as alone as you might have thought at first…