Halo 3: ODST Hands-on Preview

Written by Joe Martin

July 29, 2009 | 10:25

Tags: #co-op #firefight #firefly #halo #halo-odst #hands-on #master-chief #odst #preview #serenity #spartan

Companies: #bungie #microsoft

Halo 3: ODST Impressions

The major supporting character in ODST isn’t actually a person at all though – it’s the AI which runs the city, called the Superintendant. Honestly, judging from what we saw it’s a character which is sloppily introduced and which exists mainly as a plot tool and deus ex machina, but whatever. It’s main function is to update your map and let you know where your allies have been in the city before you woke up.

From that point on the core of the ODST stops being a mildly disturbing mystery game and simply becomes a series of fetch quests punctuated by big fight scenes. Playing as The Rookie you wander from one clue marked on your map to another, searching around for highlighted items – it might be a pile of shell casings or an abandoned rifle or simply a discarded helmet.

Whatever it is, when you find one of these clue items, which are highlighted by the new low-level visor system (which also outlines enemies in red and friends in green just in case you’re so moronic you can’t distinguish between a fellow ODST and an alien Brute), then the game switches into flashback mode.

Halo 3: ODST Hands-on Preview Halo 3: ODST Impressions
The new visor system outlines key objects and enemies in low-light conditions

The flashbacks themselves can be experienced in any order as you run around collecting clues and so don’t always run in sequence, each one putting you in the shoes of one of your other squad members. That’s right – that means you too can finally play as Mal from Firefly!

We only got the chance to experience one of the flashback sequences in what we saw of ODST’s singleplayer game, which put players in the shoes of The Explosives Guy who, four hours before you woke up as The Rookie, was preparing to blow up a bridge to stem the flow of Covenant. He obviously hasn’t realised that they have space ships and that a simple river is unlikely to stop a crusading race from the far side of the galaxy. Nevermind.

As the flashback sequence drew to a close though Bungie announced that the bridge level was one which had also been adapted into the new Firefight co-operative mode, which is a major feature of the multiplayer segment of the game. Content-wise most of the multiplayer is identical to that of Halo 3 and ODST will actually ship on two separate discs, one of which contains all the multiplayer stuff (a total of 24 maps) and the beta-access info the upcoming Halo: Reach. The singleplayer and Firefight modes come on a seperate disc to the rest of it.

Halo 3: ODST Hands-on Preview Halo 3: ODST Impressions
Firefight mode is plenty of fun, but nothing truly new

The main addition to the multiplayer side of Halo is the round-based Firefight mode, which follows the old schtick of putting endless waves of enemies against the players and seeing how long they last. It’s got the usual Halo twists – skulls that get added in on later stages and spice up the gameplay a little, plus the various movie-making tools from Halo 3. Mainly though, despite Bungie trying to make it seem new by claiming random enemy placement and the fact that you unlock the maps only by playing singleplayer, it’s nothing truly remarkable. Plenty of fun, sure – but nothing wholly new or noteworthy to anybody who’s played Last Stand in Left 4 Dead, Horde in Gears of War 2 or anything from Killing Floor to name a few.

Coming away from our time with Halo 3: ODST though, we do have to admit that we were slightly unimpressed with the game, despite how much fun it’ll obviously turn out to be. Bungie has been slaving away with the Halo franchise for more than a decade now (if you count from the original announcement back when it was set to be a Mac exclusive) and we’re starting to pine for something a little bit different. Bungie are clearly trying to do that with ODST and it looks like it might work to a degree, with the structure and theme of the game being a big departure compared to the earlier titles – but it’s still kind of hard to shake off the feeling that it’s essentially going to be Halo 3 with the lights off and no recharging health. The opening segments suggest innovation, but what we saw of the meat of the game it's same-old, same-old.

Halo 3: ODST is being developed by Bungie and will be published by Microsoft as an Xbox 360 exclusive on September 22nd. Until then, let us know your thoughts about the game in the forums.
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