Looking back upon the Halo trilogy, I have come to realise that the whole series is about moments. Yes, there is the wide open level design, the superb combat balance, the brilliant AI, the space opera storyline and kick ass multiplayer mode too. But what really stands out over the past 8 years of Halo are the moments which stay with you long after you have played the game. Some of them are designed set pieces (the beach landing in The Silent cartographer) while others are of your own making (“accidentally” sticking your co op buddy with a plasma grenade when he is making a run for the Scorpion Tank). The point I am trying to make with this trip down memory lane is that what makes Halo 3: ODST great is that it’s like a highlight reel of the past 3 Halo games.
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The biggest change this time around, both in the gameplay and in the story, comes from the fact that you no longer play as the Master Chief. Instead, the game puts you in the shoes of the Rookie, a new addition to a squad of experienced Orbital Drop Shock Troopers (normal grunt soldiers who are dropped into the battlefield in pods from a space ship) about to make a jump onto a covenant warship sitting tight over New Mombasa. The story starts where Master Chief left Earth in Halo 2 and the opening cinematic is easily one of the most impressive ones I have seen this year. And as the jump goes to hell, the Rookie ends up getting separated from the rest of his squad and wakes up, six hours later, alone in the night in a city that’s is now under Covenant control. The rest of the game is spent putting the pieces of the failed jump together and finding out what happened to your squad mates.
It’s a radical departure from the normal Halo story line where the scale is bigger and the stakes are higher. The change in the scope and scale of the story does allow Bungie to show a more human side (no pun intended) of the war and it makes for a more accessible story. The characters are well written but I do wish we had gotten to see more of them. The time we spend with them is limited due to the fact that you play the majority of the game as the Rookie, who doesn’t talk. At all. Well, to be honest, it could be because for about 80% of the game, he is running around all alone and doesn’t have anyone to speak to. And I am guessing the Brutes aren’t on speaking terms with the ODSTs. But it still leaves him as the weakest link in the characterisation of the squad.
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The change in gameplay comes from the fact that the ODSTs don’t have the recharging shield that Spartans do. In place of it, you now have a health and stamina system. You can take a few hits before your stamina is gone and after that, every bit of enemy fire will eat up your health. Stamina recharges, but health damage is more lasting. To replenish your health, you need to be on the look out for med kits. Similarly, since you are no longer a 7-foot tall, genetically enhanced soldier, your melee attacks are weaker as well, so running up to enemies and punching them in the face is no longer an acceptable combat tactic. Both these factors give the combat a more tactical feel than the previous Halo games. You pick your spot and you pick your battles and if you ever run into a pair of Hunters, you pick your god and say your prayers.
With the radar and the equipment functionality removed, you always feel exposed to danger and the fact that you cannot dual wield stresses on the fact that you are no longer an invincible man-tank. Your vulnerability is further amplified by your loneliness (there is no Cortana chattering away in your ear, Commander Keys isn’t there to give you orders) and the ubiquitous covenant patrols in the city. With the addition of a silenced SMG and the silenced Pistol (back to its godly status) the parts where you play as the Rookie turn into a series of hit and run assault tactics on covenant patrols in the cover of dark, often guided by the friendly city AI, the Superintendent. The Superintendent also helps in navigating the expansively large city with the help of waypoints, which can also be placed manually in the game map if you want to explore.
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The new VISR mode is there to further help you with the guerrilla warfare. It’s an enhanced version of night vision that highlights enemies, friendly units, weapons, equipment and collectibles. Collectibles are in the form of 30 audio logs scattered throughout the city. The audio logs tell their own story separate from the campaign and are well worth listening to. You will also need the VISR mode to find clues about your missing squad mates, which trigger the game’s flashback sequences. In these sequences you get to play as the Rookie’s missing squad mates. It’s an interesting way to piece together the story and find out what happened to the others after the initial drop. And even though the bits where you play as the Rookie drip with fantastic atmosphere, it’s the flashbacks where the game truly shines.
Next page: Multi-player, presentation, and IVG verdict