With the Halo series having very successful titles thus far, developers Bungie and publisher Microsoft Game Studios have endured a healthy revenue stream. The original Halo made a huge impact on the first person shooter genre (FPS) for consoles and was followed by the epic sequel Halo 2. Halo 2 pretty much made Xbox Live the original Xbox’s savour and though reported to have made significant losses, Microsoft had gained a foot in the door of console gaming. So naturally the third Halo would have much to live up to and with the new technology and better Live integration on the Xbox 360, it shouldn’t have too hard a time being the “Halo 2” of this generation. Sadly, though still a fantastic title, it felt very much like a polished version of the former game and was dubbed “Halo 2.5” as a mark of the lack of new direction or features.
So here we are with Halo 3: ODST or “Orbital Drop Shock Troopers”. These are the elite soldiers of the United Nations Space Corps and nicknamed “Helljumpers”. Though not quite the Spartan that Halo’s legendary hero (Masterchief) is, they are said to be the next best thing. The thing is – it still feels like you are playing as a Spartan. Bungie had stated that you would have no shield and be more exposed without such a safety net. But, before your health is touched, any projectiles or explosions simply drain your stamina. Once your stamina is low, then your health will deplete and leave you very weak indeed. So you do still have that “shield” and can still be “more than human” running and gunning, stopping only to regain (recharge) your stamina (shield). What was the point?
There are other aspects that are too similar and don’t separate it from previous titles enough. You cannot duel wield anymore to make you feel less Spartan like and weaker or less skilled – but then Masterchief couldn’t duel wield in the original Halo anyway, so it makes little sense. You can still jump quite high and your melee attacks will still inflict as much damage as the almighty Spartans do. You can still use the Covenant weapons and vehicles. The VISR mode (an enhanced vision that identifies friend and foe when turned on) is far more advanced than any recon technology the Spartans got. So it is hard to escape the feeling that this is still very much Halo 3, that if it was not for the third person view reminding you are an ODST when carrying a heavy machine gun, you might as well just be Masterchief. Did I mention you can run faster as ODST when holding the heavy machinegun than a Spartan could in Halo 3? Oh dear Bungie.
So let us put those points all aside. After picking on little details like that lets talk about the game “as it is”. The visuals seem to have been improved and the VISR mode (Visual Intelligence System Reconnaissance) is a great touch and highlights the enemies nicely. Ghosts are glossier and textures generally slightly more polished. The gameplay thus far seems the same, with the same great enemy AI Halo is renowned for and the same fantastic set pieces. As with all the Halo titles the musical score is simply brilliant it really adds to the atmosphere when in a frantic battle or alone in the streets of New Mombasa. You get a real sense of being a lone trooper trying to figure out what happened to your fellow “Helljumpers” as you explore streets littered with enemy patrols. You are searching for beacons that will then flashback to a fellow trooper and the events after landing, in an attempt to piece it all together and find out just what the hell happened.
The Firefight mode is (so far) where this game excels. Much like the “Horde” mode in Gears of War 2, ODST will put you and up to three other friends (via local or Live co-op) up against wave after wave of increasingly difficult enemies. As you progress through waves you also activate skulls (modifiers) that will make the enemy throw more grenades or simply be twice as strong. Then there’s the new pistol. Oh the pistol. Silenced and with a decent zoom, those that are a fan of the first pistol in the original Halo will love and likely prefer this one. Headshots from a far and silent are really satisfying and will rack up the high scores in Firefight too.
Thus far Halo 3: ODST is proving a mediocre title in the series. It is taking us in a different direction and that cannot be denied. But with no real sense of being weaker than the mighty Spartans and still being just as effective in combat, it is hard to not feel disappointed. Sure the Firefight mode is great but that could have easily been an expansion or mode reserved for the next title. It is quite worrying really – Halo 3 was not enough of a difference to Halo 2. But at least Halo 3 didn’t pretend to be different like ODST has had people hoping it is a completely new experience. Judgement will be reserved for the full review and there is no denying that despite not being different enough – the tried and tested formula of the titles before have made the first few hours still as enjoyable as ever, with just a little nagging that it could and should feel more different. Now if I can just find some more ammo for this pistol. Oh how I love you pistol…my friend…my *ahem*, there’s work to do soldier!
This First Level has been lovingly written for TheSixthAxis by the Masterchief himself, Fruit0fDoom.