My hands on preview of Halo 3: ODST

Halo 3: ODST - Xbox 360 - box artOn Monday the 20th of July I was invited to join representatives of Europe’s gaming press at London’s Century Club, to get a sneak peek at the forthcoming Halo 3: ODST from Bungie and Microsoft Game Studios.

With a demonstration of the campaign mode from Bungie’s top multiplayer developer Lars Bakken and a hands-on session of the new Firefight multiplayer mode, I was able to get a decent feel for what this next instalment will offer players. Follow the jump to find out what I thought about it.

If I had to describe what I saw of ODST in two words it would be these – fan service. Everything about this game is crafted in such a way that you can tell that it is a labour of love from Bungie to their fans. Combining more open-world exploration with high intensity flashback scenes, you get to play this game from many perspectives. The story begins midway through Halo 2, just as the Prophet of Regret teleports away and in doing so unleashes a devastating explosion that rocks the city of New Mombasa.

A team of ODST – elite human special forces – were about to be airdropped onto Regrets ship, but the ensuing explosion blows them all off course and scatters them cross the city. As the Rookie, you wake up six hours after the event, it is dark, the city has been evacuated and there is a sense that you are not alone. With the help of the Superintendant – the city AI that controls things like traffic lights, waste management and power – you must explore the city in search of clues as to what happened to your team.

Controlling the ODST is a very different experience to the way you would control Master Chief. Given that you’re just a highly trained human, rather than a genetically engineered super soldier, you’re less likely to succeed in pulling off gung-ho suicide missions. As you’re slower, unable to dual wield or use covenant equipment, have no motion sensor and no rechargeable shield, you’re going to need to use stealth, accuracy and planning in order to succeed.

Halo 3 ODST - The Rookie
The rookie – one of the strong, silent types

You’re not without your own unique benefits though, as the ODST are equipped with special issue VISRs, when enabled they amplify the light and draw silhouettes around environment objects. Enemies show up in red, allies in green, weapons and ammo in blue and clues in yellow. Making the most of the VISR in low light situations will give you a tactical advantage where it counts.

One of the most exciting (and geeky) aspects of this title is that the ODST are no longer going to be faceless heroes, and also have some interesting voice actors behind them. Three of Firefly’s finest – Nathan Fillion, Alan Tudyk and Adam Baldwin – join the delectable Tricia Helfer of Battlestar fame to lend voices and faces to the squad.

Beyond the flashback scene shown at E3 we were given very little additional info about the campaign, I’m guessing that Bungie want a lot of the mystery and intrigue to remain that way until fans can get their hands on a copy of the game this September. When it ships, ODST will also come with an extra disc featuring the full multiplayer version of Halo 3, with all previously released maps and three new ones.

Halo 3 ODST - HUD
You should take cover when the enemy drops off reinforcements

That’s not all, on the main ODST disc is a new multiplayer mode – Firefight. In this mode, you participate in a team of four ODST troopers in an unending and increasingly difficult survival mode, akin to the Horde mode in Gears of War 2. There are five waves of enemies per round, and three rounds per set. The idea is to stay alive as long as possible, while the type and behaviour of enemies gets tougher, as well as various “skulls” being added, shifting the difficulty further.

I was able to play three of the maps that were based on areas from the campaign – Security Zone, ONI Alpha Site and Crater – there was a good mix of outdoors and indoors, day and night combat, which will make good use of the VISR abilities. Although it wasn’t stated how many maps the game will launch with, it’s clear from those I played that with the limited number of lives your team has, co-ordination and co-operation are essential.

As with Halo 3, the game has Theatre Mode, which will allow you to capture images and video of your favourite moments from both the single and multiplayer games. Full bungie.net support will be provided to ODST, so all your kills, medals and achievements will be trackable from the site.

Halo 3 ODST - Johnson
It looks like a giant… JOHNSON!

You’ll be able to customise your ODST in multiplayer, but to a less limited extent than in the Halo 3 multiplayer. You can select from the characters in the game, choose if they have their helmets on or off, set a call sign and decorate your chestplate, but that is all. Those who pre-order the game (from Amazon, Game, Gamestation, etc) will also get access to Sergeant Johnson.

Hearing Adam Baldwin shout “boom, headshot” as well as all the other quips the voice actors recorded brings an extra sense of camaraderie to the proceedings, additionally you get to know when your team is changing magazines as they ape Left 4 Deads helpful “reloading” shouts.

Sadly no information about Halo: Reach was given, other than to confirm that anyone who purchases ODST will receive an invite to the Reach Multiplayer beta when it drops next year. We did get to watch the latest Vidoc from Bungie – “Desperate Measures”, which should be hitting Bungie.net and the Xbox Marketplace in the near future.

So, is this new spin on the Halo genre going to change people’s feelings about the series? I doubt it, but I don’t think that is Bungie’s intentions anyway. By now you either love it or hate it, and if you love it – thankfully September 22nd is not far off!