An Inside Look at Halo: ODST

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For rabid fans of the well-known and universally respected Halo franchise, no more exciting news emerged from E3 than the announcement of Halo: ODST, an unusual new chapter in the series that will allow players to move on from Master Chief to play as a different type of soldier in the war against the Covenant. We packed into a tiny theater with Bungie developers and other journalists for an early peek at gameplay from the hotly anticipated title.

The story follows a rookie Orbital Drop Shock Trooper (ODST), who drops into the city of New Mombassa with the rest of a squad. When the drop goes awry, he emerges from the pod alone in the deserted city, and goes about finding his squadmates.

Where other Halo titles have pitted Master Chief against hordes of alien enemies that required quick reflexes and major firepower to kill in frantic battles, the more fragile nature of ODST has slowed down gameplay to a more cautious, thoughtful speed. We’re not talking Rainbow Six, here, but early segments of the single player campaign required the player to fully scope out the terrain ahead, shoot carefully, and take cover, rather than plowing into firefights with guns blazing. Together with the architecture and style of New Mombassa, it reminded us in some ways of the original Deus Ex.

To mix up locales and situations, the players will also discover clues along the way that temporarily pause the storyline of the main protagonist, dropping them into the shoes of other ODST. For instance, in the demo, a piece of equipment on the ground transported us to the viewpoint of squadmate Dutch, who was busy shooting down alien aircraft from a bridge elsewhere on the planet.

Meanwhile, multiplayer has shifted to include only a cooperative mode known as firefight, which pits a squad of ODST against wave after wave Covenant in an almost area-like map configuration. A shared “pool” of lives is key to this concept, since it forces players to truly cooperate and look out for one another – a teammate’s life is as important as your own. New awards will also join Halo classics to reward players for playing the game the right way.

Like all Bungie titles, it’s quite clear that Halo: ODST has been in the incubator for some time, and played to death by the same people who build it, producing a product just as polished as the mainstays of the series. So while Halo diehards may have some adjusting to do when it comes to combat, we’re quite confident that Microsoft will have yet another hit on its hands when ODST  lands on September 22 this year.

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