We sat there glued to our TV screens. The familiar countdown sounded off–four, three, two, one… until the black TV screen revealed a narrow hallway where I stood shoulder to shoulder with my team, three ODST soldiers. Stepping into the sunlight we saw Covenant Phantom dropships appear from left and right. Grunts and Snipers descended onto the grassy slopes of Security Zone, the first of three Firefight maps shown during a hands-on session at Bungie’s Kirkland studios Tuesday.
The first wave of Covenant was easy: Four of us against a bunch of alien meat puppets. But it was the appearance of two Covenant Wraith tanks coupled with the re-appearance of new dropships and the constant, accurate plasma blasts reigning down on us that made me nervous.
The silence between waves was even more nerve-rattling. During those short windows of time (maybe 10-15 seconds), we sprinted across the green searching for ammo or any ammo-filled enemy gun we could find. The third wave of the first set brought Brutes. The fifth wave finally came, bringing the distant icon of the Brute Chieftain, with his elaborate headdress protruding into the air and the massive, powerful hammer clutched in his paw. You could hear him grunting a hundred yards away. I watched one teammate take the Chieftain’s first swing, his body like a puppet slammed 30 feet back. It took all four of us to mow him down.
That was wave one.
Firefight is the new survival mode in Bungie’s Halo 3: ODST. Along with a fleshed out single-player campaign, ODST comprises a multiplayer mode, Forge, Theater, and all of the community tools first revealed in Halo 3. Additionally, if you purchase Halo 3: ODST, you’ll be invited to play the Halo: Reach beta next year.
Firefight reminds most people of Gears of War 2’s Horde mode, although Survival gameplay modes have existed in fighting games for dozens of years now; they’re nothing new. But Firefight is new to Halo, and it’s a logical extension of the Halo play style that bolsters co-op play and camaraderie, as up to four players team up to fight endless waves of Covenant enemies. Bungie’s Lars Bakken, senior designer on Halo 3: ODST, said he recalled being aware they had something great just after Halo 3 shipped. “In the first section of Halo 3, when the jungle opens up, we toyed around with the idea of Firefight. We just reset wave after wave of enemies, and we could see the making of something really fun. It was stripped down, not at all like what we have in ODST, but that’s when the roots of Firefight began.”
In Bungie’s version of survival mode, you and three other ODST soldiers start with a single suppressed SMG and (scoped) pistol each, and you’ll fight off five waves of Covenant enemies, each wave separated by about 15 to 20 seconds before the next wave hits. Your team shares a pool of seven total lives (shown the upper right hand corner); meaning you get seven lives to survive three sets of five waves before Bungie rewards you with a Bonus Round. Survive that, and you’ll get new ammo, extra health, and new lives. The Firefight maps are specifically designed for ODST and there are about 10 of them.
Adding to the fun are skulls. Skulls are like wild cards or little dark clouds, depending on your point of view. Bungie and its massive ark of fans love the skull challenges. In our sessions, each new set of enemies added a new skull to up the ante. In the first round of five, Tough Luck, which directs enemies to dive away from grenades, is employed. The second round sees Catch, a skull that enables enemies to hurl dozens of grenades at you. And, finally, on wave three, you’ll see Black Eye, a brutal skull that forces you to physically attack enemies with melee attacks to regain health.
Getting to the third set is easier said that done. The par goal Bungie set for the game is 200,000 points, and our team, using the normal setting, averaged about 68,000 to 80,000 points. In our several attempts we nearly beat the third and final round, but our last human fighter died, having run out of bullets with nowhere to go against the Chieftain. High points are earned for doing cool things, like attaining multiple deaths in a row, gutsy kills, or successful melee attacks.
For instance, one guy on our team hurled a plasma grenade into a group of Grunts and watched five of them explode–he gathered a hefty number of points for that. On normal mode, I snuck down into the lower green and jacked both of the Covenant Tanks, for which I was awarded handsomely. In the same way that multiplayer modes require study and patience, Firefight requires teamwork, quick assessment of dead aliens’ weaponry, and weapon placement. For instance, on a lookout spot at the top of the hill, you can grab a detachable turret, but once those bullets are emptied, whatever the aliens dropped after dying is what you’re left with. One strategy is to save the big guns for the later, tougher battles.
Fighting with Four and Seven
Bungie showed off three Firefight maps during its all-day, hands-on MP/Firefight session: Security Zone, Crater (at Night), and Alpha Site. Security Zone is like Zanzibar in that it quickly demonstrates the full potential of Firefight. It’s simple, easy, and a quick map to understand. It’s also the first map Bungie showed of the mode, so by now everyone has seen a portion of it. Security Zone comprises a gradual grassy slope anchored with three lookout points at the top of the slope and has a few structures creating partial barriers near the slope’s bottom. There, a flat grassy section ends with a gray alcove designed for various purposes (such as hiding or grabbing a sniper rifle, for instance). When the mission begins, players start at the top and fan out across the field as Covenant dropships blast cover fire while dropping their soldiers. This Environment is both wide and long, and if you look hard enough you’ll find a power rifles, rockets, and sniper rifles in the wings of the level.
Crater (night) is a smaller, circular map built upon three or four split level balconies and ramps, along with a crater in the middle. This map, as indicated, demonstrates what a night map looks like, and you’ll need the night visor to handle this level best. Hit X and the dark, hidden enemies will appear for a limited amount of time in full light. Crater is full of mischief. It’s packed with circular sloping paths, alcoves, and tons of little nooks to duck into and re-appear in to handily slaughter enemies. Since Firefight is limited to four humans per team, this map delivers the perfect size and structure, giving you the ability to always seen your comrades if need be (and there will be the need!).
The third map, Alpha Site, is another circular one; only it’s flat and appears during the day. Covenant waves appear on a wide balcony at the far end of the level, split in the middle and connected by two narrow-ish doorways, creating potential for bottlenecking. This level, however, is distinguished more by the multiple columns that split up the opposing end, giving both you and the enemy cover sections and hiding spots from which to recover and attack.
I liked Security Zone in the same way that Zanzibar was the picture perfect capture-the-flag map. It’s big and obvious, but there is room to play. And it’s also wonderfully balanced. Its biggest fault is that it’s actually too big; you often find yourself completely adrift from your teammates more often than not. All of the maps are solid, but I found myself really liking Alpha Site, as the environment is filled with columns, walls, and areas to avoid fire and surprise enemies. Moreover, the many columns stop the Chieftain from performing his deadly hammer attacks.
In each of the three Firefight maps shown, not one included drivable vehicles. Bakken explained that a handful of the other Firefight maps were large enough to include vehicles, specifically citing Warthogs. He pointed out, however, that you couldn’t jack a Wraith tank, which I so desperately wanted to do in Security Zone; you can however, plant a bomb to destroy it. Jacking the Wraith tanks was something Bungie toyed with early on, but it quickly became apparent, as Bakken pointed out, that it threw the game out of balance and changed things for the worse.
Hands-on Multiplayer with Citadel, Longshore, and Heretic
The all-day session also offered us a look at the three new multiplayer maps: Citadel, Longshore, and Heretic, a remake of the previous released map, Mid-Ship. With these three new maps, Halo 3 and Halo 3: ODST offer a total of 24 total multiplayer maps.
“Our fans have been asking (demanding) more symmetrical maps,” said Brian Jarred, Bungie community director. “We assessed at all the Halo maps and looked to see what niches were missing. The areas we were short on were small and symmetrical maps. Heretic, a true re-creation–although I won’t say it’s a pixel perfect one–of Mid-Ship, is a fan favorite. A small team of eight people is perfect for this map.”
Citadel is a solid symmetrical map that’s somewhat similar to Heretic in that it offers multiple pathways and a center piece, but it’s got a larger diameter and so it’s got wider paths and slightly bigger spaces. Both Citadel and Heretic are especially good for shotguns. “Citadel is simple and pure,” said Jarred. “And dare I say it, it’s my favorite.”
Longshore is a big team battle map like High Ground or Zanzibar. It’s an industrial warehouse setting that delivers a sense of vast size. It’s asymmetrical and has multiple stories, includes a Covenant Ghost, a rocket launcher, and an Energy Sword and we were able to play Capture the Flag and One Bomb on it. There is little else to say than it was a blast. Although, I’ll add that there are multiple ways to get the flag, perched on a four story high tower, including an extension bridge that expands almost directly above the tower.
The extension bridge can be activated by running up to the second (or third) floor and hitting a green-lit button. The activated bridge makes a big lurching sound, so it’s obvious it is extending, which can be useful for an attack or as a decoy. When on defense and we heard the bridge extending, we all focused our attention on it, even though the opposing team wasn’t coordinated enough to use it.