Behind closed doors at the Microsoft event Bungie showed a deeper look at this fall’s Halo ODST, a first-person shooter that’s both very different than the Halo trilogy but that also shares some similarities.
The demo showed essentially a deeper look at the same level that debuted at Microsoft’s media briefing Monday, with more detail and storyline revealed. Also, for clarification, Halo ODST will arrive in one package on two discs. The first disc includes the story campaign, which can be played with one to four players cooperatively; Firefight, a survival-style co-op mode; Theater, which enables screen capture and movie replay just like in Halo 3; and Extras, the gateway for gamers to enter into the Halo Reach beta (when it becomes available). The second disc is the multiplayer disc, which includes all of the (unannounced) MP details. Creative Director Joseph Staten confirmed that Bungie separated the game onto two discs because of space restrictions.
Staten led the demo, which started at the beginning of the game, in a starship high above New Mombassa with a group of ODST marines shooting the breeze before their next mission. You meet Dutch (who goes missing later on the game), a red-headed soldier who is friendly. You also meet a black dude, an angry squad captain, and a female leader who one of the soldiers notices wears new and advanced gear. The mention of her gear, her relationship with the squad captain, and her story all appear as hooks into a deeper storyline that assuredly will be explained as you, “The Rookie,” find various items in the broken scraps of New Mombassa, each one initiating a flashback sequence and more storyline. Halo ODST is a prequel to Halo 3, taking place weeks before that game started, and explains what happened to New Mombassa after Halo 2.
The next scene shows you jumping into a landing pod, which along with hundreds of others, are maneuverable space craft designed for hard, fast drops into heavy military zones. You jump in and are given a look at what looks like a solo space elevator, except with controls to maneuver, slow down, and even pull a tech parachute for landings. As you’re falling you’ll start in space and get a good view of the craft you’re leaving, plus you’ll get a great view of the other pods dropping from the mother ships underside. You fall through space, make the transition into the atmosphere, and then pick up where the media briefing demo started off, watching a Covenant spaceship enter into slipstream leaving a destructive blast in its wake and scattering your team mates across the wide terrain below.
You make a hard landing, and wake up six hours later, at night, all alone. Upon landing you begin seeing the biggest differences between previous Halo games and Halo ODST. First, you’re a regular guy, sans cybernetic enhancement and alteration and a SPARTAN suit. So, you’re a lot less powerful and must be smarter about how you approach and attack enemies. Unlike the Halo trilogy, in Halo ODST, you’ll have different and in some cases more helpful gear, such as a compass and a unique visor in your helmet and HUD. You’ll need to pick up health from first aid kits because while you have a health meter and an adrenaline meter, the health meter doesn’t recover on its own — a first and a step…backward (sideways?) for the series? As a quick aside, Halo introduced the regenerating health system to first-person shooters (after which all other shooters followed), so for Bungie to change this, and for Halo fans, this alteration ought to be, well, different at best. We shall see. Anyway, the visor provides a low-light vision mode so you can see at night, and it also provides a target acquisition scanner that identifies objects of importance, such as enemies (which show up in red). You’re equipped with different weaponry, too: two silence weapons. You’ll get a sound suppressed sub-machine gun with a zoom function, and a sound suppressed Halo 1 pistol, which frankly, kicks ass.
Sensing the game’s new mood was difficult even behind closed doors (the Alan Wake sub-woofers next door were exceptionally loud), but Staten illustrated how the new game was designed with a greater sense of mood. Halo ODST is a mystery, and as such, the coloring, music, and story will reflect that idea with red skies, a much vaster scale of the city and you’re small place in it.
Bungie loves its AI characters and in ODST, instead of Guilty Spark, you’ll meet the city’s super smart AI, The Superintendent, created by ONI, the office of naval intelligence. Known as the “Super,” this city AI reaches you by making a phone call on a public phone. When you answer, you learn he is watching you and wants to help. The Super is also damaged, partially broken due to the Slip Stream blast the Covenant ship caused. The Super gives you a top-down digital map of the whole city, and provides you with beacons you can set to help guide yourself and others (if you’re playing co-op, for instance) as the story progresses.
The first enemies you’ll see are basic grunts, after which you’ll encounter basic level brutes. In these first battles, you’ll have to strafe, distract, run, and keep the enemies guessing, unlike the straight run-and-gun of Halo 1-3. These fights, however, didn’t appear to be terribly difficult nor interesting.
Staten ended the demo by showing the Firefight mode. Firefight is basically a massive survival mode, in which your team is given a finite amount of team lives (seven) and must withstand nonstop, increasingly difficult Covenant attacks. Bungie is in the process of completely re-designing its Website to incorporate new stats and functionality, leaderboards, etc., to reflect the demands of the new game. We watched a replay of ODST troopers fight off Brute leaders equipped with their giant hammer/staffs, which pretty much just ended the fight, as each ODST militant was eventually hammered off his feet and propelled 30 to 50 feet into the air like a sharply hit tennis ball serve.
While Bungie is correct in thinking that the next Halo needs to look, feel, and play differently, not running and gunning in Halo, not recharging instantly, and not being a super bad ass seems like a weird idea for any Halo game. I mean, those are, in some basic way, the tenets of what Halo is. To play it differently, stripped down to human proportions, makes me wonder why it’s called Halo at all. I say this, of course, not having played it or experienced the story or what Bungie has to fully offer, so I am not fully equipped to judge. So what I am hoping is that place of these tenets, there are bigger, more impressive elements to be revealed that compel gamers in ways that are so great and enticing that they will accept this new Halo style and embrace it. From an experienced perspective, having read all the books and played all the games, it’s tough to see those enticing elements just yet.