Preview - Halo 3: ODST
Nik Taylor gets hands-on with Halo 3: ODST, the latest in the long-running sci-fi shooter franchise.
Don't call it an expansion pack. Halo 3: ODST, once planned as little more than an add-on to the main game, has grown into something considerably greater. Indeed, when it releases on September 22, it will be as a two-disc special.
On one disc are all the multiplayer maps from Halo 3 (plus three new maps), all of which are playable without the need to own the original game. On the other disc is the new stuff, a fully fledged campaign mode and what should prove to be a compelling additional multiplayer offering. Oh, and you'll also get exclusive access to the beta of Halo Reach when that becomes available.
Halo 3 fans will feel right at home on those multiplayer maps, but drop into the campaign mode or the new Firefight multiplayer option and things are a little different. The big news is that the Master Chief is no more.
This latest addition to the Halo universe dispenses with the services of the seven-foot-tall super soldier, instead drafting in a crew of orbital drop shock troopers (the ODST of the title) as the playable characters.
You'll notice other changes to the Halo formula, too. For one, the game's campaign is no longer a linear run-and-gun, but an open-world shooter. For another, sneaky, stealthy play now has its reward. But it's the switch from Master Chief to a central character with far more human frailties that looks likely to have the biggest impact on gameplay.
"One of the things we wanted to do when we were creating how the ODST plays is to make you feel very different from the Master Chief," Bungie's Lars Bakken told us at a recent preview.
"Some of the subtle ways we did that was to make him not jump as high, he doesn't move quite as fast, his health does not regenerate, and he doesn't have a motion tracker. So, because of all those things together, it actually feels very different playing as an ODST."
Big changes, for sure, but isn't there a danger it will make the game less fun to play?
"It's definitely a tough balance," Bakken admits. "We wanted to push it a little bit but we didn't want to push it far enough where it was no longer fun to try to kill enemies.
"We just wanted you to approach the game from a different style than you did with the Master Chief. If it ever got to a point where it wasn't fun anymore, we definitely dialled it back.
"You'll see certain things; like the ODSTs can still rip off turrets, like you could in Halo 3 because, guess what, that's fun so we're going to leave it in there."
Fight or flight
The most obvious of these changes, during our brief hands-on with the game, is the central character's reduced strength. Shoot some heavy weaponry and you know all about it; the recoil feels noticeably stronger, making it trickier to stay locked onto targets.
Also, the ODST aren't so tough, and will have to go looking for health packs when injured, rather than just hiding behind a wall. So, it's important to be a little more cautious when picking fights.
"Stealth is one of your options," Bakken said. "It's not a stealth game by any means, but when you're moving around the city at night, and you're by yourself, it definitely behoves you to try to take guys out from a distance, or even just not encounter them at all.
"It's more a game of choices. Stealth is one of your choices; so is throwing a grenade and running in trying to kill everyone."
But while the ODST are weakened in some key areas, they also have access to some kit not available to the Master Chief. The most obvious is the visor.