Halo 3: ODST Hands-On - Campaign Impressions

It's time to leave our mark on New Mombasa one last time before ODST is officially released.

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With Halo 3: ODST due out for release in one short week, we recently had a chance to play through the game's campaign in its entirety. We won't steal too much from our upcoming review, but we figured now would be a great time to offer a refresher course on some of the changes and additions to ODST's single-player campaign. So let's go on a run-through some of ODST's unique weapons, features, and missions, such as the wonderfully enticing opening sequence.

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Halo 3: ODST opens with the game's protagonist, "The Rookie," dropping to Earth from orbit inside one of the military’s proprietary drop-capsules, commonly known as an HEV. During your free fall, the capsule's large window provides a breathtaking view of both you and your fellow ODSTs slicing through the clouds, with Earth racing ever closer. The window is flanked by a pair of monitors, each displaying a live feed of your fellow troopers who converse with you throughout the drop. Well, that is until the entire group is knocked off course by a shockwave induced by an enemy ship. This intense sequence is visually awe-inspiring and brilliantly sets up the events that transpire.

Following the turbulent journey, the Rookie awakens six hours later inside his crashed HEV, which is now embedded like a sliver in a building several stories above ground. It's dark, and the quiet whine of an abandoned police car's siren can be heard in the distance. After disengaging the HEV's security locks, the Rookie drops to the ground, taking damage from the fall. This is Bungie's seamless method of introducing players to Halo ODST's revised health system. In what is but the first of several throwbacks to the original Halo, ODSTs now have an old-fashioned health bar, in addition to a shield, which is functionally reminiscent of the one in previous games. Essentially, once your shield has been depleted, your health bar begins to take a hit and doesn't auto-regenerate. But worry not, for health packs are a dime a dozen around New Mombasa, and finding one is as simple as approaching any of the medical kiosks scattered around the city (how's that for a healthcare plan?).

Venturing deeper into the desolate city was troublesome because the pitch-black environment blanketed the few remaining enemies from our prying eyes. Thankfully, every ODST is equipped with a VISR (that's code for "visor"), which is a heads-up display that not only enables night vision, but also outlines objects of importance, such as enemies in red, friendlies in green, or dropped weapons in yellow. It's highly reminiscent of the Detective mode in the recent Batman: Arkham Asylum. And like Batman, the game doesn't provide much incentive not to use it--at least at night--which is somewhat disappointing because its high-contract filter partially masks the wonderful environmental detail painted around every street corner. However, you can't use it all the time because during the day, your VISR essentially blinds you and leaves your vision a washed-out fuzz of light.

While exploring the city, we encountered our first group of enemies, who provided the opportunity to test out the ODST's weaponry. In what's sure to please fans of the original Halo, the pistol makes its triumphant return, albeit in silenced form. Yes, even the much-loved zoom function is back, which was missing from its Halo 2 rendition. The suppressor is quite effective, so much so that it almost takes away the sheer thrill of firing a handgun with a lot of "oomph" behind it (for those who enjoy their firearms loud and inauspicious).

After pistol-whipping our opponents, a communication-terminal rang nearby. It's the superintendent! No, the Rookie didn't forget to pay his rent; the superintendent is the AI that governs the city. It informed us of a useful new map interface, which not only enables us to better plot our course through the city, but also displays the real-time movement of enemy troops. This functionality, when combined with the cloak of darkness, provides gamers the option of either proceeding stealthily or confronting the enemy head-on. But most importantly, the map displays the location of nearby beacons, which signify the location of clues left behind by fellow troopers in the preceding six hours. Upon locating a clue (whether it's the dropped helmet of a fellow ODST or a discarded weapon), a new flashback-style mission begins where you'll actually take control of said soldier to experience exactly what he did in the intervening hours.

If this sounds startlingly unlike Halo, worry not. The missions themselves are classic Halo through and through, offering an interesting contrast between the dark and lonely free-roaming city sections and the straightforward, action-packed "flashback" missions. One such mission, Uplift Reserve, is about as different from the city environment as you get. It's bright, loud, and full of explosions. In short, it's Halo. Starting on the coastal remains, you'll work your way inland where you'll regroup with some fellow soldiers. After helping them battle the inbound Covenant, you'll take to the turf in a Warthog in a desperate attempt to flee the area. Racing through the narrow canyon corridors whilst evading enemy fire is as exciting as ever. Another mission, ONI Alpha Site, offers what is perhaps one of the grandest on-foot battles in the entire game. After detonating a bridge in an attempt to separate ourselves from the enemy, we were forced to hunker down inside a base to defend it against countless waves of inbound enemy troops. With our health dwindling and ammo reserves depleted, we really had to start thinking strategically about our plan of attack, lest we wind up as a "clue" to a future ODST.

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It's clear Halo 3: ODST brings several interesting features to the Halo universe, and you'll be able to try them out for yourself when it orbital-drops in the US, Europe, and Australia on September 22. Check back for GameSpot's full review soon.

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