ODST Is Your Older Brother's Halo

Okay, I admit it. After the announcement of Halo: Reach, set to come out in 2010, only twelve months or so after this year's Halo 3: ODST, I was set to bash Bungie for being unoriginal and Microsoft for upping the production quota on the goose that laid the golden egg(s).

I had a piece all written, with a pleasantly unpleasant pun in the title, about how this was only to be expected; that Microsoft almost certainly extorted... I mean, exacted from Bungie a promise to continue on with at least X more Halo titles after receiving their independence. This would appear to be true for all situations where X is two or larger. Originally I had thought perhaps ODST would be it; that was probably naive of me.

Of course there's always every chance that there are people in Bungie who want to continue with Halo. Just like Id software nearly split in half over the decision of whether or not to revisit Doom with Doom 3, one might imagine that some old-time Bungie devs want to go back to doing a game and a sequel and let the spinoff studios handle the third game, a la Marathon and Myth. It also seems possible, though, that there are Bungie devs who have not worked on anything but Halo, and perhaps some of those want to keep doing it because they like it, and others want to do something else because they're tired of it.

ODST, I figured, would be an expansion pack: some new campaign and multiplayer levels to tide us over while Bungie works on the Next Big Thing. In some ways, perhaps that's true. However it also looks like we're getting a lot more out of ODST than just that, and the design team have made some intriguing choices, many of which were on display at E3.

The first we already knew: no Spartans. ODSTs are not as strong or as fast. How that will be handled was fleshed out in the gameplay demo. ODSTs don't have shields. They rely instead on "health terminals" that work like Halo 1's health packs. That's the first of many gameplay throwbacks to Halo 1. The next is fall damage. Unlike the heavily armored Spartans of... well, of Halo 2 and 3, the ODSTs take damage if they fall too far-- which we see right off the bat as the Rookie exits his crashed drop pod. No word yet though on whether ODST will kill players for falling too far or moving too fast.

In part to compensate for less strength and speed, Bungie gave ODST the VISR mode, which is like an extended version of Halo 1's night vision sniper scope. It increases contrast and outlines interesting items (including allies and enemies). Spartans must be jealous; why don't they have this?

Then there's the Superintendent himself, who provides Bungiefen with another flashback: this time not to Halo but to Marathon. Superintendent terminals provide the player with an overhead map of the play area, showing areas of special interest and allowing the placement of waypoints to aid in navigation. The ODST HUD has a compass that shows those waypoints, just like similar play mechanics in Fallout 3, Oblivion and Mass Effect. (Marathon had an overhead map but no waypoints or compass; just an indicator of the player's position and direction.)

All of those things are interesting, but they had me at Firefight: kind of a campaign co-op light. I've never been a huge fan of traditional versus multiplayer, and campaign co-op mode tends to be a lot more demanding of bandwidth. If Firefight can be a compromise between those two, this mode, which pits 1-4 players against increasingly difficult waves of Covenant infantry and vehicles, could end up being my favorite new way to play a game I've been playing for the last ten years-- and might be playing for the next ten if Microsoft has anything to say about it.

Yes, this is unusually positive. I find myself suprisingly eager to get a copy (or two) of ODST and get exploring the ruins of New Mombassa. To make up for it, I'll be sure to make a post of all the game's foibles post-release.

category: 
platform: 
topic: 

Comments

I've been feeling the same way really. I was going to get ODST anyway like any good Halo fan (heh) but it actually seems like it'll be an interesting experience in and of itself. Firefight mode is something I know many fans of the series have been asking for a long time for, and given how much I played GoWs Horde mode compared to it's multiplayer mode, I could see myself playing firefight in ODST quite a lot.

I'm still not sure how I feel about health packs though. They've always been, and still are, a very odd way to get health back (walk up to it and WOW instant health!)

One small note: The superintendent gives you the map and the points of interest yes, but once you have them you can access them at any time with the VISR (using the back button). I just thought your wording didn't really capture that.

tsk tsk, thought you would've floated the idea all of us other superfen :-) are wondering... does Bungie own the Halo Engine? If so, then maybe they're flexing the engine to get it started as a licensed product. Which would be great because I'm sick of the existing mega-franchise engines that are the same=old same-old and would love to see the HE put into other dev hands. How fitting if the guts of the Halo engine get to fund future Bungie products.

- m

[quote=Miguel Chavez]tsk tsk, thought you would've floated the idea all of us other superfen :-) are wondering... does Bungie own the Halo Engine? If so, then maybe they're flexing the engine to get it started as a licensed product. Which would be great because I'm sick of the existing mega-franchise engines that are the same=old same-old and would love to see the HE put into other dev hands. How fitting if the guts of the Halo engine get to fund future Bungie products.

- m[/quote]

Actually it didn't occur to me.

Bungie hasn't been particularly good at licensing technology since the Marathon days. I'm not even sure they are particularly interested, as it carries major demands for support and documentation, two things I am not really sure fit into the plan for world domination.

I'd be very, very surprised if Bungie was interested in putting the Halo engine out now, after ten years of iteration, as a licensable engine to compete against the likes of Unreal, Id, gamebryo, and their ilk. I think if any party in the Bungie-Microsoft relationship thought that was a good idea, it'd be Microsoft. I think if Bungie could secure free or discount use of their own engine, including rights to modify, for a reasonable term (or indeed in perpetuity) they might be willing to let Microsoft license it if they take care of documentation and support.

That Bungie is able to pump out a couple titles using small teams and short development terms using the H3 engine is pretty impressive.

Whether anybody else would have been able to do it I think is a pretty wide-open question. I'd venture to guess no.

With all due respect, whenever I think of what sets Bungie games apart from the others, it's always content and never technology. I felt that way before Halo and I still do. I think they've done a better job than I expected at staying near the bleeding edge, but I think they've also done a better job than most developers when it comes to making sure that it's the game that is the thing, and not buzzword compliance.

(Incidentally, seen some of the previews that call ODST's graphics "dated" and decrying the primitive, ugly, "sub-HD" graphics of the two year old Halo engine? Because I have.)


Rampant for over se7en years.



Nice commentary narc. I can't imagine Bungie continuing past Halo: Reach. I'm sure they have better things to do than beating the dead horse they rode in on.