“A university is just a group of buildings gathered around a library.” –Shelby Foote
A few weeks ago, 343 Industries conducted a flight for Halo 3: ODST, during which several campaign missions were playable, alongside the fondly-remembered Firefight mode and an updated Halo 3 multiplayer which was intended to address issues surrounding hit detection in the retail build. This marks the first time that I’d ever played Halo 3: ODST, an entry in the Halo franchise that is often forgotten amongst the giants like Halo 3 and Halo Reach. As I progressed through the campaign missions, it became clear that at least, for the campaign, Halo 3: ODST is ready to roll. Having experimented with both the Rookie’s free-roam in the deserted streets of New Mombassa and the flashback missions, I found no major issues with gameplay or performance. Events trigger appropriately at the stipulated points in the campaign, movement and shooting feels solid. The smart HUD and VISR function as expected. Although the campaign playlists meant levels were played back-to-back rather than as the campaign originally arranged them (the flashback missions should be started when the Rookie finds evidence in the streets of New Mombassa), I imagine that these are merely loading mechanisms, and the campaign should be functional when it hits the Master Chief Collection later this month. I will, of course, be reserving my impressions of Halo 3: ODST, with regard to the themes, enjoyment factor and contributions to the franchise in a dedicated post once the retail version becomes available, and in this brief reflections post, I will be showcasing my exploration of the New Mombassa streets on legendary difficulty.
The playlist for the city streets only allowed the Rookie to explore New Mombassa with Halo‘s toughest enemies, bringing back memories of the year that Halo 3: ODST came out for Xbox 360. Back in those days, I was acclimatising to life as a university student. During that first term, I found myself in an unfamiliar environment, and my classmates all had different schedules. Having made a small mistake during registrations early on, I ended up reshuffling my schedule to fit everything in, resulting in a chemistry lab that ran into the evening. On days where I had labs, I would spend my free time studying in the basement of building housing the largest lecture halls on campus. Down here, it was quiet, making for a good place to hit the books in peace. After finishing any review and assignments I had, I would head to the chemistry labs in the building over. During these study sessions, I listened to Halo 3: ODST‘s soundtrack, whose film noir elements created a compelling sense of loneliness that I would come to associate with that far-flung corner of campus. During those late nights, darkness crept back into the world as fall gave way to winter. Exploring the deserted hallways of campus had a melancholy feel to it, a melancholy that the Halo 3: ODST captures well, and at present, after spinning up Halo 3: ODST and wandering the streets of New Mombasa, memories of those days return to me as I locate a biofoam injector, bent-up sniper rifle and a helmet embedded in a screen. Provided that the retail version of Halo 3: ODST handles as smoothly as it did in the flight (there were no game-breaking bugs, crashes or performance issues that I found during the time I spent exploring), I anticipate that Halo 3: ODST will be a very smooth launch.
Screenshots and Commentary
- Halo 3: ODST was originally released on September 22, 2009 for Xbox 360 and became a distinct entry in the Halo franchise for its focus on an Orbital Drop Shock Trooper (ODST) known as the Rookie. These special forces are known as “Helljumpers” for their mode of being deployed into a combat situation, and during the Battle of New Mombasa, a small squad is sent on a clandestine mission that goes awry.
- The flight allowed me to check out most of Halo 3: ODST‘s campaign, but for this post, I’ll purely focus on the streets of New Mombasa after dark – there is actually quite a bit going on in the story, well beyond the Rookie investigating New Mombasa for clues on a stormy night, so I’d figure that I’d showcase some of the more interesting places around New Mombasa now and then save the campaign moments for the full post later on.
- The biggest surprise I had going into the New Mombasa playlist during the flight was that this was locked to legendary difficulty, which created an additional element of immersion. Even simple grunts and jackals, which are trivially easy on normal, become a challenge to engage, and every individual brute is a mini-boss, capable of absorbing a magazine-and-a-half of sustained fire from the suppressed submachine gun. It therefore became a matter of picking my fights (and avoiding them) as I picked my way through the deserted city streets.
- Compared to its standard variant, the M7S suppressed submachine gun is a little more accurate and deals less damage per shot. It also possesses a reflex sight that is linked to a smart optic, giving the M7S a bit more reliability at long range. The Rookie has the M6C/SOCOM, a semi-automatic pistol with an integral suppressor and a VnSLS/V 6E which allows for shots to be placed with accuracy out to a longer range than the M6C. Against grunts and jackals, a single well-placed headshot will deal with them swiftly, and despite being a relatively weak weapon, it is also immensely satisfying to use.
- When Halo 3: ODST released, the university had not yet undergone construction work to modernise it, and as such, campus relied entirely on sodium-vapour lamps to illuminate pathways with an orange glow. While waiting for a ride on evenings where I had chemistry labs, I would wander around the darkened campus, which had a very similar atmosphere and aesthetic as the streets of New Mombasa.
- In retrospect, I was never too fond of chemistry labs, since they were set in an old building that, while still satisfying safety code, had outdated equipment that could be fickle at times. I found myself wishing I was back in secondary school, which had more modern facilities and a generally more relaxed atmosphere: university chemistry labs were a ways more stressful and we were also assessed based on how successful our yields and results were. The labs themselves dealt with relatively simple, practical applications of the theory we learnt in lecture, and at least in my first year, I performed decently well in the laboratory component.
- Even during the academic semester, campus empties out very quickly at night, with only a handful of classrooms being occupied by lectures or tutorials. My days thus fell into a familiar pattern: once a week, I would stay late on campus to do my labs, and I had a four hour break on those days, so I would study in the basement hallways of the largest lecture building on campus until it was time to start the lab. Because my linear algebra course had the lightest textbook, I would often do most of my linear algebra here while listening to Halo 3: ODST‘s soundtrack.
- In this way, my first term would pass in the blink of an eye, and after final exams ended, I found myself with a decent performance. During the winter break, I ended up reconfiguring my schedule somewhat to reduce the amount of time spent on campus after dark, and because the Halo 3: ODST soundtrack reminded me of those lonely days spent drilling on eigenvalues and testing for invertibility by means of Gaussian Elimination, I promptly stopped listening to the Halo 3: ODST soundtrack. Halo 3: ODST similarly fell to the back of my mind as I started the new semester, which I spent studying with friends in a much more well-lit, inviting space in the student centre.
- During the moments exploring the more remote reaches of campus in the time after a lab and before my ride arrived, I typically walked around the outside of campus to figure out the best routes between different buildings, or else went into the basement network that linked most of the science buildings together. In my first term, all of my courses were concentrated in the sciences area, so it was easy to get around, but later on, courses would be scattered in unusual areas based on classroom availability, so knowing how to get between buildings quickly was of value. However, the engineering building was intimidating to me, and I rarely went in there early on. It wasn’t until the summer I began exploring campus more fully.
- I managed to find a shotgun during my trek through New Mombasa, which was an immensely valuable asset in that I finally had something with the stopping power to deal with brutes, even on legendary. One thing I did notice during the Halo 3: ODST flight was that I never encountered the battle rifle, which was my go-to weapon in Halo 3 for being a solid all-around weapon: Bungie deliberately cut the battle rifle from Halo 3: ODST in order to really drive home the idea that the Rookie and other ODSTs were vulnerable, lacking the overwhelming power that the Master Chief’s presence brought to each fight.
- When I first opened up the New Mombasa streets playlist, I was quite unaware that it had been on legendary difficulty, and even after I took out my first enemy squad, the difficulty didn’t seem to be an issue, although I had felt that I used a bit more ammunition than I’d intended to. However, after reaching the first building and entering a courtyard full of grunts, what I’d thought to be an easy fight suddenly turned into a slaughter, as a few stray plasma rounds ended up wiping me out.
- Playing on legendary is supposed to be the iconic Halo experience: enemies are incredibly tough and hit hard, and the player’s own damage and durability are reduced. On legendary, it becomes clear as to just how vulnerable the Rookie is on his own, when even a lone grunt can wipe him with a plasma pistol. In conjunction with the lack of a motion sensor integrated into the HUD, one must use the Visual Intelligence System, Reconnaissance (VISR) display to plan out their next move, knowing when to fight and when to quietly sneak by.
- Other parts of Halo 3: ODST‘s campaign are set during brighter hours of the day, and the Rookie’s segments are extremely dark. Fortunately, the VISR also has a special low-light mode that enhances brightness somewhat, as well as highlighting enemies in red, resources in yellow and allies in green. For these screenshots here, I’ve disabled the VISR so that each scene is as they would appear, but during combat situations, I leave the VISR engaged for improved visibility. The VISR is also immensely valuable for locating evidence, emitting audible cues as one closes in on something important.
- Because YouTube had not been quite as user-friendly during the game’s original release, Halo 3: ODST remains the Halo title I’m least familiar with, and as such, the flight actually marks the first time I’ve seen much of Halo 3: ODST – this iteration of Halo did not come with a full multiplayer component, instead, using Halo 3‘s multiplayer and consequently, I don’t think any of my friends picked up the title. We never did Firefight during LAN parties, so ODST wasn’t really a title that any of my friends had experience with.
- Instead, Halo 3: ODST stands out to me for its music, which has a completely different feel than the epic guitar and Gregorian Chant from earlier Halo games. Instead, composers Michael Salvatori and Martin O’Donnell adopted a jazz noir sound that evokes a mysterious, contemplative feeling through the use of saxophone. However, rather than the contemplative tone that traditional jazz noir creates, Halo 3: ODST has a more melancholy sound for its nighttime segments. The combat sequences and flashbacks, on the other hand, have a more traditional, militaristic sound.
- That Halo 3: ODST balances both out, creating the film noir atmosphere for the Rookie’s segment, and then returning to the form that Halo is known for, creates a very compelling atmosphere during different segments of the game. The film noir tone, however, calls for the orange-yellow glow of sodium vapour street lights, and some years ago, my city transitioned away from those to LED lights. The university followed suit shortly after, replacing all of the aging lamps with modern LED ones.
- This simple change transformed the campus’ nightscape to be a shade brighter, less shadowy. In the years following, I carefully timed my labs so they did not occur during the evenings, and most of my late-night stays on campus usually resulted from taking exams. In my graduate degree, I stayed late to help with various events around campus or invigilate exams. On the occasions where it was dark by the time I left, I noticed that the brilliant white lights of the LEDs helped to create a more inviting environment.
- While the flighting has ended, and we’re likely due to see Halo 3: ODST somewhere later this month, I note that I’ve deliberately chosen to write about the flight now because it coincides with the first day of lecture, which admittedly took some getting used to. I believe today should also be the start of a new semester, as well. As I moved through my university program, the first day of lecture became less noteworthy: by graduate school, I regarded the first day of lecture as little more than a time for when hallways became busy again.
- For the actual Halo 3: ODST discussion, I’ll delve into more plot-related elements and gameplay mechanics. There are enough differences in Halo 3: ODST to warrant playing with a different style, but some elements remain unchanged (such as the fact that ODST can hit as hard as Master Chief can when meleeing enemies). With this being said, it’s time to wrap things up: I realise this is my third games-related post in a row, so I assure readers that my next post will return to anime.
- Altogether, it took about two hours to hit each piece of evidence and wrap up the streets of New Mombasa in full on legendary: once I reach the building that leads into a complex housing the Superintendent’s data core, this playlist concludes. I will be returning at some point in the future to write about Halo 3: ODST proper, and having gotten this bit of reminiscence out, that leaves me free to focus entirely on Halo 3: ODST without lapsing into nostalgia about university.
Once Halo 3: ODST hits retail, all eyes will turn towards Halo 4, the first Halo title that 343 Industries developed. The previous Halo titles, Halo 3 in particular, have set the precedence for what to expect, and moving into the future, I am anticipating a very exciting launch for Halo 4, as well. It is a little surprising to see The Master Chief Collection nearing completion, around a year after Halo Reach first released to PC, and in all honesty, The Master Chief Collection coming to PC was probably the biggest event in gaming this year, outstripping even the likes of Call of Duty: Warzone for me. Admittedly, a lot of gaming these days has begun straying from the path of what makes them enjoyable: the Battle Royale genre is one I have no patience to play, either dispensing with skill (such as Fortnite, where dirty tactics like camping are accepted) or falling to its own success (Call of Duty: Warzone and its cheaters, for instance). Seeing classics make their appearance on PC has been most welcome: Halo has always been about immersing players in a different world through its campaign, and striving to improve and learn through its multiplayer. To see the Halo approach to gaming still standing strong after over a decade, against modern titles, attests to just how well-designed and innovative the series is, and the Master Chief Collection will be something that continues to give its players enjoyment long after Halo 4 releases and finishes off the collection, keeping people engaged and excited as 343 Industries works toward releasing Halo Infinite.