The Infinite Zenith

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Tag Archives: Halo 3 ODST

Halo 4: Spartan Ops, A Reflection On Part Two

“Spartans, looks like there’s one more quick job before you get to come home.” –Sarah Palmer

After being captured by Jul’Mdama’s forces, Fireteam Crimson manages to escape and seize a Phantom, using it to infiltrate Covenant operations and search for another Spartan team, encountering a Harvester machine. Crimson quickly discovers that the Covenant managed to acquire UNSC HAVOK missiles and begin launching an assault on the UNSC Infinity. After clearing the lower decks of Covenant, the AI Roland reboots the Infinity’s systems and secure the engine room, deactivating the nuclear warheads in the process. Dr. Halsey is captured, and Crimson is first sent to close the portal system. Crimson learn that Jul’Mdama’s forces managed to salvage a Pelican and had been using it to listen in on UNSC communications. After the Pelican is destroyed, the UNSC test their ability to read a Forerunner map with an operation, and prepare an operation to recover Halsey before the Covenant can learn anything of value. However, despite being unable to locate Halsey, Crimson determine that the Covenant have been using another Forerunner artifact to anchor the Infinity to Requiem; Jul’Mdama orders Requiem’s self-destruct to activate, but once the UNSC determine that the artifact is controlled by several anchors, they destroy this, allowing the Infinity to leave Requiem moments before Requiem’s collision with its star causes a supernova. Halsey, meanwhile, agrees to help Jul’Mdama’s Covenant. This is where Spartan Ops‘ second part ends, and the story is continued in Halo: Escalation, which covers the events between Halo 4 and Halo 5. Spartan Ops ultimately ends up being a loosely-written campaign that bridges the gap between the two Halo games, expanding the lore of Halo while simultaneously providing more for players to do outside of the campaign and multiplayer. On the whole, Spartan Ops is a reasonably enjoyable, if time-consuming experience.

More so than the first half, Spartan Ops‘ second half strikes a wonderful balance between gameplay and humour: firefights are punctuated by the hilarious exchanges between Spartan Miller and the UNSC’s internal AI, Roland. Halo had remained very serious and focused throughout its campaign, and humour has never really been what I’ve known Halo for. However, with Roland’s wit and enjoyment to show off his capabilities, his dialogue with Spartan Miller adds a considerable amount of light-hearted banter into otherwise serious communications chatter. This gives the Halo universe a new dimensionality; marking the first time that players can openly laugh about something while fighting off Covenant and Promethean forces, the humour in the second partof Spartan Ops was meant to show that humanity has now reached a point where there are things to laugh at again. While the Covenant and Forerunner forces remain a threat, that humour is present suggests that humanity is capable of holding their own, and that dealing with superior forces has become enough of a routine such that we can laugh at unrelated things during combat with said forces. The end result is that the second half of Spartan Ops, while ending with a much grimmer outcome, comes across as being very similar to Portal 2 in style, striking that balance between light-hearted comedy and events that have a much larger implication on events in future games, creating intrigue for what was to come. Of course, Halo 5 proved to be a disappointment in its story, but having what was essentially a second campaign in Halo 4 to set the stage did represent a bold new idea at the time.

Screenshots and Commentary

  • For the second half of Spartan Ops, I largely ran with dexterity and shielding, plus the jet pack: suicide plasma grunts are always a challenge to deal with, but the bonus shielding conferred by this setup meant that I was able to often survive such suicide attacks with still ten percent of my shields remaining, allowing me to remain in the fight longer. Of course, being stuck by a plasma grenade is still instant death, but I found that overall, improved survivability made a great deal of difference in many solo firefights. The jet pack simply makes it easier to get places more quickly, and I find it an indispensable armour ability that made missions much easier.

  • In the absence of a Spartan Laser, rocket launcher, Incineration Cannon or Fuel Rod Gun, Hunters can be a nightmare to take out. Spartan Ops does not provide dedicated heavy weapons when Hunters are encountered in pairs, and my usual strategy is to get close and attack its unarmoured back until it goes down. I’ve found that the energy sword can actually work well against Hunters; a single lunge will bring one down very quickly. Similarly, using the Scattershot on a Hunter is also quite effective if one can hit the exposed orange areas.

  • The episode to clear Covenant off the UNSC Infinity was easily my absolute favourite of the Spartan Ops assignments, feeling like a mix between Halo: Combat Evolved and Halo 2‘s first missions. Fighting through the hangars and corridors of the Infinity, backed by UNSC marines and soldiers was great, and UNSC weapons were always plentiful. For Spartan Ops, I run what’s called the “n00b combo”: the battle rifle is my primary weapon, and I equip the plasma pistol as my secondary. Most enemies can be felled by a three-round burst, while Elites and Knights die after hitting them with the plasma pistol’s overcharge and then following up with a headshot.

  • The plasma pistol is probably the most valuable of the sidearms in Halo 4: while the weapon is the weakest weapon in the game on a per-shot basis, the fact that its overcharge can completely strip away shields and even stop vehicles briefly makes it incredibly valuable. In a pinch, the battle rifle-plasma pistol is enough to get one through almost any situation in Halo. In a standout episode, the most exceptional chapter comes when Fireteam Crimson must sweep the engine room for nukes: while the Covenant are using cloaking devices to conceal them, once Roland figures things out, they’re conveniently marked on one’s HUD for deactivation.

  • The cavernous space is very conducive towards sniping, and there’s a rack of sniper rifles close to the Infinity’s central reactor. In practise, while the sniper rifles are excellent weapons, there’s hardly any chance to snipe in Spartan Ops, so having the space and positioning to do so here was a welcome experience. The UNSC sniper rifle remains my favourite of the sniper rifles: it has the greatest capacity of the long range weapons and allows for making follow-up shots. The Binary Rifle, the Promethean equivalent, hits the hardest per shot and vapourises enemies on a kill, but is balanced by a low capacity and rate of fire.

  • Ever since Halo 3 brought back the single Needler, being able to pump enemies full of needles for that super-combine explosion is once again a reality. The Needler has limited homing capability and is surprisingly effective against Elites: the needles seem to ignore shielding. To offset its power, Needlers wielded by enemy forces can also super-combine: rushing carelessly into a firefight and being hit with seven needles will be enough to instantly kill players. While quite unrelated, here, I note that today marks the one year anniversary to the day that Toukairin was banned from AnimeSuki – his political commentary ventured into the realm of extremism and drowned out more moderate perspectives. I took no joy in orchestrating his ban; it was an unfortunate but necessary action, and if given a choice, I wouldn’t do it again.

  • The consolation was that after Toukairin was banned, political discussions became more civil and less frequent, less likely to agree with radical standpoints; the AnimeSuki community has become better for this, which is a win in my books. Back in Spartan Ops, after bringing the Infinity’s guns back online, players can watch as a Covenant cruiser explodes from sustained fire: it’s great to see that the UNSC can now fight Covenant ships head-on, and this was something about Halo 4 I’ve long been fond of – when Halo began its journey, humanity had been on the back-foot. Lore told a one-sided story where humanity often needed to fall upon exotic strategies or employ an entire fleet’s resources to beat back a single Covenant cruiser, and even then, at a heavy cost to themselves. By the events of Halo 4, however, considerable advances have allowed humanity to put up a considerable fight in fleet combat.

  • I continued pushing the fight against the Covenant: having run dry on my battle rifle, I’ve swapped over to the Covenant Carbine, which, while lacking the same damage per shot as the DMR, makes up for it by being exceptionally accurate. I generally prefer the battle rifle for ranges where the Carbine is effective, though: despite being quite accurate, I’ve found that the three-round burst on the BR is generally more consistent. Of course, these are merely my preferences, and different players find success with different setups.

  • Here, I managed to board a Wraith: Wraiths are occasionally seen in Spartan Ops, and while it appears that they can only be destroyed (boarding to kill the pilot causes the entire thing to explode and be rendered unusable), it turns out that the best way to commandeer one is to immoblise it using a plasma pistol, and then kill the gunner. This causes the driver to get out, leaving the Wraith free for players. In possession of a Wraith and its plasma mortar, everything up to and including other Wraiths can be easily destroyed. During co-op, things get even better, as one player can operate the plasma turret while the other drives: when my friend and I figured this out, we likened it to stealing a Gundam, turning the Wraith’s firepower against the Covenant to great effect.

  • While I’ve devised a strategy against Watchers since starting Spartan Ops, this doesn’t make them any less bothersome to deal with. Spartan Ops spawns entire flocks of them, and while individually weak, Watchers are able to move in erratic ways that allow them to dodge gunfire. They’re surprisingly durable and take a few bursts from the battle rifle to silence, as well: coupled with the fact they can fly off to regenerate, and even a group of five Watchers becomes a serious threat. I found that getting up close and personal with automatic weapons tended to work best.

  • On my own, having a Scorpion Tank meant being able to use the 90 mm cannon to devastate enemy forces. With a friend playing alongside me, it means either being able to have a gunner in an anti-personnel role or fulfill this role myself. However, when Spartan Ops gives us two tanks to work with, it means being able to absolutely demolish whatever challenges stood in our path: sustained fire from Scorpions is enough to bring down the Phantoms, and speaking to how long I’ve been around Halo for, I remember a time when Phantoms were simply vehicles that showed up during scripted events.

  • If it were not apparent, the co-op aspect of Spartan Ops was one I enjoyed greatly. My friend and I are rocking older computers without microphones, but even without voice communications, we were perfectly in sync: his DMR and assault rifle loadout complemented my battle rifle and plasma pistol loadout, and we generally had no trouble clearing out areas that had individually taken us longer. Having said this, that Spartan Ops can be completed solo attests to the fact that Halo 4 allows players to play in the manner of their choosing.

  • This, coupled with the loadouts and armour customisation options available in Halo 4, makes the game a textbook example of what video games in general should be like. Many games today place an undue emphasis on lootboxes at the expense of gameplay, hoping to make a quick buck, but back in the Halo days, Bungie placed a particular emphasis on world-building and immersion. I’ve always held the belief that if a game developer needed microtransactions to sustain themselves, then their games were never worth playing to begin with: a good game will compel players to successfully recommend that their friends pick the game up for themselves, and this is what Halo did.

  • Having spent most of my youth playing Halo with friends at LAN party, it speaks volumes to the series’ staying power that I picked up The Master Chief Collection as soon as it became available. To be honest, The Master Chief is easily worth 160 CAD, and the fact we got all six Halo titles for a mere 50 CAD is nothing short of excellent value. Beyond having some of the most consistent and balanced gameplay mechanics, The Master Chief Collection also properly demonstrates how to handle cosmetics in a video game.

  • For instance, here, I’m rocking a golden assault rifle, and for good measure, I’ve also got the gold skins for my magnum, battle rifle, DMR, plasma pistol, the Storm Rifle, Covenant Carbine, Light Rifle, Boltshot and Suppressor. These skins are unlocked simply by playing the game and completing weekly assignments, which yield experience points and season points that are used to unlock various cosmetics, from weapon skins to armour variations. All of this stuff is earned without any trouble, and never impacts gameplay: players rocking the basic recruit armour and weapon skins are just as effective as the blinged-out players with a Mjolnir helmet that resembles the RX-0 Unicorn’s head.

  • I’ve been running a golden gun in my games simply for the cool factor, and here, fight my way to the top of Lockout in order to unlock a map for analysis. A combination of Covenant Elites and Promethean Knights were my enemy, but since there was a stockpile of Scattershots here, I capitalised on their presence to great effect, vapourising Elites and Knights alike while waiting for the map to fully activate. The lighting in Halo 4 is interesting, and there have been cases where the bloom has been overwhelming, especially with the golden gun skins.

  • Liches make a return in Spartan Ops, but unlike their fearsome reputation in lore, can easily be destroyed by boarding and destroying or removing their power supply. The final set of missions in Spartan Ops involves calling out a Lich and stealing its power supply for the derelict Harvester, which had been disabled a few episodes earlier. The verdant vegetation and azure skies of Apex made it one of my favourite of the maps in Spartan Ops‘ second half.

  • Having a Mantis against the Prometheans turned an annoying enemy into something that was completely fun to play: as soon as one boards the Mantis, hordes of Watchers and Prowlers swarm the player, but armed with the Mantis and its high RPM cannon, Watchers are swatted out of the sky without effort. It was an excellent choice on 343 Industries’ part, to give players a chance to finally take it out on the Watchers. The goal here is to destroy several power supplies, which force the doors to the next area to open, and one of the things I did notice in Spartan Ops‘ second half was that sometimes, the waypoints for these generators did not line up exactly, making them hard to find. Fortunately, they’re visually distinct, so for scenarios where following waypoints didn’t work, it was a matter of finding these floating spheres.

  • The last mission in Spartan Ops involves reactivating the Covenant Harvester to punch a hole into a cavern where a Forerunner artifact is held. Countless Prometheans are here, but now, experience allowed me to make short work of them, and in the process, I found that the Promethean Scattershot is actually a superbly enjoyable weapon to use in very specific scenarios (at extreme close range, when all of the beams connect): if one can get behind a Hunter and hit the vulnerable areas with all of the beams, the Hunter will be vapourised. After deactivating the Forerunner artifact, it’s time to beat a hasty exit, fight through a group of elites, and wrap up this last mission. With this done, I’ve totally finished Spartan Ops: I’ll also be looking to write about my experiences as a Blood Elf warlock in World of Warcraft and a solid mod for Left 4 Dead 2 that made things even more amusing than I’d thought possible.

  • Beyond this, I am looking to venture back into Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim in the very near future to pick up a journey I’d put on hold since 2013. I’m also considering picking up Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 Remastered. My decision to do so will be determined largely by how much progress I make through Skyrim Finally, with most of my winter anime done, the only series I have left to write about is World Witches Take Off!. I’m still finalising the list of anime I’ll be watching over the spring season. Yakunara Mug Cup Mo and Super Cub are high on my list, and Hige wo Soru. Yuuki Yuuna wa Yuusha de Aru Churutto! and Soshite Joshikousei wo Hirou are also of note, so I’ll be checking those out to see where they go. This list is subject to changing, but three series and one short seems pretty reasonable for my current schedule.

With full-fledged cut-scenes and visuals, plus unique voice acting, Spartan Ops ultimately proved to be a tricky thing for 343 Industries to continue implementing: Spartan Ops had been a full-fledged campaign in its own right, and 343 Industries only ever released one full season, choosing to instead focus development on Halo 5 rather than expanding these side-stories further. However, even though only one season was produced, it added nearly ten extra hours of content to Halo 4‘s single player and co-op experience, and this was furthered by the fact that I did go through the Spartan Ops missions twice: once on my own, and once with a friend. In the latter, missions that had given me some trouble became much easier to handle. Between the two of us, we could carry different weapons for handling combat at different ranges, and we could cover one another. Having an extra player meant being able to fill the gunner seat of a vehicle, allowing vehicles to provide anti-personnel functions more effectively. Altogether, while Spartan Ops has its limitations (most notably, overwhelming enemy numbers and segments that require waiting, both of which pad out game time), the overall gameplay never grew stale, and there was always a fun opportunity to fight both Covenant and Promethean enemies across a wide range of locales. While Requiem’s rocky deserts were recycled, other locations (Lockup, Apex and Warrens) proved immensely fun to fight through: some maps may have been adapted from multiplayer maps, but many were purpose-made for Spartan Ops, possessing vivid details and rich skyboxes that make them distinct, unique locations. This experience was greatly augmented by the fact that I was able to co-op with a friend, and some of the biggest highlights include using a pair of Mantises to crush Covenant forces, rolling on enemy positions with twice the firepower thanks to having two Scorpions, saving one another from certain doom during firefights, and my personal favourite, hijacking Wraiths from the Covenant to grant ourselves additional firepower on missions that called for it.

Halo 4: Spartan Ops, A Reflection On Part One

“Spartan Sarah Palmer, Infinity Commander to all Navy, Army, and Marine forces, you can relax. The Spartans are here.” –Sarah Palmer

After Master Chief defeats the Didact, the UNSC Infinity is deployed to Requiem again to mop up remaining Covenant and Promethean forces. This sets in motion the events that would become known as the Second Battle of Requiem. The Infinity smashes through a Covenant armada and lands on the surface to begin a land invasion. Fireteam Crimson secures a landing zone and heads off to disable Requiem’s teleportation grid, allowing the UNSC to begin deploying power stations and laboratories for science teams. Covenant forces begin hassling the science teams, and once the UNSC learn that the Sangheili Parg Vol was responsible, send Fireteam Crimson to assassinate him. By this point in time, the Covenant manage to access Requiem’s teleportation grid, and Covenant Fleet Master Jul’Mdama arrives to oversee operations. While unable to kill Jul’Mdama, the UNCS manage to acquire a Forerunner artefact known as the Didact’s Gift, which revealed that Prometheans were synthesised from human memories. Fireteam Crimson manages to shut down the teleportation grid and defends the extraction team who’ve come to retrieve the remaining scientists. After reaching a cache of UNSC equipment, Fireteam Crimson fends off the Covenant and secures the gear before being deployed for another location, but are shot down. Spartan Ops‘ first season draws to a close here, depicting the events following Halo 4‘s campaign and providing an expanded insight into the lore of Halo while simultaneously allowing players justification to continue blowing up Covenant and Prometheans alike outside of the campaign and multiplayer modes.

Because Spartan Ops is a different game mode, it handles like a cross between Halo 4‘s campaign and multiplayer: there are objectives to complete, but players are given a lot more freedom in how they can go about completing them thanks to the availability of loadouts. Being relatively new to loadouts, I found that being able to create weapon and equipment configurations for a range of scenarios added a considerable amount of depth to Halo 4, allowing me to choose weapons, perks and armour abilities to best fit a given scenario. Different loadouts are therefore valuable: I might need something for dealing with swarms of prowlers one mission, and then return to fighting Covenant forces in the next, so being able to swiftly adapt made this a fun experience. My experiences in going through missions was largely pleasant, and while perhaps facing more enemies than I’d seen in the campaign, I was still able to complete the first season solo: despite being intended for groups, seeing that Spartan Ops could be done without a squad shows that the challenge within the mode is still fair. It helps that one has unlimited lives, and that the mode features persistence (if one neutralised five enemies in a group of ten and then died, upon respawn, there’d only be five enemies left in that group). The only real strike I have against Spartan Ops is the repetitive maps, which use a combination of recycled campaign and multiplayer levels, but this is a very minor gripe, and I am finding the mode to hold my interest in Halo, for the days where I’m inclined to shoot stuff without being in a campaign mission.

Screenshots and Commentary

  • To my surprise, Spartan Ops required that halo 4‘s multiplayer be installed. In retrospect, this makes sense, since Spartan Ops makes use of multiplayer maps and assets. The first few missions were straightforward, being set on the desert maps that the Reclaimer mission took place on, and while not conducive for the best screenshots, gave me a chance to familiarise myself with the setup. Unlike campaign missions, there’s a bit more freedom in Spartan Ops and players occasionally have access to vehicles, which changes the way the game is played.

  • The biggest importance of setting up a good collection of loadouts becomes obvious. Halo 4 does not allow players to spawn with any of the power weapons, and while some missions will provide weapon drops to help players out, having options is always important: I typically find that against Covenant, starting with the Battle Rifle and pistol is a good choice: Covenant forces also drop the Storm Rifle, which is a solid automatic weapon for cutting up Elites. Conversely, against Prometheans, the assault rifle is how I prefer to play: the Watchers are perhaps the single most irritating enemy in the whole of Halo, and a good automatic weapon is needed to fend them off.

  • Of course, when the moment calls for it, Spartan Ops is very generous with weapon drops: during one of the earlier missions, I was given an endless supply of Spartan Lasers to clear the skies of Phantoms. Having now used the Spartan Laser, I find it to be my preferred anti-vehicular weapon owing to its power and lack of travel time: the Spartan Laser will instantly destroy any Ghost or Banshee in one shot, can take down a Wraith in one shot to the rear, and a few shots will be enough to bring down even Phantoms, although it’s usually not a good idea to expend the Spartan Laser on these aerial vehicles.

  • Conversely, the M41 SPNKR rocket launcher is rendered obsolete in an anti-vehicular role – its 102 mm rockets, while powerful and capable of dealing an impressive amount of splash damage, have a slower travel time and cannot reliably track vehicles as its Halo 2 incarnation could. I prefer using it against large groups of infantry and Hunters. With this being said, at close ranges, the rocket launcher is more forgiving than the Spartan Laser, since one can quickly follow up with a second shot if needed.

  • For my preferred loadout against the Covenant, I originally took a battle rifle and pistol with cloak, faster shield recharge and dexterity. Eventually, I transitioned over to the jetpack for the ability to reach places more quickly. Having a battle rifle as my starting weapon generally gave me a decent all-around survivability on maps with Covenant forces: Grunts and Jackals both fall quickly to well-placed headshots from the battle rifle, and the weapon can deal with Elites in a reasonably effective manner, as well.

  • However, on maps with Promethean enemies, the battle rifle did feel considerably less effective: against Crawlers and Knights, the battle rifle fares well enough. However, the Watchers were a constant source of frustration – before I could land the finishing blow with the battle rifle, they’d hover away into cover, regenerate and come out good as new. Against Prometheans, I typically run with an assault rifle or suppressor simply because their high rate of fire makes it much easier to deal with these airborne threats more readily, while at once remaining useful against both Crawlers and Knights.

  • While I found some of the maps a tad repetitive in Spartan Ops, Two Giants was always a source of enjoyment: this canyon is home to two spires that act as communication beacons, and is supposed to be a remake of Halo 3‘s Valhalla, itself an update to Halo 2‘s Coagulation maps. With its blue skies, evergreen trees and green grass, Two Giants was easily my favourite of the Spartan Ops maps,

  • Initially, I ran with the M6H pistol – Halo 4‘s pistol retains the stopping power of its Halo Reach counterpart, but allows players to melee, switch weapons and throw grenades faster than if another weapon were equipped. As a secondary weapon, it is a decent all-around weapon, acting like a pocket-sized DMR in practise in that it is great for picking off Grunts, Jackals and Crawlers with ease.

  • Spartan Ops‘ story was meant to be a continuation of the story in Halo 4 and introduces the AI Roland, who has a central role in Halo 5. While the lore covered by Spartan Ops was enjoyable, the main draw behind Spartan Ops for me was the Firefight-like gameplay where I’d be pitted against a large number of enemies to fight. Firefight is a very enjoyable mode for me all around, providing a sandbox-like space for me to square off against foes. I’ve come to greatly enjoy sandbox-style modes in games of late, since they allow me to play at my own pace. This stands in stark contrast with PvP multiplayer games, which are comparatively stressful.

  • Ever since support for Battlefield V ended last June, I’ve not done competitive PvP multiplayer: as much fun as it was, there was also a frustration component brought on by the fact that my reflexes are not what they were back in my Halo 2, or even Battlefield 3 days: revisiting older articles here and on my old website, I’ve done things that certainly feel unfeasible now in multiplayer games, whether it’s getting a Killimanjaro on Lockout or going on Combat Efficiency streaks in Battlefield 3. My favourite recent achievements in Battlefield include abusing the Ilya-Muromets to score Killionaire in Battlefield 1, and going on a 34-streak with the Ka-Mi in Battlefield V.

  • Cheating continues to be a problem in multiplayer games: I’ve heard that Call of Duty: Warzone is rife with cheaters, and Battlefield V certainly had a cheating problem. This is the primary reason why I’ve pulled back from PvP multiplayer games of late; while they can be very enjoyable and give rise to emergent moments that can only happen in the chaos of online gaming, the prevalence of cheating means that this experience is greatly degraded. Halo‘s multiplayer has a different problem: controllers are given aim assist and bullet magnetism to offset their reduced precision, but bad choices on 343 Industries’ part means that the aim assist and bullet magnetism handles more like an aimbot.

  • Consequently, while having a great deal of fun in Halo 2: Anniversary‘s multiplayer, I’ve not really gone back into the Halo multiplayer experience as I imagined that I would: there is a gap between playing players who are legitimately skilled, and playing those who are using hardware the game mechanics favour. I’ve always been a firm believer in a fair, honourable fight in games: given a set of constraints and rules, those who have the skill and knowledge should generally hold out alright. As such, when this skill piece goes out the window, a game is no longer properly fun.

  • This is why the single-player experience is so important for me: in an environment where it’s just me and the game mechanics, my skills are properly tested. Spartan Ops, despite being more challenging to solo, remains fun precisely because even if the deck is stacked against the player (especially through armadas of Watchers and Knights capable of teleporting at will), the game doesn’t actively punish players for dying. As a result, while I’ve had very rough matches in Spartan Ops, none of them were ever rage-inducing because I knew I’d be able to come back and whittle away at my foes.

  • One of my best friends had the tenacity to solo Spartan Ops on legendary, and for this effort, was met with a special achievement. The most challenging traits of Halo are brought out on this difficulty, and I remember sharing several lengthy conversations about the idea of balance in Spartan Ops: my friend is even more of a Halo fan than I am, having gone through all of the campaign missions on legendary solo. With this level of experience, I have no trouble taking their word that Spartan Ops does have mechanics that are, compared to Halo 4‘s campaigns, make things more difficult (e.g. Elites and Knights seem tougher to kill in Spartan Ops than in the campaign).

  • Having said this, the foes in Spartan Ops are AI enemies with a finite set of behaviours, and that means over time, it’s possible to learn them well enough to have a suitable response. In my case, I found the Watchers to be the most problematic, so equipping an automatic weapon and fighting them up close gave me a fighting chance. This sort of thing is why PvE will never be as frustrating as PvP: in the former, I can response to any mission giving me trouble by taking a break and re-attempting later.

  • There had been such a mission in Spartan Ops that required me to defend a pair of relays from a Promethean onslaught, and while it was challenging, I managed to succeed with some perseverance. Patience and knowledge are key in PvE modes, making them suited for folks such as myself. While as a student, I possessed the time and reflexes to improve in multiplayer games, a combination of shifting priorities and slowing reflexes means that I have a decreasing inclination to play such games. Conversely, games that allow me to explore and progress at my own pace remain highly engaging for me.

  • Having now completed the first season of Spartan Ops, the aforementioned friend has expressed interest in running through all of the missions co-op: I immediately see the enjoyment in doing this, since it would mean we now have four different weapons between the two of us, allowing for a greater versatility in different combat scenarios. During February, the two of us had revisited Halo 4‘s campaign together and blasted through areas of the game that took me longer to individually complete: it was immensely valuable to have a gunner while I was driving, and my CQC style complimented their sniping perfectly.

  • I would expect that in a co-op scenario, we’d probably equip a setup that allows us to be a bit more specialised for our preferred ranges, and this could prove remarkably entertaining. At some point in the near future, I would also like to recount our Halo 4 co-op experience: while the two of us had been familiar enough with the other Halo games so that teaming up made things somewhat easier, in Halo 4, playing co-op was dramatically different to the point where we’d actually completed missions in under the par time.

  • For Spartan Ops, I ended up using the power weapons like the sniper rifles and rail guns for handling Elite and Knights. While I originally was quite conservative with ammunition, it turns out that so as long as one doesn’t drop their weapon, they can continuously top off at resupply stations, and as such, I was able to deal with threats a lot more quickly. Having vehicles around on a mission also helps, although one should be mindful that if they should ever die, their dropped weapons will de-spawn very quickly, leaving one at a disadvantage. It is for this reason that I tend to save the power weapons for moments that really call for it, lest I lose them at critical moment.

  • My favourite moment in Spartan Ops‘ first season was the final mission to the fifth chapter, during which an entire armada of Hunters are deployed against Fireteam Crimson. While this sounds daunting, the UNCS also calls in a supply drop that provides a nearly endless supply of Spartan Lasers. On standard difficulty, one shot from the Spartan Laser will kill a Hunter, and even the Wraiths that the Covenant deploy become reduced to smoking piles of rubble on short order. Spartan Lasers had been comparatively rare in Halo 3 and even Halo: Reach, so I relish the chance to use them. With the first season now in the books, I get to turn my attention towards Spartan Ops‘ second season, and also look towards finishing off the last of the Left 4 Dead 2 campaigns.

Spartan Ops, when it was first announced, represented an exciting new direction for Halo 4: it would add cooperative missions in which Fireteam Crimson, a squad of Spartan IVs, are sent to Requiem to handle the aftermath of Halo 4‘s events. Here, players get to participate in a Firefight-style battle, except each chapter is driven by a story and has objectives to complete. The missions were evidently designed for the co-op experience, and while only adding tangentially to the lore in Halo, allows players a chance to blast Covenant and Prometheans alike in the manner of their choosing: players do have access to their loadouts for Spartan Ops. Altogether, while perhaps not technically impressive, Spartan Ops ends up being a fun excuse to shoot things in environments beyond what was seen in the Halo 4 campaign with a bunch of friends. Levels are objective based, but in practise, things end up more like Firefight in that one has to contend with waves of enemies. I found that missions were geared towards full squads and do not scale for solo players: the sheer number of enemies one must deal with were far greater than anything I had seen in the campaign, and besting missions required a combination of patience, reflexes and map knowledge. Altogether, Spartan Ops represents a fun addition to Halo 4 that provides players with another option (in addition to the enjoyable campaign and expansive multiplayer), one which is especially nice to have for days where one just feels like fighting Covenant and Prometheans.

Review and Reflections on The Master Chief Collection: Halo 4

“For too many years, humanity was on the back-foot, reacting to threats rather than preventing them. The rest of the galaxy was bigger than us, stronger than us. We were mice hiding in the shadows, hoping the giants would not see us. No more: humanity is no longer on the defense. We are the giants now.” –Captain Thomas Lasky

Cortana awakens Master Chief from cryogenic sleep as the remnants of the Forward Unto Dawn are drift towards the Forerunner installation, Requiem. Master Chief manages to reactivate one of the Dawn’s remaining missiles and uses it to disable a Covenant frigate before Requiem draws in the Dawn into its gravity well. After crash-landing on Requiem’s surface, Master Chief learns that Cortana is nearing the end of her operational lifespan, and promises to get her home so Dr. Halsey can examine her. After encountering the Prometheans, Master Chief and Cortana pick up signals from the UNSC Infinity, which received the Dawn’s distress calls. Master Chief attempts to clear up the signal to warn the Infinity not to venture too close to Requiem, but instead, releases the Didact, an ancient Forerunner warrior. The Didact seizes control of the Promethean and Covenant remnants to launch an attack on the Infinity, but once Master Chief links up with the UNSC forces, they repel the Didact and set off towards destroying an array of particle cannons defending the gravity well. Master Chief meets the Librarian, a Forerunner who explains that the Didact had been imprisoned for creating a constructor known as the Composer, which converted organic beings into digital constructs in an attempt to fight the Flood. To help him in stopping the Didact, the Librarian accelerates Master Chief’s evolution, rendering him immune to being affected by the Composer. After aiding the UNSC forces in destroying the gravity well, Master Chief elects to stay behind, against orders, while the Infinity returns to Earth. Cortana determines that it may be possible to sabotage the Didact’s ship, but they fail and are forced to follow the Didact into slip-space. When they arrive at their destination, Cortana and Master Chief find a UNSC research station orbiting above a Halo ring. Despite their efforts, Master Chief and Cortana are unable to stop the Didact from taking control of the Composer. The Didact fires the Composer, killing everyone on board the research station except for Master Chief. The pair grab a Broadsword fighter and pursue the Didact to Earth with a nuclear warhead in tow. With assistance from the home fleet and Infinity, Master Chief boards the station and reaches the Didact. Following a brief struggle, Cortana manifests herself to restrain the Didact, and Master Chief uses a grenade to blast the Didact off a bridge into the slipspace void below. He then detonates the warhead, destroying the Composer. Cortana is lost, and Master Chief is brought on board the Infinity, where he mourns Cortana. Halo 4 is the sixth game in the Halo franchise, and the first to have been developed by 343 Industries. Upon its release in November 2012, Halo 4 was met with very positive reviews across the board, with praise directed at its story, impressive optimisation and 343 Industries’ successful handling of their first Halo game.

The most stand-out aspect of Halo 4 lies in its story: up until now, Master Chief had always been portrayed as a stoic super-soldier with a dry sense of humour and an ironclad determination to get things done. This had been a deliberate decision, so that players could imagine themselves as being Master Chief. However, by Halo 4, 343 Industries chooses to explore the deepening relationship between Master Chief and Cortana, which Halo 3 had briefly begun exploring after Master Chief left Cortana behind in High Charity, where she remained to attempt a detonation of In Amber Clad’s fusion reactors to destroy the city and stop the Gravemind. When it became clear she’d survived, Master Chief placed his trust in her, allowing for Gravemind to be defeated. However, after being stranded in space for four years, Cortana was nearing the end of her lifespan, and for Master Chief, Cortana represented more than being just an AI supporting his missions. She was a constant source of companionship, providing emotional support on their numerous missions together. Cortana saw Master Chief as being irreplaceable, doing everything in her power to support him. Halo 4‘s story thus becomes a love story in all but name, with Master Chief moving heaven and earth to keep his promises to Cortana. This was a first in Halo: while previous stories had explored the vastness of the universe and the extent of the Forerunners’ legacies amidst the Human-Covenant War, Master Chief remained merely a soldier whose sole duty was to help drive back the Covenant and Flood. The story in Halo 4 thus humanises Master Chief, creating a much more intricate, detailed character with human emotions. This is most evident during gameplay, where Master Chief calmly reassures Cortana whenever her rampancy affects her functions, and when Cortana is still functioning normally, the two exchange light-hearted banter. In particular, the Master Chief’s personality is expanded upon through the dialogue he has with other UNSC soldiers and scientists. Although composed, Master Chief is also firm, adamant in doing what is right; through conversations, 343 Industries succeed in painting a much more detailed picture of Master Chief’s character, and while this reaffirms that Master Chief is utterly devoted to his duties, he also has a sense of humour, especially when conversing with Cortana, and he is also fiercely loyal to her, demonstrating a more sensitive side, as well. Master Chief’s characterisation was well-received because it struck a balance: it fleshes out his personality to a hitherto unmatched level, but never interferes with the gameplay at all: Halo 4 is, at its core, still a Halo game, and so, Halo 4 can be thought of as retaining classic Halo elements, improving on other elements and all the while, creating a more compelling, personal story.

Besides a compelling narrative between Master Chief and Cortana, 343 Industries also applied their own aesthetic to the Halo universe. Things were modified, added or removed to fit with these aesthetics, and amongst the changes in Halo 4, was the fact that humanity had evidently advanced in the four years since the events of Halo 3. Using Forerunner and captured Covenant technology alike, humanity made considerable strides in technology. Shielding and slipspace travel improved beyond recognition, and by the time Halo 4 happens, humanity is far stronger, more capable than it had been during the Human-Covenant War. The Infinity is the symbol of this power: it tears a Covenant RCS-class cruiser in half just by hitting it, and its Series 8 Super MACs were able to put a hole in the Mantle’s Approach’s hull, something that even the Super MACs could not accomplish. Humanity is characterised by a newfound confidence, and this is a major secondary theme in Halo 4: everything in Halo 4 was designed to convey this confidence. From Master Chief’s final run on the Didact and faith in his ability to deliver Cortana back home, to the UNSC’s confidence to square off against any foe, Halo 4‘s story is brimming with a newfound conviction. 343 Industries seizes the initiative, and beyond the story, everything from the bold new visuals in the game, to the sound engineering, screams confidence. This is a game that knows precisely what it aims to deliver, and in a curious turn of events, Halo 4‘s release coincided with my undergraduate defense year. I had just come out of a summer where I’d conquered the MCAT (scoring today’s 517) and had just submitted a paper to my journal. In my undergraduate defense, I was enrolled in a special topics course that occupied two slots, and I had numerous options left over, allowing me to take an intermediate English course on science fiction, genomics and iOS development. For my defense project, I was set to use my lab’s in-house game engine, coincidentally named the Composer, to build a model of renal flow, expanding on research I’d started the previous summer. This was a system I knew the ins and outs of, and so, after delivering my proposal to classmates and professors alike early in September, I’d felt like I was in control of my university experience for the first time. That semester, it felt as though nothing could go wrong: I steam-rolled every course I took, the same way Master Chief steam-rolled the Prometheans and Covenant alike in an effort to save Cortana. My intention had been to ride on this success and to attempt a kokuhaku once I’d finished my defense, thinking I’d be able to finally nail it. There are parallels in my undergraduate defense story, and Master Chief’s story. Halo 4‘s final mission describes how the journey to my undergraduate defense felt; for me, playing through Halo 4 in full now was a trip down memory lane, reminding me of a time when I felt like I was at the absolute top of my game and everything felt possible.

Screenshots and Commentary

  • It was a cold November evening that Halo 4 released to in 2012. Back then, I had been almost two-third of the way though my fall semester, and had been most curious to see what Halo 4 had been about: at that point, it had been about three years since Halo: Reach released, and this marked a return to Master Chief’s story. On a comparatively warmer November evening this year, I stepped out of the cryogenic chamber and onto the Dawn with assault rifle in hand, ready to start Master Chief’s journey. Despite having never played Halo 4 before, I associate the game with my undergraduate thesis year, and to accommodate this bit of reminiscence, this post on Halo 4 will be larger than usual.

  • Initially, Master Chief starts out with the MA5D Assault rifle and M6H Pistol. The assault rifle of Halo 4 is a reliable close to mid range weapon that feels powerful and reliable, being able to shred Elites at close range and can reach out to ranges the SMGs and assault rifles of earlier games could not. The M6H is a sidearm that brings back memories of the Halo: Combat Evolved pistol, while at the same time, being more balanced. On board the Forward Unto Dawn, it is apparent that Master Chief and Cortana are no longer alone: Covenant remnants have boarded, and represent the first enemy players will fight in Halo 4.

  • There is one detail in Halo 4‘s HUD that I found to be a downgrade compared to its predecessors: while more detailed (being modelled in 3D), the HUD lacks an indicator for the player’s holstered weapon. Earlier Halo games had a HUD that indicated what secondary weapon the player was carrying. Ultimately, this was a more minor detail: in a firefight, the only thing that matters is the current weapon, how much ammunition one has for it in the magazine, and how many extra rounds are available. The Covenant seen during this first mission do not resemble those of earlier Halo games, suggesting that they’re from a more radical faction. Indeed, the Grunts certainly are crazier, breaking out the dual-plasma grenades for suicide runs more often.

  • Once Master Chief reaches the weapons deck, Cortana spots an unshielded Covenant cruiser and supposes that it might be possible to destroy it with a missile. Since the Dawn was blown in half from the events of Halo 3, the missile must be manually fired, so Master Chief heads out onto the Dawn’s deck, clearing away hordes of Covenant while the Forerunner planet looms in the background. Halo 4‘s skyboxes were far more sophisticated than anything seen in earlier Halo titles, and the game’s scale thus feels much bigger than those of its predecessors.

  • Halo 4 somehow has the Forward unto Dawn stocked with the BR-85 heavy barrel service rifle (battle rifle for brevity), whereas in Halo 3, Master Chief only had access to the BR-55 heavy-barrel service rifle (itself an upgrade to Halo 2‘s BR-55 battle rifle). Firing a new 9.5 mm round, the new battle rifle reaches out further than an assault rifle and is suited for mid-range combat. The three-round bursts can quickly bring down an Elite’s shields, and compared to earlier iterations, appears to have increased spread, lower rate of fire and a longer reload time. This hasn’t stopped the battle rifle from being my weapon of choice when I could find ammunition for it.

  • As it turns out, the missile Master Chief primes and launches is a M4093 Hyperion missile, which carries a nuclear warhead. I was wondering why it was able to destroy a Covenant cruiser, even though it had been unshielded: previous lore had suggested that the Charon-class only had Archer missiles, which were needed in great numbers to damage unshielded Covenant vessels. While the Covenant are temporarily repelled, Master Chief and Cortana find themselves caught in the Forerunner planets gravity well and are pulled in to the surface.

  • After making their way away from the crash site, Master Chief and Cortana reach a cliff overlooking a verdant valley in Requiem. This moment is equivalent to the first sunrise from Crysis – the narrow corridors and metallic hull of the Forward Unto Dawn were well-rendered, but it is here that the updated visuals of Halo 4 really shine through. The mystique and majesty of the Forerunner world are apparent, and while it’s no Halo, still conveys the Forerunner aesthetic. I thus stopped here to admire the landscape in all of its glory, before proceeding with the mission.

  • After finding a functional Warthog, I drove on over to a valley crawling with Covenant. There are several ways to approach this area: one could drive in and create the most amount of chaos possible, disembark and use the Warthog’s gun to clear foes out, or else grab a long range weapon and pick off enemies from afar. Halo levels are generally linear, but later Halo games offer players different approaches to progress past an area, and it appears that besides stealth, the game allows for multiple options. I usually grab a vehicle, since they have unlimited ammunition, allowing me to conserve on my small arms for later areas.

  • Halo 4 dispenses with the submachine gun in favour of the M739 SAW (squad automatic weapon), which is a light machine gun with a 72-round drum magazine. It is excellent for laying down suppressive fire, and at close range, it can melt even Elites with ease. The downside is that ammunition is quick to burn through – the SAW fires at a blistering 937.5 RPM, and reloading does take a while. Overall, I found the SAW to be a great addition to Halo 4: I’d never actually had any incentive to use the SMGs in Halo 3 or Halo 2 unless there were no other weapons around, but the SAW is useful in a range of situations.

  • After climbing up a ramp, I was met with an energy sword-wielding Elite and relieved it of its weapon. One of the most iconic weapons of Halo, and coveted in the multiplayer as a devastating weapon capable of securing multi-kills to turn the tide of battle, the Energy Sword allows players to lunge at enemies and take them out in one stroke. The sword is limited by its battery: every kill requires ten percent of the battery, and the sword becomes a glorified blunt force weapon once the battery is depleted. It is useful at close quarters, acting as a counterpart to the human shotgun; unlike earlier Halo games, where I tended to conserve on Sword energy, in Halo 4, I primarily used the Energy Sword to kill Elites quickly.

  • By the time I entered the interior of the Forerunner structure, I had run out of ammunition for my UNSC weapons, and so, switched over to the Covenant weapons. Some Covenant weapons are plasma-based and overheat rather than run out of ammunition. These are slightly more effective against shields than flesh, and so, one of the classic Halo tactics is to carry a plasma weapon weapon to drop shields, and then follow up with a projectile weapon to finish. Other Covenant weapons, such as the Covenant Carbine, which fires projectiles. I generally will take the Carbine because it is a common weapon that acts as the intermediate between the Battle Rifle and DMR, making it a solid all-purpose weapon.

  • One thing about Halo 4 I enjoyed was the lighting: during the second mission, after reactivating a map and exiting the Forerunner structure, Master Chief exists to a bridge bathed in a warm light from artificial sunlight. The colours remind me of the low winter sun: during November, December and January, the midday sun gives off a golden hue more similar to what is seen during a summer evening. The weather this year has been surprisingly pleasant so far, and I’ve been capitalising on this to go for short walks during twilight.

  • Here, I’ve picked up a Concussion Rifle from an Elite. The Concussion Rifle first appeared in Halo: Reach and acts as a grenade launcher, firing explosive plasma rounds that can knock enemies and vehicles alike back. I’ve found the Concussion Rifle to be impractical for most situations, since it has a limited carrying capacity and doesn’t deal too much damage against enemies. I only really use Covenant weapons if there are no other options available, with the exceptions being the Covenant Carbine and Beam Rifle, both of which are excellent weapons.

  • Hunters in Halo 4 are about as tricky to defeat as their predecessors in Halo 3: gone are the days of being able to flank one and defeating it with a single, well-placed pistol round to their exposed, orange backs. For Halo 4, every time I’ve encountered Hunters, I’ve been fortunate to be able to locate a Fuel Rod gun, which fires devastating explosive projectiles similar to the ones the Hunters possess. Ammunition is plentiful enough so that I can defeat the pair of Hunters, and then discard the Fuel Rod gun for more versatile weapons. On my first attempt, I tried to engage the first pair of Hunters here with a Beam Rifle, which proved ineffectual.

  • In the third mission, Master Chief will encounter the Prometheans for the first time. These digitalised constructs replace the Flood as the secondary enemy in Halo 4 and come in three varieties: the crawlers are quadrupedal enemies resembling Gundam SEED‘s BuCUE (which I personally call “Panthers”), the Watchers are flying drones that are difficult to hit, and the Knights are the all-purpose, digitised Forerunner Warriors, capable of wielding a wide range of weapons. Most Knights carry the Light Rifle, the Forerunner equivalent of the Battle Rifle. The Light Rifle is probably the most reliable of the Forerunner weapons, capable of firing three-round bursts from the hip, and single, hard-hitting shots when aiming down sights.

  • The interior of Requiem is a sprawling Forerunner construct, and in this mission, Master Chief and Cortana attempt to improve the strength of their communications signals by disabling what they think are jammers. The first set of jammers are guarded entirely by Prometheans, and in general, I found these Forerunner enemies to feel a little more durable than their Covenant equivalents: the Knights are particularly tough, and it often took half a magazine from the Light Rifle to destroy one. The Crawlers, on the other hand, can be felled in one shot/burst, and they drop the Suppressor, a fast-firing weapon that functions similarly to the assault rifle and storm rifle.

  • While I wasn’t too fond of the gloomy caverns at the heart of Requiem, the Forerunner constructs, on the other hand, look amazing. With their clean lines and elegant angles, there is a charm about Forerunner architecture, and 343 Industries really nailed the aesthetics that Bungie had established. Requiem was probably my least favourite of the missions from Halo 4 from a design perspective, but that’s not saying much, since all of the levels in Halo 4 look amazing.

  • The hard light bridges in Halo 4 look only slightly nicer than those of Portal 2: this is a compliment to Portal 2, which came out a year and a half earlier. While Portal 2 hard light bridges are used for solving puzzles, Forerunner hard light bridges act more as points of transportation: they can be enabled and disabled as easily as an ordinary light, and in some parts of Halo, simply create a particularly cool-looking bridge for players to cross.

  • The second set of jammers are defended by the Covenant. To help things along, I grabbed a Ghost and used its twin plasma cannons to make short work of the jammers and Covenant alike. The Covenant have access to Banshees here, and they’re now able to use the Banshee’s fuel rod gun, so it is imperative to keep moving. With its high speed and decent firepower, the Ghost is probably the best vehicle in all of Halo, allowing individual players to blaze right through areas on their own. Even in co-op, I tend to take the Ghosts where possible.

  • The Scattershot is the Forerunner equivalent of the Shotgun, having a slightly longer effective range and higher rate of fire compared to the shotgun at the expense of a slightly slower reload speed and reduced damage. Unlike the Shotgun, the Scattershot also vapourises enemies on kill: I found the Scattershot to be a solid choice against the Promethean Knights: against them, even the versatile Light Rifle felt ineffectual, especially if there were Watchers around to repair or even revive the Knights. Conversely, with the Scattershot, getting up close and blasting a Knight to bits is great fun.

  • Here, I picked up the Binary Rifle, the Forerunner sniper rifle that uses twin particle accelerators to accelerate projectiles to prodigious velocities. In practise, it destroys the Knights in a single shot, making it one of the most powerful weapons in Halo 4 on a per-shot basis. The weapon’s main downside is that it is limited to only two shots, and ammunition is extremely limited. With the Binary Rifle and Scattershot, I found my preferred mode of swiftly dealing with Knights. They seem much more durable than Elites, so having powerful weapons to handle them made fighting the Prometheans more tolerable.

  • After Cortana and Master Chief realise they were deceived, Requiem’s core begins to crumble, and the pair escape on a Ghost, just barely making it back to the surface in time to see the Didact pursue the Infinity. Master Chief and Cortana follow, making their way through dense jungle to reach the Infinity. At the start of this fourth mission, the Didact’s Cryptum can be seen in the distance beside the crashed Infinity. The UNSC Infinity was supposed to be humanity’s ace-in-the-hole and is capable of squaring off against Covenant forces, but its first appearance in Halo 4 is less-than-befitting.

  • I thoroughly enjoyed the firefights through the jungles of Requiem, and with fellow UNSC soldiers around, it means that I finally have access to a decent supply of human weapons. Looking back, Halo 4 was the one Halo title I’d never tried; while all of my friends had the Xbox 360 console, they seemed quite disinterested in Halo 4, and during LAN parties, all of the focus was on either Halo 3 or Halo 2, depending on who was hosting. From a multiplayer perspective, 343 Industries appeared to be aware that Halo 2‘s multiplayer had been the best-received of any Halo game, and so, they revamped Halo 2‘s multiplayer in Halo 4‘s engine. Having tried it out back in May, I was reasonably impressed with how it turned out.

  • The DMR (designated marksman rifle) from Halo: Reach returns in Halo 4, this time, it’s the M395 variant (whereas in Halo: Reach, the M392 was used), which has one fewer round in the magazine compared to its predecessor, a slightly faster firing rate and decreased bloom. Between the battle rifle and DMR, I’ll generally pick the weapon based on the range I am engaging opponents at, as well as what weapon I have in reserve. If I’m carrying a high RPM or strong CQC weapon, then the DMR is the better choice, whereas if I’m holding onto a power weapon, then I’d prefer the battle rifle. The weapons are not objectively better than one another, with both the battle rifle and DMR excelling in different situations.

  • Here, I narrowly dodge a pulse grenade shortly after picking up the rail gun. Pulse grenades are the most common grenade in Halo 4, as all Knights drop them, but I found them to be very difficult to use. Conversely, the rail gun is an immensely fun weapon, being able to take out Knights in a single shot. For now, I’ve yet to see how the rail gun fits in with the multiplayer, but in the campaign, it represents yet another tool for swiftly dealing with Knights, as well as the occasional light vehicle.

  • Running out of ammunition for the effective weapons is almost always a problem in Halo games: here, as I enter a cave formation, I began running out of ammunition for the battle rifle, and so, was forced to switch over to my shotgun, but this left me ineffectual at longer ranges. The limitation of carrying two weapons at a time was originally a highly innovative idea, and really forced players to consider what choices to make with respect to their loadouts. In general, my choice is almost always governed by ammunition availability, and I will have no qualms trading off a Spartan Laser with one shot left, for a topped-off assault rifle.

  • Once Master Chief reaches the Infinity and boards a Mantis, it’s time to clear out Covenant jammer devices, allowing the Infinity to bring its weapons systems online. The Mantis is a bipedal exoskeleton that evolved from various weapons programmes, and, armed with a heavy machine gun and missile pods, can deal massive damage to infantry and enemy vehicles alike. On top of this, the Mantis’ shields are powerful enough to deflect a shot from the Spartan Laser. The Mantis also comes with the ability to crush enemies with a powerful stomp, as well. However, it is a slow-moving vehicle and susceptible to being flanked by enemies. In the campaign, it is a fantastic weapon against the Covenant.

  • Once the Infinity’s weapons are back online, it uses deck guns to hammer the Didact’s Cryptum, forcing the Didact to retreat. The Infinity begins repairs and prepares to head back to Earth, but Master Chief and Cortana suspect that the Didact is up to something. A great Forerunner warrior, the Didact had been opposed to the idea of humanity taking on the Mantle, and intended to finish his work by securing a device known as the Composer such that he could digitise the whole of humanity for his personal Promethean army. The Didact therefore became a threat, but Captain Del Rio of the Infinity was not concerned with this threat, instead, preferring on focusing his efforts towards returning to Earth.

  • Thus, the fifth mission involves accompanying the UNSC’s latest ground vehicle, the Mammoth, on a task to destroy particle guns defending the gravity well projector. The Mammoth is an upgrade to the Elephant and carries a mini-MAC cannon capable of outright eliminating most Covenant vehicles. The Mammoth is another sign of the UNSC’s improvements: for the first time, it feels like the Covenant are just an afterthought to be smashed through. I remember spent a fair bit of free time during my undergraduate thesis year watching Halo 4 gameplay videos on YouTube, and having skipped the earlier missions, I started watching from this mission onwards.

  • While the Mammoth smashes the first two particle cannons with ease, the Covenant deploy a Lich, their heaviest aerial insertion vehicle. Outfitted with a plasma cannon similar to that of a Scarab, the Lich disables the Mammoth’s mini-MAC, but is in turn destroyed when Master Chief boards it and overloads its reactor. It speaks to the Mammoth’s durability that it remains operation after this encounter – lore suggests that the Lich is so powerful, engagements with it usually result in total annihilation, hence the lack of information on these vessels, and the fact now is that the UNSC is powerful enough to not only survive, but win these encounters. This is what motivates the page quote: I’ve chosen it because Halo 4 is all about the confidence to not only survive, but excel.

  • One of the reasons why I had decided to watch Halo 4 gameplay videos after the game’s release was because a part of me knew that the odds of Halo 4 coming to PC would be slim to none, and so, with no opportunity to play the game on the horizon, watching folks like TheRadBrad play it was the next best choice. In between my coursework and research project, I burned through footage of the later missions in Halo 4, and was especially impressed with the game’s latter half.

  • While their appearances have changed over the years, the sniper rifle remains the premiere choice of firearm for engaging distant foes. Unlike the Beam Rifle, the sniper rifle uses a four round magazine and overall, has a higher carrying capacity, capable of firing up to twenty four shots in a consistent manner. Similarly, the sniper rifle is less damaging than the Binary Rifle, but offsets this with its higher firing rate. Reliable and consistent, Halo players prefer the sniper rifle for getting the job done.

  • Master Chief eventually ends up inside the Forerunner construct and finds the power supply for the particle cannons. As a nice touch, the two destroyed cannons are marked as such on the hologram, and once the switch is thrown, the remainder of the particle cannons are safely shut down, allowing the Infinity to get close and make the final shot. The power source for the particle cannons are vividly rendered, glowing from an unspecified power supply. Here, Master Chief meets the Librarian, who modifies his genetic makeup, rendering him immune to being Composed. Like the UNSC as a whole, Master Chief feels more powerful in Halo 4, even though he is not overpowered. This balance means players must still play respectfully and pick their fights, but have the confidence to finish the fights they start.

  • The Scorpion tank actually makes an appearance in the fourth mission, but for my play-through, I’ve only chosen to feature it during the fifth mission. Like Halo 3 and Halo 3: ODST, the Scorpion of Halo 4 has a separate seat for the machine gun. Even then, the M512 Smoothbore High Velocity 90 mm cannon remains a highly powerful tool for clearing out infantry and vehicles alike. While the lore states the M512 on the Scorpion can fire a variety of rounds, ranging from kinetic penetrators to canister shots, but in the games, Scorpions use the Armor -Piercing Ballistic-Capped Round, which increases the round’s explosive payload for more splash damage in exchange for reduced armour penetration. Against Covenant vehicles, the Scorpion will absolutely shred.

  • After tagging the gravity well with the laser designator, the Infinity opens fire on the gravity well with a missile, and the structure disintegrates. Master Chief boards the Infinity and warns Del Rio of the threat the Didact poses, but is ignored and ordered to surrender Cortana. This results in one of the most iconic Halo cutscenes ever: I believe this is the first time Master Chief has ever disobeyed an order in the games, and it felt great to watch it at 1080p for myself. Once this is over, Lasky will inform Master Chief that he’d taken the liberty of preparing a Pelican for combat pursuit, implicitly suggesting that Master Chief should head off before the Infinity returns to Earth.

  • When the Insider flighting for Halo 4 became available, I immediately hopped to the campaign and reached this mission on a late October evening. I still remember sitting down to a dinner of southern fried chicken before proceeding with this mission. I subsequently completed the mission and finished the campaign missions available in the flight, before giving the multiplayer a go. I ultimately found the multiplayer quite unplayable – input-based matchmaking was not working then, and being matched with controller players proved a frustrating experience. I do not see the value of playing against players with a built-in advantage over me, so I’ve not downloaded the multiplayer for Halo 4 at this time.

  • Until now, the only way to fly a Pelican in Halo was to mod the game. Halo 4 changes this and puts Master Chief in the cockpit of a G79H-TC/MA Pelican, the gunship variant of the standard Pelican seen throughout Halo 4. Armed with a 70mm main cannon and an on-board laser that brings to mind the tactical laser in the Ace Combat series, the Pelican is capable of annihilating a Covenant Phantom in as few as two shots. I used it to pick off the Covenant forces defending the pillars here: of all the missions in Halo 4, the sixth had the most Halo like feel to it, and while Requiem isn’t Halo, the vast scale of this mission was truly impressive.

  • Once inside the pillars, Cortana sets Master Chief with the task of disabling the shielding surrounding the Didact’s cryptum. The nearest pillar has the simplest objective: Master Chief only needs to fight off the Covenant and Promethean forces, re-enable the gondola whenever it is stopped, and then hit the switch at the far end of the chamber. While I traditionally save the most powerful weapons in Halo for tough enemies and never wind up using them, for Halo 4, I decided to let loose a little and use things like the Binary Rifle to make short work of the Knights.

  • Here, I picked up the Incineration Cannon, one of the most lethal weapons in the whole of Halo 4 – like the Binary Rifle, the Incineration Cannon trades versatility for brute force. Every pull of the trigger fires five ionised particles that torches whatever they touch and then explode a second time on detonation. In exchange for a lengthy reload time and being limited to one round in the chamber, the Incineration Cannon can destroy a Mantis, Scorpion or Wraith in a single shot if all five particles connect. The Knights that carry this weapon are a threat and should be dealt with first: this is where the Binary Rifle shines: because of the projectile’s movement, the Incineration Cannon is weaker at long ranges, allowing one to blast the Knight from afar without fear of admonishment taking the form of vapourisation.

  • Once the first tower is cleared, it’s onto the second one. There’s a strange sense of tranquility up here in the skies above Requiem, where the golden glow of the artificial sun and the clouds give the area a very Christmas-like aesthetic. While the Pelican flight segment of Halo 4 is short, it is still quite thrilling. Of all the games I’ve gone through, Halo offers the best transition between on-foot and vehicular gameplay: few other games allow players to seamlessly transition between vehicles and hoofing it. The second tower proceeds similarly enough to the first in terms of objectives.

  • The enemies of the final towers are primarily Covenant. I decided to go with the railgun and DMR for this run, nailing headshots on weaker enemies with the latter and blowing away Elites with the latter. The railgun is a surprisingly fun weapon to use, although it cannot take out Halo 4‘s toughest enemies with a single round. High-ranking Elites and Knights, as well as Hunters, do not fall in one round; after encountering Hunters in the second tower, I immediately backpedalled, picked a fuel rod cannon off an Elite and then hammered them with it.

  • Once the shields are down, Cortana attempts to manipulate the towers into blocking the Didact’s cryptum, but a rampancy outburst causes her to lose control. The Didact is able to bring his ship online and prepares to depart Requiem. In a last bid, Master Chief jumps off the platform and manages to board a Lich, latching himself to its hull moments before it enters slipspace. While I did mention that this post was going to be a bit of a trip down memory lane, but the first three quarters of Halo 4 offer quite the opportunity to discuss weapons, mechanics and story. It is really the last two missions that evoke the strongest memories of my undergraduate thesis year.

  • This is technically my second time at Ivanoff Station – the first time was with the flight. I’ve picked up a sticky detonator here, which proved immensely useful against the Hunters (sticking and detonating will swiftly deal with them). TheRadBrad had posted his gameplay at Ivanoff Station in early November, but only got around to watching it come late November. At this point I had been a ways into my undergraduate thesis project, but, having successfully submitted a journal publication, I also attended the undergraduate research symposium. In retrospect, this was helpful for me to recall my original project’s limitations, and allowed me to improve on the model to build a multi-scale renal simulation in my lab’s in-house game engine.

  • I still remember listening to TheRadBrad talk about the life choices that led him to become a YouTuber over a more conventional career, and I wondered how my career then would turn out. To be honest, I had no idea I’d go down the route of “iOS developer”, but looking back now, it makes sense: I’d always been happiest developing software on MacOS, and Visual Studio always felt cumbersome compared to Xcode.  By the time December rolled around, I had started implementing the multi-scale renal model, using agent-based modelling to represent fluid flow in individual nephrons. In my proposal, the goal was to build a system that adaptively changed the visuals as the user zoomed in or out. Depending on the user’s movement, the agents were replaced by a particle system, whose flow rate and density were computed by a system of equations.

  • The plus side about that semester was that, because I only really had options left, I was free to take courses with a much lighter workload. I ended up going with intermediate English literature in science fiction, genomics and iOS development. The combination of a research project to focus on, having rocked the MCAT and getting a paper published made the courses feel like child’s play by comparison, and I managed to perform very well that term. My confidence finally returned to me, and I imagine it was quite noticeable; while reviewing a paper in the student centre one day, one of my friends noticed I was being checked out, pointing out that as soon as I packed up and prepared to head for class, she’d done the same as well.

  • After a fantastic winter break (which I largely spent on campus, save for the actual holidays), I was ready to hit the ground running for the winter semester, and was off to a very strong start with my mid-term progress report. By January, I had finished the agent-based modelling side and had begun implementing the equation-based models for illustrating the renal system at a macroscopic level. Vividred Operation began airing at this time, and I began following it weekly. I do remember it being a fun series, albeit one where I did not participate in the community discussions. I’ve not properly revisited the anime since, but I think that this could be a worthwhile endeavour in the near future.

  • Back in Halo 4, I’ve pushed a considerable ways through Ivanoff Station: the aim is to attempt to repel the Covenant boarders and reach the lead researcher, Dr. Tillson, in order to secure the Composer. Upon realising the size of the Composer, Master Chief decides destroying it would probably be more straightforwards and asks Tillson to help arm the nuclear warheads for remote detonation. The scientists begin to evacuate, and Master Chief helps to cover their escape. Off Requiem, there are no Prometheans in this level, which was welcomed – Ivanoff Station consists primarily of narrow quarters, and fighting the Knights would be a nightmare here.

  • Halo 4‘s shotgun is more similar to Halo 3‘s shotgun in terms of balance: later Halo games reduced the efficacy of the shotgun, but in Halo 4, the shotgun has a solid one-hit kill range compared to the Scattershot and holds one more round. In the narrow corridors of Ivanoff Station, the shotgun is a powerful tool for neutralising the Elites. I prefer keeping a DMR around as my other weapon here: the slow-firing, but hard-hitting DMR excels at dealing with Grunts and Jackals. This combination is highly efficient with respect to conserving ammunition: Grunts and Jackals fall in two shots from the DMR, but it’s not worth expending shotgun shells on them, while the Elites similarly die in a few shots from the shotgun, but otherwise require a few DMR rounds to eliminate.

  • While Tillson attempts to prepare the nuclear devices for detonation, Master Chief boards a Mantis and single-handedly holds back wave after wave of Covenant forces. The Mantis is immensely powerful here, tearing through the Covenant with ease. I found that against Phantoms, the Mantis is not particularly effective, and so, I opted to focus on the ground enemies, as well as any Banshees the Covenant had. Proving immensely enjoyable to operate, I exclusively used the Mantis for this segment to clear out the Covenant attempting to land, only learning later that there had been, in fact, a handful of Spartan Lasers around the cavern.

  • In spite of Master Chief and Cortana’s efforts, the Didact is able to retrieve the Composer, and uses it to decimate Ivanoff Station’s scientists in a gruesome fashion. The Librarian’s modifications to Master Chief’s genetic makeup allow him to survive being composed, and in the aftermath, he boards a Broadsword fighter with a single HAVOC nuclear device, intent on finishing the fight and stopping the Didact. Before the Mantle’s Approach can enter slipspace, Master Chief and Cortana manage to fly underneath its shields and follow the Didact back to Earth.

  • Halo 4‘s soundtrack was composed by Neil Davidge, with a few contributions from Kazuma Jinnōchi. In fact, the best track in the soundtrack is Jinnōchi’s 117, a heroic, melancholy piece that captures Master Chief’s confidence, determination and sacrifice. This song is played as Master Chief and Cortana streak along the Mantle’s Approach surface: there’s a sort of finality in this effort. As soon as Mantle’s Approach exits slipspace, the UNSC navy fire on it, and Lasky manages to contact Master Chief, explaining that he’s now in charge and ready to do what he can to help stop the Didact.

  • It was Halo 4‘s soundtrack that I worked on my undergraduate thesis defense to, and tracks like 117, Green and Blue, and To Galaxy were some of the songs that bring back memories of plugging away at my thesis project, which I finished by February, as well as the paper itself (I finished this one in late March, two weeks ahead of the defense) and presentation. In the end, with the same confidence and conviction seen in Halo 4, I defended this successfully, earning an A in the course overall and finishing the key component of my health science Honours Degree. Coming off this triumph, I genuinely felt anything was possible and steeled myself for a kokuhaku: if there had been any time to give things a whirl, it seemed like that was it.

  • However, by the summer, the devastating Great Flood of 2013 annihilated that chance: with transit offline and much of the downtown core underwater, our chance to meet up and do an in-person kokuhaku evaporated. In the end, I attempted a quasi-kokuhaku via electronic communications, was met with a promise to ask again after their Japanese homestay ended a year from that point, and the rest is history. It felt like losing Cortana at the end of Halo 4, and indeed, by Halo 5, Master Chief is shown to carry Cortana’s AI chip around, as well as pushing himself on missions, likely to dull the pain. Similarly for Master Chief, things for me haven’t quite been the same since then, and I’ve focused on doing what I can for myself.

  • As Mantle’s Approach nears Earth, Lasky suggests that he can use the Infinity’s main guns to try and open a hole in the hull, but Master Chief would first need to get the particle cannons cleared away first. The Broadsword fighter took me a bit of effort to learn, and for the first five minutes of the mission, I was crashing into everything and anything. In the end, after changing the flight controls to inverted, I fared a lot better and got through the trench run in a single shot. The Broadsword is equipped with both a pair of 35 mm cannons and missiles: these multi-role fighters are likely the successor to the highly successful, but secretive Sabres seen in Halo: Reach.

  • After the Infinity’s Series 8 MACs punch a hole in the Mantle’s Approach, Master Chief flies into the opening but crashes as the ship begins repairing itself. He switches to “plan B”: manually delivering the nuclear warhead to the Composer. From this moment on, it’s all Promethean enemies that stand between Master Chief and the Composer. Forerunner weapons are plentiful, and the most versatile load-out for the final mission in Halo 4 consists of the Light Rifle with any one of the Suppressor, Scattershot or Binary Rifle.

  • There are some genuinely cool sights inside the Mantle’s Approach, speaking to the scale of this ship: the Mantle’s Approach is one of the largest vessels in Halo, being 371.4 kilometres high, 142.7 kilometres long and 138.6 kilometres across. It absolutely dwarves anything in the universe: the Infinity, by comparison, is a paltry 5 kilometres long, and even the Covenant Super-carriers, like the Long Night of the Solace, are only 28.96 kilometres in length.

  • Halo 4‘s final mission is appropriately titled “Midnight”, a clever callout to the first mission, which is titled “Dawn”. Cortana devises a clever way to stop the Didact and asks Master Chief to defend a terminal while she uploads copies of her rampant self into the Didact’s systems. Crossing the bridge here proved to be surprisingly challenging, although Cortana’s access into the system means that several sentries will provide covering fire. I’ve noticed that I’ve not made mention of the armour abilities until now: they’re an improvement over Halo: Reach‘s armour abilities, and sprint is now always available. I found the armour abilities to be amusing, providing me with options in a firefight, and my favourite would be the jetpack in the fifth mission.

  • I ultimately ran low of ammunition for the Light Rifle and switched over to the Suppressor during the final segments of the game, quickly learning that contrary to my expectations, it was surprisingly effective against the Knights. Here, I close in on the final terminal before heading off to face the Didact: after inserting Cortana here, the mission objective, “It’s alright, but you must hurry”, filled me with melancholy, reminding me of that last time I shared a conversation with the individual I’d intended my kokuhaku for. I shook off the melancholy and pushed forwards: thinking back to that botched kokuhaku still is a bit painful, but here, I was on the verge of finishing something memorable. Unlike Halo 3: ODST and even Halo 3, I knew of the spoilers for Halo 4, having watched footage of the game back in 2012, but it remained a completely different experience when I was playing for myself.

  • I deliberately chose today as the day to write about Halo 4 because, eight years ago, it had been the start of exams for the fall term, and I only had one final for English, which I remember scoring an A on. With the exam finished, I had the remainder of December to wrap up my iOS course’s project, work on my undergraduate thesis project and relax a little. At the time, I recall spending far more time in Team Fortress 2 than I’m proud to admit: a friend and I had been very into the hats at the time, and we’d done a small gift exchange with keys. Our prize were “festive” variants of the primary weapons, which looked amazing, appropriate for the holiday season. I’ve since stopped playing Team Fortress 2, but since said friend ended up casually giving me an Unusual, I might just have to reinstall the game and go a few rounds this Christmas.

  • Once I reached this light bridge, it was time to face the Didact in a rather anti-climactic final fight: the Didact’s constraint field renders him untouchable, and so, the final fight is more of a long quick-time event. While this was a little unsatisfying, on the whole, Halo 4 is excellent. Once I blasted the Didact and set off the nuclear warhead, it brought an end to a year-long journey that saw me revisit a greater bit of my childhood and university career. As of December 3, 2020, I’ve now played through every single Halo game up to and including Halo 4. This brings my final campaign post for Halo to an end. I may return in the future to write about Firefight and Spartan Ops, but for now, I am content to bask in the achievement of having played through the games I’ve always wished to try, in full.

From a gameplay perspective, Halo 4 is rock-solid: it inherits everything that made the original Halo games successful and refined them. The gunplay is highly responsive, movement feels crisp, and everything comes together in an immensely satisfying package. Environments are rich in detail and vividly coloured: whether it be the fields and canyons of Requiem, or the corridors of a UNSC research facility, every setting is convincingly built and it. Halo 4 looks like a game that released last year, not a game that released eight years ago. Speaking to the incredible engineering that went into Halo 4, it hardly seems possible that Halo 4 had actually been designed to run on an Xbox 360: the lighting is sophisticated, and environments are of a very high quality. 343 Industries raised the bar twice with their optimisations for Halo 4, and in bringing Halo 4 to PC, they demonstrated that the game had actually been a decade ahead of its time. While the game represents a considerable departure from previous Halo titles (for one, it marks the first time where Master Chief never actually sets foot on a Halo, in a Halo game), the changes 343 Industries made in storytelling and world-building demonstrated that they were ready to take on the mantle of being the studio to make Halo games. At its core, Halo 4 is still very much a Halo game, and having now finished the campaign, I can finally say that I’ve now played through every Halo game that constituted my days as a student. From my first match on Coagulation following working on a science fair project with a friend, to countless Sundays spent at said friend’s place playing MLG BR Team Slayer and Friday nights spent terrorising SmG Clan servers, Halo has made up a very large portion of my life. Thanks to 343 Industries’ ambitious project, I was able to walk the remastered Installation 04, defeat the Gravemind, make a war-changing delivery to the Pillar of Autumn and wander the streets of New Mombassa for the first time. 343 Industries has done a phenomenal job in bringing all of the most iconic games to the PC, and now, with the entire Master Chief Collection complete, 343 Industries is free to focus on the upcoming Halo: Infinite title. This is still a ways away, and while Infinite looks to be an exciting game, I am more elated that the games that made up my halcyon days are now all available for PC. The Master Chief Collection represents a massive step forwards for gaming, and in a time where loot-boxes and battle royale titles continue to dominate the market, the excellence in each of the Halo games that 343 Industries have brought to PC act as a reminder of a time when games were expertly designed for the player’s enjoyment and immersion.

Review and Reflections on The Master Chief Collection: Halo 3 ODST

“Now’s one of those times, where it pays to be the strong, silent type” –Dutch to the Rookie

A group of Orbital Drop Shock Troopers (ODSTs), special operations units known for their unique insertion method, prepare to board a Covenant carrier. However, their assignment changes unexpectedly when Veronica Dare takes command of the squad and alters the pods’ trajectory. When the carrier unexpectedly enters slip-space, the resulting shockwaves knocks their drop pods off course, and the squad crashes into the city of New Mombasa below. Six hours later, the Rookie awakens to find himself in the deserted, rainy streets of New Mombasa: with the Covenant forces advancing, residents of the city were hastily evacuated. The Rookie wanders the streets and locates clues as to what had happened to his team.  Gunnery Sergeant Edward Buck and Veronica Dare had landed at Tayari Plaza, but after Dare disappeared, he decides to link up with the squad. ODST Taylor “Dutch” Miles landed at the Uplift Nature Reserve fights his way through Covenant armour in an attempt to reach the commanding officer but is unsuccessful when the orbital elevator collapses, killing the colonel. Michael “Mickey” Crespo lands in the city streets and takes control of a Scorpion tank to link up with Dutch. They receive communications from Buck, who had met up with Romeo and fought through the NMPD headquarters, eventually defending a Pelican from waves of Covenant. During the fight, Romeo is mortally wounded by a Brute Chieftain, but he is stabilised with a bio-foam canister and makes a full recovery. The squad commander a Covenant Phantom and prepare to leave New Mombasa, but Buck orders them to find Dare first. As it turns out, Dare had a special assignment: to escort a defecting Covenant engineer. The Rookie had fought his way into the Data Centre and reaches both Dare and the defecting engineer. They return to the surface and attempt to reach the extraction point using an Olifant, but when a Scarab damages the vehicle, they are forced to disembark and hold out at a plaza until the others arrive. The ODSTs manage to evacuate New Mombasa ahead of the Covenant fleet, who have begun glassing the area to excavate a Forerunner portal. Later, during an interrogation, the engineer expresses mutual contempt for the Brutes and implicitly agrees to help humanity out.

Releasing in September 2009, Halo 3: ODST was originally intended to be a side project that would fill the three-year gap between Halo 3 and Halo: Reach. The game marks a departure from the traditional Halo formula in terms of style and gameplay despite sharing the same mechanics as Halo 3 did. Health makes a return: lacking the Spartans’ energy shields, ODSTs are more vulnerable to damage and lack the same strength, speed and dexterity. The ODSTs also possess a VISR system in place of the Mjolnir’s motion tracker, useful as a night vision system. Despite possessing none of the overwhelming firepower of a Spartan, the ODSTs are still elite soldiers, however, and Halo 3: ODST shows that an individual ODST can still be a formidable force to behold. This is most apparent during Halo 3: ODST’s flashbacks. While playing as Buck, Dutch, Mickey and Romeo, players still have access to most of Master Chief’s power, including the ability to flip vehicles and pummel Brutes to death once their shields are dropped. The flashback missions are varied and engaging, feeling like a traditional Halo game. On the flip side, the Rookie’s initial segments are more moody, contemplative. As he wanders the empty streets during a rainy night, there’s a distinct film noir aesthetic that is accentuated by the use of jazz. Halo 3: ODST switches seamlessly between the intensity of the action scenes and quieter moments that follow the Rookie’s investigation into what happened to his squad, creating a striking balance between combat and exploration. As players find clues, the quiet shifts over to excitement, and once players finish a flashback, the pulse-pounding firefights are replaced by a cathartic moment of self-reflection. This demonstrates that even in a title as established as Halo, there’s always new directions to explore, and new atmospherics to present. For its ability to do both elements, Halo 3: ODST was positively received and kept players engaged until Halo: Reach released a year later.

Screenshots and Commentary

  • It’s time to open October off with a Halo 3: ODST post now that I’ve cleared the game in full. After receiving their assignments, the Rookie drops down to New Mombasa along with his squad, but becomes separated from the others. By the time he comes to, it is a rainy night, and without any inkling of where his team is, he first clears out the squad of Covenant guarding the plaza. ODSTs typically begin with the M7S submachine gun and M6C/SOCOM pistol, suppressed weapons that are excellent for stealth and lacking in stopping power. Once the first squad is cleared, a nearby phone will ring, and upon answering it, the Rookie gains access to a map of New Mombasa, along with a waypoint of where to go next.

  • During my playthrough, Buck’s mission was the first on the table: his goal is to reach Dare as quickly as possible, fighting through the streets where the Rookie had been wandering previously. For some inexplicable reason, the par time indicated on the loading screen for this mission is three minutes: during the flighting, I imagined this to be a bug, but as it turns out, the par time is deliberate – players can simply choose not to fire a shot and rush on over to Dare’s pod, skipping past all of the combat sequences.

  • From a story perspective, this makes sense, since the goal of Buck’s mission is simply to reach Dare. On my playthrough, however, I chose to play the game as a shooter rather than speed-run through the mission: even though the lack of shields mean that small Covenant squads can quickly decimate buck, having a good loadout makes all the difference. For much of Halo 3: ODST, I ran with the assault rifle and Covenant carbine – the assault rifle is an excellent close range weapon, while the carbine covers mid-range engagements.

  • Even as the Master Chief, Halo 3‘s Hunters were fairly tricky; as an ODST, Hunters are downright terrifying to fight, and in my first encounter, I fought veteran Hunters (distinguished by their gold plating). These Hunters use the classic mortar-like fuel rod guns and are more durable than their standard counterparts: their behaviour is also less predictable, making them immensely tough to fight. However, the same tricks still apply, and I found myself trying to side-strafe and flank them to get behind their backs, where a few well-placed shots will down them.

  • One of the biggest things to get accustomed to in Halo 3: ODST was the HUD – whereas the Mjolnir armour places the ammunition counter on the upper right hand side of the screen, this has been moved to the bottom left hand side. Further to this, the grenade counter has been moved down, as well. From a design perspective, I imagine this was done to fit with the design and curvature of the ODST helmets. While most shooters place the ammunition counter on the bottom right hand side (e.g. Battlefield and Call of Duty do this), I’ve grown accustomed to glancing up and to the right for my ammunition counter, so Halo 3: ODST did come across as a bit unusual in that regard.

  • Upon my arrival at Tayari Plaza, the wisdom of carrying a Covenant carbine becomes clear: its optics allows one to pick off enemies from a distance, and players soon wrap up this mission upon reaching Dare’s pod. However, it’s empty, and when an engineer shows up, it detonates, throwing Buck’s helmet into a display screen in one of the buildings that the Rookie discovers. Given the unusual par time, I am inclined to replay this level at a later date to see if it is indeed possible to finish it in under three minutes, provided that I do not bother engaging with the Covenant at all.

  • My favourite aspect about the Rookie’s segments of Halo 3: ODST was the use of film noir music. The use of saxophone is traditionally associated with the hardboiled detective archetype, someone who’s cynical and isn’t so quick to be intimidated. The flowing use of instrumentation indicates someone who doesn’t really care for their situation: jazz has always been about improvisation, and so, characters who’ve BTDT are usually able to extricate themselves from all manners of situations. The genre and the accompanying music complement one another nicely, although I note that I’m not too familiar with the genre. In fact, Bill Watterson’s Tracer Bullet arcs are the extent of my familiarity with the film noir style: Calvin imagines himself as a hardboiled detective in various scenarios, and like most figures of the archetype, usually ends up with a moral victory.

  • If I were to speak truthfully, Dutch’s mission at the Uplift Reserve was probably my least favourite of the Halo 3: ODST missions from an aesthetics perspective. The level is permeated by yellows and tans – it might as well be set on the surface of Venus, and sees Dutch joining UNSC forces, who are trying to repel Covenant vehicles. This is a vehicle heavy mission, and Dutch is equipped with a Spartan Laser for swiftly destroying Covenant Wraiths. I tend to save the Spartan Laser for Wraiths and turrets: lighter vehicles can be destroyed by other means, while Wraiths are tougher and can quickly send careless players back to a checkpoint.

  • Similarly to Buck’s mission, Dutch’s mission has a par time of four minutes. Engaging Covenant vehicles will mean that achieving the par time is not possible: in order to do so, one would need to seize the Warthog at the start of the level and keep the petal to the metal for the duration of the mission, ignoring everything until one reaches a large, open area. However, since I wasn’t playing for achievements during my initial run of Halo 3: ODST, I chose to take my usual approach of blowing up everything that moves.

  • AI driving in Halo had never been one of the series’ strong suit, and while one can quickly deal some serious damage as a Warthog gunner, the AI driving leaves much to be desired. Besides taking unnecessary detours, the algorithms for driving also result in suboptimal paths, which can be frustrating. I concede that driving algorithms are tricky to write, since the game also needs to account for things like threats in the players’ vicinity as well as the shortest distance to a desired location. In more simple applications, algorithms like A* are typically the best: despite having poor space complexity, the results yielded are excellent, often being superior to those generated from algorithms with a better space complexity.

  • To offset the poor driving AI, players traditionally take the wheel in Halo to spare themselves of the perils resulting from AI driving: while the AI aren’t particularly good shots with something like the Warthog’s mounted gun, they still aim better than they drive. Dutch eventually arrives in an open area and destroys Covenant Wraiths, plus the forces covering them on short order. I opted to keep my Spartan Laser with me and made quick work of the turrets, plus one of the Wraiths. Once my laser battery was depleted, I swapped over to the rocket launcher. The Spartan Laser has swiftly become one of my favourite weapons in Halo owing to its ability to one-shot tanks.

  • Dutch’s mission wraps up after he defends a plaza from Covenant forces, bringing the most visually unappealing mission of Halo 3: ODST to an end. While Uplift Reserve may look unimpressive, the gameplay is still excellent; the mission has a solid combination of vehicular and infantry combat, bringing to mind a more classic Halo feeling with respect to gameplay. I managed to find a sniper rifle, an excellent weapon for picking off brutes at a distance. While I’m no stranger to the sniper rifles of Halo, I admit that aiming where my enemy is, rather than where they are going, will take some getting used to: I’ve been playing Battlefield for the past seven years, and returning to hit-scan from a world of projectiles is a bit of an adjustment.

  • Leaving Dutch’s flashback and returning to the silent streets of New Mombasa really hit home: at this point, Halo 3: ODST had decisively shown that its biggest draw is being able to transition smoothly between the film-noir aesthetic of the Rookie’s missions, and the more conventional Halo experience. Going between two opposites means that Halo 3: ODST never becomes monotony; right when things get a little too quiet, the Rookie will come upon a key item that sets in motion a flashback, and the excitement evoked by a flashback is dialed back after players return to the Rookie’s viewpoint.

  • Overall, I found the M7S to be a passable weapon, but one that I would switch out at first convenience. While effective at even medium ranges against grunts and jackals, even on normal difficulty, it takes an entire magazine to strip the shields on a brute. Similarly, the M6C/SOCOM is useful against grunts and jackals, but deal insufficient damage against brutes. My first inclination is to swap off the M6C/SOCOM as soon as better weapons become available, and then switch off the M7S after that: while less effective against Brutes, the M7S is still a solid choice for handling weaker enemies.

  • Halo 3: ODST uses the same Scorpion as Halo 3, so when operating one, players only have access to the 90 mm cannon, and a passenger is required to operate the machine gun in an ant-infantry role. Without a coaxial machine gun, Scorpions of Halo 3 and Halo 3: ODST do not allow the driver to simultaneously deal with infantry and armour alike, so a passenger is needed for a Scorpion to be fully effective. With this being said, the 90 mm shells will kill most anything, so engaging infantry at range is always an option if one is lacking a passenger gunner.

  • After the Rookie locates a gauss turret, he flashes back to Mickey’s mission to punch through Kizingo Boulevard and meet up with Dutch. However, unlike other Halo tank missions, Mickey’s level is close quarters in city streets. In general, tanks are best suited for engagements in open spaces, since urban areas allow enemies to take advantage of limited sightlines and turret traversal to get close enough the tank to disable or destroy it.

  • The final area of Mickey’s mission is an open plaza, where the goal is to hold off waves of Covenant forces, including several Wraiths. The wisdom of holding onto heavy weapons, like a rocket launcher, becomes apparent here; players are unable to bring vehicles into the area without exploiting glitches, and since I’m new to Halo 3: ODST, I’m playing the game the way it was originally meant to be played. Because Halo 3: ODST uses the same engine as Halo 3, firefights are intense, with large groups of enemies spawning at a given time. Consequently, I burned through all of my ammunition on very short order.

  • I ended up locating a sniper rifle and used it to pick off Covenant forces from a distance after I ran out of ammunition for my M7S and rocket launcher. I also picked up a needler here, but never ended up using it, which earned me an achievement for completing a level exclusively with UNSC weapons. Of all the missions, Mickey’s felt the most similar to what I imagine Halo 2 was originally set to feature, and a part of me wonders if Halo 3: ODST represented an opportunity for Bungie to revisit some concepts that were originally cut from Halo 2.

  • Seeing the orbital elevator remains burning in the distance gives Halo 3: ODST a very apocalyptic feel. By this point, I’ve gotten my hands on a Covenant beam rifle and carbine, making firefights in the streets of New Mombasa far easier. However, one thing I did notice is that walking between the waypoints does take some time, although having the full map and VISR is indispensable. As I close in on a clue, my HUD begins glowing as I close in on the next clue, which serves as a segue into the next mission, which continues off with Mickey and Dutch.

  • Players return to Dutch’s perspective for the ONI Alpha Site mission. The pair have rigged a bridge with explosives, and after fighting their way across said bridge, detonate them to impede the Covenant. As Dutch, I gain access to the Spartan Laser once more: the weapon was quite rare in Halo 3‘s campaign: Master Chief starts with one on the Covenant mission and otherwise, only encounters the weapon during the final mission. Conversely, Spartan Lasers are more common in Halo 3: ODST. Despite their prodigious power, the Spartan Laser is generally an impractical weapon to use against infantry.

  • There is one exception: I never waste the Spartan Laser on infantry, but Hunters sometimes demand the use of a Spartan Laser, since they are as tough as vehicles to deal with. During the firefight with Covenant forces, I found myself running low on assault rifle rounds, and when hunters appeared, I resorted to the Spartan Laser to deal with them. I’ve heard that on legendary difficulty, it takes two shots from the Spartan Laser to kill hunters, but thankfully, on standard difficulty, one shot will turn a hunters into a non-threat.

  • I was particularly fond of the ONI building’s cavernous interior: the polished marble floors and large pillars give the building an imposing feeling, not unlike that of a large bank, real estate or legal organisation’s headquarters. UNSC and NMPD forces have set up a small fortification in the middle of the lobby, along with an AIE-486H. This heavy machine gun is well-placed: hordes of Covenant begin assaulting the player’s position, including suicide grunts, and being able to lay down a continuous, withering hail of 7.62mm rounds without letting up makes it a valuable asset. While mounted, the HMG has unlimited ammunition, making it great for locking down an area. However, if the need arises, the weapon can also be detached.

  • The design of the ONI building brings to mind the artistic style seen in older video games like 007: Rogue Agent and Enter The Matrix: while older games may not have the visual fidelity of modern titles, game designers back in the day made certain that even with fewer polygons and less sophisticated lighting, environments still conveyed a specific feeling. Compared to Halo 3Halo 3: ODST does look a bit more dated in places, even with the updates made to it for the Master Chief Collection. However, the game has been updated to render on PC, and from a gameplay perspective, handles very well.

  • Once the lobby is cleared, Dutch and Mickey take an elevator to the ONI headquarters’ rooftops. Upon neutralising all of the Covenant up here, they board a Pelican and detonate the charges, destroying the building and preventing its secrets from falling into Covenant hands. Perspective returns to the Rookie, and from here on out, I found it considerably easier to navigate the streets of New Mombasa: after dealing with a squad of Covenant forces, I was lucky enough to find an operational Ghost lying around on the map.

  • Having a Ghost in the semi-open world map changed everything: distances that took minutes to traverse now took seconds, and the Ghost’s dual forward-facing plasma cannons allowed me to make short work of any opposition standing between me and the objective. Once I found the Ghost, and with the knowledge that Halo 3: ODST allowed me to keep my weapons in-between levels (the carbine and beam rifle I found were retained, right down to their ammunition count), it became clear to me that getting the Rookie’s segments done was going to become a whole lot easier.

  • Kojo “Romeo” Agu’s mission at the NMPD is probably my favourite of the flashback missions: the aesthetics are excellent, and the combat is intense. Romeo starts with the sniper rifle and M6C/SOCOM, and there’s plenty of ammunition during the mission for the sniper rifle, which is the premiere weapon for long-range engagements. In general, ammunition for UNSC weapons is quite rare, and I’ve found myself switching over to Covenant weapons as soon as my starting weapons ran dry. The needler and plasma pistol are situational weapons, but the Brute Spiker and plasma rifle are solid all-around weapons. If an assault rifle isn’t available, I’ll take either.

  • Romeo starts with the sniper rifle and M6C/SOCOM, and there’s plenty of ammunition during the mission for the sniper rifle. With a steady aim, jackal snipers and jetpack-equipped brutes are dealt with swiftly. Of the ODSTs, Romeo has the rockiest relationship with Buck owing to his tendency to run his mouth off, but when the chips are down, Romeo’s aim is top notch. Buck and Romeo make a solid enough team as they fight through the NMPD to reach their squad-mates at the crash site: Dutch and Mickey have rendezvoused here, but the NMPD Pelican is out of commission.

  • While the M7S is weak, it’s actually proven a surprisingly fun weapon to use: in practise, it’s slightly more accurate than the assault rifle and can deal consistent damage out to a surprising range. One noticeable absence in Halo 3: ODST is the battle rifle, a Halo staple that deals excellent damage and is highly accurate. I’ve heard that it was a design choice from Bungie’s end to omit the battle rifle, since they found that players would play exclusively with the battle rifle owing to its versatility, and Bungie wanted to encourage players to try out the different weapons. In a context where dual-wielding is absent, the plasma rifle and brute Spiker are both strong weapons.

  • After cutting across a construction crane, Romeo and Buck link up with Mickey and Dutch. Scattered at the crash site are various missile pods, some rocket launchers and even a Spartan Laser. It is a well-known trope that, whenever a game becomes particularly generous with supplies, something big is about to go down. Unsurprisingly, hordes of Covenant Banshees and Phantoms begin assaulting the crash site. The mounted missile pods are particularly valuable, since they have unlimited ammunition, and can lock onto air vehicles. Using them will allow one to conserve on ammunition. Since missile pods cannot be re-attached to their mounts after they are detached, it is recommended that one keeps them attached for as long as possible, and dismount when engaging any stragglers.

  • Towards the end of the assault, I ended up using the Spartan Laser to shoot down Banshees before the mission ended. The Spartan Laser, while powerful, cannot destroy a Phantom in a single shot, attesting to how heavily armoured they are. However, the Spartan Laser still does considerable damage to a Phantom, and while I personally don’t recommend using a Spartan Laser on a Phantom, a few shots can bring one down quickly enough. At the end of the mission, Romeo is grievously wounded by a brute Chieftain. He manages to stave off death by blocking the Chieftain’s gravity hammer with the sniper rifle, explaining the bent sniper rifle the Rookie finds earlier.

  • To stablise Romeo, Dutch uses a bio-foam injector. Once Romeo is okay, Dutch discards the injector, which the Rookie later finds. The entire ODST squad is now back together, Buck leads an assault on Kikowani Station to commandeer a Phantom. With nightfall under way, the VISR becomes important in helping players to spot enemies and openings. The act of comandeering a Phantom is easy enough: once the Covenant forces guarding one are neutralised, the ODSTs will take control of it. Mickey pilots it, having had the most experience in operating air vehicles, while Dutch and Romeo operate the guns.

  • There’s a weapons container with a pair of beam rifles at the start of the mission. The beam rifle is the Covenant’s counterpart to the sniper rifle, and like the sniper rifle, excels at long range combat. The beam rifle does not need reloading, and can be used to fire two quick shots in rapid succession, although this overheats the weapon and renders it unable to be used for a few seconds. In the plaza, having a beam rifle allows one to pick off brutes and jackals from a distance without opening themselves up to return fire: since I had an extra beam rifle available to me, I emptied out the first one and retrieved a fresh beam rifle before moving onwards.

  • While Mickey, Dutch and Romeo take the Phantom, Buck takes to the skies in a Banshee to provide covering fire. There are a few places where one needs to disembark to open a doorway manually, and Banshees are scattered along the route, allowing players to swap a damaged Banshee for a fresh one if they took too much damage earlier. At this point in the mission, keeping the VISR enabled is mandatory: it makes spotting enemies much easier.

  • It is a little embarrassing to admit this, but until now, I relied entirely on its twin forward-facing plasma cannons, since I never could figure out the button for using the fuel rod cannon that deals explosive damage. In previous Halo games, I always had this mapped to the middle mouse button, but owing to how the Master Chief Collection handles keyboard configuration, I wasn’t able to set the fuel rod cannon to use middle mouse. In Halo 3: ODST, the weapon ended up being mapped to “Q”, and I am glad that I have access to the Banshee’s entire loadout for this mission.

  • This is because the last moments of the mission has Buck squaring off against a Scarab. Since I’m no stranger to the Halo 3 Scarabs, my immediate response was to begin opening the engagement by using plasma and fuel rod cannon fire on one of the Scarab’s legs, and then once it was immobilsed, I hammered its rear armour until it fell off, exposing the vulnerable reactor core. Destroying this will annihilate the Scarab entirely.

  • With the Ghost I’d found earlier still in my possession, I had no trouble reaching the entrance to the data centre. During the flight, I’d gotten lost and spent a good quarter-hour probing the outside of the building looking for a way in, but this time, the combination of prior experience and a Ghost meant I had much less trouble locating the entrance and dealing with the remaining Covenant forces. Once the Rookie enters the data centre, Halo 3: ODST shifts away from the semi-open world of New Mombasa and flashback missions to a more conventional, linear story.

  • Upon entering the underground data centre, the Rookie fights through hordes of Covenant to reach Dare. The design of this segment brings to mind the aesthetics of games from a much older era: the data centre has the same feel as a villain’s lair in a James Bond game, with its lighting and endless banks of servers. On the topic of James Bond, it appears that the latest movie, No Time To Die, has been postponed again to April 2, 2021: the movie had cost some two hundred million to make, and I can imagine that the studio is trying to delay it so that they can turn a profit on the film. While the delay is understandable, it also means that there isn’t a James Bond movie to look forwards to in the near future. However, Fukushima 50‘s home release is going to become available on November 6, and I’ve been curious to watch this movie for quite some time.

  • As an ODST, players cannot dual-wield weapons, so every weapon in Halo 3: ODST was given a slight boost in power. I found a brute Mauler in the tunnels of the data centre and used it as a makeshift shotgun: while having more spread, it is a surprisingly powerful weapon that comes with a solid melee attack on account of its blade. I believe the data centre is the only place that Maulers can be found, and so, I made extensive use of the weapon: it is slightly more viable than its Halo 3 counterpart, and in Halo 3, I rarely used Maulers on account of the fact that the Battle Rifle was my go-to weapon for almost every situation.

  • Looking back, the plasma pistol represents one of the most ingenious bits of weapon design in Halo: individual shots from the plasma pistol are weak, and the weapon seems to be a joke at first glance. However, holding down the trigger and charging the weapon allows it to fire a single bolt that instantly drops an enemy’s shields. When used in conjunction with an accurate weapon, a plasma pistol will allow players to tear through the toughest of enemies without much difficulty. In Halo 3 and Halo 3: ODST, the plasma pistol was balanced so that keeping the weapon charged continuously would drain the battery. Reading through the lore, however, even the plasma pistol is a terrifying weapon capable of inflicting grievous wounds.

  • The drone hive underneath the city in the data centre brings to mind memories of the Xenomorph Hive from Alien Isolation, and while the drones themselves might not be as intimidating as the Xenomorph, they still can deal considerable damage to players. The vast tunnels down here bring to mind the sewer system seen in Enter The Matrix, and the Rookie must fight off the drones with Dare in order to reach her objective. Surprisingly, a single well-placed carbine round will kill a drone; I’ve previously had more success with automatic weapons.

  • The final segment of the mission has players reaching the Superintendant’s core and extracting a defecting Covenant engineer. The room brings back memories of the reactor basement in Alien: Isolation, although here, there are thankfully no face-huggers. However, a pack of brutes, including a chieftain, guard the door to the room, and they must be defeated before any rescue can be attempted. Use of plasma grenades allowed me to deal with this group, and all that’s left is to escort the engineer back outside: the gravity hammer I picked up off the chieftain made the journey back outside an amusing one.

  • A quick glance at the calendar shows that we’re now a short ways into October, and it’s been a bit of a surprise as to how quickly the year’s been moving. 2020 has been a very rough year, characterised by strife, unrest and instability. However, while a great many things in 2020 have gone wrong or not quite as we would have hoped, there is one indisputable fact: 343 Industries have done an excellent job in helping Halo fans to keep a resilient and optimistic outlook, and the Master Chief Collection is probably the best thing that’s happened in 2020.

  • Having defeated the Chieftain, I’m free to claim his gravity hammer. Since the elites don’t appear in Halo 3: ODST, there are no energy swords, either. In general, the energy sword has been considered the superior melee weapon for single combat, whereas the gravity hammer is more of an area-of-effect weapon best suited for dealing with groups of enemies. Weaker enemies are outright killed by the blast, and tougher enemies, such as higher level brutes, and hunters, are knocked back. It’s a fun enough weapon to use in the campaign, but owing it its rarity, I only used it for a few brief moments before the battery depleted,

  • Returning to Halo 3: ODST, I’ve reached the final mission, which has the Rookie accompany Dare and Buck as they escort the engineer to the extraction zone. During the flighting, I somehow ended up destroying my Warthog and had to leg it, making this a particularly arduous journey, but in Halo 3: ODST proper, I managed to keep my Warthog in one piece, allowing me to keep up with the Olifant. Buck will take the gunner’s seat and provide enough firepower to keep the Covenant off my back, although caution should still be exercised – while the M41 and its 50 calibre rounds deal some damage, Covenant forces with heavy weapons like the fuel rod cannon and Ghosts can still pose a threat.

  • Fortunately, there is a Gauss-gun equipped Warthog a ways further down the highway: the M68 ALIM Gauss Gun can kill shielded enemies in one hit and will knock Ghosts out with as few as two shots. Wraiths can be take down in three shots. Despite the slow rate of fire, the weapon is highly damaging: having Buck behind the gun will give players more peace of mind as they travel along the highway. Halo 3: ODST might be nine years old now, and some parts of the game might be showing its age, but other missions, especially the last few, still hold up very well: the evening skies look amazing as I drive along the highway.

  • While I’ve kept my vehicles in decent shape on my run, the Gauss Warthog is ultimately replaced by the Scorpion Tank. The wisdom of taking the tank is that it confers superior firepower and will trivially destroy all enemy vehicles on the highway, but this comes at the expense of speed. If I were playing with the par time in mind, I would likely just stick to the Gauss Warthog, since it strikes a balance between speed and firepower.

  • Towards the end of the highway, a Covenant cruiser can be seen firing its main beam in preparation of glassing the area. Even though this is a part of the skybox (and therefore, there’s no imminent threat to the player), it still looks impressive and creates a sense of urgency, to get out before the cruiser reaches New Mombasa. Bungie is known for having some of the most visually impressive skyboxes in any game (Destiny had some of the coolest looking skyboxes), and even today, their older games still look amazing.

  • After reaching the plaza, I immediately took off for the higher ground. On my playthrough of this during the test flight, I ended up taking a more up-close-and-personal approach. For the first two waves of enemies, this method worked well enough: I had a fuel rod gun and was able to make short work of the enemies, but the final wave is all brutes, with a Chieftain among them. With this knowledge in mind, for my actual run of the game, I ended up taking the high ground and made use of a mounted gun to decimate landing Covenant forces, then switched over to a combination of sniping and bombardment to deal with any stragglers.

  • Overall, I found Halo 3: ODST to be the weakest of the games in the Master Chief Collection, owing to the more ordinary level designs, but this isn’t really saying much. Halo 3: ODST is still an excellent game that I certainly had fun with. I was pleasantly surprised by the game: having somehow managed to avoid spoilers for Halo 3: ODST for the past nine years, the experience was fresh and exciting for me. Halo 3: ODST ended up being much more than a mere stroll through the nighttime streets of New Mombasa as I’d once thought, and after clearing out an entire armada of brutes here, a pair of Wraiths will appear. They can’t be engaged, and the last objective is to board the commandeered Phantom to beat a hasty escape before the Covenant cruiser glasses the area.

  • It appears that I’ve finished this Halo post just in time for the autumn anime and The Division 2‘s next manhunt seasons. Besides GochiUsa BLOOM and Strike Witches: Road To Berlin, which I have plans to do episodic reviews for, other series that have caught my eye include Higurashi: When They CryKamisama ni Natta hiIwa Kakeru! Sport Climbing Girls and Kuma Kuma Kuma Bear. I will leave Higurashi: When They Cry as an anime to write about for a later date: having been around to watch the originals, I’ll give this series a lookover once it settles a little. Then, of the remaining series, I plan on picking a maximum of two to write about. Striking a balance between six anime and The Division 2 will be an interesting endeavour, so I’ll keep readers posted as to what ends up happening, and in the meantime, there’s only one more Halo post left on the horizon for the foreseeable future.

Halo 3: ODST represents an unconventional, but engaging instalment in the Master Chief Collection. The story gives players a chance to see the Human-Covenant war from the perspective of special forces soldiers who had first appeared in Halo 2, and also filled in some gaps in the story between the events of Halo 2 and Halo 3 – a lingering question had been what happened to New Mombasa during the Master Chief’s absence, and Halo 3: ODST answers this question. With the game set entirely in New Mombasa, and the players essentially helping UNSC forces to resist the Covenant invaders, Halo 3: ODST does feel like what Halo 2 had originally intended to be. The original Halo 2 E3 demo in 2003 had suggested that Halo 2 would be set largely on Earth, following the Master Chief’s efforts in helping the UNSC repel the Covenant from our world, but the chaotic and frenzied development of Halo 2 meant many concepts demonstrated at the 2003 E3 would be removed. Offering a refreshing and unique Halo experience, Halo 3: ODST is fondly remembered by fans for its combination of familiar Halo action and a wistful film noir-like experience. With Halo 3: ODST now in the books, all that’s left is Halo 4 – 343 Industries is suggesting that the test flight process could begin as early as late October, which is consistent with the flights for Halo 3 and Halo 3: ODST. Assuming this to be the case, Halo 4 will join the Master Chief Collection in time for the game’s sixth anniversary. The original launched in November 2014, and the completion of the Master Chief Collection comes just ahead of the Christmas season: while the local meteorologists suggest that our autumn will remain relatively mild, the winter forecast looks considerably more unpleasant. In my area, the temperatures are expected to be consistently colder and snowier than seasonal averages; I foresee spending more time indoors, and consequently, having Halo to keep me company during a long and dark winter will do wonders for me while I hunker down, away from the snow and cold, waiting for the return of spring.

Feedback and Reflections on Insider Flighting with The Master Chief Collection: Halo 3: ODST

“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.