E3 09: Modern Warfare 2 vs Left 4 Dead 2 vs Halo 3: ODST

The deathmatch is on as we compare E3's top shooters

Halo 3: ODST

Halo 3: ODST is shaping up to be a proficient shooter that will appeal to hardcore Halophiles but will face stiff competition from all quarters. One gets the feeling they’re saving all the really dope stuff for Halo 4. Or Reach?


Above: The Covenant can use equipment, but you can’t

The campaign was not available to play, but we did get a half-hour private demo from Bungie and the multiplayer Firefight was available to play on the show floor. ODST’s campaign (playable by up to 4 players in co-op) takes place in the city of New Mumbasa, on Earth, just after Master Chief takes off after the Covenant. The city is a shambles after the Covenant’s slip space rupture, and the player must piece together the mystery of what happened to his squadmates. As clues are uncovered, flashback scenes (in which you play as a squadmate) fill in the backstory. Unlike previous Halo games, the map is wide open for the player to explore, though an AI pal, “The Superintendent,” will point out suggested hotspots.

Since the player is not a Spartan, he won’t have the benefit of recharging shields. Instead, he’ll have to find health stations around the city to fill up his life meter. Players will also not be able to dual-wield weapons or use the equipment introduced in Halo 3 (though some Covenant baddies still will.) The tradeoff is that the ODST has a special night-vision visor that highlights enemies in red and interactive objects in yellow. While the visor is kinda cool in a Metroidy way, it’s a mediocre substitute for the diversity of equipment offered in Halo 3. We know, you’re not a Spartan. But does that mean they should take away all the toys? Perhaps more will be revealed closer to launch.

Two new weapons were revealed in the demo, a silenced pistol and a silenced SMG. The silenced aspect of the weapons didn’t seem to affect gameplay, as enemies came charging as soon as you opened fire. But it did make a cool muffled thwipping sound, so there’s that.


Above: Night vision!

It wouldn’t be Halo without multiplayer, and thus far that appears to be ODST’s strongest selling point. ODST introduces a new Firefight mode which is 4 player co-op survival a la Horde in Gears of War, with wave after wave of Covenant crashing over you til your lives are utterly spent. Your team has one pool of lives that everyone draws from, so no one will ever have to sit out of the action for long. While there is a difficulty ramp, the Covenant in each wave are randomized to keep you on your toes. But our favorite Firefight feature was Skulls – remember those cranial collectibles from Halo 2 and 3? Skulls modify the way the game plays with changes to enemy AI, weapon damage, etc. So in each wave of Firefight, a different Skull is activated. Survive long enough, and different combinations of skulls switch on until finally all the Skulls are activated, and stay in effect tll you’re dead meat.

ODST will also ship with a second disc containing Halo 3’s competitive multiplayer. The second disc holds all 21 existing maps, along with three new ones, so if you don’t own Halo 3 (gasp!) or haven’t kept up with all the DLC (more likely) there’s some added value for you. The last bit of extra motivation to buy ODST is access to the Halo Reach beta, which is a still a giant question mark.


Above: Teamwork on display in Firefight mode

To summarize, the campaign looks decent and the new multiplayer survival mode is a blast. But it may end up being too little too late. With heavy competition from hard-hitting rivals, ODST is on our must-play list but not in the top spot.

Post-show buzz: Looks Heroic but probably not Legendary.

Of course we saw much more than Modern Warfare 2, Left 4 Dead 2 and Halo 3: ODST. Here are a few shooters that will tempt you with their reticular goodness.

BioShock 2

The watery Libertarian scare-fest is back with more creepy little girls and grotesque gene junkies. At E3, 2K showed off BioShock 2’s impressive multiplayer for the first time. The character progression and customization system has a surprising amount of context around it. The player has a little apartment s/he uses as a hub and has a job field-testing new weapons and plasmids during the civil war that destroys Rapture prior to the first game. During combat, plasmids are automatically equipped in the off-hand so there’s no switch-out time. This keeps the action fast and frantic with bullets and plasmid effects flying everywhere. In one game type a Big Daddy suit randomly spawns, turning one player at a time into a brutal, nigh-unstoppable killing force. Add that to what will undoubtedly be a cerebrally terrifying single player experience, and BioShock 2 looks to be made of win.


MAG

Sony’s massively multiplayer online shooter sets 256 players loose on a huge objective-filled map to kill or be killed. The two warring factions are broken up into 8 man squads, and bonuses like air strikes can be earned when your squad completes battlefield objectives. Though the map crawled with players like ants on a carcass, the dense action played smoothly without any apparent technical or graphical hiccups. Fans of large-scale PC shooters like Battlefield or Planetside will want to have a go at MAG this fall.


Singularity


With so many high profile sequels this year, it can be tough for a brand new title to win mindshare. But to overlook Singularity would be a mistake. Taking a page straight out of Lost, Singularity is the story of a pilot who crash lands on a secret island that’s coming unstuck in time due to Cold War experiments carried out there in the 1950s. Pockets of time anomalies exist all over the island, so time manipulation is critical to combat and puzzle solving. In the E3 demo, the effects were mostly pretty cool. At one point the player reconstructed a collapsed building, and as he fought his way through it the walls slowly started crumbling back in around him. Though we’ve seen other titles try and fail with time control as a gameplay device (we’re looking at you, TimeShift,) we maintain high hopes for Singularity.

Jun 9, 2009


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