The Rookie spends the first two minutes of ODST having a nap, 60 seconds dropping to Earth and then the next six hours sleeping off the trip. He’ll spend the next few hours wishing he’d woken up a little faster. Frankly, he had it coming.
ODST begins with a mystery and it’s the first of many. The six-man squad is planning on infiltrating the Prophet of Regret’s ship in the closing moments of Halo 2’s second mission, but are told en route of their new objective in New Mombasa. Lucky too, since Regret fires up the slipspace drive and kills every ODST in the boarding party, scattering the six-man squad across the city. The Rookie is knocked unconscious and wakes up many hours after nightfall.
Heading out into the world it becomes clear the game is everything Bungie said it wasn’t. The Rookie is slower, shorter, and less agile than MC; he can’t use equipment and has a health bar rather than a regenerating shield. It’s Tom Clancy’s Halo 3 – all long-range ambushes and carefully-planned movements. The Rookie fights with a silenced and scoped pistol, and a silenced SMG held with two hands for greater accuracy than the similar gun in the hands of the Chief. He has a map, comms, and intel screen plus nightvision and an enhanced reality mode ripped right from GRAW which identifies targets.
New Mombasa is the biggest environment in any Halo game, far exceeding the likes of the Tsavo Highway in Halo 3. Bungie want you to think of ODST as a detective story, and have immersed the city in layer upon sleazy layer of high tech film noir atmosphere, with hazy streets illuminated by moody pools of light beneath street lamps and roadside signs.
Beacons placed by the city’s Superintendent AI onto the map pop up on your HUD’s VISR system, guiding you to your destination. It’s a city filled with Covenant patrols, secrets, and easter eggs off the beaten track. It’s a world where Bungie’s flawless level design makes for perfect shootouts and a world where Halo’s AI is pushed to the limit, improvising and reacting on the fly in a completely open world.
The city at night is a subdued and empty place where you’ll set ambushes and pick off enemies from afar, but the linear missions are all-out action set-pieces ripped from past Halo games. Missions and flashbacks are also cleverly interlinked; when The Rookie finds a collapsed bridge and a discarded detonator you’ll temporarily ‘flashback’ into the shoes of the team’s demolitions expert Dutch, a mere two hours after the drop, as he sets about destroying the bridge you’ve just found in ruins.