Since it was first released on Xbox 360 in 2009, Halo 3: ODST remains a unique entry in the sci-fi shooter Halo series – and according to the developers working on the game at the time, that was the point.
According to Joseph Staten, ODST‘s Creative Director and Lead Writer, the core development team that worked on the game, was originally put together to work on the ousting of Lord of the Rings director Peter Jackson Halo Chronicles. “When this project failed, we were left with this really experienced core team of people who were all already there [Halo: Combat Evolved]“, Said Staten Kotaku back in 2009. With the dissolution of Halo Chronicles and Halo Reach Already in production, Staten and the rest of the team decided to create a new entry into the Halo universe – one that would examine otherwise overlooked corners of his world from the perspective of someone other than the franchise hero Master Chief.
The result was Halo 3: ODST, a first-person survival shooter who is in the same period as. takes place Halo 2. It takes place in the ruins of the East African metropolis of New Mombasa, played from the perspective of a non-reinforced Special Ops shock trooper, who is supposed to find its lost team members after the occupation of the city. The game is a hushed, down to earth detective story set in an abandoned city riddled with scattered patrol squads of Covenant soldiers ready to tear the player apart if they’re not careful. It’s also my favorite game in the Halo franchise.
There’s a lot to love about the game, from its free roaming, open-world environment, which allowed players to live the experience of fighting the Bund in a futuristic city that was first seen Halo 2‘s E3 2003 demo, its emphasis on tactical camouflage and survival as opposed to the series’ more offensive battle loop, and its moody, noir-influenced orchestral jazz music. But what remains as my favorite part of Halo 3: ODST is something that has never been replicated by any other Halo game, or really any other game I have come across, and that is the narrative design of ODST as seen through its diegetic waypoint system.
The opening minutes of Halo 3: ODST placed the players in the role of the “rookie”, a silent protagonist and new to a Shock Trooper team. Awakening in a drop pod that crashed into a building after the Alliance broke its slipspace Halo 2, the rookie falls out of the pod and is forced to heal himself and fend off a group of brute soldiers and grunt subordinates. After defeating these enemies, your heads-up display instructs you to connect with the superintendent – an artificial intelligence in charge of New Mombasa’s urban infrastructure – for a better view of where you are and what happened to your team.
As soon as you interact with a nearby payphone that starts ringing on its own, a waypoint compass will appear at the top of your HUD and an interactive map of the city center will be accessible through the game menu. This waypoint takes you to the first of several artifacts left behind by members of your ODST team and triggers playable flashback missions from the perspective of one of your four teammates. But that’s not all. On your way through the center of the city to your destination, something strange happens to the environment around you.
Several of the video billboards across town are starting to change as if they were responding to your presence. While these seem like innocuous environmental details at first, it is slowly setting in that these supposedly automated traffic warnings and instructions are actually attempts by the Superintendent AI to communicate with you and guide you around town, heading you towards roaming Alliance patrols and others warn routes to safely avoid detection. While this is a cool detail in itself, it’s even more fascinating that the superintendent AI also takes you to collectable audio logs housed on phones and kiosks across town, each of which tells a side story that revolves around a young girl from New Mombasan shoots by the name of Sadie with a strong bond with Superintendent AI. During the missions of Halo 3: ODST are experienced from the perspective of the rookie and his teammates, the cutscenes that set up these missions are broadcast from the perspective of the superintendent AI, who remains an unspoken but ubiquitous character in the world of the game.
Play through Halo 3: ODST Recently I was impressed with how thoroughly the superintendent’s presence is woven into the New Mombasa area, and I wondered why so few games since have found a way to incorporate waypoint markers and directions into their world creation. The closest contemporary too Halo 3: ODST‘s Superintendent I am thinking of are the ethereal messages materializing around Blackreef Island at Arkane Studios. Death loop, leads the character Colt on his journey to kill the visionaries and break the time warp that keeps him trapped there. That being said, most of the waypoint systems in first-person games exist either as non-diegetic aspects of the game’s user interface or as weirdly obvious systems like the glowing green arrow pointing the player in the “right” direction in 2013 BioShock Infinite. As much as I’d love to see other developers take a side of it Halo 3: ODSTI also realize that much of what I love about the game’s narrative design is an intrinsic by-product of the particular story Bungie was trying to tell through this game – which just goes on to emphasize why Halo 3: ODST is my all-time favorite Halo game.
Halo fans have never seen anything like it on the show Halo 3: ODST in the 12 years since its publication. During 2010 Halo Reach was a prequel, it was also Bungie’s swan song from the series and subsequent entries produced by 343 Industries (with the exception of Halo Wars 2) have largely focused on the postalHalo 3 Story arc of the series protagonist Master Chief. Whether there will ever be an opportunity for a future side story-like entry in the Halo series, similar to Halo 3: ODST is still an open question. Until then, the game remains a formidable and rightly acclaimed entry in the franchise, full of tiny details that are still worth remembering, appreciating, and learning.