ODST: Playing Isolationist

ODST: Playing Isolationist

I enjoy playing games on a higher difficulty modes, it’s one of my many flaws. I say flaws because it’s this self-same trait in my gaming that has me hurling abuse at the TV screen while my wife shakes her head and quietly facepalms.

It can be quite frustrating in many games, being pinged twice then killed by someone you never noticed who seems to have pinpoint accuracy across amazing range. And there are many titles that you can be justified in feeling that the the game doesn’t offer you enough reason to go through that frustration. But I think I’ve finally discovered the game that deserves this kind of playthrough the most.

The Halo series, to an extent, popularised the health-bar free first-person shooter. And while the mechanic works well, allowing a player unlimited health as long as they can use cover to catch their breath, it does lend itself to a certain kind of gameplay. Tanking.

I did it myself in almost every previous Halo incarnation. If you played on a regular difficulty setting, there wasn’t much to stop you to just bum-rushing every group of enemies, then melee-bashing them into submission the moment you got close enough. This is fantastic fun, undoubtably, but it does remove the sense of caution and tactics that you’d exercise in a game like, say, Rainbow Six: Vegas 2.

Crazy, crazy for feeling so loneleeeey!
Crazy, crazy for feeling so loneleeeey!

To my mind, Halo 3: ODST doesn’t deserve to be played through with this lack of care. For the first time in the series, you’re not playing a walking rarely-talking tank, and it seems wrong that you shouldn’t have to adjust your gameplay to match that fact.

The Rookie, unnamed and unvoiced as he is, embodies a quiet determination as he moves his way through the Campaign mode of ODST. He’s been left stranded, presumed dead by the rest of his crew, and can only rely on himself to follow a slim trail of clues to try and reunite with his squad.

With that in mind, it seems the only fitting way to attempt to survive this scenario is with the difficulty cranked all the way up to Legendary. You can’t survive long in a head-on firefight, your stamina (a word that traces it’s meaning from the Latin “Staminus”, meaning “It’s totally a shield but don’t call it that”) won’t last any more than two hits before you’re damaged, and you may very well have to exercise the stealth option once in a while rather than just pistol-whip everything.

This leads to a far more atmospheric, even realistic situation which is so much more satisfying in the long run. Playing this way, along with taking the time to collect all the scattered audio logs that tell the tale of a civilian girl called Sadie caught in the initial assault, really gives the player the feeling that not only are they searching to rejoin their squad, they’re searching to understand just what has happened to the once safe Earth. The exploration also allow you to experience the open-world New Mombasa that Bungie has created, and listen as the city itself speaks to you through Virgil the Superintendant.

In the end this was really the only part of the Campaign mode that worked for me. The flashback sequences that drove the game’s plot were just felt like rehashed and reskinned Halo. The fact that the rest of the team couldn’t travel more than three minutes alone before finding allies sort of ruined their survival aspect, which meant that they were right back alongside Master Chief running, gunning and punching holes in Covenant tanks.

To this extent, I also believe that while playing through ODST co-op with friends is a great deal of fun, it strikes a completely different chord than that of the isolated survivor. Being able to team up with a possible three allies means that once again you’re melee bashing your way through the opposition, even at Legendary difficulty.

While we’ve always looked up to Halo as one of the games that will always provide us with brilliant co-op, Halo 3: ODST is actually a title that deserves at least one playthrough on your own. You’ll come away with a completely different view of the game who’s plot you thought was too short.

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