Halo 3: ODST

Prepare to jump as Bungie's grittier, Master Chief-less war crash lands on Earth

It's become a massive, wholly predictable cliché to declare a Halo first-person shooter "bloody awesome". We feel dirty just writing it.

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But despite how much we'd love to go against the popular opinion of every man, women and underage teen in the pub, the celebrated series, with its modest Halo 3 "expansion", has managed yet again to deliver a truly impressive shooter salvo - even if we now feel as predictable as Mötley Crüe's mullets for saying it.

Try to act surprised as we tell you that the AI powering the sharp-witted Covenant is still the best the genre has to offer. Fake a gasp as we describe ODST's nearly perfectly balanced arsenal of weapons, Hollywood-calibre presentation and set-pieces so explosive they make Jerry Bruckheimer look a bit Asda Price cheap in comparison.

While the quality of Bungie's latest may not be surprising, the structure of its fresh-faced prequel (ODST actually takes place during the first missions of Halo 2) certainly isn't the same old formula we're used to.

As the name suggests, ODST has you thrust into the futuristic suit of an Orbital Drop Shock Trooper, the most elite of humanity's non-
artificially enhanced super soldiers.

Basically, these guys are Silenced SMG-toting, shooting-out-of-the-sky hard nuts. As Dutch, your colourful heavy-weapons comrade perfectly puts it: [Spots Covenant capital ship] "They missed one." "No, they left one for us."

Space age detective
You - the Rookie - are the last of your six-man ODST team to awaken in your battered but stable drop pod, some hours after the Prophet of Regret caused a massive explosion in the Earth city New Mombasa (remember that in Halo 2?).

The damp, wrecked metropolis - now crawling with Covenant invaders - is a totally open-world hub that you're free to explore at will. Every barely-lit street is your shooting playground and missions can be tackled in whichever order you wish.

Predictably, the open-world structure is a perfect fit for Halo's AI-driven, sandbox brand of warfare. Armed with an arsenal of new ODST equipment - a 3D map of the metropolis and a new, enhanced-reality vision mode - Bungie invites you to take a new tactical high ground, either sneaking stealthily through the suburban streets avoiding red Covenant dots, or strategically tracking Brute squads before ambushing them from any direction, Far Cry-style.

It's a welcome twist to Halo 3's already brilliant FPS foundation, but of course there's plenty of mystery to be uncovered. ODST is a crime drama.

Whereas the Master Chief ran fist-first into the fight like a seven-foot superhero, you'll prowl the moody city streets searching for clues as to what happened to your missing comrades - and smacking a few Grunts in the back of the head along the way.

At the core of New Mombasa and central to ODST's story is The Superintendent; the toon-styled AI who in more peaceful times makes sure the futuristic city's trains run on time, the traffic lights work and spouts propaganda about "your tax dollars at work!" Whether through a malfunctioning ATM or a tracking security camera, the Super's influence is seen all over the hub world, and it delivers more character to what's already one of the most compelling Halo tales yet (believe it or not, there's even a love story).

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