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In the beginning there was Halo: Combat Evolved for the original XBOX system. Developed by “Bungie, LLC” which is now a subsidy of “Microsoft, Inc;” Halo: Combat Evolved put you in the shoes of a human super-solider by the name of Master Chief. Master Chief is a SPARTAN, the creation of a super-secret program that combined alien technology with human combat tactics to create one of the most power sets of soldiers the future had ever seen. Possessing super-human strength, regenerating shields, and able to wield massive alien weapons; the SPARTANs were the first line of defense against the alien incursion called the Covenant. The Covenant is bent on the destruction of mankind in accordance with their religion and is seeking the ultimate weapon to destroy us. Over the course of three games, you played as SPARTAN-117, aka “Master Chief.” You got used to the armor, the shields, and the sheer power of the character and now, you have NONE of that. Welcome to the ODST trooper!

Only previously mentioned in the Halo franchise lore the ODST are shock troopers that, until the advent of the SPARTAN program, were the frontlines of human defense. Their full title is “Orbital Drop Shock Troopers” and the affectionately go by the moniker “Helljumpers” because of how hellish their drops from orbit to the battlefield are. Until this game, the only time you got a chance to play with the ODSTs was in Halo Wars a real-time strategy game that did not give you direct control of the characters as you have now. These soldiers are incredibly tough and are considered the UNSC’s best non-modified soldiers but make no mistake; they are nowhere near as indestructible as someone like “Master Chief.” This game is going to change the way you play Halo, requiring you to switch from the gung-ho tactics to something more stealthy and for die-hard Halo players it may be a shift they will not like.

The story begins in between Halo 2 & 3 in orbit above New Mombasa, Africa. The Covenant have managed to discover earth and a huge ship has gotten into position over the city and Covenant forces are furiously searching for something in the area. As “The Rookie” you have been assigned to drop into the city and find out what the Covenant is searching for and stop them at all costs. As you drop to the earth, the Covenant ship warps out and the shockwave from it decimates the city and throws your pod off course causing you to black out. You wake up about six hours later with no idea what has happened to the other three members of your team or what is going on in the city. Your mission now is to find out what happened to your teammates and find what the Covenant is looking for before they do.

As you progress through the city you will gain the help of the city’s Artificial Intelligence known as the “Superintendent.” You will also find traces of your other five teammates: Buck, Dutch, Romeo, Mickey, and Dare. As you find the traces they will trigger “flashbacks” which will have you playing in the shoes of that missing teammate to discover what happened to them and fill in the story. This highlights one of the other major changes to the Halo template; you will be able to play the campaign in a non-linear manner. Each teammate has their own weapon specialty so you will have to adapt to that style as you progress though you will have the option of swapping weapons with dead enemies as in previous Halo titles. As of now, dual-wielding is not a possibility as you lack the extra strength that a SPARTAN has though you do have something to mitigate that. As an ODST trooper, you have a new vision mode, called “VISR” that will allow you to see in darkened places and help to target enemies. It lacks the radar that previous titles have but it does still have a compass and targeting reticule. This will be incredibly important as you progress, allowing you to spot different routes to get around the large groups of enemies or outflank them for attacks. Remember, you are not a SPARTAN so you cannot take large groups head on! Should you be injured though, health will be available through terminals that the “Superintendent” will point out to you.

Once you tire of the campaign, you will have the usual Halo multiplayer fare with a brand new mode called “Firefight.” Similar to the “Survival” mode in Left 4 Dead, you face infinite waves of even more difficult foes coming at you. There is no way to win and it ends when both you and your friends run out of the preset amount of lives. The rest of the multiplayer line up consists of the standard Halo game types and remakes of many of the previous games’ maps. Currently, cooperative playing of the campaign itself has not been confirmed but considering the other games in the series it is highly likely.

I personally am really looking forward to this game and what it means to the Halo franchise. It is a reimagining of what Halo is and is poised to be a breath of fresh air into what was becoming a case of “sequel-itis.” The game releases on September 22nd, 2009 and if you preorder the game you can get an unlock code for Sergeant Avery Johnson in the “Firefight” mode. As an added bonus, if you buy Halo 3: ODST you will be given a code for the future beta test of Halo: Reach which is scheduled to drop in 2010. Good luck and god-speed “Helljumper!”