The Rookie, Dare, Buck, and Vergil are riding the elevator up. Buck takes off his helmet during this moment of tranquility.

Buck: “Whew. Lord, that thing stinks. Kind of reminds me of my –”

chighway_01_800px

Buck: “Ow! What was that for?!”
Dare: “Abandoning the mission.”
Buck: “What mission? You dropped off the grid. My squad was scattered –”

Buck is silenced as Dare kisses him.

Buck: “…And that?”
Dare: “For coming back.”

The Rookie and Vergil glance at each other, perhaps wondering if Dare and Buck have momentarily forgotten they’re not alone in the elevator.

The cutscene switches to first person, and Dare addresses the Rookie.

Dare: “Thank you.”
Buck: “You did good, Rookie. No doubt. But we’re not out of this yet.”

Buck hustles out of the elevator. Dare gives the Rookie a knowing look and turns to join him.

Wink Wink Nudge Nudge

Leaving the elevator, you enter a small lobby, passing by a “Destiny Awaits” poster–yes, that Destiny, made by those Bungie folk–as they walk out of the building. You can tell from the glimmering energy around your hands that you’ll still have the benefits of Vergil’s shields for this level.

Buck: “Captain, how about you hang back? Let us a clear a path.”
Dare: “Agreed. I’ll stay with the asset, give it close cover.”

Outside at last

The exit leads the group to the city exterior. This will be your final sojourn through Mombasa’s streets. The sun is rising over the horizon, giving volume to the smoke that fills the air in the red-orange sky.

While you were underground, the Covenant had time to fortify their hold on the city. Buck leads the team down the street, to a courtyard you saw all the way back before “Data Hive.” Ahead of you, there’s a Covenant gravity platform in the center of an intersection with three plasma turrets, manned by Grunts. Jackals and Grunts patrol the outer edge of the platform.

Dare: “Buck, that turret has us pinned. We can’t advance!”
Buck: “Flank the watchtower, Trooper! Take it out!”

There are many ways to approach this encounter, but taking the left path has all the goodies. There’s an ammo crate of assault rifles and a shotgun if you need them, and there’s a door that leads to a second story balcony where a sniper rifle lies. From there, it’s easy to take out any infantry in the gravity platform, and it’s the perfect vantage point to assault the huge Brute pack back blocking your exit. Farther up on the left side is a weapons rack with ARs and rockets.

This is the largest fight you’ll have within the city as the Rookie. There’s over a dozen and a half AI opponents here, spaced strategically throughout the area. It’s a great combat space, and given how fun it is, an appropriate last fight in the city streets. During your time in the city you mostly faced light resistance. Sometimes you’d have to face more than one group at a time as your battle with one could attract nearby attention. That’s fun on its own, but there was never a large, structured battle until this one.

Detour

After the last Brute falls to the street dead, you’re clear to move forward. The group falls behind Buck as he leads them to the waterfront highway. The gunnery sergeant is impatient with Vergil’s progress.

Buck: “Can’t that thing move any faster?”
Dare: “All the shooting, it’s…frightened.”
Buck: “Want me to give it a little push?”

Dare (whispering): “What do you think?”
Buck: “Just trying to help.”

Buck leads the group until they come to a door that–if you press the Back button to see an overhead of the city–is a gateway to the barrier of the city. The group heads down a tight hallway to another elevator; once the Engineer works its magic, the player can power up the elevator, triggering a cutscene.

Friendly, story-critical AI are a huge challenge to work with in Halo. It’s easy to get them stuck somewhere or in the way of combat or any number of issues, mostly because we give players so many ways to move through a space and play an encounter out. Vergil is a friendly, floating, blob of madness. Scripting Vergil in ODST was borderline insanity. I’m shocked more people haven’t broken him. This last scene was the hardest because it involved THREE story critical AI and an in-game scripted scene (Vergil opening the elevator door) with which our AI have tough times, due to their sandbox nature.
–Dan Miller, Designer

The group arrives at Waterfront Highway. Covenant starships are flying overhead, followed closely by groups of Banshees. Dare notices the activity.

Dare: “When did this happen?”
Buck: “They started showing up right before I went underground.”
Dare: “And you waited until now to tell me?”

Buck takes off his helmet, visibly annoyed.

Buck: “Oh, I’m sorry. I was a little busy making sure perfume over here didn’t take a round and blow us all up!”

Vergil is visibly distressed and floats away from the group.

Dare: “Eddie Buck, always thinking with his gun. You haven’t changed one bit.”
Buck: “Me?! What about you? Oh, so full of big ONI secrets. Couldn’t even give a guy a yes or no answer!”
Dare: “That’s not fair.”
Buck: Oh, you got that right!”
Dare: “I never thought I’d see you again.”
Buck: “Yeah? Well? Here I am!”

Jazz Hands!

Above, a Covenant ship emerges from slipspace in-atmosphere. (This appears to be a minor fictional hiccup; First Strike details that the Covenant don’t know the full capabilities of their own technology and could not jump that close to a planet’s surface, hence why the orbital defenses of Reach and Earth were effective.)

Dare: “We need to move. Now. Were you to ‘busy’ to plan our exit?”
Buck: “I stole a Phantom. Yes. Thank you. I hid it in the shipyards down the highway.”

Buck glances at the Warthog he parked earlier.

Buck: “But I only have room for two, so…that thing’s gonna have to sit on your lap.”

He points to where Vergil was last seen, then he and Dare notice the Engineer has left.

Dare: “The Engineer! Where did it go?!”

The garbage truck – an Olifant, as it’s called in New Mombasa – next to them rumbles to life. A hatch on top of the truck opens, with one of Vergil’s tentacles sliding out. It contracts as the truck’s horn honks. Dare runs to the truck.

Dare: “Keep me covered. And try to keep up.”

Buck smiles after her. He turns to the Rookie and puts on his helmet.

Buck: “Take my advice, Rookie. If you ever fall for a woman, make sure she’s got balls.”

You assume control of the Rookie a few meters away from the Warthog Buck was talking about earlier. Unless you’re inclined to finish the mission on foot, you’ll want to take the vehicle while Buck handles the chaingun.

Waterfront Highway is in a state of disarray. Cars left abandoned crowd the road as far as you can see. Beyond the highway lies some breathtaking scenery. The sky is much the same as when you started the level, though now you can better see where the sun rises over the water, backlighting rings from the wreck of the space elevator lay half submerged.

The Next Day

You won’t have to drive the Warthog for too long before Dare and Vergil come across some problems driving the Olifant.

Buck: “Hey, uh, Captain? Pick a lane.”
Dare: “It’s a little crowded in here. The Engineer is doing something with the control circuits. …Hey! Watch where you put that!”

You’ll drive past a couple of signs advertising the highway’s closed status. At the end of the section is a large group of Grunts with plasma pistols. Dare and Vergil will barrel through, destroying any cars in their path, and into a smaller group of Grunts with Fuel Rod Cannons farther up the highway.

Once you’ve crushed through this resistance, you’ll have to stop in front of a gate that cuts off your section of the highway from another. This type of highway design is hard to find a modern equivalent for. In a war context, it would make it harder for enemy troops to take a city with ground forces…but now it’s causing you problems.

Dmiller: We had a tough time figuring out how to get this to work. Originally, you were driving a warthog WITH Dare, Buck and Vergil.- That was going to be unwieldy and weird. Protect missions are tricky. Instead of it being a hardcore mission, we made the thing you are protecting really powerful and reckless, kinda like a bull in a china shop. In higher difficulties, it becomes more of a real protect mission, but we didn’t want a lot of normal games ending with mission failure here (which is like one of two in the entire Halo series).

Dare: “Covenant must have shut these doors. Give the Engineer a second to override the lock.”

After a few moments, the gate opens to reveal a smaller interior section between its two doors. There will be more of them as you progress, and they all have medpacks in them.

Road Crew

The second set of door opens to another short section of the highway. A group of Jackals is waiting for you on the other side, but they can’t stop the Olifant and a Warthog.

Dmiller: The concept of AI driving a mission-critical massive vehicle was also risky too. I had to implement very meticulous scripting checks to make sure the Olifant never got caught on anything. We used a series of gates to make sure the player couldn’t get too far ahead or behind the truck, as doing so would break the loading scheme of our game.

Once you’re past these Covenant, an energy shield will form around the garbage truck.

Buck: “Whoa! What just happened?”
Dare: “I think the Engineer found a way to extend its shields. Sent a current through the outer plating. I don’t know how strong its shields are, so stay close.”

That’s more breathing room than you had before, anyway. There’s little but light resistance until the next gate, even with the small number of Brutes at the end. If you get too close to them, though, they’ll board you and throw you out of the ‘Hog.

Vergil unlocks the next gate, and the double doors open. This one is light on Covenant resistance too – mostly Grunts with FRGs in gravity platforms – but it’s fun for its narrative aspect. You’re close to a partially submerged ring from the space elevator, and overhead a pair of Banshees fly by, followed by a Covenant cruiser.

Buck: “Another cruiser!”
Dare: “They’re heading to the Slipspace crater: the Covenant dig site north of the city.”

Like those Russian dashcam videos on YouTube!

That’s the same dig site you saw in “Kikowani Station.” Behind that Covenant cruiser is a squadron of Covenant Banshees. Whatever the Covenant are doing, they’re going there in force.

When Vergil opens the next set of doors, a swarm of Drones flies out. Backing up to give Buck a clear shot is advised; the Drones will swarm and try to board you if you get too close.

The next section of highway is a little bit busier. Two Phantoms will swoop in to deploy forces, and another Covenant cruiser will fly by. One my runthrough, a group of Covenant was concentrating its fire on Dare’s Olifant, while I rammed into the group from the side. At the same time, a Brute threw a grenade. I splattered him, and the grenade fell on a Grunt and stuck to the little guy. The Grunt panicked, then died in an explosion of spikes, taking with him several companions.

Above you, a metal ring from the space elevator hangs over the road. It’s kind of intimidating. There’s far more wrecked vehicles and debris on this section of highway than the others so far. Next to the gate for the next part of the highway is a parked, new chaingun Warthog.

The following segment of the highway has a great deal of activity. Phantoms, fresh from dropping off Ghost reinforcements fly away as you make your approach, and another Covenant cruiser flies to the dig site overhead. Rushing right into the Ghosts is a good way to get yourself killed every time – it’ll be that way for all encounters ahead – so make use of the cars and destroyed vehicles (like the big Phantom wreckage) as cover to dispose of them.

From here on out, things get more exciting, and the music picks up. When Vergil opens the gate, there’s a nice surprise waiting for you.

Buck: “Hey, hold up! It’s a Gauss ‘Hog. Let’s change vehicles. Same deal, trooper. You drive, I shoot.”

There aren’t too many points in the Halo franchise where you’re able to run freely with the Gauss ‘Hog. Though the Tank later on will be most tempting, if you stick with this ‘Hog it’ll be the longest duration you can have it in any Halo game.

The area beyond is a flurry of activity. Phantoms fly by, Banshees attack from the air, and Brutes and Ghosts challenge you on the ground. Fighting the Ghosts and the Banshees is a lot more fun when you’re blasting them away with Gauss gun. You can always lend whatever assistance to Buck that you can.

Mind the bump

Dmiller: I put a fuel rod cannon somewhere in the road to help if you fall out of your vehicle.

The enemy opposition ramps up with each subsequent gate–Banshees, Wraiths, Ghosts, and a Scarab that emerges from the water and climbs over the gate separating you from the next section of highway.

Dare: “Buck, Scarab!”
Buck: “I see it. Must’ve dropped out one of the cruisers. Just keep driving. It hasn’t spotted us.”
Dare: “How the hell did you make it down this highway in one piece?”
Buck: “There weren’t that many Covenant last night!”

You don’t have any means to take out the Scarab from this range, it hasn’t noticed you, and the more immediate threats are the Covenant on the road. Not much you can do but to listen to Buck. I remember the first time playing this through, my eyes kept glancing at the Scarab until it walked away, even as I focused on fighting the Covenant ground forces. It’s a trick that can provide the fight a certain tension only once, because from then on you know it’s never going to hurt you. Even without the Scarab causing you trouble, this is a hard section with the Banshees providing air support, and Dare is determined to ram through to the other end even if you haven’t cleared the way. It can get a bit frustrating, but it never gets to the point where the player feels like it’s impossible. Persistence pays off.

Dmiller: Buck has some troubles gunning in certain parts of this level. I never figured out why he was so inconsistent. My theory is that he always focused too hard on flying enemies and ignored everything else.

Dare: “I see a Scorpion tank up ahead. We’ll need the extra firepower.”
Buck: “Captain’s right, trooper. We’re gonna need that tank.”

Aside from some insistence through dialogue, there’s nothing forcing you to take the tank. But who doesn’t enjoy a good tank run? I decided to mix things up and take a Wraith through to the end, something I never done before. The Wraith’s arc made it difficult to fight the Banshees (blasting through the turrets and the AA Wraith was easy), but it was doable.

The gate at the end opens to reveal a winding section of the highway. There aren’t any Covenant forces, but Phantoms will fly by to the left of you carrying Ghosts that you can destroy. Farther on, a Covenant assault carrier breaks through the red and black clouds of smoke. Its prow begins to glow.

Dare: “It’s charging its excavation beam.”
Buck: “But the dig site is on the other side of the city.”

Because the ship’s proximity to the city, the player can only assume one thing: the Covenant is going to glass the city.

You’ll come across more Ghosts, depending on how many you destroyed earlier. The section beyond that has a lot of Covenant infantry such as a Chieftain wielding an FRG and Brutes in jetpacks. Another Scarab will emerge from the water and walk over the gate. The Covenant carrier begins discharging its weapon.

Buck: “Dammit, no! They’re gonna burn this city and then glass the whole planet! Covenant bastards! It’s just like Reach all over again!”
Dare: “We made it out of there. We’ll make it out of here. You can do this, Buck.”
Buck: “Right. Yeah. Okay. Mickey, you read me? Change of plans. You’re coming to us.”
Mickey: “Sky’s kind of crowded, Gunny.”
Buck: “There’s no other way. Covenant just wasted the highway. We’re gonna keep rolling as far as we can. Get airborne, fly the Phantom to my beacon.”
Mickey: “Understood.”
Buck: “And whatever you do, stay clear of that carrier.”

Players had to wait a game to witness some of Buck’s adventures at the Battle of Reach.

The music picks up – with the aptly-named “Finale” kicking in– as the group makes it to the next gate.

The final, full section of the highway is empty, marked by unoccupied Covenant gravity platforms. In the distance, a third Scarab emerges from the water and climbs over the last gate. This one won’t walk by, though. Your vehicles hit the throttle to the last gate, but it’s not enough. The Scarab takes aim with its main cannon and fires at the Olifant. The truck’s shields flare and die; it begins to smoke.

Elephant BBQ

Dmiller: The part where the Scarab attacks the Olifant is script magic, since none of the Scarabs in this level are actual AI. I have a script controlling the scarab turret is firing, and for how long. Timing it with the moving Olifant was very challenging.

Buck: “Veronica! Talk to me!”
Dare: “The asset…it’s all right.”

The Scarab walks off toward the city.

Buck: “Screw the alien, what about you?”
Dare: “I’m fine, but this garbage truck’s had it.”

If you’re in a hurry because of the events, you could miss admiring the background. The Covenant assault carrier stands large even next to the new Mombasa. It gives the best impression, out of anything we’ve seen in any Halo game, of the size and might of the force humanity has been fighting against all this time.

The final gate opens to a short road, with what looks like a courtyard off to the side. The city in the background is utterly dominating, and at least for me, makes me feel so small whenever I look up at it.

Buck: “Take the next off-ramp, trooper. I see a building, north side of the highway. We’ll hold up there, wait for evac.

There’s a road barrier at the bottom of the off-ramp, so you’ll have to leave your vehicle behind. As you and Buck hop over the barrier, you’ll see it’s not a courtyard but a roundabout with a waiting area in the center. There are pictures of animals on the seats. The upper areas hold ticket booths with notifications scrolling across the top that read “Park Closed” and “Ticket Sales Suspended.” There are poles with flags of animals on them. Ahead, an entrance is marked by gold statues of sitting Zebras to either side. It’s the entrance to the Uplift Nature Reserve.

When you and Buck have killed the two Grunts guarding the entrance, Dare and Vergil will get out of the garbage truck and head to your location.

Dmiller: We lovingly refer to this area now as a “Chinese restaurant.” This is from some leaks that a user posted on the Internet intending on spoiling the end of ODST.

Exotic, spicy, overpriced

Buck: “Mickey, what’s your ETA?”
Mickey: “Have to reroute, Gunny. The whole damn city’s on fire!”
Dare: “Trooper, I have a Tier One asset and a whole bunch of Covenant who want it dead. Whatever you’re going to do, step on it!”
Mickey: “Yes, ma’am.”

There’s an ammo crate stacked with ARs near the entrance. The lobby inside is a small one. Most of the space is taken up by seats, but what’s important is the health packs and ammo crates. You’ll find ammo for a rocket launcher, shotgun and silenced-SMGs. Inspecting outside more thoroughly, you’ll see stairs that flank the entrance. They lead to a perch up above where you’ll find a sniper rifle, shotguns, turrets, and more SMGs. There’s also a Covenant weapons rack with Carbines in the roundabout.

I decided to carry rockets and the sniper from the last battle in the city all the way here, so I had a much easier time in dealing with the Covenant. If you stay near the entrance, you’ll enjoy the benefit of Vergil’s shields, but the perches to the side give you a better angle on approaching enemies.

Not longer after your arrival, the Phantoms will start coming. The first group is Brutes and Grunts; the next group is composed entirely of Jackals, some wielding shields and plasma pistols, others wielding Carbines, and a couple will stay at the back area with sniper rifles. The real challenge comes with the next wave.

Sniper vs. Snipers

Three or so Wraiths will hang back on the highway and provide covering fire for a Phantom that’s coming in to drop off more troops. Their mortar fire will make it hard for you to stay in the open.

The Phantom drops off a Brute pack comprised of Minors, jetpacks, and a Chieftan. The music picks up to get your blood rushing. The Chieftain will hang back until you’ve killed all the other Brutes. If you have plenty of rockets left, it should be a lot of fun blasting away any Brutes that close on your position.

Mickey’s Phantom will fly in when the area is cleared of Covenant. He’ll maneuver the drop ship to hover over the Wraiths giving you trouble.

Mickey: “Yehaw! Line ‘em up, boys!”
Dutch: “Romeo, take the one on the left!”
Romeo: “I got it. Keep her steady.”

They incapacitate the Wraiths and hover over one of the upper levels so they can pick up the you, Buck, Dare, and Vergil.

Dare: “For replacements…you make one hell of a team.”
Buck: “Just nice to know they really do listen. C’mon, let’s get out of the city.”

Dmiller: This was our introduction to Firefight, if players decided to finish ODST first and try out Firefight afterwards. Originally, it was murderously hard, and then way too easy. It settled somewhere in the middle. I had a wave that had nothing but grunts dropping from a Phantom. I think I hit like 30+ grunts.

Dutch hops down from the Phantom and notices the Engineer.

Dutch: “That thing safe?”
Buck: “Long as it don’t get hit.”

There’s a flash of light, and the ground shakes at the arrival of another Covenant assault carrier from slipspace. It charges its excavation beam.

Getting warmer...

When Vergil gets closer to the Phantom, it begins to freak out, scared. Dare tugs at it without much success. Buck, running out of patience, pushes Vergil into the Phantom’s gravity lift. He gives it one last shove with his foot, and Vergil, along with Dare, rise into the Covenant dropship. O’Donnell’s smoky saxophone scores Buck’s pronouncement:

Buck: “What can I say? It was a hell of a night.”

Hero Pose

Dutch, Buck, and the Rookie board the Phantom through the gravity lift, and they take off before the Covenant ship destroys the place.

Epilogue

High above the planetary destruction, the Phantom flies away to safety. Buck walks over to Romeo to relieve him. He and the Rookie carry Romeo farther inside the Phantom, and lay him down on the floor.

Romeo (to Buck): “We went through hell for that?”
Buck (to the Rookie): “Give him some meds, would ya?”
Buck (to Romeo): “It’s important. It knows things.”

Hero Pose

The Rookie injects Romeo with medical drugs.

Romeo: “Heh. Gunny, I wasn’t talking about the alien…”

Buck pauses for a moment, then turns his attention to matters at hand.

Buck: “Mickey, I’m sending you a very special co-pilot.”
Mickey: “Oh, come on! I don’t want one of those things in here.”
Buck: “It won’t bite. And unlike you, it knows what to tell those cruisers to keep ‘em off our tail.”
Dare: “They may be too busy to care. It looks like they found what they’re looking for.”

Dare says that as she looks out to the last standing structures of the city. Huge clouds of smoke rise from the debris, partially cloaking a Covenant cruiser.

Buck: “What about you? What about us?”

They take each other’s hands.

Dare: “Win this war. Then ask me that again.”

The Phantom retracts its turrets and closes up. It accelerates high into the atmosphere. A final assault carrier dips into view as it heads toward a newly unearthed Forerunner structure. There are still plenty of battles before this fight is finished.

There will be another time

Halo 3: ODST, as of this writing, is the most unique of all the Halo mainline games. Noteworthy on the multiplayer side for introducing Firefight, a competitive co-op mode where the players team up to fight waves and waves of Covenant, the game draws rightful praise for its unique campaign structure.

Dmiller: ODST was one of my favorite projects to work on at Bungie. It was the result of a near-finished engine, a small, dedicated group of developers, and a very concentrated focus.

ODST‘s hubworld took the sandbox in a direction never seen before. The idea of Covenant patrols, or unorganized encounters, rather than deliberate fights, opened up a whole new avenue for Halo‘s sandbox. Couple that with the non-linear structure of the campaign, the atmosphere of the hubworld – stormy, night, and Marty’s moody sax – and you have lots for Halo fans to love. While ODST‘s hubworld isn’t perfect, and certainly we all salivate at the thought of an ODST-like game on a far bigger scale, Halo 3: ODST was undoubtedly success. Considering it was originally just a small side project between Halo 3 and Reach, I’m glad we got to play it. Thanks to Bungie and all those who helped make this game possible.

2 Responses so far.

  1. [...] guest writer Dax01, has been updated with the final mission. Ride along with the escaping ODSTs in Coastal Highway–with special guest Bungie’s Dan Miller riding [...]

  2. Seenohte says:

    I’m not sure the atmospheric slipspace entry was a continuity hiccup. I could be very wrong, but my take on that was always:

    Covies didn’t know they could jump in (or from) atmosphere until Cortana did it with the stolen cruiser in First Strike. The Prophet of Regret then used that information to jumpstart the excavation of the portal by jumping in atmosphere. Regret’s agenda is twofold; blast away a good chunk of the land covering the portal and also head to Installation 05.

    Even if he wasn’t using the slipspace energy to uncover the portal, he had still made the in-atmo jump at the beginning of ODST, so ships coming in during Coastal Highway should have that info as well.

    Great article though, Dax and good job getting Miller to spill some behind the scenes dirt on ODST. Really enjoyed the whole piece. :)

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