Let’s freeze this moment. Coming off the heels of “Halo 3,” players will notice a couple of new things about the HUD and your health. You can now carry three grenades, a departure from Halo 3’s two. You don’t have regenerating health, and your health bar decreases to the center, rather than to the right for your shield system in “Halo 3.” Much of your screen turns red, rather than slightly around the edges of your HUD as in “Halo 3,” as you’re taking damage when you’re low on health.
As soon as the screen calms down, you can finally get your footing.
You’re in a city. New Mombasa, to be precise. And it’s nighttime. This is the hubworld discussed about before release, and its atmosphere doesn’t disappoint. Much of this is provided through the music. It’s soothing and it evokes a great sense of exploration. The skybox is, as always, something to behold. Soft thunder fills your speakers, a rumbling background noise, and lightning streaks across the sky. Very light rain falls from the tumultuous, Covenant-occupied heavens.
As far as you can tell, the city is deserted. Thankfully so, as the stories of what Brutes do to prisoners (if they don’t simply kill you) rival any horror story. As you shortly find out, not all were able to make it out alive.
The place is a mess: abandoned (and sometimes destroyed) civilian and police cars, road blockades, heaps of trash, and tons of graffiti on the walls.
If you’re having trouble seeing any of this, turn on your VISR. This futuristic night vision wonderfully illuminates your environment by increasing the intensity of any light that’s already there. It gives an edgy, gold outline (red for Covenant, Green for friendlies) to any inanimate object in your line of sight. Keeping your VISR on will allow you to more easily see Easter eggs such as this:
By now you’ve surely noticed your health hasn’t regenerated – another major departure from “Halo 3.” You’ll have to pick up a health pack. Luckily, there is one not too far from your crash site.
By the time you’ve taken in your surroundings and retrieved a health pack, you’ll come across your first Covenant.
The encounters of New Mombasa are of an entirely different mold from the types we’re used to in Halo 1-3. Small groups of Covenant are always patrolling the city, so a fight can erupt anywhere. You never know what you’re going to deal with, and where, so you have to be constantly on your toes. Usually the patrols are no larger than a Brute, a couple of Grunts, and one jackal, with your lone Carbine/Sniper Jackal here and there patrolling the rooftops.
However, the game can and does surprise you. You have to be careful how you engage the Covenant patrols you come across (if you decide to engage them, because doubling back and ignoring them is an option too). Other patrols can hear you fighting in the streets and will come to assist their fellow Covenant, and before you know it, you’re dealing with three separate patrols at once. Engaging the Covenant in the roundabout after you first crash will alert the Covenant that are patrolling the higher ground.
To make your way deeper into the city you have to fight through two or three more patrols of Covenant, depending on the difficulty, and you’ll notice the combat has been changed in a small, but fundamental way. The pistol, while very useful because it has a scope, isn’t very powerful. You’ll be wasting a lot of ammo if you’re trying to take out a Brute’s shields with just the pistol. If you want to be efficient in combat and conserve your ammo, you have to use everything on hand interchangeably and apply each weapon’s strengths more precisely. Use the silenced SMG to take down the Brute’s shields, then go for the headshot with the pistol. No weapon in ODST is dominating and useful in all situations like the BR in Halo 2 and 3, and the pistol in Halo 1. (Arguably the Carbine, yes, but that’s kept in check with sparse ammo).
As an ODST, you’re more fragile than the Master Chief in Halo 1. These Covenant patrols that roam the city streets would be no match for a mighty Spartan, but as a human, tough-as-nails not withstanding, you have to be more aware of your cover, and as you’re in a city, there’s plenty to go around. You’re an ODST. You don’t have shields; your stamina will only take so much hits before your health begins to deplete.
At the beginning of the game, only a small section of the hub world is open up to you. Wise move, I say. It’s best to ease the player into new features of a game; train them. To aid you in your adventures through the city, you’re given a map that you can access whenever, wherever in the streets. Vergil helps you all he can along the way, providing direction by changing the street signs.
With your map of the city in hand, you’re able to locate your first clue. The only main opposition between you and your objective is a Grunt-filled courtyard that, if you’re not careful, can quickly turn into a shooting gallery if you wake the Grunts from their slumber.
There are two Jackals in a room off to the side of the blood-stained hallways as you make your way closer, but they’re easy enough.
From the window at the top of the building you can make out the light rain. Steam is rising from an object in the courtyard down in front of you. It’s a Human Entry Vehicle (HEV), still hot from its orbital drop earlier that day.
You don’t know what has happened to your squad since the Covenant carrier jumped over New Mombasa. You’ve been out for six hours. There are no signs of any life in the city; only the beating heart of the Covenant’s relentless drive to exterminate humanity.
Hopefully the rest of your team is okay.