If you're a fan of the Halo franchises, you know a few things about the Orbital Drop Shock Troopers. First, that they're elite special forces units that are trained for orbital drop insertions and a myriad of other highly specialized operations. They're second only to the soldiers of the Spartan program. Second, you know that the most disappointing game in the franchise centered around them.
It doesn't always have to be this way. An ODST game could work fantastically, if done properly. But first, let's look at Halo 3: ODST, and see what we can learn.
By far the weakest point of the game was its mechanics. Instead of feeling like an elite futuristic spec ops space marine, you feel like a Spartan reject. You do the same stuff, but bullets hurt more, so you have to run around like a blind rabbit looking for health packs while trying to evade enemies. But trying is really the operative word. For all your character's dark armor and silenced weapons (the two best things in the game), he can't sneak past a sleeping Grunt to save his life-often literally. Couple this with the fact that the city was confusing to navigate, and you've got some really frustrating free-roaming.
What'd it get right? Well, character development, for one thing. Buck, Dare, and the rest of the squad were fairly interesting, and were at their best when working together, like a real team.
That's the key word, really. The ODSTs are a team of incredible soldiers-they handle a lot of stuff that Spartans would normally do if they weren't too busy. But they aren't Spartans (Buck being the new exception). They're a team, and that's what an ODST game needs.
If I had the reins, the first thing I would do would be to scrap the standard formula. This would be a Halo game that would look like Halo, sound like Halo, and play out like Halo, but it wouldn't feel like it. Instead of the standard run and gun FPS, I'd switch focus. Special ops teams are all about strategy and tactics-sure, they improvise, but it's much easier to improvise if you've already got a damn good plan.
The player would have control of this. Before missions, they would brief their squad with known intelligence, some provided by the UNSC's Office of Naval Intelligence (ONI), some discovered on previous missions. The player would choose the angle of attack for ground insertions, but these are ODSTs-so naturally, some missions would allow the player to choose where they drop. Do you land over a ridgeline so they don't see you coming, or come crashing through their roof for shock and awe? Of course, a successful mission requires escape, too. Do you call in a few Hornets to pick you up, have Mongooses hidden near by, or sneak off silently into the darkness?
During missions, the player would remain in command. Each member of the six man team (six including the commander/player) would specialize in various roles: sniping, close quarters/stealth, breaching, heavy weapons, and support/medic. They could be ordered to specific positions, and given tasks- i.e. the sniper could provide overwatch and call out enemy positions, or be given certain targets to take out. The second-in-command could also be ordered to take another soldier or two to attack other targets, secure areas or buildings, or assault a room or objective from a different entry point.
Mechanics wise, the game would play differently from other Halo games. Stealth would be an option- a skilled player might complete most levels without ever triggering an alarm. Likewise, an unskilled player will still have to be careful-detection on some missions would be unacceptable. With stealth comes the ability-and necessity-to go prone, plus a myriad of gadgets and weapons to aid the player.
In addition, difficulty levels would be slightly different--the standard four (Easy, Normal, Heroic, and Legendary) would be present. Those looking for the highest challenge possible would be able to attempt completion on "Helljumper". In this difficulty, any squad member who dies during a mission remains dead for the remainder of the campaign, thus removing a specialist as well as certain tactical options, making the game exponentially more difficult with each loss.
Perhaps the biggest change, however, would be the inclusion of destructible environment. Don't wanna wait for the guard to leave his post? Blow the gate in. Feel like that bunker might be easier to breach if you blast through the ceiling in your drop pod? Why not. There's always a risk-your pod hits a fusion coil or plasma battery, and you're dead before you even pop the hatch. Destruction can be grand, like that, or small scale-like blowing in a wall to breach a room, or blasting a door off with a grenade.
That brings me, of course, to weapons and loadouts. The commander would be able to upgrade and modify his weapons and those of his squad, picking new, better, or different equipment to his suiting. Want your sniper to rain quiet death from a vantage point? Slip on a silencer. Maybe you want your breacher to carry detcord instead of a shaped charge to take out a whole wall at once. Maybe your medic loses some med packs to carry an extra case of ammunition. Hell, who knows-your CQB expert may love having a plasma pistol in one and and a knife in the other.
Of course, great mechanics mean nothing without a great story and plot. The player's squad would begin the game working for ONI, and start the game on operations against human insurrectionists and rogue UNSC units. As you move through the game, the player and their team would rescue hostages, spy on enemies, retrieve intelligence, and even assassinate certain people. Gradually, the Covenant, and even ONI itself, would come in to play, making the player and squad question to whom their loyalties really lie, and who their superiors answer to.
As such, intel hidden thoughout the campaign would change the course of the late game. Intel would serve two purposes. First, it would simply aid the player in later missions-revealing troop locations, special enemies, and weak points in defenses. Some intel, however, would directly affect how the story plays out, and what the squad believes to be true-not that they'd necessarily be correct, either. Intrigue, off-the-books alliances, sleeper cells, and other things could come to light. And at the end of the game, the player and their team's loyalty will be in the balance.
Of course, what's Halo without multiplayer? Halo 3: ODST attempted this with its Firefight mode, and, while fun, didn't quite capture the competitive aspect that Halo multiplayer is renowned for. A modified version of Firefight would be added-the defending ODSTs would be given time to shore up defenses, place turrets, select weapons, and settle in for the siege. Meanwhile, another player, as an Elite Covenant commander, would select troops/weapons (based on a points system), and insertion location, and attack points on the defended location. The Elite would have RTS-style command of his troops, but could opt to insert with them, at the risk of dying and having no command over his troops until the end of that wave.
Other classic game types would be included as well, with the same tactical twist present in the rest of the game. Assault would involved just what it sounds like-an elimination gametype involving an attacking team trying to eliminate the defenders and/or capture an objective, and vice versa. Capture the flag would involve a single flag placed centrally that must be retrieved and taken to the opposite team's base. CTF would allow for respawning, unlike assault.
In addition, players would have access to a Challenge Maps system similar to Forge, in which they can design and build levels for other players to attempt to clear. Players would be able to construct buildings and structures, add objectives, place enemies and give them patrol patterns, add defenses and other items. Much like in the environments of the campaign, the creator would be able to add destructible elements of their choosing, be it walls, doors, fences, windows, or more. Key elements could also be made invulnerable if necessary to the structural integrity of the building-if the creator wants. After all, if a building comes down on the player and their team due to carelessness, it's their fault anyways, right? Furthermore, the creator would have the choice to determine if the map will be played as a ground insertion or orbital drop. In both cases, the creator will select the mode of exfiltration for the players.
From the gameplay side, players could take on these challenge maps with up to five other players or AI team members, each taking the role of one of the characters from the campaign. Much like the campaign, the commander would take charge of selecting where the team inserts or drops, and would also give orders on the ground to both live players and AI squadmates. Of course, the players don't have to follow orders--but it may be in their best interest to. Players playing as other squad members would have access to specific equipment--for instance, the breacher would have a shotgun, some explosives, and a lockpick tool that, while it may take longer, would allow for stealthier movement in buildings.
Long story short, my version of ODST would be like no Halo game before. Strategy and tactics would be a big part, as would planning and teamwork throughout. ODSTs are elite, they work as a team, as a cohesive unit. They're not just a group of Spartan rejects, and they shouldn't feel like it. Give the Shock Troops the game they deserve, and give the fans the game they didn't know they wanted.