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Halo 2 Xbox Review

Halo 2
November 9, 2004
Xbox Live:

Halo 2 
Tuesday, November 09, 2004 

The first Halo sparked a gaming revolution for console FPS & action games alike. It changed the way friends, room mates, siblings & even boyfriends and girlfriends, play games together, and even more, the way they settle their differences. The gameís legacy & it's stamp into entertainment pop culture was a direct result of perfect control, engaging & emotional storytelling, vast awing environments, intelligent enemies, realistic vehicle & character physics, a lovably cool cast of characters (including the almighty Master Chief) and musical genius usually reserved for Hollywood blockbusters. To expect Halo 2 to fall anywhere below the likes of it's kin would be foolish.

I'm going to start this review by saying that Halo 2 is a great game... a really great game - however (prepare yourselves) - the single player campaign has some baffling flaws that keep it from reaching the same level of fun and polish that the original provided - which is especially interesting considering the first Halo was more of a hurried job. Bungie Studios has repeated it over and over again, most of Halo's focus was on the single player campaign mode and that multiplayer had maybe four employees working on it at a time. The irony is that the multiplayer component is where you will have the most fun. It's as simple as that.

The second you turn on the game, youíll feel right at home with the controls. They're just as tight as ever. In fact, there's very little difference between the two games control wise. Once dropped into the action you will immediately be able to experiment with the new dual-wield feature - which enables you to use two smaller weapons simultaneously. You achieve this by standing over any weapon you wish to dual-wield, and press the Y button. You must give up your grenade throwing ability for this feature since the left trigger now becomes your left gun firing button. Bungie Studios implemented this perfectly and it works great with weapons like the needler, plasma rifle, human pistol, plasma pistol and the new SMG (Sub Machine Gun).

The new weapons in Halo 2 provide a new and interesting feel to the game. The new Battle Rifle, which took the place of the original Assault Rifle, has a 2 x digital zoom feature and fires in three-round bursts. It feels great and is fairly powerful, especially in short to medium range. Also new to Halo 2 is the Covenant Particle Beam Rifle - the Covenant's answer to the human Sniper Rifle.

It's an excellent choice for long-distance execution of targets. The Brute Shot is a grenade launcher that can deflect off the walls for some interesting strategic shots. It doesnít quite boast the power of a frag or plasma grenade but it does get the job done. The new rocket launcher now has a deadly homing feature that locks onto moving vehicles, enemies & stationary gun turrets... awesome stuff.

Probably the biggest news this time out is the inclusion of the Covenant Energy Sword. Only Elites in Halo wielded the sword Ė this time Master Chief also gets a chance to use this powerful plasma weapon. Press B for regular melee attack, and pull Right trigger for basic undercut attack. Or wait until the reticule turns red to lock on an enemy, then pull Right trigger to perform a fatal lunge attack. Words cannot explain how pleasing this weapon can be - especially in multiplayer death matches...

Another huge new feature in Halo 2 is vehicle boarding. You can hijack any moving vehicle by a perfectly timed press and hold of the X button. For bigger vehicles like the Scorpion tank, you can board it, but then must choose to melee the pilot to death or plant a grenade in the cockpit to oust the enemy. This is yet another huge gameplay element that Bungie implemented masterfully.

The new Warthog (the T-Top Hummer like vehicle) now has a totally awesome new E-brake feature that lets you control the donut aspect that the original Warthog did every time you turned sharp enough. It's a great and welcomed addition. The Ghost, as well the other Covenant vehicles can now boost (talk about NOS futurama style) temporarily sacrificing firepower while on the move. A very cool feature when in the heat of battle, or needing to escape a tense situation in a hurry.

Now... a minor point of contention - the vehicle physics have changed. Some call it tighter... or more realistic... I call it less fun. The warthogs donít get nearly as much air as they did in the previous outing. The blast radius and force of grenades and rockets donít have as satisfying of an impact on anything. It still rivals any physics system out there, but it is a perplexing step back from Combat Evolved.

The artificial intelligence has taken a leap forward with the Covenant attacking in various patterns and taking cover. They also seem to show more strategy to their techniques then before, which also gives the action for of a realistic feel. However, even while blasting Grunts on the greater difficulty settings, there are many instances where I'll throw a grenade at an enemyís feet, just to watch as he stands there and dies. Also, the enemies' interest in killing you is limited to what area you are currently in. If you leave an area, say to retreat for shield or weapons, they wonít follow you. You can look at this however way you wish... easier, or less realistic.

This was the same case in Combat Evolved, but weíve seen greater advancement since then. On the flip side, there are the moments of brilliance in Halo 2. Sticking a plasma grenade to some Covenant beings will cause them to go kamikaze and rush you, taking you down with them. Also, your marines are great shots, and lend a helping hand when you need one. Numerous times, I would find myself with no shield, about to die, and my marines took down an entire squad while I hid and recharged my shields. This is a vast and another much welcomed improvement over the last game.

The main campaign mode can be experienced in somewhat of an entirety in as short as eight to ten hours. This is because the enemies usually always let you get away and the game does not make you defeat a room full of enemies to advance to the next chapter. This is a big disappointment. Combat Evolved wove a tight web, giving you purpose to defeat everything. Halo 2 throws a lot of frenzied situations your way in which there is an obvious escape route if you can run or drive to it fast enough. Any difficulty setting you decide to start on will keep your guns blazing attitude at bay, requiring more time out of your game play to diversify your attack. Even still, the game can be completed in 12-15 hours on the harder levels. Here to hoping Halo 3 gives us more of a challenge, and less of a choice (never thought I would hear myself say that!).

Bungie & Microsoft did a fantastic job keeping Halo 2's main story a secret - and they kept it a secret for a reason. The story does pack some really fantastic and surprising twists, which you won't want to skip. I won't go into anything to spoil this fantastic experience for you, so I'll just jump on into the sum of things. The story itself is way more complex than Combat Evolved's - however, not once does it match the same level of mystery or emotional evolvement that the original began to build.

A whole lot of things happen that all Halo fans will appreciate to the fullest, but it still seems that the beautiful orchestra playing in the background is what gives you any sentimental feelings for the game... not character development... or a detailed rundown of what exactly is going on. This is due to the ambitious nature of the stories' arc and that lack of time that Bungie had to tell it. For a videogame it might not be a hugely big deal... but had this been a movie, and not a game - it would definitely not seen very many "thumbs ups".

Since Xbox Core is oh... about a day or two behind a lot of sites & magazines on this review, we're sure you've heard already - the ending is a huge letdown. It's not that the way it's ended is bad necessarily; it's the fact that the last cinematic sets you up like you are about to jump into another chapter in the story... then the credits begin to roll. Talk about a cliffhanger ending! No real resolution is introduced or experienced and the ending almost makes you tear up for this alone. Not the intelligent subtlety of resolution and ending-sense they we were given with Combat Evolved.

As far as graphics in Halo 2, Bungie handed us an authentic bag of mixed goods. While experiencing cut scenes in campaign mode, you'll notice pop-up and a constant frame change from low to high resolution. This is something that could have easily been avoided... even by the likes of a smaller, less experienced developer. The architecture is still great and the landscapes are really even better then their predecessors. However, many new areas look like Bungie jumped into the color palette pool headfirst.

There are a lot more colors used that donít seem to result in a realistic effect in some areas. Itís like weíve lost some of the rustic and ancient feel this time. Also missing are the detailed textures weíve come to love from Combat Evolved. Walking close to rocks and walls no longer reveals a separate, seamlessly integrated texture. Some of it is blurry and sometimes the geometry reveals some stretched textures. Otherwise, the character design, weapon models and level designs are incredible and the Master Chief hasnít looked better. Regardless, the lighting and shadowing effects are truly marvelous.

Both in the single-player and multiplayer mode your eyes are treated to real-world behaviors, which make the geometry seem real. The character models, vehicles, and everything other else is beautifully rendered, and no doubt takes advantage of at least a larger portion of the Xbox's mammoth power.

The music in Halo 2 is 100% sheer genius. Marty OíDonnell, Halo's lead composer has blended choral voices, orchestra, electronic and Steve Vai guitar to perfection. His use of Incubus, Hoobastank and Breaking Benjamin also blend in well, to my surprise.

The sounds & noises are moody and dreamy. Aside from some tinny and puny new sound effects for covenant weapons and the human pistol, the audio design is a masterwork for games in general. There is an amazing amount of dialogue to experience along the way. Your marines and enemies hardly say the same thing twice... I run the game while I sleep some nights. Nothing like awaking to the smoooooooth sounds of Halo 2 radio!

Multiplayer mode in Halo 2 is the game's key factor. The eleven main maps (and a hidden one) all have a great sense of purpose for big and small groups alike. "Slayer", "Capture The Flag", "King of the Hill" and "Oddball" returns with new and exciting variants. "Race" gets the axe for the new "Territories" game type, in which you must control a number of different areas on the map to gain time to win. Itís sort of a variant of "King of the Hill" but a little more fun. Also, the new "Assault" mode has you taking a bomb to the opposing teamís base to plant and arm it, much like Counter Strike.

Even though the game ships with a mere eleven maps, each and every one of them are top notch, and well thought. "Coagulation" is the new, improved "Blood Gulch". "Colossus" is a huge indoor map reminiscent of a bigger "Prisoner" now with more places to hide. "Beaver Creek" replaces "Battle Creek" with a few minor changes to the environment here and there. Many of the new multiplayer maps have replaced ladders with air elevators. With no more falling damage, flying through the air on these elevators offers a new vertical element to multiplayer games.

Some of the maps are asymmetrical as to recreate more natural environments and make sections of the map more recognizable by name for more strategic, competitive players. More maps will come through download, too. Co-op mode is back. You can enjoy ripping through the single player campaign through split-screen only. Also, if you donít have Xbox Live, you can hook up to 16 Xboxs and TVís for up to 16 player games.

The Xbox Live component is amazing. It truly will revolutionize the way console online games are played. The "Optimatch" and "Quickmatch" options throw you into scenarios with players of like skill. The deep and intense statistics tracking available on are attached to your Xbox Live Gamer tag. It keeps record of how you died, by what weapon, your average lifespan and a gaggle of other bits that you can view. This is put up against the thousands of other players so that you can be quickly matched with people of the same level. You can get better and move up the world rankings using this system.

There are unranked games if you just want to play custom games with friends using Liveís seamless invitation element. Also there are major and minor clan matches. Get on Live with your clan and it will match you with a like clan so you can scrimmage to your heartís content.

Overall Halo 2 is an amazing package, which even with the unforgettable campaign experience, is obviously carried into greatness by the robust multiplayer component. Despite Halo 2's few minor single player flaws, it still proves to be one of the best, and legendary experiences on any console in history. This is a definite must buy for any gamer, period.

Overall Score

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