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Halo 2

Review By:  Tim Mitchell

Developer:  Bungie
Publisher:  Microsoft
# of Players:  1-4 (16 online)
Genre:  FPS
ESRB:  Mature
Online Play:  Yes
Accessories:  In-game Dolby Digital, Xbox Live (Content DL, Online Play, Clans, Scoreboards), HDTV 480p, System Link, Memory Unit
Date Posted: 

1-10-05

November 9th found me at the mall, in line with a couple hundred other people, minutes before midnight. I was there because like them, I had bought into the hype hook line and sinker. I wanted my Halo 2 as early as possible. Slowly the line started to move, and I eagerly advanced forward, envious of those that would rush past me toward their cars, their copy already in their grasp. It wasnít long before I emerged with my own game, however, and I returned home to my Xbox as quickly as possible. Well into the early hours of the morning I delved into the campaign mode, armed with a six-pack of Dew and an assortment of salty/sugary snacks. This was the moment I and many other gamers had been looking forward to, had been coached into looking forward to all year. How did the experience stack up?

The first thing Iím pleased to report is that Halo 2 hasnít forgotten anything that made the original such a huge success. The control is as tight as ever, the action as intense. New elements like more vehicles and dual-wielding weapons means variety is a constant companion throughout the levels, as you adapt over and over to the best weapons available to you. I myself often found myself leaping from turret, to dual-wielding an SMG and Plasma Rifle, hopping in a Ghost and zooming across the battlefield, then whipping out my plasma sword and taking it to some Elites. The actions described all occur in the space of a minute. A much larger assortment of enemies means youíll have to think more strategically in your encounters. Even that bastard of Halo weapons, the Needler, has its uses against one of the new foes youíll face. Also happily making the journey from Halo are the delightfully sarcastic stage names within each level. And, in a change sure to please everyone, said levels are much more varied terrain wise than the original game. There are still a few repetitive hallways that youíll keep finding yourself in, but itís not nearly as bad.

Another majorly anticipated feature in the sequel was the mind-bending graphics. Theyíre here, and Halo 2 most definitely pushes the Xbox hardware to its limits. This is both a good thing and a bad thing. While the textures are gorgeous, they often pop up a moment after the surface theyíre supposed to be on. This happens often enough to be annoying, particularly in cutscenes. Master Chief will appear in what looks like nothing so much as green pajamas, then a second later this texture will snap into his armor. Still, once everythingís there, the effect is magnificent. All the models are more detailed this time around, from the Chief himself down to the lowliest Grunt.

 I have no such misgivings about the audio. The voice acting is some of the best Iíve heard in a game, almost cinema quality. The Elites in particular, who speak English this time around, have some great talent behind them. The sound effects are spot on, weaving giant sci-fi battles even when you canít see whatís going on. Thereís one sound in particular made whenever anyone whips out a plasma sword, and you learn to fear this like the dinner bell of your devourer. Finally, the music is of particularly good merit as well, from mellow background tunes to epic electronic guitar pieces. Iíve replayed one section in particular just to hear the music again.

One element I was really pleased to see stepped up considerably in Halo 2 was the story. The plot is so surprising in its depth and tone that I really canít say much here. The characters are all fascinating, and thereís an unexpected amount of emotion to their interactions. The story is filled with twists, at least five big ones that I can think of. I was honestly and truly surprised several times. By now, youíve all heard horror stories about the endingÖit is my sad duty to report that yes, it really is that bad. You will throw your controller at the screen.

But some people couldnít care less about the single player mode. I know you people. You want to hear about the brand new Live gameplay, right? Well, okay. Yeah, itís awesome. Custom game types allow for a nearly infinite amount of experiences, customizing everything from objectives to the types of weapons and vehicles available. The maps are all well balanced, containing several possible routes. Indeed, the only thing I can find to fault Halo 2ís online mode with is that you have to play it with other human beings, which any Live gamer can tell you is occasionally a major drawback. If youíve really ďhooked inĒ and linked your gamertag to your MSN passport, aside from selling your eternal soul to Microsoft youíll also have access to an insane amount of stats on Bungie.net. From detailed analysis of every game youíve played to level maps showing each of your deaths, the volume of information available is staggering.

Highs:

  • Amazing Graphics
  • Award winning Halo gameplay
  • More depth to combat, with a greater array of weapons and enemies
  • Deeper story, intriguing characters with great voice acting
  • Good soundtrack
  • Online gameplay Via Xbox Live, with tons of modes and intricate stat tracking

Lows:

  • Some annoying texture pop-up
  • Ending has been known to cause suicidal tendencies among gamers
  • You have to play with the people on Live

Final Verdict: 

Looking back on the full experience, Halo 2ís single player campaign was maybe not the gaming event of 2004, but it is very, very good. It improves in nearly every possible way upon the first game. And while the finale will leave you ready for the sequel immediately, you can pass the time by losing yourself in the engrossing Xbox Live gameplay. Just donít hog all my grenades.

Overall Score: 9.7

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