Review by beastiecube
"America's Dragon Quest"
Replay Value: 10/10
The most hyped game of this generation and possibly ever. The biggest Xbox release to date, and the most anticipated sequel this side of Final Fantasy. The first day's sales were not only the largest for any video game, but the highest grossing entertainment release. For anything. Ever. Out grossing movies, books, lueshi dolls, you name it. There's no doubt about it. Bungie is looking to build a FPS empire with this series and Halo 2 is a solid installment and a worthy follow up to the greatest console first person shooter ever made. But does it live up to the hype? Was Halo 2 the everything killer that it was hyped to be? The first AAAA game? Will it replace Lindsay Lohan in fanboy's wet dreams? How many dramatic questions will I ask? Will I stop writing in fragments? All those answers ..right now!
If you've played Halo (and if you haven't, let me be the first to ask you WTF?) then you should have a pretty good idea of what Halo 2 has in store for you plot wise. Incase you haven't allow me to fill you in so far (Halo spoilers for the rest of this paragraph). A band of different alien races called the Covenant unite under one common religion where they worship ancient technology built by a race of now extinct beings. They hate humans and decide that those dirty heathens are in need of extermination. Of course the humans don't like this, so they fight back and we have an interstellar Jihad on our hands. The humans train a bunch of genetically enhanced super soldiers (think Dark Angel except without the insanely stupid plot and Jessica Alba) to fight the Covenant and hopefully save everyone. One of these soldiers (code named Spartans) is Master Chief, our hero and character in Halo. During Halo, the Covenant finds a massive ring world created by the ancient race (called Forerunners) and lands on it to take it as their own. At the same time, the ship Master Chief is on (more or less) crashes on the ring world and the first game begins. Over the course of the game we find out that Halo was really created by the Forerunners to wipe out all existing life in the galaxy in order to contain a race of parasites called the Flood. Master Chief eventually fights the Flood, the Covies, and blows up Halo just in the nick of time. Whew.
In Halo 2, the Covenant are back to their old tricks (Minor Halo 2 plot spoilers in this paragraph). After a brief skirmish on Earth, Master Chief finds out that the Covies have found a second Halo (appropriately called Delta Halo) and are planning on activating it so that they can go on their great journey (a sci-fi drinking the punch if you will) into the next life. We are also introduced to the Elite who was in charge of operations on the Halo from the first game. The Prophets (religious leaders of the Covenant) are pissed that he let it get destroyed and want him to be killed for heresy. The head Prophet is like omg no and makes him an Arbiter. It's the Arbiter's job to kill heretics within the Covenant and to take out anyone that's planning on stabbing the Prophets in the back. Master Chief has to stop another Halo and Arbiter has his own little tale to go on. I can't reveal too much without spoiling the plot for you (which is pretty decent), but it's good.
Gameplay wise Halo 2 is a lot like Halo. This seems to be a reason why fanboys are attacking it, but it's a sequel. It's supposed to be a lot like the first game. Wasn't Mario 3 a lot like the original Mario except with more crap in it? Well, that's Halo 2. If you're a veteran of the first game, the changes will be pretty obvious. The first thing you'll notice is that the health bar is gone. Instead, all you see is your shield. It doesn't mean that you're dead when it's depleted, you just don't see a health bar. Also, the shield recharges a little bit faster now (presumably to make up for the lack of a health bar). Thanks to Master Chief's new armor he can also jump a little bit higher, and he won't take fall damage anymore. If you fall off a cliff and land, you probably won't be injured. He can flip a tank, but a 50-foot fall would kill him in Halo. Unless you fall from hella high up, MC will remain unharmed. The biggest change made to the gameplay is the art of dual wielding. You can now pick up two weapons at once (granted you only need one hand to use them in the first place. This isn't Goldeneye where you could dual wield rocket launchers.). Your left trigger fires the left gun and the right fires you guessed it the right gun. This adds a lot to the gameplay since previously useless guns like the needler and plasma pistol become powerhouses when dual wielded. Besides playing as Master Chief, you also get to play as the Arbiter in several levels. He's identical to MC except that the flashlight button turns him invisible for a short amount of time. While playing as Arbiter, there is a small gauge in the top left of the screen. When it's full, you can turn on your cloaking device but it runs out after around ten seconds. It takes maybe twenty to charge back up again. Since Arbiter starts off with the plasma sword in many of the levels the cloaking device is very useful for sneaking up behind enemies and slashing them down. Playing as Arbiter is a great addition to the Halo universe since it gives up an idea of the inner struggle inside of the Covenant and introduces a new character. It might take a while to warm up to him after slaughtering Elites all during the first game, but once you do it's a lot of fun. Besides, he's pretty much the same as Master Chief.
All the weapons and vehicles return in Halo 2 except for the assault rifle and the marine pistol. New weapons include the battle rifle (has a 2x zoom and fires in three round bursts. It's the new standard human gun.), magnum (small, weak pistol with no zoom but an incredible firing rate and dual wieldable), sentinel beam (lasers that the sentinel drones have), fuel rod gun (used in Halo PC multiplayer, but single player only in Halo 2), SMG (high firing rate and dual wieldable), Covenant Carbine (Covie equivalent of the battle rifle except weaker, more accurate, and no three round burst), beam rifle (Covie sniper rifle), Brute plasma rifle (red plasma rifle that fires much faster but overheats quicker as well), plasma sword (dreaded in Halo and now useable in Halo 2. The crosshair turns red near an opponent allowing you to do a usually one hit kill lunge attack.) and the Brute shot (grenade launcher). The rocket launcher now has a very useful lock on feature to help you take out vehicles, but it fires slower. All the rest of the weapons are pretty much unchanged. In addition to all the old vehicles you can now pilot the Wraith (Covie tank from Halo), Banshee in multiplayer, Spectre (Covie warthog equivalent), and the gauss warthog (warthog with a huge gauss gun on the back).
Enemy AI has been slightly improved. You might not notice it on Normal, but on Heroic or the now even harder Legendary, the change becomes very apparent. Watching enemies hop into vehicles, take cover and change and dual wield weapons on the fly is quite a treat. It ensures that you'll never have the same battle twice no matter how many times you play a level. The Elites in particular have really improved. The most fascinating thing is that their tactics actually change depending on their weapon and environment. If their allies get mowed down, they'll fall back and duck behind cover to jump you when you go past. If they have a carbine, they'll jump on top of a box or debris in order to get a better shot off at you. The new enemies are excellent additions to the Halo world. While you don't fight them until the second half of the game, the Brutes are a tough cross between Elites and Hunters. The flying Drones are my favorite new enemy. They're completely different than anything else in the game. They can move really quickly and always keep you on your toes during battle. The jackals and grunts have changed too. Jackals can now pick up beam rifles and snipe you from afar while grunts can hop in ghosts and hunt you down. Besides that though, the two are almost unchanged from Halo. This was slightly disappointing since we were promised by Bungie that all of the enemies would be vastly improved. They aren't lacking by any means, but it could've been better. All the weapons and vehicles are great in single player. Anyone complaining about the weapons is either too dependent on one or two weapons, or just sucks at Halo in general. None are useless, but none make it too noob friendly either. If anything, the pistol in the first game was too noob friendly. Good thing they got rid of it.
Level design has improved ten fold from Halo. This is easily the biggest jump from the first game. Long gone are the repetitive cookie cutter levels and far too familiar terrain. Bungie has really designed some great looking levels that are fun to play in and give the gamer a real sense of the Halo universe. The first few levels in New/Old Mombassa will actually make you think that you're on Earth defending from alien invaders. Seeing the destruction of burning buildings, demolished cars and crumbling structures gives you an idea of the mayhem that's been going on and the brutality of the Covenant. Forerunner facilities, Delta Halo, and the massive lava pits in the last few levels are dazzling. The hard work put into this game becomes apparent when you first see the Covenant occupied Forerunner facility on the lake on Delta Halo. There are dozens of interweaving bridges and structures littered with enemy snipers and Elites. This is everything the first Halo should've been.
Destructible vehicles are a great addition since it adds to the sense of realism. It's very cool to be in a huge battle with five or six ghosts and watching the armor get shredded off of them as you tear into them with plasma fire. Likewise, hijacking vehicles is also a welcome addition. Being able to hijack an enemy ghost headed your way can quickly turn the tides of battle and don't get me started on how cool taking a wraith is. It gives the player dozens of choices of how to go about a level. Do you take the ghost with it's small size and maneuverability or do you tempt fate and try to hijack the wraith so you can blow through all the enemy forces in a matter of minutes? Or if you want, you can go stealth and try to sneak past everyone.
As mentioned earlier, the Flood is back in Halo 2. They've been given a great graphical overhaul and look twice as scary and freakish as they did in Halo. The Flood still behaves pretty much the same, but now they can use plasma swords and some of them have shields for some reason. They can also pilot vehicles and change weapons on the go. This makes them kind of overpowered in the last few levels where many of them have swords or rocket launchers and shields. It can also get pretty annoying when they swarm around you and continuously knock you out of your vehicle. Along with the Flood, the Forerunner sentinels have returned. They're almost identical to their Halo counterparts except they have a new unit among their ranks; a huge flying robot that can shoot plasma and missiles and has a massive shield on the front of it.
The scale of battles has grown to epic proportions in Halo 2. At times there may be three or four different groups waging war on one another at the same time. It's certainly a site to see dozens of units fighting one another with tons of vehicles driving around, hunters, elites, warthogs, banshees, wraiths, flood and giant sentinels flying around in a war torn battlefield with you stuck right in the middle. It puts anything from the first game to shame.
My only complaints for single player are the lack of a flashlight for Arbiter, sometimes-stupid ally AI, and the stupid ending. I'll spare you the details of the ending, but it's the biggest cliffhanger in a game that I've seen in a while. The game is a good length, but the plot ends in what seems what should be the middle. Cloaking as the Arbiter is cool, but there are times when a flashlight really is needed. In the first area where you play as him you have to get out of a facility before it explodes Metroid style. Since it's blowing up there aren't many lights, and it's very easy to get lost without a flashlight. I actually found myself getting fairly frustrated more than once at this part. The AI is usually great, but sometimes the game is kind of glitchy with it. Often times, my allies would just stand in one spot and wouldn't advance with me forcing me to go on by myself. Other times they wouldn't get into a vehicle or wouldn't drive when I got into the passenger seat. I'm not sure if this is in the programming or if it's just a glitch, but this is something Bungie really needs to work on for Halo 3. If I get into the drivers seat of a warthog, I expect my marines to get in as well. If I walk down a hall, I expect them to follow me not just stand at the door like idiots. This doesn't ruin the game or make it bad at all (hence the 10 for gameplay) but it can be an annoyance. The marines wielding rocket launchers and sniper rifles with actual skill is a plus though.
The graphics during gameplay as absolutely stunning. It isn't Half Life 2, but it's definitely pushing the Xbox to its limits. Everywhere you go looks excellent with great backgrounds and bump mapping. The graphics bring all of the environments to life and make you feel like you really are a part of the Halo universe and that you're actually traveling to these locations. The cut scenes have some problems though. A lot of the time there are pops in the graphics during these scenes where the graphics have a hard time adjusting. A building in the background might pop up out of nowhere, or one of the characters on screen might not look right. The rest of the game features the most impressive graphics on the Xbox, but the cut scenes just don't do it justice. It's a shame that a game with a decent story like Halo is hampered down a bit by these graphical annoyances that have no place on the Xbox.
Sounds and music carries on the legacy from the first game. The powerful guitar riffs by Steve Vai add to the atmosphere and get you pumped and ready for action. The Halo theme with the changing monks is still there in all its glory. Elites and Grunts talk much more often now, and if Halo veterans listen to them you might catch a few jokes from the first game. I've heard Grunts talking more than once about food nipples during my gameplay, including one wishing that he had brought along a portable food nipple for his journey. The yelling during battle is much more fleshed out than it was in Halo, which makes more sense when people are blowing each other's heads off. Elites will say, The demon is here! when they see you and laugh when you get killed. Also, they'll stand over your corpse and blast you a few times as you look at your dead body.
Perhaps the greatest addition to the game is Xbox Live play. There are many maps to play in and a few favorites remade to add to the carnage. There are tons and tons of customizations you can make to the game types and lots of new vehicles to play with. All of the maps were made with care and are a blast to play. XBL makes the greatest feature of the first game even better. There aren't many things better than playing Waterworks CTF with 16 players all playing hard. Microsoft has made some new additions to XBL with this game to make your experience more enjoyable. They try to match you up with other players around your same skill level, make a new player the host if the original host drops, and lets you move on to new matches with your entire team instead of all of you having to find the same room together. All of the little annoyances have been taken out and it makes for a much more smooth XBL experience. Clans have also been added, but you can only be in one at a time, which is a bummer. You'll have to pick between which friends you want to be in a clan with instead of just being in multiple ones. For some reason, Co-op is not playable over XBL, which is a huge letdown. This is something that a lot of fans (myself included) have really wanted and could've been easily done. For whatever reason, Bungie decided not to include it. We can always hope for downloadable content.
Halo 2 is nothing short of a masterpiece. Some people may be disappointed by it if they were expecting it to be the greatest game of all time, but it's just what it should've been. A great sequel to Halo that adds to the universe and has great gameplay and an excellent online mode. What more could you want? If Bungie delayed the game for another six months to work on the story and fix the graphical glitches, this game would be a definite 10/10. It's not the best FPS ever, but it's the best console FPS now that Halo has been dethroned. I guess we'll have to wait and see if Half-Life 2 delivers in the BEST GAME EVAR OMG category. If you're an Xbox owner, you need Halo 2. If you aren't, it might be worth getting an Xbox for. It's that good. Don't listen to the nay sayers, get Halo 2 and have fun!
Final Score (Not an Average): 94%
Reviewer's Rating: 4.5 - Outstanding
Originally Posted: 11/15/04
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