Review by Destination
"Got that armor in my size?"
Reality appears as something of an enigma when you are torn through two phases of attention. While the first phase describes our monotonous daily life, the second is the imaginative and absorbing realm of gaming. One can say that I was a little too distracted by the arrival of Halo 1. The title took everyone completely by surprise when it arrived with the black box we have all come to adore. Those quick to judge easily walked on by and took it for a common mediocre shooter. However, people with a longing for an immersive world and a sense of competition took it like a bullet train to the face. Beyond the shady curtain hides a game with tremendous substance and amazing depth. It is this depth that had me hooked from the start, and I had as much expectation for the sequel. Well, November 9th has come and gone, and after nearly 80 hours of game-play, I can safely say it lived up to the hype and then some. Halo 2 surpasses its predecessor in every way imaginable and definitely shows that if the formula works, keep it.
It truly is difficult to mutter but finally being able to say, Halo 2 has arrived, was just too overwhelming. The plot of Bungie's creation has always been immense, driving those with a sense of lore, to an overabundance of joy. Which can be said the same for me, being a role-playing kind of guy. If you can relate then you no doubt recall the previous closure of the set off title. Halo 2 starts off where the previous had left off, in a sense of happiness but disappointment as well. Master Chief had destroyed the covenant armada, the horrific flood, and the realm of mystery that was the Halo ring. He now returns to earth as a hero and savior, while the commanding officer of the defeated armada, now known as the Arbiter, returns for a cruel, yet life-changing fate. With a greater understanding of the Covenant in this game, you get a sense that both sides share a linked future. From this, it is the concentration of the story from both sides of the coin, as you play throughout, that generates a great experience until the end.
Rule One: Keep your enemies close, but your weapons closer
Just remember though, that the coming of this title is not the; be all, end all that people have turned it out to be. Time moves at such a rush that there will be some disappointment in the minds of those that hurry through things too fast. I, however, was not one of those people. Halo 2 definitely has much to offer, and it all starts with the short, yet incredibly addicting campaign. Through commanding a wide array of intelligent AI troops and a strong arsenal of mercenary weaponry; sparks, blood, and bodies fly. Just as the hints had indicated, battles truly take place on Earth, and these stages are by far the most awe-inspired. Being centered deep in the Metropolis or atop the Covenant's massive scarab walker, the action does not stop. This is all a part of the fresh ideas that have been brought on the table. Instead of fighting off a horde of enemies, finishing up, and quickly moving on, the oncoming battles keep the fights stationary. This increases the challenge exponentially and provides more carnage to add to the environment.
What provides that delicious war-zone entertainment? It is the bad-ass new weapons and finally they have become balanced. From the brand new introduction of the sub-machine guns, to the not too strong, not too weak battle rifle, things have improved for the best. The most satisfaction came from the new pistol, as you previous veterans no doubt recall the three hit kills with the first little sucker. My only peeve is that they did not recalibrate the alien pistol, as alone, it and a few other weapons are still pathetic. However, with the arrival of something that should have been implemented a while ago, comes a grand new twist to the carnage. These little trinkets being: the much anticipated double wielding weapons! With this feature you can now pick up literally any combo you see on the ground, and use it to spray down those enemy bastards. How about combining that alien pistol with the SMG, in order to take out their shields and follow through with a fatal barrage of bullets. My personal favorite is the SMG and plasma rifle, as I could gun down people in seconds, provided I actually hit. What adds to this great feature is the excellent control that compliments it. With the option of inverted or default controls, and the quickly adjusted feel of the triggers, it is fundamentally flawless.
Bringing alive a familiar difficulty system; the classic easy, normal, heroic, and legendary all make their return. Newcomers to the series will go for the lower end of the stick, while so-called experts will try their hand at the hardest mode available. Let me tell you guys, you will not last five seconds. Even though the mechanics of the battle system has improved, the difficulty acts as more of a sense of fluctuation. Going from easy to heroic will seem like a gradual playing field, before you are plunged into hell itself. This primarily derives from the new health system the Chief supports. Gone are the need for health kits and bandages, as the only thing keeping you from a cold death is your shield. After a couple of shots or a well placed explosion, your shields will fail, leaving you with endurance all too similar to the NES days. That's right, one or two hits and you can go play poker with the earthworms. Since so many factors are placed upon your energy field, urgency plays a major role. Using stealth will definitely be essential as you progress further. And unfortunately for some of you, running into a full room and wildly bashing grunts over the head will not work this time.
Did I also happen to mention that there are actually boss battles now? Rejoice, as you can finally put those head to head skills to the test. From the slippery and diabolical heretic to the surprising final confrontation, the execution is unreal. Dodging gunfire, jumping platforms, and avoiding henchmen, all the while trying to conserve ammunition and shield power is incredibly fun. Though I got served quite a few times at certain checkpoints, I was never so overwhelmed I wanted to drop the controller. Speaking of which, the game progresses just like its successor, by way of checkpoint based save-stations. These save occurrences can happen either by reaching a new destination, or clearing a room successfully. The timing is not always tight though, and there were times I got pissed when I had just fought a ten minute battle, only to see no clear message. Well, the real bad part was seeing a plasma grenade on my face right afterward, but that is another story. Acting on a spoiler-free note, I can just say the transitional levels you will come across are a blast and flow together well. And while the second adventure ends at around ten to twelve hours, you can rest assured there is probably more to come.
Rule Two: Nothing is unfair
Now what is the first word that comes to mind when you think of online play? While the choice can be subjective, the first thing that pops up is my buddies, who were all anxious to kick a little ass. Blood-shot eyes and insomnia soon followed, as I played with my group of clan-mates, virtually every night, for the next week and a half. Before you ponder the use of a clan, believe me, it is not in the original. Unlike the completely devoid use of a group monarchy before, your allegiance is what will keep you playing. Thanks to X-Box live, you have an online ranking system and a buddy list; through it you can create voice messages, e-mails, and even invite people to matches while they are playing other games. Speaking of such, there is plenty of variety including: King of the Hill, Oddball, Slayer, and good old CTF. Among these, some new elements have spawned: Territories, and my personal favorite, Assault. The multi-player levels are improved, some better, some worse, but nearly every level is completely modifiable. For example; gather a group of vehicles to open that side gate, while the offense team moves in for the flag, all the while being covered by the cloaked sniper on the drop down bridge. With so many land-points, you will no doubt have the important spots on the map eventually down pat, for later strategic planning.
Another clever little feature thrown into the mix was the ability to take over vehicles. Hell yeah, there is nothing more satisfying than throwing someone out of their ghost at two hundred MPH and splattering them against the wall thereafter. The switch is simple too; all you need is the push of a button. The same thing applies to all vehicles, from some fresh new faces to old ones that have barely changed. Now I hated the Warthog in the original, with its sloppy handling and its terrible SUV rolling skills. Unfortunately for me, that has not changed too much. However, it has gotten a rocket improvement, as well as a chasse upgrade. The ghost has ultimately been customized to be a living, breathing butt kicker. Excellent handling, spurt fire, and boosters have turned it into the essential ride of choice. Now do not get me started about that thing online, you will have to find out on your own. Other honorable mentions are the acrobatically improved banshees, faster firing scorpions, and the now accessible Covenant wraith tanks whee! Oh, and be careful while having those chicken matches because the vehicles now come with super exploding action!
Rule Three: Enjoy every minute of it
While you are amazed at the pretty fireworks emanating from the trashed units, you are without a thought, dazzled by the incredible visuals. The articulate and vivid character models, lush environments, and PC quality textures are mind-boggling, and put you in a scenario fit to be on the big screen. Cinema scenes follow up with that comparison, but are a bit slow to load at times. Thus resulting in an incredibly muddled and somewhat deformed, WTF, like appearance. It does not last long though and soon after you are right back into the fray. Fluid enemy motions, movement spasms, resplendent lighting, and such a high length of detail, all provide a greater sense of motivation to play. The repetitive hallways and gray trench-ways of early recycled levels are gone, replaced with outdoor plateaus that span as far as the eye can see. Notice the bright and spanning oceans in the Oracle scenarios, the monstrous buildings of the Metropolis, or the fiery brimstone of destruction that is the Quarantine Zone. However, what truly sets the pace is the thunderous soundtrack which correlates right alongside the action. The musical crew at Bungie has put together a rocking set of moments that got my adrenaline pumping far more than it needed to be. From the heavy guitar heard throughout early confrontations to the chilling, orchestral echoes of the title screen, I truly was experiencing musical nirvana. Something that is literally void in 98% of other titles out there.
At the end of my ventures I can truly say that this is, without any argument, the best game of 2004. Some may overlook it, as they did with the first. If so, they are truly missing out on a monumental game that overshadows all opposition with extremely fun game-play, addicting pulls, and the best online experience around. Damn, not to mention the free upgrades which coincide with Live. That will constantly improve matchmaking speed and provide an even more enjoyable playing field, well worth the monthly fee. Despite some movie scene problems and a short single player mode, the detriments are as thick as a grain of salt in an ocean. Take it as it is an extremely well-polished title that greatly exceeds anything else in quite a while. So, throw on your headset and get down here Marine, you have a job to do. As the renown Sergeant Johnson said, Dear humanity, we regret being alien bastards, we regret coming to earth, and we most certainly regret the core destroying our raggedy ass fleet! Can't you just feel the love?
Reviewer's Rating: 4.5 - Outstanding
Originally Posted: 12/01/04, Updated 12/03/04
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