Review by nickthegun

"Great yet awkward middle chapter"

Halo 2

I thought I'd wait till the hype died down (my own included) before I could actually give this game a fair review. I think I have a different perspective on this game as I only ever played the original on PC. But by the time Halo 2 came out I'd got myself an Xbox and was ready to go some.

Controls

I wouldn't usually add this section, but I was a virtual Halo Xbox virgin when I first loaded this game. I was used to the PC version and as such it was a wildly different experience. I know most of the Halo Massive are used to fragging on the big ass XBox joypads, but it took me a little while to get used to it. A joypad will never top WSAD for FPS games and this is no exception. The controls are well laid out and you do get used to them but clicking and holding to duck is still way alien to me.

After battling through the first few levels, the controls eventually began to become second nature. And by the time I got to Earth I had stopped spinning wildly like a top whenever I entered a room. The controls are all configurable (even for the weirdoes who invert) but the default layout is perfectly adequate. I think I'm probably the only person to even touch on this in a review. Its all been covered before. But I was an XBox Halo n00b. So bear with me.

Graphics

The graphics have had an overhaul for this outing, which is immediately apparent from the superb opening cinematics. We are introduced to several new characters and species in a sweeping, epic intro. It is a superb introduction

However, I have a meaty P.C and the in game gift, to my humble eye didn't differ a great deal from H1 with the settings ramped up. Admittedly Halo on the P.C is sort of Halo 1.5, but still. And some of the later cut scenes display a lot of distortion and characters faces appear warped (the prophets and the brutes especially).

But one thing Bungie are still No.1 at is conveying an awesome sense of scale, while actually having you confined to a smallish arena (the hunter fight while waiting for the bridge being one excellent example). The sense of halo being a stupidly big structure is still maintained. You are still forever craning upwards to get a look at the structure you're just about to invade.

The Halo itself is more varied this time around. There aren't miles and miles of bland gray corridors this time around (ok, so there may be one or two miles but not as many as last time) and there are plenty of different environments to battle through. From the taking of a beachhead to a snowy mountain. The scenery is usually always impressive.

Sound

Not a lot to say. Same old rousing Halo Pump-up music, meaty sounding weapon effects and explosions. The only thing that's really changed is the AI is a lot more chatty (sometimes annoyingly so) and there is a lot more voice talent (they spent a decent bit on it judging by the names on the credits).

Gameplay

This is the big one. At the end of the day it's Halo. You know what you're gonna get, with a select few surprises. Gone are level after level of flood ridden, identikit corridors. Although the game does introduce them very early on (to which my heart sank and I went back and repeated the earlier levels) but you don't have to spend too much time fighting them off. But this time the most boring element of the first game turns out to be on of the more interesting (in the latter stages anyway, in the first few levels, they still suck), with the flood bouncing around, crashing space ships and commandeering vehicles.

There are some excellent additions to Halos stable this time round. As boring as the *spoiler* Arbiter is, I found controlling him added a much needed dimension to the game and I thought the civil war was a great addition to the story. Although he did have arguably the most boring levels (especially his first) I think the risk to allow him to share the limelight with one of our most iconic game heroes paid off. The new AI is pretty good too. Your colleagues really help (although are still prone to getting stuck), if you give one a sniper rifle he/she will stand back and provide covering fire and they will also help out with the driving, leaving you free to operate the turrets.

There are quite a few new weapons; mostly rubbish (brute plasma gun anyone?) but they add variation. However there are two new uber weapons that you will find yourself using for most of the game. The Plasma Sword and Covenant Sniper rifle. I spent most of the game with this combination and could clear a corridor with the sniper then swing wildly enough to pass any area.

At this point though, I do have to say 'Dual Wielding my ass, McBain'. Incase you hadn't heard, Halo 2 allows you to carry a pistol sized weapon in each hand. To compensate for your increased firepower, they decreased the accuracy. A lot. To the point when it's only useful when you are staring down a powerful bad guy at point blank and you fill him full of a few hundred needles.

Speaking of decreased accuracy, RIP 'the Pistol'. The Pistol is no longer the most devastating weapon ever seen in an FPS. Bungie have done away with the zoom (because it just 'pissed them off', according to their website) and as such it's only really useful for fulfilling your John Woo Fantasies, Duel Wielding into a pack of flood. It's not really missed too much though, as there are three weapons with a zoom function this time round. The Human Sniper Rifle, which is devastating, but there's never any ammo for it, The covenant sniper (as discussed), which is very common and very powerful and the Covenant Carbine, which is like an Alien assault rifle. Its single shot, semi automatic, with a one stage zoom and has a fairly long reload time. To be honest I didn't like it, but often ended up stuck with it as in the later stages its one of the most common weapons. On Heroic and Legendary, there are snipers EVERYWHERE. Walk into an area for the first time BAM. There go your shields. Frantically take cover while your shields recharge. Surface again to look for said sniper. BAM. There go your shields again. One of the most unfair tricks Halo 2 plays on Legendary (and a few times on heroic) is adding a few high up snipers into a wave of covenant. You are battling the ground forces while constantly dodging snipers. It certainly gives you a workout. And is also a testament to the level design that you can have battles on several levels of an area, throwing grenades down into a pit of enemies and picking off Jackals lurking above.

The original Halos level design was momentously up and down. It scaled grand heights but was brought right back to earth (or halo *groan*) after your 3rd hour of wandering through the same corridor. In Halo 2 there are far fewer 'Bad Levels'. But on the other hand, there are fewer great ones. One of THE Halo moments for me was arriving out onto a snowy bridge, The Covenant spot me and everyone dashes towards the banshees. I get there first and take off, closely followed by an Elite. After a bit of dogfighting I continue to swoop around the huge canyon, bombing the crap out of anything that moves. There's nothing to compare in Halo 2. Except possibly the first few earth levels. The problem is that you never get enough time in the more exotic vehicles. Which in turn means there are no real set piece levels (except, again, on earth and the escort duty level), which make use of the vehicles and you rarely, get to drive the newer additions. Which, to be honest, is a crying shame, because, as I mentioned earlier, the AI is fairly sharp this time round and the levels that make use of them are few and far between. There are a few levels where you and a few other buds have to mount up and take a level. Ally vehicles whirling around you, bad guys swarming, trying to pull you out your vehicle. Sometimes it's just breathtakingly frantic as you curse yourself for blowing up a teammates ghost while trying to take out the tanks firing long-range artillery at you.

But as I said, there just isn't enough. And the sections that are too short.

Multiplayer

The real meat on the bones. Halo's huge success was in part due to its multiplayer mode. 4 mates (or more with linking) around a TV blasting the hell out of each other. Now as I said, I was a PC Halo player. And I was good. Really good. If you ever came up against Badman, you will know what I mean. Many Xboxers complained that new weapons such as the Fuel Rod gun took a lot of the skill out of the game, but I enjoyed it. There wasn't ever a huge online presence but there was enough to make sure you always got a decent game. And now Halo 2 is online. And it's a totally different experience. For a kick off, my godlike skillz haven't translated very well to the joypad, putting me in the upper average bracket. I hold my own, waste the real n00bs, but occasionally get totally pwned. Which is an interesting experience. Well it would be if it wasn't for all the seemingly mentally ill people playing live these days. I'm English. I speak English. But I was apparently unaware that American teens had developed a new language based on the ravings of a psychopath. And they are quite fond of calling people gay. And I don't think I have ever encountered a more racist group of people. Not that this is necessarily a problem with Halo 2. But its the game that will be most likely to get you on Live and as such you should be aware that if you don't meet your friends for a game and join a public room there is a good chance you will run into someone who deserves to be poked with a pointy stick.

Outside live, Halo 2 can't be beaten for 4 mates around a big TV, beer Pizza, Lovely Job! Its just a real good laugh dogfighting one friend while 2 others have teamed up in a warthog and are trying to blow you out the sky. And as the physics engine has been slightly tweaked, warthog jumping has never been so much fun.

All in all, I think this will go down in history as the Matrix Reloaded of the series. Disappointing ending (if you can call it that. Feels like Halo 2 + 3 were just split in half), not quite as inventive as the first, but crucial to the series as a bridger. And for everyone complaining that there aren't enough earth levels *spoiler warning*, what do you think Halo 3 is going to be? Yes it's annoying, but it makes perfect sense. They were there to whet our appetite!


Reviewer's Score: 8/10 | Originally Posted: 12/20/04


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