Review by brutusmuktuk
"Bungie uses lots of hype and little else in order to create a bestselling Xbox game"
The original Halo is one of my all-time favorite games. The little company called Bungie came out with a huge hit that not only sold very well, but was very enjoyable. It felt like much more than just a shooter. It had impressive AI and the legendary difficulty setting required you to use your head as well as raw fire power. The level designs were amazing, the weapons were balanced unlike in other shooters where you earn more and more powerful weapons to replace your weaker guns, and it offered an amazing amount of freedom in the mostly sprawling levels. Unfortunately, Halo's successor fails to live up to the fun.
I wish Halo 2 wouldn't take itself so seriously. For one thing, it's a video game, and for another the Halo environment and characters don't actually exist. It takes itself so seriously that it's silly. Only Master Chief cracks a few jokes and one-liners, but they're not very funny. The first game had a straightforward story that didn't delve too much into the complexities of the world. Sure, it made the covenant species seem like a bunch of wild animals, but the gamer only saw the world from Master Chief's perspective. Now Bungie gives the covenant a little bit more complexities.
The most interesting tale comes from the new playable character I'm sure all of you now know about by now the elite called the Arbiter. He was in charge of the protection of the Halo planet from the original game and is charged with heresy for allowing the demon, Master Chief, to destroy it. The game's beginning scenes flash between Master Chief receiving a medal and the Arbiter receiving punishment. It becomes obvious that this Arbiter will play a central role in the game, but it wasn't so obvious that he would steal the game from Master Chief. I'm sure many gamers will be disappointed, and many are. The worst part about it all is that neither character really gets developed; they're just what your guy looks like to the enemy as you play. I mean, you don't even see them until a cutscene comes up.
Bungie has a more interesting story with the covenant than with Master Chief, and it shows that the humans were given very little thought. Master Chief seems a little darker than before with the few lines he's given. Cortana, MC's holographic partner provided some description of the game's world, some humor, and a female voice in the original Halo. Now Cortana has to stoop to describing things while you're in the middle of a firefight when you can't pay any attention to her. The character Sergeant Johnson comes back to life for the sequel to provide a familiar face and a trash-talking character (in the original Halo he hugs a covenant elite just as the Halo planet explodes on the legendary ending). New to the series is Miranda Keyes, daughter to Commander Keyes from the original who offered a solid personality in Halo. Miranda seems more like a face than a personality, and every scene she's in looks like she's trying to model for a photo shoot. Only the Arbiter offers a somewhat interesting personality, but it's nothing new to the entertainment industry. Unfortunately, the plot and dialogue are nothing new to entertainment. I'm sure you've heard the dialogue countless times on the Sci-Fi channel.
The game starts out impressively. The very beginning encounter allows you to try out the games dual-wield feature. It's an impressive moment as the covenant force open a door only to enter the room as you and some marines gun them down. The first level is nice because it feels like you have a goal to defend the base, but for most of the game it feels like you're just there to shoot stuff because it would shoot you otherwise. A couple of other early, impressive moments consist of a giant insect-looking machine called a scarab, and a free-fall after you take down a large structure with you in it. The rest of the game has nothing quite as interesting as these early perks. Once you've reached the end you'll wonder why Bungie ended the game so quickly.
The game has two playable characters, and they only differ about one thing the Arbiter can cloak at will. That's the only reason you will know who you're playing as and the main reason the Arbiter upstages Master Chief. For the most part, you'll probably not even think about the cloaking ability, though it's useful when you do. Bungie has added more weapons, more vehicles, more enemies, but less fun. The weapons lack the balance of the first game's weapons. In the first game maybe the needler got the short end of the stick, but most everything else came in use at certain points. Now you'll want the gun that has the most firepower in order to take down the enemies the fastest. There is very little strategy involved in playing this game. Dual-wielding offers the only strategy to the game. You can sacrifice your grenades for the extra gun, but it's also a pain to switch to your other weapon since you need to drop the dual-wielded gun and then switch to your other weapon. A few of the game's weapons are useless, as well. The human pistol, a very good gun in the original, is one that you'd easily replace with something else. The plasma pistol is good dual-wielded to take down elites, but you don't fight enough elites to warrant much use of the plasma pistol. The majority of new covenant weapons are just counterparts to some human weapons, but you rarely run into human weapons, so those become obsolete. In fact, the new human gun, the SMG, disappears after a few areas, disappointingly.
Now when I say Halo 2 is nothing more than a mindless shooter, many of you are probably thinking that about the original as well. At least the original felt like more than a mindless shooter. Unlike other shooters you couldn't just run and gun, relying on your aim and trigger finger to take you through the game. You had to stop and take cover, plus you had to choose your weapons carefully. Halo 2 forces you to kill everyone with as little tactics as possible. Very rarely will you be reminded of the original Halo when you play this. Good cover is difficult to find but in lower difficulties, like normal, it isn't needed. The only way to advance through areas is to kill everybody, with the exception of a few areas with the flood where running by isn't only possible, but recommended. As a successor to a great game, I have to wonder why this doesn't feel any different than all the other generic shooters on consoles and computers.
I feel like Bungie took away my freedoms they granted in the original game. I remember when vehicles were a choice and not mandatory. Of course, you can run through the vehicle areas without a vehicle in this game, but I think you'd pull out less hair with the faster, more powerful vehicle. Vehicles are bigger and badder now. I don't really care, though, I just had fun driving that warthog in the original. Oh, and that part with the scorpion tank was awesome, not to mention flying the banshees. Wait, what's this, I get to use the warthog in a few parts at the beginning? Well, that sucks. And now I'm forced to use the scorpion tank in multiple long and boring parts? Ugh, how tedious. Sure, yeah, I had fun with the tank in the original, but that's because it was unexpected and so powerful. I saw it coming this time Bungie you can't fool me twice. In the moments you get to drive the scorpion tank the game throws enemies galore at you. Ghost after ghost hurdle toward your tank just so you can have the pleasure of blowing it up. Yawn.
Honestly, I don't know where the perfect tens are coming from. Even the reviews here on GameFAQs have many less-than perfect scores. Maybe the media lets the hype get to them much easier than the regular public. I've read reviews from the media complaining about games with mindless shooting and goals that consist solely of killing all the bad guys, but when those games are named Halo 2 there's something beautiful about it all.
Yeah, yeah, Halo 2 looks good. But it doesn't look much better than good. Some of the environments are very nice: the outside levels with grass and trees and water, plus another level which takes place on volcanic ground with ashes falling like snow. The character models look nice, especially the close-ups of the covenant in cutscenes. You can brag all you want about the bump-mapping and lighting, but most gamers will hardly notice it. When I play games like Chronicles of Riddick and Splinter Cell I can't help but notice the beauty of the visuals. I'm not much for realistic graphics, but those two games looked great. Halo 2 looks merely decent. I didn't stop and stare at the bump-mapped symbols on the walls of Halo structures like I did in the original. I didn't even notice the newly-implemented lighting. All that texturing and work could have gone into something else. Overall, Halo 2 looks good, but not better than that.
The original Halo had only a few tunes, but a few memorable tunes. Halo 2 has more tunes, but nothing quite as memorable or good. Voice acting keeps up to par with the original, even though the grunts, who were the most humorous creatures during gameplay, have just about disappeared. They're not nearly as animated and life-like now as in the original. Oh, and giving the marines 1500 or so spoken words is a bit of a waste you hardly play with them anyway. The only thing ruining the voice acting is the dialogue, not to mention many of the words are hard to understand through all the echoes and accents Bungie adds to their characters' voices. Sound is merely good, but not great.
Not only does this game end quicker than the original, but it has much less replay value. You will most likely play through this once and be done with it. Legendary isn't really any fun; it's unfairly tough. I'm sure you've all heard about the abrupt ending that Bungie seems to borrow from every movie from Matrix Reloaded to The Fellowship of the Ring. It's just a silly ending to a silly story. If after 2-3 years of working on the successor to one of the greatest shooters this is all Bungie can come up with then they might as well stop now. We live in a new age of gaming. Insomniac has released three Ratchet and Clank games in three years and came up with three games all superior to Bungie's classic sequel dud.
I can't recommend you buy or rent this because due to the hype you've made up your mind to play this, unless you really didn't care for the original or hate the Xbox. I guess a score of a seven isn't really tearing through the game, but really, it's better made than other games and offers some intense moments. You might enjoy multiplayer unless you have realized that deathmatch, capture the flag, etc. are all things you played way back on the Nintendo 64 with Goldeneye. I say rent the game and realize some games receive way more hype than they deserve.
Reviewer's Score: 7/10 | Originally Posted: 01/03/05
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