Review by bover_87

Reviewed: 12/05/08

Halo 2 gives a whole new meaning to killing aliens...and playing as one

We're all familiar with video games involving aliens. In numerous games, your ultimate goal is to kill some alien who's hell-bent on destroying or enslaving the world, and this is no different in Halo 2. However, Halo 2 retools this tried-and-true formula into something spectacular. Halo 2 is easily one of the best games of its generation.

The gameplay is about as engrossing as you'll ever find in a first-person shooter (FPS). For one thing, Halo 2 has numerous types of weapons, ranging from standard types of guns (pistols, sniper rifles, etc.) to more futuristic weapons (plasma swords and guns, for instance). Bungie did a nice job of making sure that no single weapon is always the best option, which helps to keep the game much more fresh. Most of the weapons with any decent power have a specific range they're meant for and are terrible outside of that range. While some weapons certainly are better than others, there is no one be-all, end-all weapon, which helps greatly in keeping the game interesting, especially in multiplayer.

The single player game is excellent. For one thing, the game features four different difficulty levels: Easy, Normal, Heroic, and Legendary. At Easy difficulty, the opponents will barely ever hit you and you can generally just breeze through the game, while Normal is simply that, normal difficulty. However, on Heroic and especially Legendary difficulties, the game becomes immensely harder. Enemies are very accurate in their shooting, there are enemies everywhere, and your health is very limited, creating an excellent challenge for even the most seasoned FPS veterans.

The AI of the enemies is actually pretty good. On lower difficulties, enemies tend to be somewhat passive and have poor aim, which is perfect for beginners. On the other hand, at higher difficulties the AI really begins to show its stuff. Even the weakest enemies, the Grunts, are quite aggressive, and they absolutely love to stick a grenade on you for the instant kill. The other types of enemies become extremely dangerous as well, as they can shoot very accurately and their shots drain your health very quickly, and there are few cheap tricks for dealing with them. Not only that, but even head shots with the strongest weapons won't instantly kill some of the stronger enemies, and the ones with shields must be killed before their shield can regenerate, otherwise you lose all the damage you did to them, and when you must deal with heavy fire, this is very difficult indeed.

On the other hand, there are a few problems with the singleplayer mode. For one thing, on Legendary difficulty the first level is for some reason far more difficult than the rest of the game, which makes little sense, considering that normally the beginning of a game should be easier than the end. Another issue is that during the part with the Banshee battle, it is often very annoying to try to keep the enemy Banshee in firing range, and you often get shot at from enemies you can't even see until they start firing. All in all, though, the single player is definitely a great experience.

What really makes this game shine, though, is the multiplayer mode. The game is well-balanced, making multiplayer matches more than just a scramble to see who gets the best gun first. Instead, players must choose their weapons carefully to survive. For example, a plasma sword is deadly in close-quarters combat, but in the larger open areas a sword-user is likely to just be picked off by a sniper. Online play is even better, since it means you don't need to find your friends to play a quick deathmatch. Also, Halo 2 allows players to either be Master Chief or a Covenant Elite (the game doesn't form teams based upon this, nor does which you do have any affect on play; it's more a matter of which you like better).

The multiplayer mode does have a few issues. First, some of the maps are simply too large even for 16 people, which is the most that can play in any one game at a time. Also, since the same weapons always spawn in the same places on a given map, the firefights in a given area tend to focus on these areas. While this isn't entirely bad, it would be nice if players could add new weapons to the maps and change which ones spawn where, especially in split-screen matches.

One problem with the gameplay in general is that health and shields are completely restored after a few seconds of not being hit. In singleplayer, this is necessary, or else only the absolute best would stand a chance of completing it even at lower difficulties, but it's annoying in multiplayer, since opponents with quick-kill types of weapons are much harder to beat since they can often lay the finishing blow on you before you get enough hits on them to finish them off. Nevertheless, the game is still awesome in terms of the gameplay experience.

In terms of storyline, the game is pretty impressive. In the game, you play as two characters: Master Chief, the last remaining supersoldier the now-united planet Earth has to offer, and the Arbiter, an Elite who was defeated in the previous war with the humans. The game begins with Master Chief defending a human outpost in space against an attack by Covenant forces. While it can get a little confusing at times, the story still adds an interesting aspect to the gaming experience because it becomes more than just the typical "fight to save the world" story about a war between humans and aliens. The game also has memorable characters, ranging from the sturdy Sgt. Johnson to the aliens to you lovable, boisterous comrades, further enhancing the atmosphere of the game.

Halo 2's graphics are beautiful. In the single-player game, the environments range from wealthy suburbs to sophisticated space stations to majestic waterfalls, and all of them are portrayed in stunning detail. In addition, allies and enemies alike are with great attention to the details that make them look alive.

In addition, Halo 2's music is excellent. The game includes orchestrated music, which definitely makes the game more pleasant (even if you're getting your butt kicked). The only problem with it is that it stops after a while, and then there is no music for a while, which can often ruin the feel of the game.

Halo 2's gameplay gives it a great deal of replay value. Even with just the singleplayer mode, there are still four difficulties, which helps to maintain the challenge of the game even after you've beaten it a few times. However, this pales in comparison to the replay value of online play. Online play in Halo 2 is very addicting; after a while, you may find yourself playing "just one more game" online, only to find yourself playing until 3 in the morning. Halo 2's multiplayer mode can easily give you thousands of hours of replay value.

Overall, Halo 2 is an excellent game, with well-rounded gameplay, a decent story, brilliant graphics, and, most of all, great replay value. Despite a few flaws, Halo 2 is a great way to kill an alien (or become one).

Rating:   4.0 - Great

Product Release: Halo 2 (US, 11/09/04)

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