Review by Brad Da Man

"Amazing; Halo 2 does lives up to most of the hype. But is it the perfect FPS?"

**Please note that this review contains very minimal spoilers in regards to some aspects in Halo 2. Read at your own discretion**

OK, I'll be honest. I expected Halo 2 to be disappointing. After such a long, awaited period of time for its release, my eager and hype for the game had kind of subsided. In fact, when it was announced that it would be released on November 9, 2004, I simply went "Meh, I'm sure it'll be pushed back, again.". Sure, Bungie never set a release date for it, but there was always speculation that it would be released at the end of 2003, then April 2004, then we finally got a date from the horse's mouth; Tuesday November 9th, 2004. But standing in line at EB's midnight launch for the game, knowing I'd be one of the first to play the game (legally) in the world (as I'm Australian and we were the second country to get it in the world, only behind New Zealand), all that hype, all eagerness to be back controlling our hero Master Chief through hordes of Covenant, I had a gut feeling that Halo 2 was going to be special. Ladies and Gentlemen, I think it is fair to recommend that you believe the hype. Whilst it does has some flaws, Halo is back, with a vengeance.

Halo 2 takes place immediately after the events of the original. Master Chief is welcomed back by the marines and given a hero's welcome. But it doesn't last for long, as the Covenant, angered by the destruction of the ring planet Halo, are hunting down and have found Master Chief, and are determined to crush not only him, but the entire human race.. This is where the fun begins.

Remember the calibrating of the controls from the first game? Where you have to look at the targets and wander around the room so you can get a feel for the controls? That's back. However, if you wish to invert your controls, then you must do this manually in the menu, which while not a big hindrance, is kind of annoying. But that whole introduction to the controlling I really find entertaining, as they claim to be “calibrating your new suit” so it seems realistic and feels like it should be in there. Then after that's done, you're thrown straight into the action, blasting Covenant left, right and centre.

The marine AI are much smarter in Halo 2 than they were in the original. They are now able to drive the warthog with you riding sentry (although if you're not in the warthog and a marine is driving it, be wary as to not get run over as they don't seem to be able to handle it well without you in it), they actually take cover when being shot at, they even yell orders at one another. Another feature I like with the marines is that you can take their gun off them at anytime and give them your gun that you no longer want - saves having to kill them just for their ammunition like I did in the original! Their arsenal has had a nice overhaul too, with many weapons like the M7 Submachine gun, or my personal favourite the BR55 rifle; a rifle that acts like a sniper rifle machine gun that is you can zoom in close on targets and fire off rounds like you would a machine gun. The holding of two guns feature that Bungie added does take some getting used to, but it works a treat.

But while the marines have been smartened up, so have the Covenant. They are much, much stronger and much, much tougher. The Sangheili, more commonly known as the Elite, race of Covenant take cover when their shields are depleted giving them time to recharge, they hunt in groups and stick together during gun battles, they even sneak up on you and try to melee attack you. There are also new, terrifying breeds of Covenant to deal with, such as the towering badass Jiralhanar to the creepy Prophets. The Covenant also packs new heat, the Covenant Energy Sword being the weapon of choice.

The vehicles of Halo 2 have also had a major upgrade. There are many types of Warthog, with different types of sentry gun on back, the Scorpion MBT tank now fires missiles more rapidly, the Ghost now has a turbo boost charger, as well as a few new ones. They all control marvellously and feel like you're actually driving a real vehicle, Bungie have once again got the vehicle physics and handling down pat.

Graphics 9.5/10. The graphics in Halo 2 are among the best I've ever seen in any Xbox game. Crisp and clear, they really are one the game's strong points. Shadow effects are brilliant; the different levels of lighting are a wonder to behold. All the attention to detail is amazing. Special mention needs to go to the grenades when they explode; the way it affects the environment around them, as well as the actual blast itself, will blow you away too. There s also no lag, but there can be pop up, in particular during cut scenes and sometimes during the game, but it's hardly noticeable. The level design is spectacular, there's so much attention on the tiniest things.

Sound 10/10. It was a feat many didn't think they'd do after their mesmerising soundtrack in the original, but Bungie have managed to do it; have a soundtrack even more beautiful than the original. The music score is one that'll leave you in a trance; it always hits the right vibes at the right moments in time. If it's a bloody gunfight, then the music will tense you up and have you on the edge of your seat, whereas if it's a sadder moment in the game it'll leave you feeling remorseful for what's going on. Also the sound effects of the guns are the best sound effects I've ever heard in a video game, period. Sounding incredibly realistic and not over the top, they really make you think that the gun you're carrying is real.

Control 10/10. No major changes have been made to the controls from the original. If it aint broke, don't fix it, and what Bungie had going for them in the original was perfect, so much so that other FPS games on the Xbox incorporate a very similar style of control. The way that the guns recoil when you've been holding down the trigger for too long is brilliant, and makes it feel so damn realistic. One gripe though is that Master Chief feels like he's going for a leisurely stroll than running around saving the world; he doesn't run fast enough, so it kind of makes controlling him a bit boring every now and again.

Story 7/10. The storyline, while nothing majorly wrong with it , is flawed. There are too many "coincidences", too many things left unexplained for my liking. After playing through the game there were many questions I was hoping would be answered by the end, but alas there weren't. The game just unexpectedly ends. Maybe they're leaving them for Halo 3, who knows. To my dismay also, you have to play as a Elite for quite a few missions. Yes, that's right, an Elite. A Covenant Elite. The bad guys. Why? I have no idea. Whilst it was an ok idea on Bungie's behalf, people aren't playing Halo 2 to be some Covenant Elite; they're playing it to kick ass and protect the world as Master Chief. It's very similar to Metal Gear Solid 2: Substance in the way that just when you're enjoying playing as Solid Snake, all of a sudden you're playing as Raiden, and lets face it no one wanted to play as Raiden. Well it's like that with Halo 2; you don't want to play as the Elite trying to restore his dignity, you want to kick some serious Covenant ass playing as Master Chief.

The story is basically just your run of the mill storyline for this genre of game; bad guys are coming, get out big gun, blast them away, hero wins. Well, obviously it isn't that linear or boring, but it isn't anything exceptional either. Still, it entertains, and the majority of people that play FPS aren't looking for an overly deep storyline anyway.

Blast-O-Meter 10/10. There are plenty of blast 'em up all guns blazing scenes in Halo 2 to keep any FPS fan happy. In fact, the amount of action scenes compared to the first one has at least tripled. There are some missions where all you do is shoot, reload, shoot, reload, shoot some more, reload, find ammo, shoot. While it can sometimes get a bit tedious and linear, when I play an FPS I expect gun battles a plenty, and I was certainly not disappointed with Halo 2; it certainly delivers.

Fun Factor 10/10. With all the cool vehicles, wicked weapons and a mass of Covenant to blast away, if you're a FPS fan then there's plenty of fun to be had with Halo 2. If you don't like too much shooting, then chances are you won't enjoy it so much. It isn't all mindless shooting, but shooting plays an incredible bulk of the game play (obviously).

Single Player 7/10. The single player is pretty good. Level design varies, taking you from earth to foreign temples, even to other planets, making the levels quite enjoyable and diverse. However, Bungie did something that they said they wouldn't do; some of the levels are far too linear. Some parts of the game I swear are just one section "copied and pasted" ten times over, with the same routine for each one you go into, which can and does make playing the game occasionally tedious. The single player campaign can be conquered in 8-10 hours flat, making Halo 2 sometimes feel more like an expansion of the original than a whole new game, as no game should be able to finished in such a short amount of time. Also the lack of a single player co-op via system link, again, was incredibly disappointing, and the lack of such an option does stun me, as there was very high demand for it.

Multi-Player 7.5/10. The multi-player maps are typical Bungie; massive, massive, massive. They'll keep you and your buddies entertained for hours with the option to system link up to 16 players at once. Also with the inclusion of Xbox Live, you'll be coming back for more all the time. This game is worth the purchase for the multi-player side, if you have Xbox Live. However, for those unlucky to have Xbox Live, and can't have their friends with them 24/7, the non-inclusion of bots once again on Bungie's behalf was incredibly disappointing, and a very big mistake, hence why multi-player doesn't receive a perfect 10. If you have Xbox Live then you won't be missing them, but I think bots are a necessity in any and every FPS that has multi-player, and as to why Bungie didn't include them again baffles me. I hope that they include them at some stage in the near future via a demo disc on OXM, or even as downloadable content off Xbox Live.

But Xbox Live, too, has its flaws. When you log onto Xbox Live, there is no lobby for you to select your desired multi-player map and type of game from, a feature which has work so very damn well in games like Rainbow Six 3. It's near impossible to find a game suited to your personal tastes. They don't have much leeway to customize the type of death match you want to play in some game modes, e.g. Optimatch. There isn't even any choice in what weapons you can use. The only way around this is to make your own match and invite friends, or join a friends already made death match in which they'd have to invite you. The lack of a lobby where you can filter through every game type and every current game being played available was very, very inadequate for a service with such a big fan base like Xbox Live.

Overall 8/10. Don't get me wrong, Halo 2 is groundbreaking, setting a very high standard for any and every FPS to be released not just on the Xbox, but any other gaming system. However, they concentrated too heavily on the multi-player aspect of the game in my honest opinion, and due to this the campaign wasn't as good as it should have been. Yes, its single player is still amazing, but it is lacking a little diversity and only taking 8-10 hours to complete doesn't warrant buying the game solely for the campaign. The multi-player is missing a vital component, bots, but if you have Xbox Live then you won't care at all. But for those that do not have Xbox Live, myself included, then the lack of bots does detract from the multi-player experience. It's still fantastic. It's quite obvious why it has had the most pre-orders of any game in history, and has also had one of the biggest pre-launch campaigns for any game/movie/entertainment ever, but it's not as good as I was hoping for. I feel that a score of 8 is just due to the short, sometimes linear campaign mode, and the lack of bots in multi-player for those that don't have Xbox Live, and the lack of choice and customization in Xbox Live.

My final thoughts. Halo 2, while not perfect, is a very top notch game, and another masterpiece courtesy of Bungie. While the single player campaign can get linear, it's heaps of fun to play through while it lasts, and the multi-player is the most fun you could ever ask for in an FPS - despite the lack of bots. I believe that at this stage it will most certainly be a serious contender Game of the Year. It's going to take something perfect to steal that crown from Master Chief. If you're a FPS fan, or just a fan of quality gaming, and have Xbox Live, then Halo 2 is a must for your gaming collection. It really does look mighty pretty amongst any game collection, and coming in the special edition tin cover it also stands out, and rightly so. Halo 2 is the real deal. So much time and effort has gone into this game, and on the whole it's paid off. Believe the hype; if you've got Xbox Live this game is an experience that must be played to be appreciated. If you don't, and won't be playing multi-player that often, then I'd suggest renting it, as the campaign is too short to warrant buying the game.

Reviewer's Rating:   4.0 - Great

Originally Posted: 11/09/04, Updated 11/09/04

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