Review by Katon

"This is called "living up to the hype.""

Admittedly, I've done my best not to get drawn in to the intense hype machine that has geared up for Halo 2 virtually since the original debuted on the Xbox. I've never been a huge fan of first-person shooters, but Halo 1 captured my interest and captivated me until the end. Of course, the addition of some fabulous multiplayer also provided much replay value and extra bang for the buck. Still, I moved on, and watched the media circus build around this sequel. Could it really live up to the hype? I have like Bungie as a developer for some time, but I was merely going to be content with a continuation of Halo's story and some improved graphics. I wasn't looking for one of the best experiences ever to grace a gaming system, but that's exactly what I got. Unlike any game in recent memory, Halo 2 truly lives up to its hype.

Obviously, the core gameplay is still present from the original Halo. This makes it easy for vets to slide into familiar patterns, but the gameplay is also easy enough for newbies to become quickly acquainted as well. The controls here are very smooth and accessible. The typical FPS options, such as being able to customize your look stick, are present, and Halo 2 uses both analog sticks in movement, with the left stick as motion and the right stick for looking. The right trigger fires weapons, and in a nice addition, you can now dual-wield weapons. When you are doing this, each trigger controls a weapons. However, when carrying some weapons which require the use of both hands, you will be unable to dual-wield. So, there is some strategy here as well. Many old favorite enemies, such as the Elites, are returning from Halo, along with new opponents like the Brutes. Each enemy requires a different strategy to take down, and if you go into areas with guns blazing, you will be seeing the "game over" screen quickly. Grenades are also still quite useful, in fact probably more useful than in any other FPS. Everything is extremely responsive and user-friendly.

Multiplayer is where many will spend the bulk of the game, but the fine single-player game should not be ignored either. Just like in the original, Halo 2's campaign mode consists of various levels with objectives. As you pass checkpoints, the game autosaves, and you also have the option of manually saving to your last checkpoint if you need to quit. The level design is much better in the sequel, with the repetitious areas from the first game now gone. Bungie obviously slaved to answer one of the few complaints about Halo 1. Their work has paid off with many interesting and varied areas. The amount of weapons and vehicles which can be used is also impressive, and my favorite addition would have to be the ability to use the energy wielded by the higher-level Elites, which really comes in handy.

I would be remiss to fail to mention Xbox Live with this game. Halo 2's multiplayer will rule on Microsoft's network for a long time to come. There is a nice variety of modes and maps out there for XBL subscribers, and finding a game is definitely not going to be a problem. Support for clans just sweetens the pot. Basically, take the super fun multi from Halo 1, improve on it every way, and then put it on Xbox Live. Now, you have the Halo 2 online experience.

The story of Halo 2 begins with an FMV bringing everyone up to date on the situation. Reading the novels is encouraged but not necessary to understanding the plot of Halo 2. Without giving away spoilers, Halo 2's plot is simply amazing, especially for an FPS. There are many twists, and the superbly-acted cutscenes add to its magnificence. The Convenant is still out there and is even stronger after adding some new allies. This time, thought, they're bringing the fight closer home. The tight gameplay combined with an outstanding story makes this game quite addictive.

Graphically, Halo 2 is unmatched on any console. The visuals here are mindblowing, and if you have a high-definition television, prepare to be awed. The level of detail present in the levels is incredible, and the FMVs are the best I've ever seen. Halo 2 sets a standard for console games graphically that will be hard to match.

The soundtrack is one of the better I've heard in a game for a while and is definitely a must buy for its own sake. I would even put it on par with Final Fantasy soundtracks if it was more varied musically, but that is a problem with a game that is an FPS, not an RPG. There's simply nowhere near the same amount of game time to make music for in Halo 2. Still, that is surely no discredit to the composers, who have done a stellar job. Sound effects are just as detailed as the graphics, even if they are not as noticeable. Altogether, the graphics and sound do a fine job of immersing the player in the Halo 2 experience.

If there is one big problem with Halo 2, it is the hype which has surrounded it. I'm not quite sure what my fellow gamers were expecting, but I can say that I got much more that I bargained for when I preordered this one. Anyone who owns an Xbox must have this game. Even FPS haters can find something to like here. Halo 2 is one of those games which comes along once every generation if we're lucky. Bungie has done a commendable job of elevating the status of gaming from simple entertainment to what it can be when done correctly, an art form.

Overall score: 10/10

Reviewer's Rating:   5.0 - Flawless

Originally Posted: 11/09/04

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