Review by ryansebiz

"If it ain't broke, don't break it."

In what has to be the biggest video game launch since the debut of NES classic Super Mario Bros. 3, Halo 2 was released this past Tuesday. Expectations for sequel to the Xbox's immensely successful launch title were huge. Larger than life in fact. The original game deftly excelled and broadened new horizons in gameplay, story and sound. The fans were expecting nothing short of perfection. The anticipation could rival Star Wars fans excitement for Episode I: The Phantom Menace. Unfortunately, while Halo 2 excels in many areas, it is far from perfect and severely lacking in others. Just as George Lucas was unable to surpass the standards set by his original work neither could Bungie, makers of Halo and the sequel.

The primary reason for this arrives in the Halo 2's gameplay. Easily the hottest topic among fans, next to the story (more on that later), the gameplay has been greatly changed. The most noticeable difference comes in the weapon sets. Gone is the fan favorite pistol and enduring yet ineffective assault rifle. In their place are the highly weakened pistol (no longer able to zoom in) and the battle rifle. Why did Bungie change these weapons? Why was the zooming scope removed from the pistol? Was it for the ability to duel wield (in-game term for brandishing two weapons at once)? If the logical decision is to not allow zooming while dual wielding, at least leave it available for single pistol use.

Another questionable alteration occurs in the incredibly satisfying melee attack. In Halo the melee kill, hitting someone with the butt of your gun, was an instantaneous death if administered in the back. There was a natural feel to the swing of the attack, a fluid and believable wide range of motion that followed through with the hit. This is no longer the case in Halo 2. The range of the melee attack has been significantly reduced. Whereas the original game gave you what felt like a range of three feet for the attack to hit (logical, as that is about the distance of your reach), the sequel maybe allows one. It is so small that you must actually be almost directly touching the person to smack them with your gun. In addition to decreasing the range of the attack, Bungie has also added a nausea-inducing screen shake with the attack. I don't know about you, but when I swing an object my head doesn't shake uncontrollably. Then again I don't work at Bungie.

Another collective confusion among fans arises from Bungie's showcasing of features that did not appear in the final game. The most glaring example of this fan frustration comes from the lack of the highly touted first level from the game's trailer. Shown at the Electronic Entertainment Expo last year, the demo showcased Master Chief arriving on Earth and immediately annihilating everything in his path. In it, the game's protagonist speaks with a medic tending to wounded comrades, has a fellow soldier hand him his own gun to dual wield and fights an alien wraith with its own banshee vehicle. It ends with an emphatic “hype-building” climactic cinematic featuring aliens arriving in pods with Master Chief about to “stick” them with a plasma grenade. The fans went nuts. This was the demo that they had been chomping at the bit to play for months and yet it was not included in the final game. Talk about pulling the proverbial rug out from under the fans' feet.

A smaller example is the showcased battle rifle; supposedly able to fire three shot bursts unzoomed and one-shot bursts while zoomed in. In the final game it does not matter; it's three all around. This may sound like a minor complaint, but for fans of the aforementioned departed pistol, and its sorely missed zoom, it's a major complaint among fans. Finally grenades, so effective at stopping speeding vehicles and taking down opponents' shields, pale in comparison to their former selves. They are hardly worth throwing anymore because of the drastically reduced blast radius. So in the sequel you have heavily diluted weapons and attacks such as the pistol, grenade and melee attack. Why must Bungie take away the power from these things that worked so well in the first game?

One of the major complaints from the first game was the repetitive environments that plagued Halo. They still plague the sequel. Bungie was supposedly going to fix this; they didn't. It's as if the company literally copied and pasted entire sections of levels to extend their value. They should have worked harder; the single player campaign will take you around 10 hours to complete. Bungie had three years to make this game and this makes it feel rushed. They promised it would be longer than the first. It isn't. They promised it would not have recycled and repetitive environments. It doesn't. Note to Bungie: don't make promises you can't keep.

The most shocking disappointment among fans arrives in the single greatest disappointment of the game: its ending. To put it simply, the ending of Halo 2 made the ending of The Matrix Reloaded look like a historic cinematic achievement. Without spoiling anything the game lacks a satisfying resolution. This is the case because there isn't one. This is as abrupt an ending as you'll find in any medium. In comparison with Halo's suspenseful and exhilarating finale, Halo 2 will certainly leave all players with a collective sense of disappointment. Whereas the Wachowski's already had The Matrix Revolutions ready to go, Bungie has no excuse. The extreme cliffhanger ending in the second Matrix was only meant as a continuation into the third film to be released a few months later. Halo 3 won't likely be released until a few years later. Unlike Revolutions, Halo 3 is not finished, nor is it even in production. For Bungie to promise such an intriguing storyline this pathetic excuse for a climax is unacceptable. It is a sad day indeed when I'm actually praising the atrocious Matrix sequels in comparison to the ultimate let down that occurs at Halo 2's conclusion. It feels as if, again, Bungie simply ran out of time and put no effort into the finale.

If I could go back in time I would give the folks at Bungie one important word of advice. Actually, I'd bring back an almanac, make a boat-load of money, then tell Bungie “if it ain't broke, don't break it.” Halo was a crowning achievement in video game history because of the things it did right: namely gameplay and story. Why change these things when they were your calling card before? If Bungie wants to introduce new things such as dual wielding that's great, but they should not alter how things worked before. It also appears as though Bungie did not learn from the mistakes it made in the first game. After all the highly touted reports of the intriguing and captivating single player campaign, finally completing it makes me feel deceived. Halo 2's story is predictable, contrived and disappointing. Halo's story, and ending, were much better. In what is the biggest disappointment of all, Halo is a better game than Halo 2.

Halo 2: 6/10

Reviewer's Rating:   3.0 - Fair

Originally Posted: 11/15/04

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