Review by Vegechan
To those who said this day would never come...
First off, I want to apologize for the tardiness of my review. I wanted to make sure that I played every aspect of the game and wanted to even beat Legendary to give a full review. After playing for almost a week, I feel I can give a full impression, and even though I personally have not beat Legendary, I can give you an idea about it. Secondly, this is all but one man's opinion so don't take it to heart. A lot of people respect my opinion and I even asked if people would care to read this if I ever took the time to type it up and people encouraged me to. I will try to keep it as spoiler free as I can, but just in case, there might be some ahead. That being said, here we go.
There's a lot to go into this one score. So let me explain fully. If you play through the game on normal, and even sometimes on heroic, there is often bugs in the enemy and ally AI that sometimes make the game easy. Often a Covenant or Flood will just stand there for brief moments making it easy to gun them down. There has also been times where I sniped 5 out of a group of 7 enemies before they noticed what I was doing and attacked. However, judging on the fact that all of these "bugs" are non existent in the Legendary difficulty, I am to believe they were put in there based on the difficulty setting so they can't be marked against gameplay, seeing how they were purposefully put there.
The basic gameplay feel of Halo 2 is pretty much the same of Halo, save a few added additions, which instead of changing the entire feel of Halo, it gives it a new fresh feel. By now, everyone knows of things like boarding vehicles, dual wielding and being able to trade weapons with allies, and I have to say it just feels right. Never once did I think it was over powering in any way, which just continues to add to the overall balance of the gameplay.
Which brings me to my next point. This game is really balanced. Sure, the Rocket Launcher might be powerful against both vehicles and people, but it only comes with 4 rockets now and each ammo pick up is 2 rockets. The Sniper Rifle now has a recoil that jolts the aiming reticle upwards, not only making it impossible to fire of another shot in quick succession, it makes it hard to keep a lead on someone you are trying to track, making it important to get that ever important head shot. The M6C Magnum might not be as powerful as it's M6D successor in Halo, but it has a quicker rate of fire which makes up for the lack of power. A pistol dual wielded with any weapon including itself makes for a powerful combo no one should ignore. The energy sword, although pretty powerful, can be stopped many ways. Shotguns, Plasma Pistol/any other human weapon combo are just some tactics I've used against a on coming sword carrier. Although fast and deadly, given a little bit of thought to take care of them, they are not invincible. These are just examples of how some of the more known weapons and controversially weapons are balanced.
All of this adds to the most fun I've had in a game for a long time. I would have given the gameplay a 9.5 before I played Legendary, but the game really shines in this difficulty setting. After playing a lot of this setting, I have to give the gameplay a 10. If you haven't tried it yet, I highly suggest it.
Now, before you go ahead and yell at me for giving the graphics a 9.5, let me explain myself. Sure, it's not the best looking game ever, and yes the cut scenes do have pop-up texture issues, but just hear me out.
First let's address the difference in the announcement trailer and the final product. In that little trailer we saw real time lighting effects, real time reflections in his helmet, shadows on his armor caused by the armor itself, and smooth hi res graphics. Bungie tried to make Halo 2 using this engine. But guess what? The Xbox couldn't handle it and they had to change things. It hurts them just as much as it hurts us. Now, what we are given, is quite impressive for the scale of levels and number of enemies encountered. Whenever I see the Chief's armor, the expressions on Jackals, Elite's faces, or even the small deformed bodies of the flood, I really am impressed as what they did. Keep in mind, this game moves at a solid 30 fps and never breaks down once. With hours into this game I have never experienced a drop in the framerate which for a FPS as hectic as this, is a hard thing to accomplish. So sure, the graphics aren't Doom 3 quality, but given what they had, they pulled off the best they can do based on limitations given to them by hardware.
Now the texture pop up issue in cut scenes. Well, as you know it's using the in game engine to process these cut scenes and many people ask why? So the actual level can load in the meantime. This is to cut down on load times within the actual game, as you remember on Halo CE during check points. This is to make the game flow most smoothly. Bungie has made an official claim to this and it can be found here if you are interested: http://www.bungie.net/News/TopStory.aspx?story=weeklywhats111204
This is just a small price to pay for a greater good which I gladly pay. Texture pop up issue a side, the cut scenes are beautiful.
So, even though this isn't the best looking game on the market, given the scale of this game, it still pushes the Xbox to it's limits without taking away from gameplay with framerate issues, which is why I give it a 9.5 out of 10.
The ever so controversial story. Now, as stated before I will try to keep this spoiler-free. But all the way until the ending, this game's story was impressive. While not up to RPG standards, this is a great Action Sci-Fi story for First person shooter standards. I mean let's face it, FPSs seem to lack in the story department. This story is very deep and has the cinemas push the story along with out being extremely long like other games. The longest cinema sequence is no longer then 3-5 minutes. Even in the extra DVD they had to cut a 6 minute long cut scene because they didn't want the player sitting around for that long. Certain story elements are given in the middle of battle sometimes and is hard to catch unless you listen closely, but the important stuff is in the cut scenes and when there is no fighting.
I'll say it, I wasn't expecting the ending, and which is why I took off a point. The story is worthy of a 10, but the ending could have been better. Now, I am not saying the ending sucked, but it could have been better. It wasn't a bad ending, and I liked it, but it doesn't live up to the rest of the story. It does however leave you wanting more, which is what the second installment of a trilogy should properly do. I understand Bungie wanted to leave us hanging, and I understand that it sets up Halo 3, but it could have been done just a little differently to bring it up to par with the rest of the story.
The soundtrack in a word, is amazing. Marty really did a fantastic job composing the music for this game and Steve's guitar abilities really set a new mix to some old favorites. The music generally keeps the original Halo feel, but given a new twist at times to keep it fresh. The music perfected implemented at the right times. Never once did I think the music came in at the wrong spots or if the music didn't set the mood correctly. I bought the soundtrack and loved every song, except for a couple of the "inspired" music, although one or two of them grew on me. I can't wait for Volume 2 to be released.
Now, I had to take off .5 points because a couple of the new gun sound effects. Everything else is great. Elites now speak partial English thanks to the new translator in the Mark VI armor (although you can't understand everything they say sometimes and it's very warped) the explosions have that feeling of power, the alien screams, yelps, and chatter as well as the rest of the voice acting is superb, and most of the guns sounds great. Some of my complaints is the plasma pistol and rifle now. They sound more like a laser gun then super heated plasma being fired fast rates. I loved the way they sounded in Halo CE and a little disappointed in the new sound, although I quickly get over it. Everything else sound related is incredible.
Multiplayer without Live 9/10
I am putting Multiplayer into two separate sections, without Live and with Live, mainly because both are completely different experiences.
Halo's multiplayer was fantastic, and was so great, people would lug their large boxs all over the place, along with most likely another TV, for Lan parties. For consoles, this was almost unheard of, but became almost common. Well I can safely assume Halo 2 will replace Halo. There are just so much more gametypes available and the options are much more detailed then Halo CE. The maps, in my opinion are much more enjoyable then most of the ones in Halo CE. Although Halo came with 13 maps, only about 5 of them were worth playing. Halo 2 doesn't have this problem and I enjoy all 11. Some of them are better at certain gametypes then others and I prefer them over other maps. If you still play Halo CE's multiplayer, then this will have you playing for much longer. There's new gametypes as well as the old, and enough freedom with options to have you playing for a long time. One of the coolest options is being able to change your character. From Spartan to Elite, to customizing your emblem, you are giving your avatar a certain feel to it.
Now this is where a lot of people might not actually agree with me, because they might not like certain aspects. Personally, I love it, but I can see why a lot don't see eye to eye.
Matchmaking. Basically, you choose if you want a Free for all, one on one, small team, big team, or some type of clan matches and the game takes it from there. Not only does the game choose the gametype and level, it pits you against players of matched skill. Some people might not like the fact that they can't choose where and how, but personally, I prefer this. By choosing the map and options you are giving yourself an unfair advantage over the other players and your rank would only be based on only a select number of maps and gametypes. Now, I do agree at this point the play lists are partially limited, but they have said numerous times as time progresses they will add new maps and gametypes to these lists to keep things fresh. I personally love matchmaking and thought it was one of the better (not best) ranking systems.
Now, the bigger complaint, is not being able to make random games and leave them open for people to join. I've found a couple ways around this such as spaming your friends list for a party and then making custom matches. Now I think there is a way to get into open custom games because I started one awhile ago and someone came in that wasn't on my friend list and no one else invited him. I didn't think to ask him how he got in because I thought he was on my friends list at the time, but when I later checked he wasn't. I still wish there was a lobby list of custom games, but due to the tens of thousands of players on at a given time, I don't think that would be possible. Maybe a sample list or something like Diablo II did, but I can understand why Bungie excluded this.
Another thing I want to point out is this "long wait" some players complain about. It doesn't happen to everyone, but some people do wait almost 3 minutes to get into games. Bungie is aware of this and is currently working on a solution, as stated in that Weekly What's update I supplied earlier. You can read more about it there.
Bottomline: I love Live and will continue playing on Live for a very long time. There are certain aspects like no lists that slightly upset me, but will and have greatly upset others.
Final Grade 9.8/10
I'm sure you've heard it before, the good vastly out weighs the bad. There are some issues with the game, but almost every one has some type of reason. The texture pop ups is just a small price to pay for no loading in the middle of the game, the story is arguable one of the bests for it's genre, the gameplay is solid as well as framerate, the multiplayer will keep you begging for more, and although Live can be somewhat of a pain for a lot of people, battles are still intense and a huge amount of fun. For me, the replayability of campaign had me starting over a soon as it was done and increasing the difficulty. Not as redundant as the first, the levels are beautiful and they try to keep the gameplay fresh by introducing greater threats. For instance in some flood levels, you at first run into your average run of the mill ones. Then you run into ones that have shields, and then ones that drive vehicles. Although you can only take it so far, it tries to make it more then just shooting the same thing over and over again. Not only will Live (if you have it) and multiplayer keep you playing for a long time, you will in all honestly have to be a Legendary player to beat the Legendary difficulty. This setting alone will keep you busy for some time.
Personally, I enjoy this game much more than Halo CE and if not my favorite game, it is up there. Each day that passes, and each time I play, I find a new easter egg or fun little tid bit that makes it all the more interesting. Each time I play the game grows on me more, which is sort of what happened with the original. There is so much to this game, and I can't wait to see what downloadable content they have to offer in the near future. Rumors of Halo 3 are rampant, and it will be interesting to see what Bungie says about the issue.
Rating: 4.5 - Outstanding
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