Review by Evil Insane

"FPS combat has evolved even further"

The original Halo: Combat Evolved wasn't a game that moved me to the core. It was more of a nice game with nice graphics, a few nice touches and a few new gimmicks. It had some great ideas (you could only carry two weapons at a time, for example) and had some truly fun bits (Warthog. Nuff said) but didn't really grip me by the bits like other FPS's, such as other Perfect Dark or Goldeneye did. The sequel, however, is, luckily, very different. Damn different.

Gameplay 9/10

One of the greatest things about Halo 2 is that the gameplay is actually fun this time round! Oh yes, miracles do happen, ladies. For one thing, the game is now less linear than the first. Now it's got nice little Half-Life-esque touches. Walk into a room and as opposed to just seeing a bunch of enemies jump out and for you to kill them, you could well have a wall smash through and enemies to pour out of it, attacking you from every angle. The areas are also well-developed and different, no more walking into a room that was identical to the other thirty rooms previous!

There are also new weapons for you to play with, as well as dual-weapon capabilities! Now you can wield two SMGs, just like in the adverts! Woo! As well as new vehicles (Including an all-new Warthog) you can even steal the vehicles off your enemies whilst they are still using them! Nothing quite like hijacking a Banshee and knocking the scum off it before piloting it for yourself. Also added are genuine snipering sections, where you can pick off enemies from afar.

Also, the game boasts a new roster of enemies to kick seven shades of intergalactic justice out of. The new guys fly, climb up walls, jump about like insane breakdancers and attack you in formation. The soldiers also have nicknames for them, which is fun when they scream “Bugs at twelve o' clock!” right before they are shot to pieces. The enemies AI is also improved, with enemies, old and new, being wary of you, as opposed to just shooting away like idiots. Instead of blindly following you and walking into the line of fire, they'll, more often than not, camp together, looking out for you before scattering and firing wildly.

The suit itself that Chief wears is also different. Gone is the “lives” system, where your suit could take additional damage after losing the shield, to a certain point, now, you only have a shield, with a smaller ballistic one that absorbs some of the damage of initial attacks. Although this sounds nice in theory, once the ballistic shield degenerates, your primary one goes down fast. And by fast, I mean damn fast.

You now are armed with binoculars for recon, and some small weapons even have a scope, so you can snipe particularly tricky bad guys who prefer to use shields to hide behind.

Story 7/10

Halo 2 now features a decent story. People who haven't played or completed Halo: Combat Evolved and don't want to know the ending, look away now. It's just after Master Chief blew the hell out of Halo and stopped the Covenant's invasion. As his feat is being celebrated (and gets a new suit), the Covenant themselves are punishing the leader of the Covenant forces for doing such a bad job with stopping the Chief. Of course, in true Halo style, the ship that Chief is on gets attacked by Covenant forces. Cue heroic scene.

The story is actually pretty engaging, mostly because the cut scenes are approximately eighty-three times better than Halo: Combat Evolved, and you can't help but be taken in by it all, and, for once, actually find the Chief to be pretty cool. Before, he was just a big guy in a suit. Now, not only does he have better lines, but he's more likable, as is Johnson, the wise-cracking soldier from the first game, who comes out with some damn memorable lines.

Also, this coupled with a subplot involving the aforementioned Covenant leader make the story engaging and exciting.

Graphics 10/10

Single-handedly the greatest point of Halo 2 is the new graphics. Gone are the old graphics that, now, look blocky at best, and they're replaced with new character models, crisper visuals and an all-new Chief with more shiny armour. Basically anything you thought was pretty about the first one is upped by at least twenty in this. It also runs pretty damn smooth, even in co-op mode.

The best example of the new graphics is in the games opening sequences. The polygon count is off the chart, and it really pushes the X-Box to its limits. My only gripe is that in some scenes, the textures don't load as quickly as I would like them to, and you are occasionally left looking for a second or two and blank models before the game sorts itself out and loads them up. This is very infrequent, however, and doesn't really destroy the atmosphere since you're probably laughing too much at Johnson anyways to care. That man is a legend.

During the game, the machine fires about so much power that its great fun even to just watch someone play it, as streams of fire fly past you, explosions send enemies flying into the air and the Chief runs about, shooting, punching and throwing grenades into the fray. The enemies, bigger, better and badder than ever, fill the screen, going totally crazy-go-nuts on you.

Sound 8/10

Just as you'd expect it to be. The guns sound like guns, the soldiers sound like soldiers and the Covenant still make humourous comments in annoying voices. The new weapons make realistic explosions and add the nice sound of falling dirt after it for better effect. The weapons have a meaty clunk when you smash them over the head of an enemy and the suit has nice little blipping sounds to warn you that you are about to die. The music is very cool and atmospheric at times, especially in the city scenes when rock music kicks in and really makes you want to kick some ass.

The sounds are great during massive battle scenes with the Covenant and humans, like in the early levels in the cities, and later during the massive sieges. With surround sound, this game is at its best, with screams coming from either side, guns firing off everywhere and explosions shaking your ears. Reminds me of ‘Nam. In the movies, that is.

Presentation 8/10

The menu screens are easy to access and use, the HUD is now more compact, but slightly harder to gauge your health (or so I found) and the ammo bars are now better-looking and easier to check your magazine levels with icons than just numbers. It still has that “Hold X to change weapon” jobbie appear at the corner of your screen, but its generally more helpful than it is a hindrance, and shows nice wee mini-pictures of the weapons you are about to pick up, making it an easier, faster process.

Control 9/10

All controls are customizable to the Nth degree, although it suffered, I noticed, from the same problem that the first had: too many buttons. Not the games fault I suppose, the X-Box and its mammoth-sized control pads have too many buttons at the best of times, but I found myself more than once accidentally changing weapons when I meant to smack an enemy over the head, but that's probably my fault more than the games. Also, a damn nice touch is something that I've been giving off about for years: when using two weapons, on shoulder button fires off one weapon whilst the other button fires the other gun. A great feature, if you ask me, and, although it's confusing (one gun may run of bullets first, for example) I think it adds to the atmosphere and makes it more real.

Extra features 8/10

A good few, including customizing your multiplayer characters primary and secondary colour, their shoulder symbol, the usual multiplayer, and co-op as well as additional levels of difficulty make this game pretty big. Could be better though. Like custom soundtracks, for example, or unlocking extra multiplayer maps. The multiplayer is good, doesn't have bots, however, but you can choose to be either the Chief in his SPARTAN II battle suit, or a Covenant warrior in his shiny undergarments. Good maps, but Blood Gulch does not feature as one of them, which makes me unhappy and want to cry.

Also, although it isn't technically part of the game, you get a nice little DVD that shows the making of the game and gives you insight into how they created many of the game's action sequences.

Play Time 8/10

The main story mode will do you for a wee while, maybe about 12 hours if you run through it on the easiest difficulty, but what's the fun in that? Relish it, play it with a friend, on Legendary, the hardest difficulty. But even with that, there's the multiplayer, which still, annoyingly, doesn't feature bots, but is good fun nonetheless. There's also a lot of secrets in the game to collect, not ruining anything, but they're quite fun items that turn on different game modes.

Replayability 10/10

As above, loads of replayability, especially if you and a friend just mess about in Co-op in the Warthog. If you have a good imagination, you'll be at it for ages. If not, you'll still be at it for ages, you unimaginative fool.

Buy or rent? 10/10

Buy. Even if you hated Halo: Combat Evolved (like me), buy it. The silver tin case is reason enough to give it a place in your collection.

Halo 2 takes the best bits about Halo: Combat Evolved, throws away the useless monotonous tunnels and the reams of identical rooms, and adds in a meaty filling of exciting level design, fantastic graphics that rival even Doom III's efforts and wraps it all up in a tasty shell of pure gaming bliss. All in all, a damn fine game, well worth at least playing, far better than the original, and proof that the X-Box isn't just a game console big enough to house a small family, but also has some half-decent games.

Percentage: (The separate scores added together) 87%

Score out of ten: (Rounded to the nearest whole number) 9/10

GameFAQs score: (Not an average) 9/10

Reviewer's Rating:   4.5 - Outstanding

Originally Posted: 12/07/04, Updated 01/03/05

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