Review by Dark115

"Earth will never be the same?"

To start this review off I want to make it clear that I am as much of a fan of the first Halo as they come. I was the guy that would have friends and family bring over their xbox's to have huge LAN parties. Nothing was better than a big game of 16 player Halo. Halo was the game I bought an Xbox for, and I was one of the fans eagerly awaiting Halo 2 since the day it was announced as a possibility. I had my pre-order reserved since March of 2002. So to say that Halo 2 was anticipated by me is a huge under-statement.

So the question is relatively simple: Does Halo 2 live up to all the hype?

Well all the magazines would have you think that it is. They praise it as if its the best game ever. They praise it as if they took everything in Halo and made it ten times better. Magazines everywhere were giving it perfect scores or next to near perfect scores. Did Halo 2 deserve perfect scores? No, I don't think it did. Did Halo 2 deserve all the praise it was given? Not all of it, but a lot of it. Halo 2 is a great game yes, but perfect? Not by a long shot.

Story wise the game was over-ambitious. I think if done right, the story could've ended quite simply and the series could've ended in Halo 2. The story almost feels as if it was stretched out to make it possible for Halo 3. Now the story was one of the most anticipated things with Halo 2. Every Bungie developer was kept quiet on the issue until the release date. So Halo 2's story was a bit of a disappointment looking back on it. As Master Chief you are returning to Earth to defend it from the covenant who have recently discovered the location of it. Without exposing too much, quickly the story shifts from its focus on earth to somewhere completely different. So why did Bungie give all those trailers showing Earth being destroyed if the focus of the story was going to switch after the first hour of the game? This is where the disappointments begin. Now Bungie gives you the opportunity to play as the Covenant, specifically an Elite named "the Arbiter". Personally I think its a great chance to see the covenant side of the story although it takes away from the personal hatred you've grown of them since the first Halo.

The graphics in Halo 2 gave me mixed feelings. At one point, I stood there looking at the graphics in amazement, the next moment I sat there thinking: how could a game thats been under development for three years be so un-polished? To the naked eye, Halo 2 looks 10 times better than Halo. Master Chief is more detailed, the vehicles look more detailed, and the covenant look more detailed. But on a closer look, it lacks in other areas. I looked at the grass in the multiplayer level "Coagulation" and it looks so sloppy compared to the way the grass looked in the Halo version of "Blood Gulch". Should that be an issue in a sequel? I don't think so. Another aspect of the graphics that are bothersome are the cutscenes in the game. Some areas tend to pop-up later during the cutscenes, such as details in characters faces, or backgrounds during the cutscene. Now this problem was never in Halo. Bungie has said these pop-ups occur because the level is loading during the cutscene rather than the 2 minute loading screen before a level in Halo. Now personally I'd prefer the pre-loading screen as the pop-up issues make the game look rushed. For a game that is so highly praised, should pop-up be an issue? I don't think it should.

Audio wise there are no complaints about Halo 2. Bungie continued the tradition of great music. Halo is known for its music, and Halo 2 is no different. From the moment the Bungie symbol comes up in the beginning, to the moment the game's credits come up at the end. Sound affects as also great. The guns sound the way they should, the grenades sound the way they should, and the sound of the energy sword being used is magnificent. The announcer from the first game is back and just as great. There's no better feeling than hearing him shout out "running riot"

Halo has great controls, so Halo 2 is no different. Use the right-trigger to fire your weapon in your right hand, use the left-trigger to fire your weapon in your left hand. If you are only holding one gun, use the left trigger to throw a grenade. Hold X to pick up a gun off of the ground, or to reload, or to enter a vehicle or to board a vehicle. Press Y to switch weapons, or hold it down to dual wield a weapon on the ground. Press A to jump, and B to melee attack. The white button is still your flashlight, or if you are the arbiter its your active camo. If you are in a team multiplayer game, hold the white button to chat to your team. The black button switches your type of grenade. The analog sticks are used to move and look around. Click the left analog in and you crouch, click the right analog in and you zoom in with the right weapon. The controls are the same easy controls as in Halo with the new Halo 2 features added in.

Gameplay in Halo 2 is split into two basic modes: Campaign and Multiplayer

Halo 2's campaign takes you through 13 levels by yourself or with a friend playing through co-op. Personally I prefer the original Halo's campaign as I feel the levels were better and longer. So the 10 levels in Halo are roughly the same length as the 13 levels in Halo 2. Halo 2 was promised to be a longer game than Halo when really putting more shorter levels in doesn't make the game longer. I feel a bit cheated in this aspect. The also promised less repetitive environments, while the first half of the game felt like they lived up to this, the second half felt like a lot of levels had recycled areas. Some of the ares were used to 2 levels just as in Halo. I don't see where the changes took place. My real complaint comes from the A.I. in the game. Halo was famous for its great A.I. Now for the time that was great A.I. but Halo 2 just took the same A.I. and tweaked it a bit. I personally didn't see much of a difference. The difficulty was another huge complaint I had. Easy was way too easy, normal was too easy, hard was still pretty easy, then legendary went to impossible. Why such a jump? In the first Halo, legendary was hard because the A.I. was really smart and would be hard to beat because they were so smart, and you had a bit of a disadvantage strength wise. In Halo 2, the A.I. is the same. The only thing that makes the game harder is your strength compared to the enemies strength. Two or three sniper shots to a jackal who's wearing some sort of soft material as armor, whereas you die from one sniper shot and you have your heavy built up MOLJINIR armor. Does that make much sense? It took 5 tank shots (direct hits) to take down a ghost, where they would turn around and shoot 3 loose shots of plasma and kill you in your tank. Just terrible. And the Elites who dual wield seem to have 100% accuracy from 100 feet away. It is possible to pass easily after you learn tricks, but I still get killed by cheap over powering on the enemies part. When it comes down to it, I'm just being picky as Halo 2's campaign beats almost every other FPS out there on the market currently, but it doesn't compare to Halo.

Multiplayer was one of Halo's strengths. It really shined, and all the options are back, playing LAN by system link. The new feature is what makes Halo 2 really shine, its ability to go online via Xbox Live. But here's my question. Why did bungie dumb down Halo for Halo 2? Don't get me wrong the game is solid, the new weapons are ok, and xbox live features are awesome. But when a game makes a sequel aren't they supposed to keep what made the original game good and add new features that work within that framework? Let me explain. Duel-wielding totally ruins the dynamic from the original game where, skill and punching were essential. The plasma weapons no longer have the freeze effect, so single wielding them is almost useless. Even the only midrange weapons like the battle rifle have trails on the bullets making you an easier target. The game strongly encourages you to duel-wield and forces close combat where the winner of the battle is the guy who held down two triggers better while aiming a huge reticle at the opponent (or the guy with the sniper/rocket/sword/shotgun). Punches and grenades are useless. In Halo, grenades would flip vehicles and were generally to be feared, but now they are mini fart bombs. Single smg vs. double smg is a no contest in favor of the duel-wielder. Punches are now only good if someone is in flashing health, and even then it's almost better to wait for a reload. Bungie's logic is flawed. Why did they do this? Wouldn't Halo 2 be better if there was still a skillful way to win regardless of if you didn't have the right gun for the situation? Halo 2 feels more like the Unreal Tournament games than it feels like a Halo game. Now this isn't necessarily a bad thing, but I bought Halo 2 to play a Halo game, not an Unreal game.

Replay Value
Well it wouldn't be a Halo game if it didn't feature great replay value. I played Halo up until the day that Halo 2 came out, and it didn't have online capabilities. But Halo 2 is online, and online means you always have someone to play at anytime, on any day. The matchmaking system I didn't like at first but now you never play anyone who is way above your skill level. This also increases the replay value as you won't get pissed off as much as if you were being owned. I can see myself playing Halo 2 until Halo 3.

Rent or Buy?
Well I was one of those people who ran out and bought the game at midnight on November 9th, 2004. Some people regret it, I certainly don't. Although the game lacks a lot of what Halo was, it still shines and is worth the price based on multiplayer alone. If you are unsure, then rent, but in the end I'm 90% sure you'll end up going out and buying it.

Overall: 9/10
Now you may be thinking? But Dark, you tore up the game in a lot of ways in your review? Yes thats true, but at the end of the day I can't help but love Halo 2. I wrote the review based on comparing it to its hype and comparing it to Halo. Unfortunately when you compare a game to one of the best games of all time, not much lives up to it. Halo 2 overall is an excellent game, but not a game without flaws. I finished playing Halo 2 feeling very satisfied, but there's still some things that it leaves to be desired.

Reviewer's Rating:   4.5 - Outstanding

Originally Posted: 01/05/05

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