Review by Tiebones

"One of the Best Games of the Year!"

Quick Review
The mother of all first person shooters has finally arrived! Halo 2 is the greatest Xbox game ever to be released. Living up to its unbelievable hype, Bungie's masterpiece features an engaging story, a satisfying single-player campaign, some of the most impressive graphics ever seen in a console title, and new gameplay features like dual-wielding, vehicle boarding, new weapons, and advanced AI. However, Halo 2's online multiplayer is the brightest spot of this awesome gameplay experience. All sorts of maps and game types await you, as well as thousands of opponents ready to test their skills against the best players in the world. Awesome, gorgeous, and super intense, Halo 2 is a milestone in videogame history.

Pros and Cons
+ A well-crafted story is enhanced by some of the greatest voice acting in a videogame
+ Gameplay includes numerous new additions that add to the rock solid shooting experience
+ A non-stop butt-kicking thrill ride of a single player campaign awaits you if you can tear yourself away from the intense and highly addictive Xbox Live experience
+ The best graphics ever seen on a console
+ A beautifully crafted soundtrack that's actually better than its prequel
- No co-op play for Xbox Live or through system link
- Occasional pop-up
- You can sometimes spy textures quickly filling in during cut scenes
- Brutes have a very plastic appearance, and one character in particular is sloppily designed
- The end was poorly handled

Bottom Line
Halo 2 is the defining first person shooter of this console generation. It's the best game on Xbox by far, and although it has some nagging glitches and a pretty lame ending, it's still a nonstop rollercoaster thrill ride that not only bests the competition but bludgeons them with the butt of its assault rifle. If all we received for $50 was the single-player game, I'd still be ecstatic, but the amazing and highly addictive Xbox Live multiplayer makes Halo 2 the greatest bargain the game world's ever seen.

Extended Review
"Just another day in hell," I think as I sit nestled amongst the green trees. I briefly glance skyward and marvel at the thousands of burning stars. In the distance, the sound of a wailing Banshee doesn't faze me, nor does the numerous explosions and rata-tat-tat crackle of machine gun fire. I calmly return my gaze to the battlefield, an empty plain of grass and brown rock. I'd seen something like it three years ago in a place called Blood Gulch, the site of numerous massacres. I'd certainly spilt my blood onto it, but I'd spilled opponents' as well. This time, however, things are different. This place is called Coagulation, and it's the site of a new war, one that will be decided when one of my team members carries the enemy's flag through hell, fire, and brimstone to our base, and I'm the soldier who's going to get him there, for you see, I'm carrying an S2 AM sniper rifle, the best ranged weapon the UNSC has ever designed, and I'm looking to connect with the heads of numerous foes as they blindly run past my field of vision. Suddenly, a figure comes into view. I quickly zoom to get a bead on my opponent, and I recognize him right away by his gamer tag. A media celebrity for a popular videogame magazine, he's marching down the field to my home base to steal what's ours, but unbeknownst to him, he hasn't gone undetected. "I see you." I whisper to myself. He's in a bad part of town, and I'm going to escort his monkey ass out of it in .5 seconds, but he won't be carrying a flag. More gunshots can be heard but I'm not really listening. It's just me and this poor chump who thinks he's on his way to victory. I calm my nerves, hold my breath, and squeeze the trigger. This, my friends, is Halo 2.

Halo 2 is the culmination of three years of hard work, and the end product is just as amazing I expected it to be. Developed by Bungie, it is the single greatest first person shooter the console world's ever seen, which means that it doesn't matter how or which mode you're playing: Halo 2 will be one of if not the most amazing virtual experience you'll ever have. You don't need to have played the original to understand why this is so, but you'll certainly maximize your enjoyment if you have for numerous reasons, beginning with the game's single-player campaign.

Having obliterated the Halo, the Master Chief is awarded medals for saving the human race. Unfortunately, the party is crashed by Covenant forces. What ensues is an intro much like the first level to the original Halo, except with a lot less training and tons more action. You instantly acquire a weapon, as well as get a chance to check out dual-wielding. This time around, certain weapons, such as the SMG (small machine gun), plasma rifle, plasma blaster, and the needler, can be dual-wielded for maximum fire power. Grabbing two SMGs (or not, but I recommend that you do), you traverse the ship, taking down waves of grunts, elites, and drones (flying Covenant soldiers who resemble Geonossians from Star Wars: Episode II), and you'll instantly notice that the sequel is a lot more difficult than the first. Even on normal difficulty, the Covenant put up quite a fight, and you're going to die; a lot. On the harder difficulties (Legendary being the most intense), you can barely survive ten seconds in a fire fight. These aliens are smarter, more vicious, and great shots, which adds even more realism to the experience. As you'll see in later levels (when there are several snipers in high places), you're going to need to think if you want to even make it to the alley across the street.

The single-player campaign is filled with tons of secrets, including one enormous one that I can't tell you about, so rather than describe the levels, it's best to just take a look at what's different about the gameplay. The dual-wielding is something you'll definitely take advantage of, though that also requires a bit of strategy. You're able to mix and match some weapons, so it's possible to go into a fight brandishing both the plasma rifle and an SMG, but you shouldn't empty both guns at once. Pressing both triggers to fire will affect your aiming, causing the guns to point upward, so it's best to alternate with each weapon. Not only will you find it easier to keep your aim steady, but you'll conserve ammo. Trust me, the last thing you want to do while engaging Covenant on Legendary is zero out.

Also new is the ability to board vehicles by removing the drivers. The Master Chief has access to all of the Covenant rides minus the battle ships, so if you see an elite on a ghost jetting across the plain, run up to him and knock him out. Of course, this feature can work against you if you're not paying attention to who's in the area, especially during a multiplayer battle.

Speaking of rides, Halo 2 gives you a lot more ways to travel. You can hop inside a banshee, a wraith, as well as the new shadow. Of course, if you've placed your trust in good old fashioned UNSC equipment, the trusty wart hog and M8088 Scorpion tank are at your disposal. In the wart hog's case, you can actually man the turret while your AI companions drive, and they're thankfully intelligent, so you won't have to worry about them launching you off a cliff. However, you will need to monitor the condition of all of the vehicles, as they take damage and will eventually explode. You can blast the tires off the wart hog and reduce it charred scrap metal, clip a ghost's wings, or shred a banshee's outer shell. With the AI as intense as it is, vehicles provide very little refuge.

Speeding across levels on a ghost is a lot of fun, but so is walking and picking off Covenant with the game's weapons. Halo 2 has more than double the weapons of the first game, and while some are better than others, each has its place on the battlefield. The assault rifle from Halo's out, replaced with the far more accurate and cooler battle rifle. With a three-shot burst and 3X zoom scope, it's the all around best weapon in the game. However, new additions, such as the magnum (zoom pistol begone), the SMG, the Covenant energy sword (one hit, smack, death), stationary turrets (can take out waves of aliens in seconds), the brute shot (weak grenade launcher), and the carbine (Covenant version of the battle rifle) are very cool, though that doesn't round out all of the new weapons you'll come across. If you're a fan of the old guns, you'll be pleased to know that the shotgun, sniper rifle, rocket launcher, frag and plasma grenade, plasma rifle, plasma pistol, and needler make a return appearance. The needler is especially dangerous. Given a power boost, it's deadly by itself, but when dual-wielded with another one, the bodies pile up very quickly.

Just as Halo 2 has new weapons, there are also new enemies. The flying drones are just one of the new aliens you'll face. The gigantic gorilla-like brutes pack quite a punch if you get too close, and so do different forms of Covenant soldiers, as well as other monsters I'm not going to mention. Trust me; I'm leaving out the details for a reason.

Much to my chagrin, the single player campaign is over rather quickly. Even with a ton of dying, I crossed the finish line at about the 13 hour mark. That's not disappointing considering Legendary will probably tack on several more hours to it, but I was definitely left wanting more, which is why I turned to the multiplayer component. Yes, as in the first game, you can play through the single player cooperatively with a friend (split screen only), but it's the Xbox Live play (as well as system link) that really puts this game over the top. Featuring numerous maps, seven game types, numerous variations of those game types, and play for up to 16, Halo 2 online is a euphoric experience, the point at which you realize that you're having the most fun that you've ever had playing a multiplayer game, and it's quite possible that you won't leave the couch for several hours at a time. It's just than damn good.

Included game types are Slayer, King of the Hill, Oddball, Juggernaut, Capture the Flag, Assault, and Territories, and each one has several different variations. For example, there are nine different ways to play Slayer alone! For Oddball there are six, including Rocketball, Swordball, Team Ball, Low Ball, and Fiesta. It's just a sick number of choices, and more than likely there will always be a game going on someplace. Even better, you can easily form clans (up to 100 people in each clan), and customize your characters so you're better recognizable (change colors and markings). It's simple to set up, so repeatedly jumping from game to game is a breeze, and the game will track all of your stats, so you'll always know where you stand in the grand scheme of things.

As for the gameplay, both offline and on is silky smooth and what I expected from a high quality product. Network conditions may differ slightly depending on your opponents' connection, but the game works just fine, meaning all of your energy sword slashes will look just as sweet on Xbox Live as they do in the single player campaign.

In terms of graphics, Halo 2 is the benchmark for which all other games this console generation will be judged. Surpassing the original's visuals in every respect, Halo 2 is a feast for the eyes in-game and during cut scenes, which happen to be some of the greatest scenes in game history. Realistic textures and animation bring characters to life like never before, and environments are a lot more detailed. There are some things about the game that have a plastic appearance (the Brutes in particular), but that doesn't bring the graphics down. Bump mapping, bloom, and particle effects have never come together so beautifully. Trust me; Halo 2 is worth buying an HDTV for.

Complimenting the game's spectacular visuals is its exquisite use of sound. There's a lot more chatter from both marines and aliens, and all of it is extremely well written. Also, gun fire, explosions, and the different vehicle sounds are exceptionally well done and really help to immerse you in the experience, because often times it's not just picking up a gun that's cool, it's listening to the sound of it firing that really gets you pumped. Lastly, Bungie found some way to actually surpass Halo's soundtrack. The music to Halo 2 is absolutely incredible, as it's just as beefed up as the gameplay and the visuals. Featuring a much more dramatic score (which includes some guitar riffs), Halo 2 is a feast for the ears.

Even in its divine greatness, Halo 2 isn't a perfect game. Yes, the graphics are amazing, but it often times it looks like the Xbox is about to burst from all of the detail, and it shows in the cut scenes. If you look closely, you'll often see textures filling in. You'll see a blank face and in less than a second the eyeballs, lashes, and other nice touches appear. It happens in less than a second, but it is noticeable. During gameplay, Halo 2 suffers from some very slight pop up, so don't be alarmed if, while driving down a city street, you see a Covenant vehicle appear out of nowhere. None of this will seriously remove you from the gameplay experience, but this stuff should've been fixed, as they're flaws in an otherwise spectacular product.

Halo 2's glitches aren't a big deal. Rather, it's the end of the single-player campaign that somewhat mars the overall experience. Without giving anything away, Bungie botched the ending. The final battle is neither interesting while you're in the thick of it nor fulfilling once it concludes. Actually, I was surprised when the credits began to roll, because I was convinced that the previous fight was a mere appetizer to the upcoming climax, but such is not the case. After all of the time we spent waiting for this product, the developers owed us something better.

Even with glitches and a poorly written conclusion, Halo 2 still gets a perfect score, because while it's not a flawless product, it's one of the best damn games ever made. Its slick presentation is unmatched, and its multiplayer will keep it alive long after we've kicked the rest of 2004's lineup to the curb. Taken as a whole, no 2004 game available today can even hold a candle to its greatness, for you see, Halo 2 is much more than a sequel to one of the best games ever made. It's a landmark title and a must buy.

Reviewer's Rating:   4.5 - Outstanding

Originally Posted: 02/14/05

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