Review by RavenOfProphecy

"A mix of average single player and mangled multiplayer makes me a disappointed gamer indeed."

After the wildly popular release of Halo: Combat Evolved back in 2001 with the Xbox's launch, many people reached the assumption that Halo was simply one of the untouchable franchises; as long as Bungie didn't mess too much with the gameplay, the inevitable sequel would surely improve on what was a pretty damn good game. But guess what? The folks over at Bungie did get a bit too tinker-happy, and the result is Halo 2, a game of which I could easily describe as Combat Devolved, but which is undoubtedly already the tag line in a handful of other reviews that bash the game without reason, and which are usually written by nerdy fanboys who simply cannot resist clicking on the "Xbox" system tab at the top of the screen to cause some havoc over on the general boards, or whatever board the crowd of Xbox gamers are gathered at the time, discussing which reviews "suck" and which are "top-notch", which usually involves whether or not the reviewer gave the game that they just laid down fifty dollars for a ten out of ten or not. But, without further ado, I present to you a review of one of the most overrated games this side of Grand Theft Auto.

The first thing you will notice in the game is that the presentation matches and exceeds that which is found in Halo: CE. The main menu is similar to Halo 1, with the noticeable inclusion of a gameplay option enabling you to connect to Xbox Live and play with a handful (sixteen players, to be exact) of your online "friends", nobodies you will never actually encounter in real life, and hoardes upon hoardes of cheaters who ruin the experience by pulling plugs and modding their systems, and which are the source of my distaste for the multiplayer experience. The options in the game menu are mildly varied, allowing you to choose from two different player models, the Human Spartans and the Covenant Elites, which both have the same gameplay mechanics but cosmetic differences.

The graphics in the game are indeed better than the visuals from the original Halo, but that is a given considering the game was in development for over three years. The game makes decent use of the Xbox, and while it doesn't offer Riddick or Splinter Cell-quality visuals, they are certainly far better than the average game's. The explosions are pretty well done, and the weapon visuals look good. Environments, as in the first, are breathtaking, but not as much so, seeing as the level design in the single-player is far inferior to that of the first, and the player models are well done as well. The biggest improvement to be found is the new Havok physics system. It's not quite as good as what can be found in Half-Life II, but it can provide some fun moments where you are flying through the air, limbs flying every-which way. The biggest flaw here is that the cut-scenes, like those found in Riddick, are not exactly anti-aliasing masterpieces, but rather are oftentimes filled with more jaggies than the actual game itself is.

The sound rounds out the presentation, and it does so perhaps better than the graphics themselves, although I do have gripes. The first thing you will notice is definately the outstanding music by Marty O'Donnell, which is far better than the trash that you will find on the game's CD-soundtrack, which features poser-rock such as Breaking Benjamin's "Blow Me Away", which does not outstand me like the title of the song suggests, but rather makes me want to go ask someone to do just that to me - kill me so I don't have to listen to that garbage. The voice acting borrows most of the actors from the original, but this is where you will encounter the majority of my sound-based gripes. Seargent Johnson and Cortana make strong apperances, but the Master Chief continues to be the typical, run-of-the-mill "bad ass", with lines such as, "I need a weapon!" that makes you wonder in a way who, exactly, wrote the script for the game. Another bad design idea was the one to translate Covenant dialogue into English, instead of just using subtitles, which would help to further authenticate the game's story. Weapon-based sounds are strong and round out the experience.

The control in the game will be immediately familiar to anyone who played the original. The analog sticks control movement and vision, and the buttons are the same as most other first person shooters for the Big Black Box, A is jump, X is your all-purpose action button, Y changes your weapon, and B is used for melee. The right trigger fires, and the left trigger throws your grenades. The control in vehicles is slightly harder, forcing you to "aim" your ride in the direction you wish to go, but thanks to the physics, they are still pretty enjoyable to drive, although I prefer to go on-foot. Thankfully, the experience is just as smooth on Xbox Live, but for reasons I will discuss later in the review, there are just too many flaws to test out the controls online.

A short time after Halo: CE takes place, and the Master Chief supposedly destroys the Flood, and escapes in the last ship left, the game picks up, not bothering to fill in the plot holes that were formed by the first game, such as how exactly Seargent Johnson survived, if he was, at least in the Legendary ending of the game, oblitherated as the planet explodes. Bungie covers this up by having the Seargent explain his survival with a vague and mysterious answer, which translates to, "we're too lazy to fill in the hole ourselves, so we'll feed you a load of B.S." Another playable character that you can control is the Arbiter, who was, in the opening cutscene, branded and tortured for betraying the Covenant and allowing the Master Chief to destroy Halo. He later becomes a warrior that does the bidding of the Prophets, three, what else?, prophetic aliens that lead the Arbiter on a journey to get rid of a Heretic leader, and it takes off from there, with the Arbiter's levels being more enjoyable than the Chief's throughout the game.

With the game so far shaping up to be pretty decent from what I've written so far, it seems as if the rest of the gameplay will follow suit, smoothly integrating into one of the best games of 2004, right? You're thinking, there's no way the game could fit the score ol' Raven gave it, right? Think again. The single player, which was insanely fun in Halo: Combat Evolved, which was so fantastic that you wanted to replay it with friends over and over, is not slightly, but very misleading and cheap, and doesn't exactly wrap up the story too well. Why is the game misleading, why is it cheap?

The game is described as "the battle for Earth", and guess what? You get, oh, two or three Earth levels throughout the entire game. It is also extremely cheap on the Legendary difficulty. Sometimes, when I finish games, I go back to play it on a different difficulty or retry specific levels that I found fun. I found myself doing this less on Halo 2. The Legendary difficulty is not difficult, but you will find instances, specifically the Jackal snipers in the game, that give the computer Halo-2-pro like sniping skills and make the game more frustrating than challenging. I didn't feel like I could approach it differently, I felt cheated. It doesn't help that the end of the game is a cliffhanger which sets up the game for a third, and possibly final, iteration, which will be released on the Xbox 360 sometime in 2006.

Xbox Live, if you have an abundance of non-cheap friends, could be a fun experience that lets you sit back and frag some buddies. Too bad, if you, like the majority of Xbox Live gamers, don't have 15 friends that are often on at the same time, will most likely experience the unbalanced mess that is the optimatch in this game. For one, the part features are pretty cool, allowing you to invite friends into a traveling party that will stick with you through games, and boasts a pretty decent clan feature. But when you enter a game, the unbalanced weaponry rears its ugly head. For example, the game ends up being a far cry from the skill-based single player that Halo 1 offered, where every weapon was powerful if used right, but could be negated if the other player had a good deal more skill. The pistol is missing, which was the best overall weapon last game, or rather, butchered, with the scope missing and the damage far less meaningful. Most people would argue that it makes for unbalanced gameplay, but this is where we enter the world of dual wielding, swordplay, and rocket lock-ons.

Dual wielding, which is new to the game, beats anything except, if you get lucky, a shotgun, in close quarters combat. Got an energy sword? Have fun killing a roomfull of Xbox Live gamers, and laugh until the same thing happens to you repeatedly. Happen to have obtained a vehicle? Well, again, have a good old time running over helpless ground-based troops, until someone who has the "fire-and-forget weapon," the Rocket Launcher, locks onto you, and proceeds to watch his missile track you around the level until at last you are defeated. Sniping is also much easier because of the inclusion of the "swipe-sniping", where you don't have to actually hit the other player to kill them, but can take advantage of a glitch that lets you kill someone with a close miss. The sum of these results in an experience that feels like a $50 version of rock-paper-scissors.

Don't believe me? Is my well-planned review going to be tossed aside into your "suck" pile, like countless other reviewers, just because I didn't agree that the game is the best ever? Last time I checked, a seven out of ten signified a good game, and this game is just that. Halo 2 is a hard game to review, simply because, based on the Xbox Live community, your level of fun can range from a five to a ten, even. There is fun to be had, nights filled with Halo 2 to occur, and levels to be downloaded, not to mention the biggest online fanbase on consoles. Sometimes we can forget the controllers we threw, curses we shouted at the screen, and bad moods caused by the game, absorbed by what is often a pretty damn good game. But ever since I replaced the hours I used to spend on Halo with a platoon of other games, such as MVP Baseball 2005, Ninja Gaiden, and Splinter Cell: Chaos Theory, I have been stress-free, and have been on much better terms with friends and family members. Buy the game if you must, especially if you have Xbox Live, as for $30, there are few games that I can reccommend more, but just remember these words if you can: Don't be sucked into the behemoth that is Halo 2, or else face the consequences with hits to your social life. Have fun gaming, and I'll be seeing you around!

Reviewer's Rating:   3.5 - Good

Originally Posted: 07/07/05

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