You can check out Charles' review of the game here
Let’s face it; there are two different types of gamers; those who are level headed and are willing to accept the rational, and those who are absolute fanboys that will fight to the death to defend their beloved franchises. Though the latter category has often been associated with Nintendo, it’s quickly becoming a staple of the Xbox owner. For the past three years their weapon of choice has been HALO
, and rightfully so, it’s arguably the best console first person shooter ever made. We’ve already had to endure three years of hardcore ranting and raving, will the sequel bring forth more torture for all of us who live in a rational world? In one word? No.
I have a feeling that all of the geeks who waited outside of EB to get their copy of the game at the stroke of midnight have already decided to disregard this review, and I’ll accept that. It’s alright to dismiss criticism that is directed upon something that you love so much and I’ll forgive you for that, but the fact here is that the game really isn’t all that great. If it was called Brute Force 2
instead of HALO 2
there’s a huge chance that the game wouldn’t be as well received as it has been. Instead of raising the expectations of gamers for the sequel this fanbase has taken a complete 180 and lowered its expectations. It’s almost as if the fans knew that the sequel wouldn’t be able to compare to the original and decided to reduce their expectations for fear of being disappointed. And perhaps Bungie knew this coming in because it has delivered a game that not only fails to meet expectations, but doesn’t even come close to hitting the mark. Now I know what you’re saying, the game raked in $125 million worth of cash in on the first day so it must be great right? Well, Star Wars: Episode I
made more than $430 million and we know how great that movie was.
Through the course of the game you'll witness the actual unfold from two perspectives; the eyes of the Master Chief and the eyes of the Covenant's Arbiter. It makes for great storytelling as it lets you get into the mind's of both factions as they believe that they're enemies, but are actually working in conjunction towards the same goal. But what makes for great storytelling doesn't necessarily make for compelling action. Often times the game switches back and forth without recourse and quite honestly, the Covenant campaign is a flop due to the weapons that you're given access to. There's a frame of reference when you're wielding an assault rifle or a rocket launcher; you know in your mind how many shots it'll take to bring down a foe which leads to a much more satisfying experience. When you're the Covenant you're forced to rely on those underwhelming alien weapons that simply aren't fun to use. There's a smattering of human weapons sprinkled throughout the Covenant campaign and you'll rejoice when you see them, but you'll cry when you run out of ammo. Aside from the weapons, there's only one real difference between the two characters; the Master Chief has a flashlight while the Covenant character has limited cloaking ability. The cloaking ability makes for some fun stealth kills but it makes the game too easy for the player. Whenever you're in a bind just hit the white key and everyone will suddenly stop attacking you as if you were never there. It gives you ample time to recharge your shields (more on this later) and escape from real harm.
In terms of the storyline, it weaves a confusing back and forth web between the two characters. After you finish one sequence with a character you'll see the other character picking up where he left off, but there's a good chance that you'll probably already forgotten what had led up to that sequence. There was one scene where the Master Chief was falling down a chasm; my friend and I turned to each other and tried to figure the sequence leading up to that event. We would have probably spent the whole night trying to figure it out had we not seen the giant English-speaking plant on my television set. Towards the tail end of the game I just gave up on trying to understand the storyline and its inane ending. If you thought you were pissed at the end of Matrix Reloaded you haven't seen anything yet.
If the storyline sounds hokey it’s because it really is but let’s face it, you don’t play first person shooters for storylines, otherwise they’d be called first person adventure games. If you want a good story go check out a movie; HALO 2’s greatness will rest solely on its ability to put forth an engaging gameplay experience. There are some huge problems with the main mission structure in the game. It relies too heavily on the “kill everything that moves to unlock the door” premise that was all the rage in the arcade games of the ‘80s. Early on you’ll crash land on a surface; your first instinct is the find a way out and move towards the next objective. After all, the game is telling you that you need to regroup with the rest of your troops. Instead of letting you progress, the game is adamant about having you defend a town square with a small handful of squadmates. Only after you’ve taken out about five waves of enemies will the game “unlock the door” (in this case, by blowing up a barricaded gate) and allow you to progress. Or how about the elevator that conveniently stops on every single floor to allow more enemies to climb aboard and attack you? HALO set a new standard by providing gamers with intense outdoor and indoor combat that challenged them to utilize their wits and their surroundings. HALO 2 tosses this out the door and turns the experience into a live action version of Starship Troopers
. It’s boring to say the least and there’s a good chance that you’ll spend your time wandering around the enclosures in search for a switch when the only way to open the door lies in killing all the remaining foes.
What I liked about the original game was that it offered up the vehicles as an alternative to the on-foot combat. With the exception of a few key sequences you didn’t have to rely on the vehicles in order to beat the level. Instead of going with the groundwork laid forth by the original, the sequel decides to alter this by requiring you to use the vehicles. There are far too many sequences where you absolutely need the vehicles in order to succeed. If by the off chance your vehicle gets destroyed you’ll be forced to journey across massive amounts of land on foot. There’s a good chance that you’ll grow tired of the experience after five minutes and resort to reloading a previous saved game pre-driving your tank off a blind cliff. It would have been better had vehicles merely been an option instead of the only solution. Furthermore you can tell when you’ve reached the end of a vehicle-specific sequence because your path will mysteriously be blocked by a few out of place blocks of pieces of rubble.This isn’t to say that there isn’t any fun to be derived from the game. When HALO is being HALO, it’s a lot of fun to play, that’s a given. Levels where you’re engaged in intense firefights through tight corridors are still a blast to play. You get this real rush when you pop up to fire blindly into a group of enemies, stopping only to utilize cover as you reload. As before the co-op element works extremely well and engaging in a multi-pronged attack on your foes in a real blast. Even though the missions are dull I still had some great fun setting up flanking maneuvers and laying down cover fire for my friends. But these moments are far and few because of the course of action that the designers decided to take with their game.
Overall the game will take about eight hours to finish on the standard difficulty level; about 10 if you’re playing on the legendary difficulty. If you’re like most people I’ve spoken to, you’ll start to lose interest at about the five hour mark but you’ll trudge on because you don’t want to see those $50 hard-earned dollars go to waste. As was the case in DOOM 3
, the game simply begins to drag and the action continues to enter “haven’t we been here yet?” territory. There’s an especially grating sequence later on when the Master Chief has to enter the Covenant facility and rescue a squad of marines. After traversing an extremely tedious transport pod sequence you’ll free your comrades. It sounds good and all, until you turn around two minutes later and see that they’ve all been slaughtered by a bunch of dwarves running around with flashlights. Oh, and how about the Covenant sequence where you jump down an endless amount of air vents in order to do battle with the next endless horde of the Flood? It drags on and on and basically pummels you over the head with a relentless mishmash of recycled gameplay elements. There are few intense moments and the only time your adrenalin will really get pumping is in the sequences where you’re faced with the giant guards and your ammo reserves are running low. Otherwise it’s pretty much standard fare for the entirety of the game.
A couple of minor changes have been made that will have a major impact on how you play the game. Master Chief’s jump has much more air under it, giving the gamer that Morpheus 3 low gravity feeling from Unreal Tournament 2004
. After pressing the A button you’ll be in the air for a good second which works well in the single-player game, but completely handcuffs you in the multiplayer game. In single-player it helps you reach areas that you were unable to access before. Let’s say you’re on a multi-tiered level and you fall off of a short ledge; previously you would have had to run all the way around the level and back up the ramp leading to that ledge. With the new jump, there’s a good chance that you’ll just be able to jump up that ledge, saving you from a lot of scream-out-loud frustrating moments. Multiplayer is a different story, however, jumping in a multiplayer game is the equivalent of having a “frag me” sign on your back. Not only do you jump higher, but you float in the air for a significant amount of time. You have a good amount of control in the air but you’re not as mobile there as you would be on the ground. On the one hand it takes all of those annoying bastards who like to strafe jump out of the equation, on the other hand it kind of renders the rocket launcher useless in mid-to-close range situations. It’s one of those give-and-take situations and I feel that it takes more than it gives.
One of the most talked about features is the dual-wielding facet of the game. Similar titles like THQ’s Red Faction 2
featured a similar option but it didn’t execute as well as HALO 2 does. Any two one-handed weapons can be used in conjunction with one another to make for some rather potent combinations. This also makes some of the weaker weapons deadlier because you’ll be packing twice the firepower. Furthermore, the dual-wielding can be used as a strategic advantage for the human weapons. A smart player can expel the payload of one weapon and then switch to the other while that weapon is reloading. Of course it also implies that the Master Chief has three arms but hey, what the guy does in his spare time isn’t any of my business. This is an excellent addition to the single-player game but it changes the entire landscape of the multiplayer realm. I’ll discuss this more in-depth in the multiplayer section of the game.
The other big feature that Bungie touted two years ago was the ride jacking feature which allows you to steal vehicles from enemy players. To steal a vehicle you walk up to it and hold the X button, after that the character will either steal it from an enemy or mount it. It’s small and unarmored, like a ghost, you’ll simply steal it and take off with it. If it’s larger and fortified, like a tank, you’ll need to punch the hatch until it opens and flood out the inside with a grenade. It’s a fun element to use in the single-player game but it doesn’t really become a necessity at any point. To accommodate this you’ll now have to hold down the X button in order to get into vehicles or utilize gun emplacements. I didn’t think it was that much of a deal but some players online and in the Bungie forums have been complaining about how it throws their timing off.
Another aspect that has undergone a renovation is the health meter. Remember when you used to run around the level in search of health packets? Well those days are gone because Bungie has omitted the health meter entirely, focusing squarely on the player’s shields. When the shields run low you’ll still be able to take a small amount of damage, but the best course of action is the hide until the shields recharge again. This works well in the single-player game, but again, I feel that it plagues the multiplayer game. It’s like having automatic health regeneration, if someone manages to escape a firefight they’ll always be able to wander around and rejoin the battle when their shields recharge. Personally I think the omission of health in the game was a bad idea as it takes some of the fun out of the tension in the battle. In most shooters the tensest moments are when you’re running low on health and you know that another battle awaits you. You’ll change up your tactics and tread a little slower and survey the area a little better. With HALO 2 this isn’t a problem because you can always escape every fight, ambush or scrum and sit back while your shields recharge.Microsoft was careful not to let any screenshots of the game leak out to the public while the game was in development. For many years the only bits of the game we saw came in the form of a trailer that was showcased at E3 2002. What we saw was impressive, but I think that the attendees were more mesmerized by the allure of the product than they were by the actual game. Now that I’ve had a chance to play the game in the confines of my own home I came away disappointed with the visual look of the game. All of the HALO fanboys like to brag about the graphical quality of their titles, often drawing comparisons to the most graphic intensive PC games for reference. Well those comparisons stop now, because HALO 2 will never be mentioned in the same breath as Far Cry
, DOOM 3
or the upcoming Half Life 2
. Everyone was expecting HALO 2 to push the graphical capabilities of the Xbox much in the same way that HALO 1 did but it never came to fruition. While the designers were busy toiling with lame things like ride jacking, other developers like Starbreeze were busy pushing the graphical limits of the Xbox with Chronicles of Riddick
. Yes, the player models in HALO 2 are impressive, but the rest of the world just isn’t. And shame on Microsoft for chiding the PS2 for all of its “jaggies.” HALO 2 is one of the biggest offenders to-date and features the worst anti-aliasing job I’ve seen in a long time. Nearly every object suffers from the “jaggies” and you’ll notice it right from the start.
The game has some horrible level of detail draw-in issues as well. It’s bad enough that objects that are literally five feet away from you are still being drawn in as you approach, but it’s even worse that this affects the cutscenes as well. When a scene shifts you’ll see an object or a person with low detail, and then the high detail is drawn-in a split second later. It’s not huge but it’s big enough to be noticed and big enough to become a nuisance. It’s understandable (not acceptable) that the game would be drawing in details during the action, but during the cutscenes? These are prepared sequences that are supposed to be optimized ahead of the time; you’re not supposed to run into snafus like these in the cutscenes.
To really put the nail in the coffin, those of you who bought HDTV setups just to play HALO 2 will be bummed to find out that the game cuts off a significant portion of the left side of the playing view. This cuts your radar in half and removes the grenade indicators from your viewing field entirely, leaving you with a picture that looks zoomed in and off-centered. The game specifically mentions that it supports 480p for high definition 16:9 display, but the TVs that auto detect the settings indicate that the game puts off a 4:3 signal. It’s not just on a couple of models either, in fact there’s 11 pages worth of griping and moaning about in the official Bungie forums. The problem is derived from the overscan that is used in most low-to-midrange HDTV sets. I had the same problem with Amped 2
; I’m beginning to think that it just might be a problem with the Microsoft-branded titles. Some people have responded by saying that the game wasn’t designed for 16:9 and that it won’t run in that mode. Simply turning off the 480p support in the Xbox Dashboard and running the game in widescreen without the High Def proves all of them wrong. At the time there is no fix for this problem but Bungie might be able to release a fix through the Xbox Live service.From the moment you boot up the game your ears might tell you that you’re in trouble. As the Bungie logo rolls through you’ll hear a remixed version of the theme song that’s done with a combination of electric guitars and an orchestra. It was cheesy in the 80s, it was cheesy in the 90s and it’s cheesy in the 2000s. Thankfully the soundtrack gets significantly better from that point on and reverts back to the Gregorian-chant like tracks from the first game. As you play through the game you’ll be privy to some great orchestral tracks that rival the samples from the first game. I must admit though that there are a few ridiculous sequences where you’ll engage in combat and a 80s heavy metal rock tune will suddenly blare through the speakers. At that point someone in the room would always say “uh-oh, you know it’s serious when the jams kick in!” The music is supposed to enhance the mood, not lighten it.
Most of the sound effects remain virtually unchanged with the exception of the speech. Apparently the Covenant got tired of being misrepresented in the first game and have picked up some copies of Hooked on Phonics
. They speak garbled English in the Orc-like accent made popular by the likes of Warcraft
. To say it sounds clichéd would be paying it favors, especially when it comes on the speakers in the midst of a mission and you have no idea what the hell it’s saying. On the human side Cortona is back along with the smart talking marines. It appears that some time off did these marines no good as their snappy lines lack the pizzazz and gusto from the original game. It’s still funny to hear the little dwarves scream as they run away from grenades though, that never gets old. Like we said with the sound effects, they’re similar to what you got in the original HALO, which means that they’re superb. Turn up the sound, warn the neighbors and barricade yourself in. Those of you with high-end sound setups will be pleasantly delighted.
Everyone agrees that the multiplayer is the best part of the game, but I feel that this area has its flaws as well. I say this because there are a couple of areas where I feel that Bungie could have improved on the product, but let’s start with the good stuff first. This is, without a doubt, the reason that you’re willing to spend an extra $50 a year to play games online. Before HALO 2 online console games were quick affairs where you’d dip your foot in to test the waters before jumping out. HALO 2 doesn’t ask you to jump in, it pulls you into its clutches and demands that you dismiss all those plans you had for the weekend. It’s intense, it’s furious and it’s the only excuse that you’ll need in order to dust off that Xbox Live headset. Playing online is an immersive experience that will keep you entertained for the months to come. My Xbox Live account is set to expire on the 17th of this month. Originally I was going to let the account expire and move on, but because of HALO 2 I’ve decided to pony up the $50 to keep it going for another year.
Multiplayer is limited to 16 players via the Xbox Live broadband applet, this may seem like a small number to PC gamers who are accustomed to the 32 player games offered up by the likes of Battlefield 1942
, but the relatively small number of simultaneous players never becomes an issue.. Every where you go there’s a fight waiting to be fought and a war waiting to be waged. This is due in large part to the excellent work of the map designers who took extra care to ensure that each level would be enjoyable. And this is a huge accomplishment too considering that there are only a small handful of maps available for you to do combat on. Regarded, some maps will quickly become fan favorites faster than others, but each of them have their own merits and high points. You should also know that the game will support downloadable content for future updates; it’ll be interesting to see what kind of maps the developers can come up with in the future.
This is the most in-depth stat tracking application ever.
If you’re looking for stat tracking you’ve come to the right place. UT2004’s stat tracking application has nothing on what the boys at Bungie have cooked up for HALO 2
. All you have to do is link up your MSN Passport to your XBL Gamer Tag, after that you’ll be faced with a bounty of online tracking goodness. It goes beyond kills, deaths and your favorite weapons; it tracks every single location that you died, how you died and who killed you. It’s a real amazing piece of technology will astound you, it’s leaps and bounds beyond anything we’ve ever seen before. Numbers are great and all but they never really tell the whole story; it’s not possible to become a better player by looking at numbers. Getting that visual representation is the next step to improving your game and increasing your knowledge about your opponents and the way that you play the game. Put the game down for 5 minutes and check it out, I guarantee you’ll walk away impressed.
Other notable features come via the voice options and the party features. The party feature allows you to create a room where you can invite your friends in for a chat or a game. In addition to being able to host your own game, you’ll be able to join other online ranked games as a group. When you’re able to find a server to join it works extremely well and does a great job of keeping you together with your friends. If you have a headset you’ll be able to enjoy full voice chat with the other players in the game. I don’t think it’s crucial to winning, but it makes for some pretty fun trash talking. Though the voices are outputted through the headset a new proximity feature outputs the voices through your speakers when your foes are near. So if your buddy is talking trash and you hear it through the speaker you’ll know that he’s within gunshot range. For bigger games I wish I would have been able to choose who can hear my voice and whose voice I could hear. That way I could still talk trash to my friends in the larger scale battles.Now this all sounds impressive, and it is, barring that you can actually get into a game. Due to the ineptness of the Xbox Live system, you can’t physically browse for games that you want to join. You can either opt for the quickmatch, utilize the optimatch for a more specific game, or join a party game with some of your friends. How long it takes for the system to find a game for you varies widely. Sometimes it takes me less than five seconds, but for the most part it takes upwards of two-to-three minutes. That’s a hell of a long time to wait to join a game, especially considering that some games don’t even last that long. I’ve encountered numerous sequences where I’d actually spend more time waiting to join a game than I would actually spend playing the game. To compound matters, the game immediately kicks you out of the game after it ends, making it impossible to play another game with the same group of people. This was a horrible blunder by the part of the designers; there’s a chance that most people want to play another game immediately after finishing up one. Why force them to utilize the woefully incompetent matchmaking app instead of letting them choose to stay in the game for another round?
As I said before the game can take up a serious amount of your day if you’re not careful, but that’s under the proper circumstances as well. After playing the game for an extended amount of time you’ll begin to notice some of the deficiencies of the combat system. In the online realm you’re not just encouraged to use dual-wield, you’re forced to rely upon it. If you’re running around with the sub-machine gun you can forget about tackling your foes head-on. There’s a good chance that they will be wielding two weapons, making short work of you before you can even do any damage. Bungie also made the mistake of making the grenades so readily accessible in the online realm. Here’s the basic mentality of most people I’ve encountered online: “Shoot! Shoot! Oh man, my shield’s down, time to throw a bunch of grenades!” This essentially leads to a couple of undeserved kills brought forth by a suicide grenadier. To balance this the game should have required you to switch over to the grenade like you would any other weapon. That way, players won’t be able to get cheap kills on you when they know that they’re done for.
Forget the BFG, forget the Redeemer. This is the ultimate weapon.
I can forgive the designers for all of the aforementioned faults had they done a better job of balancing the weapons. As stated above, the single-wielded weapons are useless and serve absolutely no purpose in the online game. Forget about picking up the assault rifle or the shotgun, go with two sub-machine guns and you’ll be in much better shape. Every game has its ultimate weapon; DOOM has its BFG and UT has its redeemer, but HALO 2 has an overpowering weapon that’s easy to access and never runs out of ammo. The sword was fierce in the single-player game, but imagine how invincible you would be if never ran out of energy. Okay, now stop imagining because someone decided to make it a reality in the online portion of the game. The rocket launcher is bad enough, but the sword is an even bigger offender because it has an amazing amount of range and never actually runs out of juice. Just run towards a foe and kill him with one hit, repeat and you’ve got the cheapest weapon in the history of first person shooters. Who cares if he spots you first, your shield will more than protect you from whatever weapon he’s wielding. Remove the sword, it cheapens the experience and ruins whatever balance there was to be found in the game. And since your shield recharges you can simply hide after the encounter and regenerate your health, leaving you fresh for another cheap kill. Don’t think that the sword won’t adversely affect your experience either because some moron always rushes to pick the damn thing up and dominate the map with it. Limiting the amount of uses that the sword has would be one solution but I feel that the game would be better off without it entirely.Vehicles have made it to the online realm as well but I wish that the ride jacking feature were omitted for this portion of the game. I know the Master Chief is supposed to be hardcore and all, but jumping into the passenger seat of a jeep that’s bearing down on him is too much to bear. In one situation I had John cornered with the Warthog, as I was ready to turn him into road kill he proceeds to jump into the passenger seat and unload a clip into the side of my head. Sure it makes for a cool image but it really takes the fun out of some of the vehicles. In another sequence I actually snuck up behind John with a Banshee and started firing at him. He managed to jump over the vehicle where he then proceeded to turn me into a carcass. You’re supposed to be at a distinct advantage when you’re in a vehicle but if anything, it makes you more vulnerable. This makes the vehicles less desirable and forces more players to tough it out on foot instead of rushing to the vehicles. I realize that this adds balance to the maps but what’s the point of inserting vehicles into the maps if they’re not likely to be used?
I have two gripes left and they’re pretty big if you don’t like to play with a bunch of random strangers. Perhaps the single biggest omission is the form of an online co-op mode. The co-op is the game’s biggest attraction and the allure of being able to play it online from coast-to-coast is a huge one. Too bad you can’t even do a system link this time around, much less play it online. I wouldn’t want to play it with a complete stranger but it might have been fun to boot it up with some old college friends or coworkers of mine. The other huge omission might seem like a small one but it’s pretty big if you come from the PC world. Everyone is always touting the AI in the game and all of its brilliance, but why can’t we test it out in the online game? Most shooters have some sort of Bots in their multiplayer elements so why not HALO 2? Killing Husemann and John in a one-on-one-on-one match is fun and all, but I’d love to fill out the rest of the spots with bots.
If you’re a true fanboy who waited out in the cold on Tuesday there’s a good chance that you picked up the Collector’s Edition. For an extra five dollars the game comes in a collector’s tin with a clear loose sleeved case. The actual tin has the HALO 2 logo on it while the sleeve has all the usual stuff like the ratings and the game features on the back. It is devoid of all the screenshots and hype that adorns the back of the regular case, making for a much cleaner presentation. Inside you’ll find the actual game disc stacked atop the special edition DVD which contains all of the extra features for the game. Stacking the discs is a huge no-no and should have been frowned upon at the presentation. The last time I got a game that came with stacked discs was TOCA Race Driver 2
, a $20 budget title that came bundled with Colin McRae 04
. I don’t have access to the regular version so I can’t say for sure, but I’m assuming that both versions come bundled with a coupon for a buy-one-get-one deal on a Slurpee and some dialogue book. If you’re a true fan you’ll probably want the Collector’s Edition as the case looks much better when compared to the other games on your shelf.
When John Romero released Daikatana he did it to the illustrious fanfare reserved for Hollywood Red Carpet premieres. He had hyped up his legions of fans with his Doom
franchises and they had little reason to believe that he could deliver a sub-par title. After the game was released the title bombed and it forced Romero to flee into a life of relative obscurity. I’m not saying that Bungie will be damned in the same fashion, but there are some similarities here. HALO 2 has an amazing amount of expectations and it fails to deliver in nearly every single respect. The single-player campaign is boring and ineffective, the action is dull, the level structure is bland and the overall game lacks the oomph and power of the original. HALO 2’s multiplayer aspect fares a little better but it’s marred by an ineffective matchmaking service and some poor judgment in the balance department. What you have is a decent shooter that stands on the HALO
name more than it does on its own merits.