posted 11/15/2004 by Charlie Sinhaseni
other articles by Charlie Sinhaseni
One Page Platforms: Xbox

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.
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