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Halo 2

Platform(s): PC, Xbox
Genre: Action
Publisher: Microsoft
Developer: Bungie
Release Date: Nov. 9, 2004 (US), Nov. 11, 2004 (EU)

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Xbox Review - 'Halo 2'

by Paul Reith on Nov. 10, 2004 @ 4:18 a.m. PST

Halo 2 is a sci-fi FPS game that continues the story of the Master Chief, a genetically enhanced super soldier who is the only man who has successfully defied the Covenant, a coalition of alien races on a murderous march toward Earth.

 

Genre: Action/FPS
Publisher: Microsoft
Developer: Bungie
Release Date: November 9, 2004

Buy 'HALO 2': Xbox

We almost can’t believe it’s finally here. FINALLY! HALO 2 is released! If only you knew the agony we have been feeling here at WorthPlaying for weeks, knowing that nearly every Xbox owner on the planet was waiting for news on Halo 2, and all you heard from us is radio silence. It has been nearly impossible to keep our fingers off the keyboards in the weeks since Microsoft revealed Halo 2 for our gaming enjoyment.

Now that the game has finally hit the street, our words may be a bit less important for the 1.5 million of you who already reserved a copy of this highly-advertised title, but Microsoft believes there are still over 3.5 million of you out there who will bring the Halo experience home. For the 3.5 million, we are here to help you choose between Halo and that fifty dollar bill you are clenching in your fist.

We are assuming that you already have played Halo sometime over the last three years of your life. If not, get your hands on Halo – buy it, rent it, play it with a friend. Even if you aren’t a big first-person shooter fan, you will most likely enjoy playing the game. In fact, there are a few people on our staff who will only liked a handful of FPS titles over the years, and Halo is unanimously in that handful. Finding that Zen-like balance between responsiveness of movement and twitchiness of weapon accuracy for the average player is difficult, but Halo nailed it with movement and ranged attacks flowing smoothly and almost feeling natural, as if you had been a rifle-wielding super-soldier your entire life.

With a decent storyline, you become Master Chief to overcome impossible odds, saving the human race from devastation while your comrades all die. With a superior user interface, Halo covered the bases with a decent plot, great graphics, and good sound to create an experience that proved the Xbox as a competitive platform in the market.

Halo finally returns for another big push on the Xbox after three long years and Bungie Studios has thankfully built off the theme, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” Halo’s sequel has the same control scheme, with options nearly identical to the original game by offering the default and legacy settings in standard and southpaw for us backward types. Button configurations include the default, southpaw, boxer, and green thumb layouts. Imperceptibly missing in the options is the most sensitive setting, but there were about only three gamers on the planet who could successfully play the game on that setting, and only if they were jacked up on a case of Mountain Dew and a bottle of No Doze. Bidding goodbye to useless control maps, we found controlling Master Chief to be as familiar and smooth as the day we found him three years ago, but we were a little clumsy at first with the relocated white and black buttons on our new controllers. One of the best elements we experienced in this sequel was that it felt just like the original game.

If you are about to give us that dour old game rehashed into a sequel look, hold on to your SMG and pick up that needler over there. That’s right, Master Chief has somehow finally learned how to dual wield most weapons, but we’re sure glad it’s not really us firing the battle rifle single-handed (can you imagine the recoil?) Not only does this new ability look pretty cool, but it can be incredibly effective in battling the more elusive foes. With the upgrade of the needler from Halo, now it is pretty smooth to fire off a few needles in order to seek out the bad guys in the shadows and pop them with a more powerful weapon once you find them. Using two weapons may be cooler than one, but it does remove your grenade throwing abilities which is sometimes more necessary than blasting from two barrels at once. Another consideration is high ammo consumption with increased muzzle climb. When dual wielding, use short, controlled bursts to maximize accuracy and minimize the impact your panicking has on reserve ammunition. Of course, if you are looking for some hot and steamy melee action with the Flood, grab an energy sword and play slice and dice with their heads. The energy sword provides the best instant gratification, and is very effective in narrow corridors. Button mashing gives some fast action slashing, and a long pull of the right trigger yields a deadly attack few enemies can withstand – if you can pull it off before they destroy your puny human flesh.

But seriously, how does Microsoft expect to sell 5 million copies of Halo 2 when there are only 15 million Xbox consoles out there? The game had better be good; in fact it had better be incredible! In fact, Halo 2 would have to be the best Xbox game ever, and it would still need to be one of the best FPS video games available. After all, what the heck have these guys been doing for three years that could be so special?

Looks! The graphics are quite special in Halo 2. Actual gameplay graphics are crisp, responsive, and vivid. Our test of Halo 2 was on a wide-screen HDTV and it was nearly entrancing. Tack on Dolby 5.1, and we were making bad guys fall all around us as we heard the flood creeping up in the rear channels. The framerate through the entire game was more than adequate, and it seemed that there was nary a mapping glitch to be found. In actual gameplay, Halo 2 may have the best graphics of any console FPS on the market, and it is surely one of the best looking games for this season. The cinematic cut scenes between the 15 chapters are special too, but not in a good way. What we saw were scenes composed using the game engine, but they were of worse quality than real-time action. In fact, the scenes were far worse. Comparing to other video games where the norm is to have higher quality cinematic breaks between chapters, it’s almost as if no one thought of getting the chapter transitions off the storyboards until the week before Halo 2 went gold. With all the talk about the great storyline of this sequel, it was quite disappointing to find that the primary elements responsible for explaining plot twists and transitions were of such poor quality that it was almost better to look away and listen to the narrative instead. Thankfully, between the time that we had our hands on the game and the actual release code that is hitting stores as you read this the quality of these vital cinematics has been increased to the point that they really show off the power of the new engine.

Moving from the graphics to the audio presentation, it would be very difficult to find any complaints. As we mentioned, sound is available in Dolby 5.1, which is a perfectly matched compliment to the great graphics of the actual gameplay. The sound effects are crisp and clean, and Halo 2 is a great game for utilizing what 5.1 has to offer. Complimenting the special effects, we found a soundtrack in Halo 2 that totally rocked. The soundtrack from Halo was very popular, and Halo 2 has a soundtrack that is even better. Nile Rodgers called on Martin O’Donnell and Michael Salvatori to compose original symphonic tracks and integrate them with some of today’s hottest young rockers. Breaking Benjamin dropped the track “Blow Me Away” for Halo 2, Hoobastank offered up “Connected,: and Incubus contributed “The Odyssey” to round out an audible experience for Halo 2 that is nothing short of excellent.

As far as the actual story goes Halo 2 is not much of a leap from what you would expect from a sequel – if you haven’t already guessed, there’s a second Halo, and Master Chief needs to keep the second Halo from destroying mankind in Halo 2. But to Bungie’s credit, they did throw some pretty cool twists into the story. Of course, if you have read any of the Halo books, you know much more about the battle between the Covenant and humans than we learned in the first video game. Essentially, we learn that the blind faith of the Covenant is founded in the leadership of the Prophets, but they are obviously misinformed. We also learn that there is a bit of struggle within the ranks of the Covenant, nearing the brink of mutiny, and there is a considerable amount of strength lost to this internal infighting. As the story progresses, you find yourself fighting for both sides, and it becomes a little unclear as to where the sides lie within the Covenant. This truly is where the story in Halo 2 is made, rescuing it from the title of most predictable sequel ever. Even more impressive than Bungie’s smooth save of the story is the path taken to tell the story. Artists were hard at work in this game creating a vibrant diverse environment that lets the player progress through the terrain on the inside of the Halo from lakes to the caverns to the not so pretty bowels of the Halo (although as skinny as the halo is, it couldn’t have been too deep inside.) Unlike the original title though, which simply refused to let the good times end (and when it did it, did so very solidly), the ending in Halo 2 comes very abruptly to the point that the story is left almost too wide open for comfort. All in all, the storyline for Halo 2 is fair, but the scene design and artistic strength pick up the slack to easily maintain the intrigue throughout the game. With 15 chapters, if you rush through Halo 2 it can be finished in about 12 hours, but legendary mode will provide a far greater challenge.

The AI for enemies in Halo 2 have some interesting attributes we didn’t suspect. In the default mode, not only can Master Chief run past the moronic members of the Flood (in fact, the intelligence of the Flood is worse then moronic, they are total idiots) but Covenant members are also not very aggressive pursuers in Halo 2. Another interesting element is their sensitivity to Master Chief’s flashlight. Later in the game Master Chief finds himself in a very dark level, where the corridors are narrow and packed with the enemy. Luckily, the proper route through the level is marked by doors that are highlighted with pink lights instead of red. On the unlucky side, every time Master Chief turns on the flashlight he can see the bad guys – and they see him too. Just then the party gets started, and the Covenant goons think it’s time to play monkey pile on the girly-man human. Navigating along the side of the corridors without running into anything really throws the bad guys off, and only about 20% of them even hear you pass. It’s not easy, but if you get good at homing in on the pink gateways in total darkness, the level is a piece of cake. This surely isn’t to imply that the AI for Covenant members is weak, as many of them have got some pretty smooth moves and a little patience to let Master Chief get into a little more vulnerable position than most other games would.

Combine the idiot hordes of the Flood with the rather caddy Covenant freaks, and Master Chief is in a pretty desperate situation for staying alive. Heck, the last time this happened all his comrades died, leaving him and Cortana as lone survivors. During his three years of R&R since Halo hit the Xbox, Master Chief’s armor has been augmented, and now his life is tied directly to the armor. If the suit is fully depleted, there is no personal health to fall back on anymore – Master Chief is toast. On the bright side, the Mark VI armor comes with improved refresh rates on the shielding, so ducking behind an obstruction briefly will prove enough to regain full power. With the support of Cortana’s guidance through the 15 chapters, and you will have some backup in several of the missions, including a comeback performance by Marine Sergeant Johnson. As part of the allied AI he is an effective supporting cast member, and most of the other support operatives are useful too. However, don’t expect too much of them – after all, these aren’t your teammates from Ghost Recon 2.

So, for three years of development, is Halo 2 the best game ever on the Xbox? We’re not finished yet. The most important part of Halo 2 is multiplayer action. Head-to-head at home, or over Xbox Live, this is where Halo 2 really shines the most. After 50 hours of campaign mode, you might get pretty bored, but this is where you stop being a loser recluse on the fringe of society. It’s time you met more people, spent time with old friends, and tried to kill them for a few hours. Halo 2 supports up to 4 players on each console, system link between consoles, and up to 16 players per episode over Xbox Live. The real generosity of Microsoft is that they will allow all four players on a single console to use Xbox Live under a single subscriber! This totally excellent opportunity is probably one of the best marketing ideas Microsoft has implemented to reach the tipping point in making online gaming a mainstream activity. 1.5 million+ copies sold today, and only 1 million Xbox Live subscribers at the meager price of $5 per month. When a guy finally gets sick of his buddies always coming over to us his Xbox Live account, they will get their own subscriptions. Without the 4-for-1 option, how else would MS boost the viral marketing of their online service? Get them hooked, and then get their friends to ask them to spend the money – brilliant!

As far as actual online play goes, the communication is surprisingly concise, so even with 16 players the game still keeps up. We got the best look at Capture the Flag, and we noticed two things. Online is even better than the campaign, more addicting, and it appears to be engineered very well for each of the multiple ways to play against another human. What can we say? Halo 2 appeared to have all the fun, quickness, and positive attributes of any other FPS out there on any platform (including PC) and it had none of the frame rate lag or glitches we’ve experienced with other titles. It’s fun, challenging, and whereas gamers will take about 50 hours to wear out the campaign mode, players will be building careers on Xbox Live to last months. One thing is certain: be sure to increase the responsiveness of your movement control as you improve, otherwise someone else with better precision will light you up like a roman candle on the Fourth of July!

Overall, Halo 2 is a one of the strongest FPS offerings of the season in campaign mode, and one of the best internet-enabled FPS games for any platform. If you aren’t sure if you want to drop the $50, rent the game and find out if you can stay away. If you don’t have an Xbox, it’s time you had a look for yourself at the superior graphics, control and speed that this console is capable of. Is Halo 2 the best game ever for the Xbox? Possibly. One thing is for sure – Microsoft is salivating like a hungry wolf over Sony’s market share, and this fall has just been a showing of the group finally getting their ducks in a row. If Halo 2 is the best Xbox game ever, it will sell the 5 million copies, Xbox Live growth will be off the charts, and you will have spent that $50 without looking back.

Score : 9.6/10


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