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Halo 2

Platform(s): PC, Xbox
Genre: Action
Publisher: Microsoft
Developer: Bungie
Release Date: May 31, 2007 (US), June 8, 2007 (EU)


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Xbox Preview - 'Halo 2'

by Eric on May 20, 2004 @ 8:33 a.m. PDT

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
Developer : Bungie
Publisher : Microsoft
Release Date : November 9, 2004

After Microsoft showed off the stunning Halo 2 multiplayer at their pre-E3 press event, there was only one question on my mind. When would we get a chance to play it ourselves? Well, that chance came a few days later at the show itself in the form of a behind-closed-doors play test of one of the biggest titles of 2004. We here at WorthPlaying were able to sit down and play Halo 2 for the first time ever for close to 45 minutes and were blown away by what we experienced.

I could barely contain my excitement as I was led behind closed doors to a dimly lit room filled with Bungie staff and 16 monitors displaying large "Halo 2" logos. I couldn't wait to get my hands on what will be one of the biggest games of 2004. Ever since it was announced and we got our first look at the teaser trailer, I wondered how it would play. The wondering was about to come to an end, as I finally got a chance to get some hands-on gametime.

After a brief walkthrough of the controls and levels by a Bungie staff member that mimicked the MS pre-E3 demo, I sat down in front of one of the big plasma screens and grabbed my controller and got ready to let the fragging commence. The map we played was the same one shown in the pre-E3 demo, Zanzibar. The match type was set to capture the flag, and we were split into even teams of eight versus eight. It was the Spartans facing off against Covenant Elites, and I was on the side of the Spartans. When the match started, the Spartans were on the beach and we had to breach the sea wall and make it inside the opponent-protected base in order to steal their flag. The rounds were set to three minutes and/or one win. When time ran out or one team captured the other's flag and took it back to the beach, the match ended, and the teams switched positions, with the Spartans defending the base (and flag) and the Elites storming the beach and attacking our base. We were able to play quite a few rounds of both attacking and defending the flag. The first thing I noticed about Halo 2's game play is how much it feels like the original Halo. Despite the totally new engine, Bungie has done a great job in keeping the core of Halo 2's game play feeling exactly like Halo, which is a very good thing. Moving around, picking up weapons and even the combat itself felt a great deal like the original so it was very easy to jump right in and get going. Halo 2 takes the core game play of the first one, and builds on it with lots of new features that really take it to a new level. As we were storming the beach, we got to see some of these new features in action. I manned the rocket launcher on the back of the Warthog as we made our way into the Convenant controlled base. We were taking lots of hits, and our Warthog was getting damaged, both visibly and control-wise. It started to become more difficult to control as the damage added up before a well-placed rocket exploded our 'hog and sent us flying in all directions. It was a real sight to see. The new vehicle damage system has really added a lot to Halo 2's game play, and this alone has made it a lot more fun. In the original Halo, depending on your weapon, you often had to try and take out the driver of a vehicle as you could not actually take out the vehicle itself. In Halo 2, you now have the ability to disable a vehicle and render it useless without ever touching the driver.

Before we were taken out in the Warthog, I was able to try out the mounted rocket launcher on the new Warthog. I was a little worried that having a rocket launcher on the back of one of these would make the game unbalanced and be too powerful, but this is not the case at all. Bungie has tweaked the rate of fire and the speed of the rocket so that it is not that fast. Also, the turning of the gun itself was pretty slow so while it was a very useful addition to the game, it was not overpowering or unstoppable. It was, however, a pure blast to use on the Convenant! Another new addition to the game was the ability to pick up and use two weapons simultaneously. You can mix and match the guns as you like and use any combination but you, like in the first Halo, can only carry two guns at a time. When you are using dual guns, you no longer have the ability to throw grenades, but there is a very good reason for this. You can independently fire both guns; using the right trigger and left trigger on the Xbox controller, you can fire each gun independent of the other and really dish out some damage. On this map, we had access to many of the classic Halo weapons as well as some new ones. The old ones we got to try were the shotgun, rocket launcher, sniper rifle, and the Covenant plasma rifle. All of the old weapons felt pretty much the same, with no noticeable changes in our play test. The Covenant plasma blade was also in there, but this time, it was useable and quite powerful. Bungie had completely overhauled the needler, and, asour Bungie Staff member put it so beautifully, "It no longer gives you just a nasty rash." In Halo 2, the needler is actually a very good gun and one of the more powerful ones out there.

The new weapons to which we had access were the battle rifle for the Spartans and the plasma blade for the Covenant. The battle rifle is a great new weapon that has two fire modes. When zoomed in, you fire single shot rounds that are great for sniping. When you're not zoomed in, you can fire three round bursts at your enemies. This is a really good all-around gun, as you can do some sniping but if someone gets in close, you are not totally helpless and can actually put up a very good fight, unlike the standard sniper rifle. Besides the Warthog, we also had access to the Covenant Ghost, which has also undergone some changes. Most of them are of the visual nature, but Bungie has also tweaked the performance of the craft. There is now a speed boost option where you can push the left trigger and get a boost of speed to help you get out of trouble or to help assist you in running down an enemy, hit-and-run style. This new boost feature is really helpful, as the modified rocket launcher is very good at taking out moving vehicles. While the rocket launcher works exactly the same as it had in the original Halo, there is one small change. Bungie has added an auto-lock feature when you are zoomed in on a vehicle; stay zoomed in on one for a few seconds, and your shot will seek and destroy the vehicle. This is not always a hit though, as it works best at long range. When the vehicles are close and moving at a good speed, your rocket will tend to miss a lot, but it is still a very welcome feature to the game, as taking out vehicles at mid- to long-range in the first Halo was almost impossible.

In a nutshell, Halo 2 played great. The battles still played out a lot like the Halo battles had, but with the changes made to the game play, the fun factor has been bumped up quite a few notches. Right now, the limit is set to 16 players, and it is running smoothly with that amount. Bungie is still trying to further increase that limit for the final game , but it depends on whether they can keep the game running smoothly with more people. It is safe to assume that Halo 2 will support at least 16 players for online play when it ships. While we did get to play Halo 2 for close to an hour, keep in mind that we have seen very little of the new features and weapons in the multiplayer mode. What was shown was mostly stuff that was feasible in the original Halo so it's a little hard to judge how different Halo 2 multiplayer will be in its entirety. We do know that there are a LOT of new things (vehicles, modes of play, weapons) that we have not yet seen that will most likely change how Halo 2 plays. As for what we have seen right now, Halo 2 is easily one of the best online multiplayer games we have played, and it's only going to get better from here!

One thing that has changed quite a bit is the graphics. Bungie has done an amazing job with the Halo 2 engine, and it looks nothing short of stunning. The textures are some of the best seen on Xbox, and just about everything is bump mapped. The new particle effects are really a sight to behold. The new Covenant and Spartan models are many times more detailed than they were in the first game thanks to the use of bump maps, but actually use less polygons, which helps save some of the Xbox horsepower for other effects. The lighting is also another stunning part of this engine. Although the map we played did not have many environmental lights, the lighting effects from the guns themselves were beautiful. When you fire your weapons, they light up the environment around you, and rockets actually light up everything they come across before impact. Very impressive. The physics are also outstanding and are up there with games like Half Life 2. Shooting a rocket at a Warthog will send it flying and bouncing off the ground very realistically. We actually saw a Warthog get shot with a rocket, which sent it flying into the air before it came down and impacted a Ghost that was sitting there. When the Warthog hit the Ghost, both vehicles reacted very realistically, and the Ghost went flying and blew up due to the damage caused by the falling Warthog. What makes these physics all the more impressive is the fact that Bungie is not using a third-party physics engine, but one they have built in-house from the ground up.

Overall, we had a blast playing Halo 2 and loved every second of it. Not only has Bungie lived up to the hype, but they have already exceeded it in many ways. While what we saw of Halo 2 was pretty limited, we can already tell that this is going to be one hell of a sequel to what was one of the best FPS of all time. We cannot wait until November 9th, and if I were you, I would already put in for a nice long vacation around that timeframe. :)

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