Halo 2
Developer: Bungie
Publisher: Microsoft
Release Date: Out Now
Players: 1-4, 1-16 via system link or Xbox Live
Words By:

Hah! Pffft! – Easiest review of the year. Halo 2 - Buy it.

...Okay, I guess the game deserves more words than that, but that’s all you really need to know. Still here? Alright, here we go then…

Halo 2 starts by showing the differing fates of two of the combatants in the battle on Halo. Back on a space platform orbiting Earth, the victorious man-machine Master Chief gets a medal, whilst aboard one of the Covenant’s capital ships the defeated Elite officer blamed for the destruction of Halo gets publicly humiliated and branded by the Prophet leaders and their Brute underlings, and you might say his future doesn’t look rosy…

As the human campaign survivors and relatives of dead heroes are presented with their medals, a 15-strong Covenant fleet jumps into the Solar system. All Master Chief’s hard work to stop the covenant from finding the home planet was in vain, and now the battle has come home to roost. The Chief has to protect the space station as it controls the mighty MAC gun platforms that protect the Earth, soon Covenant boarding ships are attaching themselves everywhere, and you know what you have to do.

First thing you get in Halo 2 is a nice shiny new suit of improved Mjolnir armour (Mark 6 no less!). You can now see MC’s legs and feet and can jump further and higher than before, and as a visual upgrade you also get a neat 5x zoom at any time through the visor by clicking the right stick (although you can’t fire weapons whilst zoomed in). The health gauge has been done away with, and consequently medikits aren’t required anymore – you need to take cover quickly when your rechargeable shield is depleted and make sure you don’t take many more hits, or you’re dead – this makes sense but also seems a bit hit and miss compared to knowing exactly how close to death you were in Halo.

The weapons have all evolved in the three years since Halo, and there are some cool new ones to get used to as well. Thankfully you can now do what you always wanted to in Halo and hold two weapons at once; To dual-wield you simply approach a second weapon that is lying on the ground - you'll see the standard "press X to swap weapons" message appear in your HUD. However, if it's a one handed weapon, you will also see "Press and hold 'Y' to dual wield". If you do that, you will pick up the gun in your left hand. R-trigger fires the right weapon, L-trigger the left. You can't melee attack or throw grenades while dual wielding. You can stop dual wielding at any time by pressing melee attack (discards extra weapon) or by pressing Y to switch to your secondary weapon. It might sound complicated but you’ll soon get the hang of it and you’ll definitely be needing the extra firepower.

Human Weapons:
Magnum (the new pistol has no telescopic zoom), SMG (new sub-machine gun), Battle Rifle (the replacement for the assault rifle has a X2 zoom and now fires in 3 round bursts), Shotgun, Sniper Rifle (new scope), Rocket Launcher (now has a wonderful lock-on mode that will seek out moving vehicles).

Covenant Weapons:
Plasma Pistol, Plasma Rifle (there’s also a Brute version which is red in colour and much more powerful), Brute Shot (grenade launcher), Needler (a bit faster than before), Covenant Carbine, Beam Rifle (sniper weapon), Sentinel Beam, Energy Sword.

The Elite’s energy sword, as you know from Halo, is one mean weapon; It's a melee weapon that's deadly in up-close and personal fighting and a charging Elite armed with one was quite possibly the most dangerous opponent in the game. When tooled up with one you can execute a series of strikes by hitting the melee attack button (B) or a powerful uppercut by pulling the R-trigger. However, the energy sword is devastating when the lock-on ability is used. When you close within range of an opponent, your reticule will turn red. If you pull the R-trigger you will lunge in for an instant one hit kill! - Just be careful when using it on an enemy near the edge of a sheer drop, or the lunge might take you over the edge too... (and yep, it's happened to me on more than one occasion).

The weapons seem to be spread around the levels nicely, and if you’re in a tight interior location then there will be lots of small arms and shotguns etc, and similarly you’ll rarely be far from a decent scoped weapon if there are sniping opportunities – as always Bungie clearly want you to enjoy their game. Having said that, and maybe I was trigger happy on my first play through, but I seemed to be scratching around for ammo quite a bit when the enemy got more numerous - but another of the new features is that you can always nick a weapon from an ally if there's one handy. The rumble effects are the best yet – they make every weapon feel different and let you know when and where you’re being hit too – big explosions are given real impact with the mixture of sight, sound and touch too – Halo 2 assaults your senses from all directions, and you’ll love every minute of it.

Halo’s AI was good but now Marines fight alongside you with some remarkable AI, (particularly the rock hard ODSTs), you really believe you’re fighting along with a squad thanks to their continual banter. They’ll even drive Warthogs now, and although they sometimes look like they’ve never driven before, for the most part the precision and logic with which they drive is astounding – they even retreat when wounded or the vehicle gets too damaged.

The physics have been given a complete overhaul. Improved ragdoll physics make deaths look more convincing and Havok physics make everything (that isn’t bolted down or concreted in) moveable or destructible. More sensible collisions with other Spartans in multiplayer games and also with marines in the main game mean that it’s much harder to run a friend over (accidentally) now. Master Chief may have been playing GTA on the long way home from Halo, because he can now steal vehicles with great aplomb. He can board any vehicle (even the Scorpion and the Wraith) and unseat or even kill its owner. As the vehicle approaches you hold X and he'll jump aboard. The Tanks have to have their hatches smashed open and a grenade thrown in to kill the driver.

As in Halo, when MC jumps aboard a vehicle the view changes to third person – and it works beautifully. The Warthog has more grip than before and can also be induced into power slides by applying the E-Brake (L Trigger). The Scorpion tank has been toughened up (it’s impossible to be sniped in the tank in multiplayer games now), and its gun reloads quicker. Ghosts now have a boost function (L trigger) as do the Banshees and the Covenant tank, the Wraith which can also been piloted now. The Covenant get two more vehicles in the game, the Spectre (Warthog equivalent) and the Shadow (slow troop & Ghost transporter). Sadly the planned human ATV quad bike was removed, and it’s a real shame - why should the covenant have more vehicles than us, eh? EH?

The campaign has 15 levels, now some are teeny (the first two feel like the same level for instance) and some are VAST. The panoramic views and feeling of scale at times is amazing. Being able to use the Covenant’s flying Banshees to soar high above the levels (although there’s a ‘ceiling’ to stop you from going too far) adds to the effect, and as usual Bungie always make sure you have a sniper weapon and can enjoy some long shots from time to time. It’s difficult to say how long my first play through H2 took, but I’d guess at roughly 12 hours, so it’s no giant of a game, not in terms of size at any rate.

The 11 multiplayer levels (strange number – suggests unlockable levels for completion or downloadable maps in the future?) vary hugely too, some tight ones clearly designed for 2 – 6 players, and bigger, higher maps with 8 or 16 players clearly in mind. As good as these are, I was hoping for some larger ones still, but I’m a hard man to please and like lots of room to throw my Warthog around in. Nine of the multiplayer maps are new, and two from Halo (Battle Creek and Blood Gulch) have been given superb makeovers. The highlight for me has to be the massive Waterworks level, which has plenty of room for Warthogs and Banshees to run wild. The online game is simply superb, I honestly didn’t think a first person shooter this fluid and fast would be possible on this generation of consoles – it has to be played to be believed. 16 player games with no noticeable lag or frame rate problems, and a truckload of game options and customizable games too – Halo 2 on Xbox Live is just amazing. Bungie are supplying all kinds of backup and clan support too – and the game is clearly set to dominate Xbox Live for the foreseeable future, in the same way that PGR2 did this time last year. Everyone seems sad that there’s no online campaign co-op, and Bungie must clearly make this a high priority for Halo 3 – gamers love killing each other, but it would seem that they love killing a common foe together even more.

There are a few niggly things changed or missing from Halo 2 that I’d like to mention; there are no emblems now to show that you’ve completed a level on Normal, Heroic or Legendary difficulty - why take that out? – It was a real badge of prestige in my book, and I was proud to fill them up. Quite apart from everything else it was a quick way of letting you know how you stood in terms of completion. Someone also needs a slap for taking out the fun ‘race’ and ‘rally’ options in the multiplayer games; why they should remove an option like that Jason Jones only knows. Another thing missing is the ability to configure the controls for the vehicles separately – a neat feature in Halo, and again mysteriously missing from H2.

When playing the superb co-op game (you can play the entire campaign through in 2-player split screen mode), should you get killed and your partner survive, the game will sometimes respawn you in the stupidest places, like on the edge of a cliff or building, or even right in front of your partner so they shoot you in the back of the head as soon as you re-appear! (particulary laughable after you’ve been waiting and watching an on-screen message saying that it’s “not safe to respawn you yet”).

Halo 2’s graphics throughout are pretty amazing; the insanely detailed and bump-mapped textures that we saw in Halo are no more (they're still pretty damn good but clearly use less polygons), but in terms of the sheer amount of stuff going on and the speed and solidity of frame rate the game is well in advance of Halo (or any other console game for that matter). Surprising then that there are some annoying glitches during cut scenes (they all use the game engine) when texture levels change or disappear altogether – amazing that they weren’t tidied up before release. And a final gripe with saddo editor mode on: I also noticed a typo in the subtitles, which is a bit shoddy.

Halo 2’s music and sound FX are again done by Marty O’Donnell – I could yabble on about the 5.1 sound and the quality of it all, all day, but I’ll just say it’s all awesomely atmospheric, exciting, beautiful, rousing, haunting… (I want the soundtrack!).

Halo 2 supplies some awesome battles and set pieces better than anything you'll see coming out of Hollywood, with enemies and machines you will totally believe in. Fantastic explosive and lighting effects have to be seen to be believed (even some good, scary dark bits a la Riddick and Doom 3), and the story keeps driving on and gives you a good twist or two. It also never gets too carried away with its weirdo alien spiritual sub culture hoohah, although going by the limited edition extras DVD ‘cutting room floor’ section we could have been subjected to a whole load more of the Covenant’s religious gobbledegook (when all we want to do is shoot stuff, drive/fly meaty vehicles and look damn cool doing it).

Right, enough's enough. This is simply the Xbox game of the year. Halo 2 is beautiful, frightening, quiet, noisy, gentle, brutal, technically superb, solo/co-op/one on one/multiplayer/ team/offline/online/system link nirvana - all things to all men, women, boys and girls, and I can’t believe there’s a working Xbox out there that won't get to load it up; it’s the game the console was built for. But the trouble is, now I want Halo 3.


Best Bits

- Everything.
Worst Bits

- Some graphical glitches in cut scenes and a few… Ah who am I kidding – Halo 2’s “worst bits” are better than most other games best bits, and don’t matter a jot.

by: Diddly

Halo 2
Developer: Bungie
Publisher: Microsoft
Release Date: Out Now
Players: 1-16
Words By:

Halo 2. It's not really the second coming but it's still mighty fine. And as well as defending the Earth from the Covenant and the Flood I would also like to defend the single player campaign which is nowhere near as bad as has been made out by some. In fact, it's superb.

Though I thought the first game was a masterpiece I also thought it was frustratingly flawed. Some of the interior levels dragged a bit through repetition, I had issues with the last driving section, the ending and the Flood were annoying. Despite this the game was a piece of cinematic and combat brilliance and Halo 2 is no different. Things are instantly familiar, even the start feels like a space boarding retread. But there is just that little bit more polish and thought in the gameplay, just that little bit more confidence in the pacing and storyline.

The dual wielding is a much talked about improvement, but for me it's the improved use of vehicles that is much more pleasing. They handle better, are more responsive and faster, and the ability to hijack them is cool. The level design is more diverse and interesting too, giving an epic feel, and though inevitably the 'wonder' of the Silent Cartographer has gone, the pure shooting enjoyment remains and has moved on in quality. In fact, I even welcomed the return of the Flood who simply aren't as annoying and relentless as the first game and are actually quite interesting to fight.

I also found the storyline to be fascinating and compelling in a way that I least expected, though one disappointing aspect of the original Halo does return for the sequel - the poor ending. Here it's flatter than a pancake in Holland (though it whets the appetite immensely for part three so I can forgive it - IF it gets made). Also the noticeable graphical fill-in is a touch shoddy for an otherwise pristine looking game.

So, for me Halo 2 delivered me a quality campaign, story, and alien combat sim that's perfect for console gaming without even touching the online area. It's only the slightest step forward from the original but in storyline, coherent design and combat, if there is better FPS fare on a console I want to see it.

by: 4th Decade

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