STAFF REVIEW of Halo 2 (Xbox)

Wednesday, November 10, 2004.
by RichVGS

Halo 2 Box art READER WARNING: The following review of Halo 2 contains some spoilers of new villains, weapons, abilities and some basic storylines. Because of the nature of this review, some new features must be discussed and could ruin some of the surprise that one gets from playing the campaign for the first time. Also, this review covers the single player campaign only and does not cover any aspects of the multiplayer or Live game. A review covering the online play will be coming in the next few days. Thank you and happy reading.

Back in the day when the first Halo game was released, it was all about the single player campaign. It wasn?t until about a year later that most players discovered the wonderful world of LAN parties and a whole new way of playing the game was discovered. After that, most people forgot about the single player campaign. When Halo 2 was first announced, everyone was buzzing about the fact that Live play was going to be one of the new features. As the days approached, players were going on and on about all the online match-ups and trying to put together clans in a quest to be the best band of Spartan or Elite soldiers on the face of the earth. I have to admit, I was one of these players as well. I couldn?t wait until the fateful day of November 9th to come around and just open the floodgates of insane multiplayer action. Two days before the release date I was playing Counter Strike on Live when I started thinking more about Halo 2?s single player campaign. What if Halo 2 turns out like Counter Strike or Rainbow Six 3 in the respect that the multiplayer experience is unparallel to any other first person shooter on the market, but the single player campaign is virtually worthless? Would Bungie do such a thing to their loyal fans? Part of me they wouldn?t so such a thing, that I was getting worried over nothing. Then I started thinking about the fact that most companies are making first person shooter games based around multiplayer and online experiences and that the first person campaign is there because, well, it?s hard to push a game without having a single player campaign option. At approximately 12:44 a.m. on the morning of November 9, 2004 I began playing the single player campaign on Halo 2. I wouldn?t come up for air until nearly ten hours later, secure that all more worrying was over nothing. So sit back and relax kids as I tell you all about the single player campaign of perhaps the most anticipated video game of all time?Halo 2.

You?d think after wiping out a good chunk of the covenant for forces and destroying the Halo station that Master Chief would get some much deserved time off. While the terms of a vacation are never discussed, we open on MC getting a bit of relaxation while attending an awards ceremony. Meanwhile, the Supreme Commander Elite member that was in charge of the Halo project in the first game is on trial for his failure. You quickly realize that Master Chief and this Elite play the same role in each others? respected army. All this drama is quickly broken apart when the Covenant makes a run at your defenses and at Earth. And all the fun starts with the simple words ?I need a gun.? Once armed, you make your way around your ship and stop the Covenant as they try to overtake the place by drilling troops into the ship and planting a bomb. This is strictly a level for getting yourself reacquainted with the controls and how things run, but don?t get cocky or else you?ll get taken out real quick. While the early run has a ?more of the same? kind of feel, don?t worry. Once you get off your ship, the meat of Halo 2 can be found.

Despite the fact that the fight starts at home, it certainly doesn?t stay there very long. The locations are all unique and are presented in just about every kind of environment imaginable. You?ll fight in the war torn streets of metropolitan Earth, in a sky base during a wind storm, in an underwater fortress, and in the depths of a second (yep, yet another) Halo station. In addition to providing unique backdrops for some intense battles, each location adds its own hazards making the fighting even more complicated. One such instance puts you in a shifting area outside of a base where one minute you?re at ground level and the next you?re over two hundred feet higher then an enemy you were staring down eye to eye less then two seconds ago. Also, watch out for streaming water because it can send you down some really long drops, even when the water only looks like an inch deep. Finally, watch your step because one level (not saying which one) will feature false floor tiles that will keep players from doing the storm the room carrying duel magnums (super powerful). Slow and low is often the smarter play this time around. Stake out the areas and watch the enemies for a short while. It can often save your life.


While Halo 2 brags about new weapons and vehicles (we?ll get into that later), one thing kept quiet was the fact that you not only play as Master Chief, but you will take control of the Elite Supreme Commander for some missions. The ESC is introduced in Halo 2 during his trial for failing to secure the Halo. As a result he is publicly tortured and sentenced to be locked away forever. While the public witnessed the torture and believed he would be locked away, the real end result is quite different. Instead, the profits see fit to reassign you to duty in the roll of The Arbiter who is equipped with similar type armor as the Master Chief. You?re first assignment is to take out the leader of the Heretic Elite, a group of Covenant soldiers who don?t follow the same beliefs as the rest of the Covenant. The gameplay during the Arbiter missions is similar to that while controlling Master Chief with two big differences. First, your armor is equipped with a cloaking (a.k.a. Active Camouflage) device. This comes in handy for stealth missions and when you need to get around a number of enemies in order to achieve better battle positioning. However, unlike most Elite armor, your cloaking is time limited. Seems like a fair trade in order to have regenerating shields like Master Chief. The Second major difference is that you are fighting Covenant troopers that look exactly like the troops on your side. You?ll want to pay particular attention to the color of your target to avoid wasting ammo (don?t worry; you can?t kill your own men here). By taking on a role as a Covenant soldier players get a unique look at the enemy and how their society works, something we don?t see often. As someone much wiser then myself once said ?The best way to beat your enemy is to know how your enemy thinks.?

Speaking of enemies, the Covenant is back and they?re stronger then ever. While the grunts, the elites and the jackals are basically the same bunch you?ve dealt with before (some improvements to the A.I.), some new additions will make life difficult even for a soldier like Master Chief. Drones, the most common new enemy you?ll have to deal with, are flying creatures, armed with plasma pistols and travel in packs. These creatures, while not particularly tough, are difficult to deal with because they fly about and rarely stay in the same location for more then a couple of seconds. Brutes, which look like cast members of the 2001 version of Planet of the Apes, make the ever difficult to deal with hunters look like grunts by comparison. Not only are they armed with super tough fire power, but you don?t want to get to close unless you want to have the back of your head punched out. Your best bet is to stay low and far when dealing with these beasts if you want to survive. Final major additions to the cast are the Prophets. Prophets are the politicians and brains of the Covenant. They are better at giving orders and directing Brutes to do they?re dirty work, but don?t underestimate the fighting ability of these flying creatures. You will also encounter some new mutated enemies during your time controlling the Arbiter. These creations of the Prophet scientists not only look nasty, but their attacks will leave your mouth hanging open.

Even though knowing how your enemy thinks is an important element of the battle, perhaps the most important are the weapons themselves. All the past favorites are back, including your trusty sniper rifle, the explosive rocket launcher and the small, yet very powerful, magnum. Players will also notice that some weapons have undergone upgrades in order to make them more effective and powerful. Covenant?s plasma pistol backs almost as much punch as the magnum and it holds more ammo. The idea of the useless weapon has been eliminated via upgrades. Of course the meat of Halo 2 comes from the new weapon selection. While most of the new weapons are simply Covenant versions of Master Chief?s weapons, they?re pretty cool to check out. The Brute Shot is a high explosives weapons similar to the rocket launcher, but fires more like a grenade launcher. It packs a bit more of a punch then the rocket launcher, but it is much more difficult to aim (unless you know geometry, then it will seem like a snap). Of all the changes in weapons, the energy sword is greatest of them all. If you?re big on pistol whipping your enemies to death like I am, then the energy sword is the perfect weapon for you. One swing will mean instant death to any enemy you come upon, but you have to have the courage to get within inches of the bad guys. If you?re a brave soul, this will quickly become the most popular weapon of the game. Finally, we come to the addition of duel wielding your weapons. While you can?t duel wield all weapons (no duel rocket launchers, sorry), the weapons you can duel wield will add some extra punch to often overlooked weapons. Usually I?d turn my nose up to the needle gun, but when duel wielding needle guns, you?ll be amazed at their destructive capabilities. Just remember this, sometimes it is better to hold two different kinds of weapons rather then duel wielding. Make your weapon selection wisely.

Of all the major improvements made to the single player campaign, the biggest overhaul has been the vehicles you can use during the game. Like the weapons, some improvements have been made to existing vehicles, including boosters to the Ghost making it a great vehicle for evading and getting reposition for attack (you can?t fire your weapons when using speed boost, so be careful when deciding which to use). Concerning new vehicles available for use, I will only discuss two of them (some surprises need to remain surprises). The first is the Banshee, the single passenger fighter that can go just about anywhere in the sky. Some amazing dogfights, in the tradition of Crimson Skies, are in store for players who saddle up on this baby. On the opposite end of the field when it comes to ability to travel great distances, you can now take control of the Wraith, the Covenant version of a tank. If you thought the Scorpion tank was slow and hard to control, wait until you get behind the driver?s seat of the Wraith. Besides saying you drove one, there is almost no reason to operate this vehicle. It has all the problems of the Scorpion, plus it has less shielding and it?s harder to aim. Cool to have as an option, but not one that player should exercise unless absolutely necessary. Of course, with the option of vehicle jacking now available (Grand Theft Auto meets Halo) you shouldn?t have to stay in a Wraith for too terribly long. It?s just fun jumping onto a moving Ghost, slapping the crap out of the driver and throwing him to the side of the road. Thanks for the ride moron.

Gameplay wise, the intensity of the original Halo has been multiplied off the charts. Think of when you had to escape in the Warthog in the final moments of the original game. Remember the pulse pounding action as you raced for your life as everything came crashing around you. Think about how tired and relieved you felt when it was all over. All that is back, and that kind of insanity occurs about twenty minutes into the game. While at times it feels like the same thing just with new elements, some sort of twist occurs and makes things more interesting. By switching roles between Master Chief and the Arbiter, the gamers never knows what to expect each mission to hold. Many of the questions players had at the end of Halo will be answered, but the bad news is that even more will be posed by the end. You just gotta love these continuing series and their ability to ask more questions then they answer. Perhaps the best news of all is that players? biggest fear did not come to pass. The frame rate is just fine. While playing my first ten hour session, I only counted a total of four freeze up points, but each occurred because I crossed a load point during heavy combat, so I question if you should even file that under frame rate issues.

Graphically speaking Halo 2 is a monster. Many players may consider the graphics to be rough around the edges, but that just emphasizes the gritty feel that this war has. Battle damage is now visible on both Master Chief and to the vehicles you tear around in. The settings are amazingly detailed, down to birds flying in the clouds. The best graphic examples can be found in the cut scenes, especially those dealing with the Covenant. Lets face it, there is only so much you can do artistically with Master Chief and the marines, so designers went all out with the Covenant. The Prophets, while seeming kind of freakish and ugly, are breathtaking in their design. There is a definite royalty/religious influence in the Covenant design. This art adds intelligence and sophistication to their alien word. Look for some amazing details when exploring the different locations through out all the worlds, especially the occasional propaganda graffiti hiding in dark corners.

Sounds like Bungie had more of a budget for sound effects and music this time around. The soundtrack is a mix of classical and symphony pieces, as well as hard rock and techno influences at times. No, you?re not going to hear today?s hottest bands, but the music does an amazing job at highlighting and setting the mood for the emotions of the battles and scenes. Voice acting was a have focus of the Bungie staff. They didn?t want the background characters to keep saying the same thing over and over again, so they recorded hundreds of phrases and one liner to be used during the game. In all the hours of gameplay, I only heard one statement said twice, and I wasn?t even sure I had heard it before. Much focus was put on the Prophets. The voice tones are that of old and wise noblemen, who sound more religious than war torn. As far as the sound effects go, 5.1 digital remastering plus surround sound system equals me jumping out of my seat every time someone shoots at me and I didn?t see it coming. I do, however, recommend that you play the game at low volume levels at times unless you want to get noise complaints like I received the first night play it.

We all know that Halo: Combat Evolved was the game that defined the Xbox and what impact it would have in the gaming world. That, plus all the hype and anticipation to the release of the sequel gave Halo 2 some very big shoes to fill, shoes that many players, like myself, felt would be impossible to fill. Despite all the pressure, the folks at Bungie were not only able to meet expectations, but I feel that they exceeded them. New enemies, weapons and vehicles coupled with online play would have probably been enough to make Halo 2 a huge success, but they went even further making may vast improvements. Small things like duel wielding weapons, the ability to steal vehicle, and variety of voice effects and lines take the game to a whole new level. Of all the new elements, the switching between Master Chief and the Arbiter missions made for a pleasant surprise that I?m amazed didn?t leak prior to release (or prior to the bootleg French addition hitting the net). After playing this game for hours and seeing all the improvements and additions, it made the long wait and delays all worth it. Well, I?m gonna sign off now and try the online play for the first time. For those of you who bought Halo 2 and have just enjoyed the online play, I highly recommend (if I could order you to I would) taking the time and playing through the single player mode. I apologize if I spoiled too much for you, but take comfort that many secrets and surprises still await players within the single player campaign. Just hurry and play it before someone online spoils them for you.

From the Inside, Keep on Gaming!

Remember to look for Xbox Addict?s review of Halo 2?s Live play experience coming soon!!!

Overall: 9.8 / 10
Gameplay: 10.0 / 10
Visuals: 9.6 / 10
Sound: 10.0 / 10


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