Bungie
Microsoft
FPS
1-4 (1-16)
11.09.04

Halo 2


Before I sit down and write this review, I feel compelled to include a waiver. So, here it is:

CAUTION: HALO 2 IS A SEQUEL.
PLEASE TAKE APPROPRIATE MEASURES TO ENSURE YOUR SAFE ENJOYMENT OF THIS GAME.


Let's be honest. Sequels are made to continue the success of a game that is both extremely commercially and creatively successful. That is, the fiction created by the game is strong enough to supply another title with adequate material to create an immersive gaming experience. Therefore, it is very, very difficult for any sequel, let alone the sequel to Halo: Combat Evolved, to replicate or advanced the creative value of the series.

With that in mind, Halo 2 has done a great job of addressing the concerns and inadequacies of the first Halo and creating an interactive experience worth taking part in. The Halo 2 development team listened to the feedback and critiques from the first Halo title, both from the media and from the gaming community, and added features and functionality to address these concerns.

New vehicles, new weapons, vehicle boarding and dual wielding are all examples where the Halo 2 team took a direct request or idea from the gaming community, and implemented it the right way.

Gameplay

In addition to adding new features to address the concerns brought up about the original Halo, the Halo 2 took great strides to ensure that every new feature and gameplay dynamic was tuned and balanced to perfection. Unlike Halo, where the pistol reigned supreme and the assault rifle was reduced to the role of heavyweight noisemaker, every weapon in Halo is effectively countered by another, and any user can find a weapon or weapon combination that showcases their individual personality and tendencies.

In terms of the single player campaign, Halo 2 responded to calls for less repetitiveness by shortening the length of each level and ensuring that each level contained numerous different styles of play. Each level features a different combination of close-quarters fighting, ranged sniping, vehicular combat, zero-g locomotion and hand-to-hand brawling. Each level also features its own signature moments, from the "Ladies Like Armor Plating" tank trip across a besieged bridge, to the "Hunt the Heretic" sword-stalking, to the boarding of the massive Scarab in "Field Expedient."

Overall, the gameplay in Halo 2 deserves kudos, as it definitely adds and expands upon the now-classic dynamics established in Halo. That said, player expecting the next great evolution in first person shooters might be in for a bit of a disappointment.

Graphics

99% of Halo 2's graphics are superb. Textures reflect a care and attention to detail that all too often is lacking in big-time commercial game production. Models are rigged and animated with a care that reflects many hours of development time on this title, and an experience level rarely seen. The cinematics and framing of the images and scenery of the Halo 2 universe are on par with many of Hollywood's best offerings. The overall visual presentation is indeed awesome.

However, the 1% of the graphics that guarantees the graphics of Halo 2 its lowest rated aspect is the first moment you see them. This is because of the way the graphics are loaded, the player first sees an untextured, improperly rendered model. A moment later, the textures and finer geometry snaps into place, but the damage is already done.

Whether this effect is a result of a deliberate development decision, or the byproduct of preparing Halo 2 to be launched on Xbox 2, we may never know. Whatever the reason, it definitely detracts from the quality of the game, and the entire gaming experience.

Sound

Both the composition and the technical quality of the audio in Halo 2 is excellent. Dual SMGs rattle the floorboards, boot steps pecking away at metal grating heighten the game's realism, and the top quality compositions by sound designer Marty O'Donnell get the player's blood pumping.

Like the original Halo, Halo 2 is frequented by a number of classic battle themes and epics. Unlike the original however, Halo 2's compositions delve deeper into O'Donnell's range and strike a very different dynamic for the entire game. Finally, licensed music, like songs by rock bands Hoobastank and Breaking Benjamin, provides an entirely different feel for select sections of Halo 2's single player campaign.

The sound effects that drive Halo 2's action are also masterfully created. One of the most effective sound effects executed in the game is the dropping of the gate on the multiplayer level Zanzibar. I still haven't seen anyone play that level for the first time with out exclaiming "What the #$@$ was that?" when the gate clang, clang, clangs its way down.

With a combination of fantastic sound effects and implementation, as well as a moving and exciting soundtrack, Halo 2's audio is by far its best attribute.

Replay Value

The first Halo featured very long levels that featured repeating level elements, extremely long levels, and a general lack of interactivity between the player and the game environment. As with many of the other comments and criticisms about Halo, the Halo 2 team addressed this masterfully.

The new levels are short and sweet, but place the player in a huge environment that they can explore and play with. Each level has numerous side paths and dead ends that directly contribute very little to the game experience. Indirectly however, they create the very believable fiction that the player is indeed playing in a more complete and immersive world. There are also many interactive level elements and a number of unique enemies and objects that further add to the quality and depth of the Halo 2 experience.

What puts Halo 2 over the top, in terms of replayability is the fantastic multiplayer experience provided by Xbox Live. Any time of the day, any time of the week, the superb system that Bungie and Microsoft have created is being populated by thousands, if not millions of players. As well, content that is continually being updated (like multiplayer playlists and new levels) also helps to keep the game fresh. I realized how amazing this multiplayer system was when I went online to play MechAssault 2 and relived the past 10 years of my online multiplayer gaming life, as I spent more time trying to find a game than actually playing. Yes, Halo 2 on Xbox has indeed spoiled me rotten.

Bottom Line:

Overall, Halo 2 is a very well made sequel. Every aspect of the development was handled well and with a few expectations, the game displayed extremely high production values and exhibited a great deal of creativity. The single player campaign is short and snappy, the Xbox live implementation is indeed brilliant, and the lasting impression left by the game is something that is worth experiencing. That said, it's important that the player come into the game with realistic expectations as to what a sequel should be, and what a sequel can accomplish.

Related Links:

Official Halo 2 Website

-Coray Seifert




8.1
9.6
8.8
9.5
9.0