Halo 2 Vista

Reviewed by Dave Linger, Posted on 2007-06-26


Developer: Bungie Publisher: Microsoft
Release Date: May 31, 2007 Also On: Xbox

When I heard that Halo 2 was coming out for Windows, I will admit that I was excited. The original Halo was a great port to the PC, so my expectations were understandably high for Halo 2. Halo: Combat Evolved was released in 2001 for the Xbox and in 2003 for PC, two years later. Halo 2 was released for Xbox in 2004, then in 2007 for PC, a full three years later. I had mixed feelings about this. Initially I felt like they just delayed it so that they could release it with Windows Vista, but I also considered that maybe they took the extra time to add in some more new content, like they did with the original Halo PC port. Unfortunately, I was very wrong and ended up being very disappointed.

Let's start at the beginning, buying the game. When Halo came out for the PC in 2003, it retailed for $20-$40, depending on where you shop. For the past few years it's been about $20 everywhere. If you ask me, that's about the right price. You were (at the time) buying a 2 year old game with some new stuff thrown in on top. Halo 2, however, is $50 everywhere I have seen it. $50 for a 3 year old game? I bought it anyway, if only for the sake of review. The first thing that I noticed was that the installer for the game was of a new style. When it launched, it gave me the option to "play now, continue to copy files while I play", or "Install all files now". This feature is becoming standard in "Games for Windows" games, and is commonly known as Tray and Play. I chose the option to play it now, and it asked me for my CD key. No problem. I enter my CD key, and it activates online (we'll come back to this later). The screen went black, as if to show the title videos, and then... blue screen. Yes, I got the blue screen of death while trying to play a game designed for Windows Vista, on Windows Vista. In fact, this was my first blue screen on Vista ever.

I restart my PC and try again. This time the title videos play and the main menu loads. The menu has a 3D background, circling an area of the single-player campaign. The textures were missing and turned to flickering black and purple. I figured that this was because it perhaps had not copied the textures yet, since it was in Tray and Play mode, but then I realized that it was already 40% done copying files (it shows the status in the corner). Why oh why would it not copy the first textures you see in the game first? Again I exit the game and this time I just let the thing install. Screw Tray and Play. The only upside to this installation procedure was that once it is installed, you can ditch the disc. It's not needed anymore.

After the game had completely installed, I went back to try it out. I first had to set up my graphics, audio, and control settings. I quickly noticed that all of the menus in Halo 2 are designed for gamepad users. For instance, it may say "Press (A) to continue." It's not referring to the A next to the S on your keyboard, it's referring to the (A) on your gamepad, assuming you're using a gamepad at all, and if you are using a gamepad, assuming it's a Microsoft one. That's just stupid. I'd be willing to bet that less than 10% of PC gamers use gamepads and yet all of the menus in the game are designed around it. You have to press spacebar for (A), and Esc. for (B). Even the Windows Live client uses gamepad controls, and I struggled to find out what button corresponded to (X) and (Y).

Speaking of Windows Live, online play on Halo 2 is a joke. Why? First of all, gamepad users get automatic auto-aim. It can't be toggled on or off, it's just ON if it detects a gamepad, and OFF if it doesn't. So that gives an instant advantage to gamepad users, and it's only a matter of time before a hacker hooks up a driver to use his mouse and keyboard as a gamepad and then people will be playing with both a mouse and keyboard as well as auto-aim. Secondly, Live Gold isn't free. Although the game comes with a 30 day trial, you still have to pay for Gold, just like on the Xbox 360. I know what you're thinking, "Why should it be free? It still costs Microsoft money!" Well the fact is, it doesn't. On the Xbox, Microsoft ran all of the Halo 2 servers, to prevent cheating. That means that Microsoft had to keep hundreds of servers up and running. That costs money. On the PC, however, Microsoft does not host all of the servers. People can have their own servers, and there is NO cross-platform play, even if you pay. So Microsoft is charging us for something that costs them nothing. Although it's true that you do not need Gold to play online, without it all you get is the basic join a game and play. You need Gold for matchmaking, as well as hosting your own server. Yes, Microsoft charges you to use your own bandwidth to host a server. The only way gamers can get around this would be to use a program like Hamachi and to play each other over the Network play option.

I activated my 30 day trial of Live. I clicked Live on the main menu, and was presented with the multiplayer screen. I clicked Matchmaking. It searched for a few seconds, then said "Matchmaking timed out while looking for a match." What? I clicked again. "Matchmaking timed out while looking for a match." Are you kidding me? This is a service that people have to PAY for? (In my entire history of playing Halo 2 on the PC, matchmaking has worked two times. TWO.)

Microsoft has sunk to a new low. First of all, this game shouldn't be a Windows Vista exclusive. Patches have been released to run it on XP, which is understandable, because Halo 2 has no DirectX 10 features. Second of all, it shouldn't be $50. It's a 3 year old game with nothing substantial new in it. Thirdly, online should be totally free. It doesn't cost them anything to have it, so it shouldn't cost us anything to use it to the fullest. Finally, like I mentioned above, there's a problem with the CD key system. In most online-capable games (including the original Halo PC), you type your CD key during installation and it checks it for validity. Then when you go to play online, it checks with the servers you join to make sure no one else is using the same CD key. That way, only one copy of each game can be played online at once. This has been the standard for years and it works. But of course for Halo 2, it activates your CD key online. That means that if your hard drive fails, or you uninstall, for example, and you need to reinstall the game, you're screwed. That CD key is already activated. Now you have to call Microsoft and ask them to re-enable your CD key and you can bet they won't do that more than once.

To be fair, once you actually get into a game on Live, it can be a lot of fun. Although the pace is definitely slower than other PC shooters like Counter-Strike, it can really be fun. A difference for Halo 2 PC, however, is that you have to wait until everyone in the room clicks "Ready" before the game countdown can start. In HPC, the game just started and people would load in as the match began. This can result in a lot of frustration for Halo 2 players, because it's not uncommon to have one asshole who just wants to press the "Oh wait I'm not ready yet" button just as the countdown gets close to zero, every time.

The single player port is decent, not surprisingly it was left untouched so that Xbox players wouldn't feel left out. The graphics were slightly updated for the PC port, but not drastically. Even so, the game's recommended Vista performance rating is a 5. To give you a comparison, my PC's rating is a 4.6. My dual core, Nvidia 8800, 4GB memory, DirectX 10 computer, is a 4.6, and this three year old game's recommended rating is a 5. Even so, I was easily able to run the game on full eye candy. Unlike Halo PC, Halo 2 has the option of anti-aliasing, and some other graphics tweaks which are standard in PC games today. The only time in the game that my PC showed any signs of fatigue was in the cut-scenes. They turn up the depth of field focus and jack up the lighting, making the cut-scenes actually look very beautiful.

The controls work fairly well on PC, even if it's designed for a control pad. For example, if you have one weapon out, left click fires, just like in other PC shooters. If you have two guns out, however, it swaps left click to right click, and sets left click to fire the left gun. This may sound annoying, but it works well. What's odd about the controls, however, is that they switched the buttons used to switch guns and throw grenades since the last game, and I have to say that I like the old controls better in this aspect. Also, crouch is mapped to Shift by default, which is unusual, as the normal crouch buttons C and Ctrl are not used at all.

The only problem I had with the single player was about two thirds of the way through the game, which is about maybe 2 hours in, I had just killed my way through all of the checkpoints in a level and I was expecting the next cutscene. To my surprise, an error message popped up in-game. "SORRY - Please insert your original Halo 2 disc." I did as it said, and pressed "Ok." It returned me to the main menu. Odd... I then tried to resume my game. It had erased my checkpoints, so I had to restart the level! I ran through it again, and the same thing happened at the end of the level again. It asked me to put in the disc. This time, however, it was already in the tray. I clicked "Ok," and it returned me to the main menu. I exited the game and didn't play it again for about a week, and it just magically worked, probably due to an update.

In the end, Halo 2 Vista is an overpriced old game with little new content. Yes, it has a map editor, but as far as I know, the map editor is free. The only thing that truly impressed me was the sound quality and some little bits and pieces of the graphics. They force you to pay for Live if you want to host a game or use its broken matchmaking and the controls are designed for gamepad players to boot. If you have a gamepad, buy an Xbox. It's cheaper than a gaming PC. Halo 2 is also the most buggy software I've ever used on Windows Vista, so I might just have to run it on Windows XP. Like I said, the only reason it isn't designed to run on Windows XP is because Microsoft doesn't want you to play it on XP. They want you to buy this three year old game for $50 for their new $200+ OS, and then pay $5 a month to play it. Screw you, Microsoft. I can't give Halo 2 bad scores in all of the categories, but I'll make it clear: Do NOT buy this game, until you can find it for $20 or less, and you can play it on Windows XP online for free, as it should be.

Graphics: 6
Sound: 9
Gameplay: 6
Creativity: 1
Replay Value/Game Length: 3
Final: 5
Written by Dave Linger Review Guide

Reviewed by Dave Linger