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Halo 2 Review

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Developer: Bungie Publisher: Microsoft
Release Date: November 9, 2004 Available On: PC and Xbox

First off, I would like to congratulate all of those who were able to sustain all the delays, heart attacks, and patience required in waiting the 2 years for Halo 2. Since fall 2002 when the game was announced, there has been nothing but this in waiting for the epic sequel to be released. Finally, November 9th 2004 has arrived and the world as we known it will be forever changed. Halo 2 is the game to buy an Xbox for alone. I know because many of my friends that never had an Xbox bought one after playing Halo 2 for the first time. Sales for Microsoft’s black box went up nearly 15% prior to the release in preparation for the blockbuster title to hit stores. Halo 2 will consumer your soul until there is nothing left in you to keep playing it. Sleep sometimes just won’t be an option in how much you will be hooked to Bungie’s standout shooter Halo 2.

Just from the early looks, we could tell Halo 2 would be quite the eye candy. Halo: Combat Evolved was just as advanced compared to the time it was released at Xbox launch. I can remember just watching commercials of Halo 1 and knowing that I wanted that game. Now I have done the same with Halo 2 just like the millions of others who now own this smash hit. What we were given on Halo 2 brings the first person shooter to a whole new level. The designers at Bungie focused their time in not revamping the engine, but improving it. Bump mapping was added every where to give a true to life feel to a science fiction game. The believed that is the sequel would look flat and fail to surpass the now legendary original, Halo 2 would flop. Environments were highly focused on, trying to get everything possible right within the levels. Every type of texture you can think would be in Halo is there, leaving out not the slightest thing to alter the immersive fell Halo 2 brings. Real time lighting and shadow effects that were brought in are directly associated with the environment around you. If a rock or foundation casts a shadow in real life, you can expect it to in Halo as well. Waterfalls seem to violently clash off rocks and seem so real. The fully destructible environments are what make the world seem that much more real. Sure, everything isn’t destructible, but everything you would expect to be able to blow up can be. NPC’s however don’t seem to fit in as well with this amazing environment laid out in front of you. Because the area around them looks so good, the characters look flat and dull against them and make it seem as though there was less work done on them when in reality there wasn’t.

The vehicles of Halo 2 have been given a massive upgrade as well. As in real armored vehicles, the plating is layered and has distinct texture. The frame working and detail placed on each ride shows such details up close. More work was put in on these vehicles in order to create a realistic damage system that is second to none. As your vehicle takes enemy fire, parts will begin to fly off and possibly catch fire. Warthogs have their plating and hubcaps fly off, while Ghosts lose their wings and expose the plasma inhibited engine inside. Once taking enough damage, the vehicle will explode. This even includes the Scorpion Tank which was near invincible in the first Halo. There is supposedly even a weak point on each vehicle that will allow it to be crippled in one bullet. The Ghost for instance has a gas tank on the side that will cause it to self destruct in one simple bullet. The realism of these fully damageable vehicles adds to the realism quite nicely.

In the first Halo, cutscenes were short and lacked much dialog from the Master Chief and Covenant. Most people liked it that way, but Bungie wanted to create a good storyline through the association between characters. Halo 2 is all about the cutscenes really to accelerate the flow of the story. Unlike the way Metal Gear Solid 2 used too many cutscenes to advance the storyline, Halo deepens its own giving you a sense of what is really going on through both sides of the galaxy. Each of the cutscenes is perfectly rendered, displaying the true power of the Xbox Hardware. The already outstanding visuals get a bit of beefing up, especially when it comes to your NPC’s. The details on the other characters were not passed for the cinematics at all. Details on the clothing have been changed to show parts of texture and facial expressions have been added to add to the effect of each moment. With all of this, you expect there to be some sort of catch right? Yes. During the cutscenes, there tends to be a bit of clipping when loading some points. While it isn’t that bad, it is worth pointing out.

The voice talents in the scenes are top notch. The perfect voice for Master Chief has been found, sounding really like the seven foot super soldier he is. Throughout the cutscenes, Cortana, Chief, Johnson, and crew throw around jokes to make fun of each situation and lighten the mood of war. The Covenant voices, though well done, are perplexing. How is it that the Covenant are speaking perfect English anyway instead of some native dialect? Either way, there are interesting voices for each type of Covenant soldier. Grunts sound like annoying kids, Elites like capable leaders, and the new Prophets like a Commander of their people…or in this case Covenant.

Again, the score was brilliantly rendered for the combat you will endure throughout the campaign. The beating war drums and electric guitar add to the drama of the battle for the human race and alerting you to the current mood you should be in while playing. If you are laying waste to the enemy, you are presented with an up beat and heart pounding sound that keeps the feelings high. When sneaking around quiet hallways where something is going to happen, you will hear eerie music that creates a sense of fear within you while playing in the dark. Weapon sounds have been improved to sound more like the real weapons they are modeled off of. The Covenant weaponry is what has gone through the most changes. The sound change is good, sounding more like laser weapons should sound in a sci-fi world such as this. Engines seem to grind against metal when damaged by incoming fire. This is a truly spectacular feat for all to hear.

The ground breaking gameplay that changed the first person shooter genre returns with improved features. While Halo 2 feels relatively the same while you are playing, there are a few new modifications added to the combat. The addition of dual wielding allows you to use two one-handed weapons at the same time. This means you can only dual wield any combination of the Pistol, SMG, Plasma Pistol, Plasma Rifle, or Needler. The human pistol has been modified to not include a scope, but changed to a magnum that is weaker than the previous pistol. Needlers now have a faster rate of fire and are much more accurate than ever before. Dual wielding these will actually bring the pain towards your foes. Rocket launchers have the new motion tracking ability that allows you to lock on to moving vehicles. You can then fire the rocket and hit your target almost without fail unless the drive can actually see the blast coming and avoids it. You also now have the option of using turrets that are propped up through each level. Melee combat with the new Covenant Energy Sword is somewhat temperamental. Attacks from upfront seem to be inconsistent, meaning attacks don’t do the same amount of damage all the time. It may take the same type of foe two slashes over one. You can always use the stealthy kill of taking them out from behind however.

Computer AI has been greatly improved to give Halo 2 a better military experience. In the first Halo, your companions and enemies would run straight into the line of fire and be easily blown away. Now these characters will take cover behind rocks and vehicles to not be as easily killed. As the difficulty setting increases, the AI in both friendly and enemy NPCs improves, becoming more true to the level you are playing on. If the difficulty is higher, you would expect your marines to be semi kick butt. While the Covenant was about to pilot their vehicles in the first game, humans will now drive their own. You can hop into the gunner seat of a Warthog and one of your allies will take the wheel and drive to the correct place. When in an area that isn’t clear however, they AI will drive in a circle until it is cleaned up. Why don’t you just blast through them like you actually would do? I guess it makes the game more fun instead of just running through the level. While walking around or in another vehicle, it is quite common for the AI to run into you as they go by. This does get to be quite the nuisance at times since they have no collision detection sense at all.

There are plenty of new weapons and vehicles to use in Halo 2 that actually allow you to use them. The humans still have the standard Warthog and Scorpion, but there are now two different types of Warthogs. One of the hogs will fire the basic anti-air machine gun while the other fires unlimited laser blasts. The Covenant has a few new vehicles that you have the ability to pilot. These include Ghosts, Banshees, Wraiths, and the new Spectre which is best described as the Covenant answer to the Warthog. All of these vehicles have the ability to be jacked in motion to gain a vehicle for your own use. Some of these are better than others like pulling an Elite out of a Banshee over the edge or hopping on a tank, tearing a hole in the hull and placing a grenade in the kill the driver. This is just something you can do all day long and has the remnants of Grand Theft Halo all over it.

Levels are much more immersive and bring you into a living breathing world. Traveling around each level, you will find that there are many more places to take cover and fire from or just to find places to explore. Although the Covenant will try and sneak up on you, you still have the motion tracker to keep an eye on your foes. Taking cover in firefights is crucial since you now only have your shield to protect you. Once the shield is depleted, it will only take a shot or two to bring you down. In some levels, you may find yourself lost though since there are still is some recycled internal structures that don’t show the way to go. Eventually, it all works out in the end.

While the campaign will offer you a lot of fun, Halo has been best known for its multiplayer aspects. You are given 11 maps for you the wreak havoc on your friends as you try to become a great Halo player. Everything that you could do in the campaign mode is available for exploitation in the multiplayer. This includes jacking vehicles, motion tracker rocket launcher, and dual wielding. There are plenty of game types to choose from as well which include Slayer, CTF, Assault, Territories, King of the Hill, Oddball, and Juggernaut. Sorry race fans, there is no more of this mode in Halo 2. Each of the game settings are fully customizable in many different ways that Halo 1 was not. Each level is specifically designed for certain gameplay types. Most of these maps however are quite large for one Xbox full of players. They are basically built for use on the Xbox Live, but that doesn’t stop you from having Lan Parties or playing via Xbox Connect either. What is nice though is that you no longer need to have four full Xboxes to have a 16 person game. You can link up 16 Xboxes with one person on it if you wish. Though I don’t know anyone who has 16 TV’s to do that with in their home.

Halo 2 was built for Xbox Live. While you don’t have the option of just creating a room and having players join in, you do have Bungie’s matchmaking system. This is broken down into 5 different varieties. This includes Rumble Pit (Free For All Games), Team Skirmish (Team Objective Based Games with up to 4 on a team), Team Slayer (Slayer and Objective Based Games with up to 4 on a team), Head to Head, and Big Team Battle (TS with up to 8 on a team). Each other these have their own gameplay settings and maps to best fit for players to use. The matchmaking mode will also match you up with players close to your skill level. As you play each game type, you will gain levels as you win. The higher the level, the better the people you are up against. You will have a different level for each matchmaking setting and you will only be paired with people in that setting near your level. For example, you could be a rank 15 in Rumble Pit and a 5 in Team Slayer. If you play a Team Slayer game, you will be matched up with players around rank 5. Your highest rank however will show up next to your name on your friend’s list. You can also get together your friends and can play in match made team games so you are playing with people who you know are good. Tired of playing ranked games? You can always play Team Training and Rumble Training that re unranked games, meaning you will be paired with any level. You will also be able to bring guests into this game type. You can’t bring guests into ranked games.

Halo 2 is also well built for clans. At any time, you can just create a clan and begin inviting people in. When you create or enter a clan, you will be given a separate friend’s list full of your clan members and separate from your normal friends list. You will also be given a rank in the clan when you join. Overlords are basically the creators of the clan, but each clan can have more than one. Staff is an upgrade that shows you work for recruiting as well as take part in the clan. A member is a basic person in the clan that can’t send clan invites at all. A peon is the lowest ranking of the members and used to basically show disgrace to one of your members that isn’t good. You will also be given a pass worded forum on Bungie.net for your clan to talk strategies or check stats. Practicing with your clan is possible by creating custom games. Custom games can use any game type and you are able to invite anyone on your friends list that you want. Whether they be clan members, guests or people from your friends list, you can sit and have a great time with custom games.

The future for Halo 2 looks bright. It has the ability for downloadable content in the future. This could possibly include updates to fix glitches, weapons, vehicles, and even multiplayer maps. With these, Halo 2’s lifespan is extended far beyond most games. With the multiplayer fun and addicting, Halo 2 is one game MOST people won’t put down for years. If people could play Halo 1 for 3 years, why not Halo 2? If there ever will be a Halo 3, I guarantee that most of you will be playing Halo 2 until its launch.

Graphics: 9.5
Sound: 10
Gameplay: 9.5
Creativity: 9
Replay Value/Game Length: 10
Final: 9.6
Written by Shawn Review Guide