Halo 2 has finally come out, and you get to shoot aliens, so that sells it right there. Aliens, Shooting them, well it’s not the best thing ever, and, no it’s not really groundbreaking but it has its charms. And when you tire of that there’s always that little thing called multiplayer. Yeah, it sure is a lot of fun to shoot people you know in a virtual environment, asserting your dominance over them. I like to yell, “Booya!” when I kill someone too, but my partner in crime Cory will tell you more about the multiplayer later.
I have been waiting for Halo 2, like the rest of you, since the first Halo was released. After spending as much time with the game as I have, I was able to develop a fairly specific set of things that I would like to see changed in the sequel. They did not address all of these wishes but Halo 2 it is still an awesome game.
The single player campaign does not deviate much from the style of the original Halo, but there are some noticeable differences. The campaign puts you back in the brain meats of the Master Chief and you run along with him on his adventure to save mankind... again. The Covenant are coming to invade earth and things get a little wacky along the way. There’s quite a bit of controversy already over the single player plotline, namely that it doesn’t have an ending. Endings are pretty important in games and making things worthwhile for the players. The story is more complex this time around and is present more than it was in the first Halo. The cinematic sequences that serve as the intro to the levels are longer, look nicer and help fill out the story a whole lot more than what was seen in the original Halo. There are still some gaps, but it makes sense and the story is interesting if a bit light.
The first thing that I’d say they have improved on in the single player campaign the overall mood. The game feels very somber and dark and this gives your time spent traversing through the levels a spooky Alien-esque feeling from time to time. This coupled with smarter, tougher enemies makes the single player campaign pretty enjoyable to play through, even more so in a cooperative mode. The improved mood of the single player campaign is enhanced by the incredibly good soundtrack with plenty of spooky ambient pieces as well as orchestral tracks along with some rock bits with guitars.
One of the great gameplay additions to Halo 2 is the ability to dual wield weapons. Doing this stops you from being able to toss out grenades on a regular basis, but by pressing the B button you can toss one gun aside and start causing little explosions where ever you want. You’re not limited to holding two of the same type of weapon, as long as the weapon is available for dual wielding you’re free to mix and match weapons as you see fit, giving you an extra level of choice the combo of weapons you wish to use ant any given time.
There are several new additions to the arsenal on both sides of the fence, but what sets the human weapons apart is that a couple of them have been crippled (in some players eyes). Now, I know, you’re going to want to complain about not being able to zoom with the pistol. I was annoyed for a second too, but then I realized that every aesthetic change like that makes sense. There is not a scope on the handgun so you shouldn’t be able to zoom with it. This makes sense. You can’t just hold the trigger down when using the shotgun so that you’ll just keep firing. That also makes sense. The new human weapons are the SMG, a bullet hose that can be dual wielded to impressive effect and the battle rifle, which is like a short-burst machine pistol with a scope on it, presumably to make up for losing the scope on the handgun.
The energy sword used by Covenant Elites is probably my favorite new addition. With one of these you become a melee-killing machine. But, on top of the energy sword there is a whole host of new Covenant weapons to pick up off of the corpses of your unfortunate enemies. This includes a Covenant style sniper rifle, and a really fun carbine rifle that roughly matches up to the new human battle rifle.
There are a few new vehicles on the Covenant side of things and a new weapon for the warthog on the human side. The aliens get all of the cool stuff. They have all of these flying vehicles, tanks and troop transports, we get a jeep with a machine gun. Thousands of years of human technology, we have floating weapon platforms in space and interstellar travel and the coolest vehicle we can come up with is a jeep with a machine gun. Do you see a problem with this?
All in all, though, I find the single player campaign to be enjoyable and fun just like the original. Simple exciting tactical combat. It’s nothing earth shattering, but it does what it does well and gives you a good time.
The settings and graphics are sharp and beautiful, but there is a problem with the design: it is so damn easy to get totally lost. The layouts and looks of a room can be so confusing as to cause you to wander aimlessly for minutes on end looking for a damn door a switch that works.
I know this is kind of weird following what I just said, but the level design is actually quite good. The levels and the areas where combat takes place are well designed, more varied then the original and a lot of fun to fight through. Plenty of places to sneak around, things to hide behind, openings to take down enemies from a distance, hell, places to get ambushed and killed, cornered by enemies and beaten to death, it’s all there. Too bad I get lost every couple of minutes and end up with a headache, but it all balances out.
So, overall, as you are probably aware the game is pretty awesome and will be an enjoyable game for many months. Not because of the single player campaign, but more so because of the multiplayer which Cory will be botching the review of.
Of course, Halo 2 is really all about the multiplayer. Which is why I took this portion of the review and left the rest for Josh. He’s a nice kid, but you can’t trust him with anything important.
Everything he said about changes in the single player applies here. Lots of changes and tweaks that some will love and some will hate. Those ultimately satisfying one-shot melee kills to the back of the head are still there. Health has been dispensed with in favor of a more dynamic shield system. Falling damage was eliminated. As Josh mentioned, the pistol, favorite of irritating jerks everywhere, has been nerfed. You get the idea, it’s like old Halo with some new twists and turns.
The new maps are larger than Halo’s and much more dynamic. After a week of losing sleep, ignoring my girlfriend and blowing off homework I can say that the new maps are pretty great and require the same amount of familiarity to master as the set in the original Halo did. And since downloadable content is a reality this time out, by the time we know these maps like we knew Blood Gulch and Hang 'Em High, there will be a new batch to learn.
The play seems smooth and responsive in both system link and over Live. Live play means you may never have to lug a TV and Xbox to your buddy’s house to play, but also that you can’t unplug his controller when he beats you for the twentieth time in a night. It does offer you a nearly unlimited amount of opponents anytime, day or night, and this is a wonderful and terrifying thing. Say goodbye to sleep, plan to lose your job and go ahead and break up with your girlfriend before she dumps you. This thing will devour your life and your soul if you let it. You know you will let it.
Bungie also took a radical step and created an entirely new way to match players online. In addition to creating a robust stats system that is highly resistant to cheating and manipulation, they automated most of the process of finding a good game. This is both a good and bad thing, but it has pissed some people off so much they are all but threatening to storm Bungie’s offices and burn them to the ground.
What they’ve done is replace the traditional server browser with a slick and impressive front end that takes care of the dirty work of finding a good game for you. It works like this: you select a playlist based on what kind of games you want to play. Currently there are only a few choices representing fairly broad categories (solo play, small team, big team, etc). Once you select a playlist, you are matched with other players at your skill level that have a good ping relative to you. Then you play the game. Afterwards the process repeats.
The system works wonderfully at what it is designed to do, which is get you into a lag free game with other players of similar skill. It is radically different from what other games do and have done since the first online games appeared ten or so years ago. Honestly, I believe 90% of the complaints boil down to exactly that: I don’t like it because it’s different. If we had all grown up with this system and were handed the old server browser list as a replacement, I think the complaints would be even more intense.
There are some legitimate complaints. It is more difficult than it should be to set up or join a custom game with random strangers. All custom games are private and require you to invite people from your friends list, clan or from the post game carnage report of a match made game. If you just want to jump into a game, you need to use the matchmaking service and play one of the preset playlists. The other major legitimate complaint is a lack of variety in the playlists, which Bungie has promised to rectify soon.
I could spend pages defending the system or picking it apart but it comes down to this: the system works well, even if it is different from what you are used to. Stop whining, learn how to create a party for custom games and enjoy the benefits of the matchmaking system the rest of the time. It’s not perfect but neither is the traditional server list model.
Based on a little over a week with the game I can say that I like the changes and I am really enjoying the game. Is it better than Halo? I don’t know. A year from now when I have put as much time into Halo 2 as I did the first one, I might be able to answer that. Right now all I can say is it’s good. Damn good. Actually, the multiplayer portion of the game is brilliant. It is the best console-based online shooter ever made and I intend to spend the next year or more of my life shooting Josh and the rest of my friends (not to mention a few strangers) in the face over and over again with great gusto.
Don’t listen to the newly minted “Original Halo Gangstas” that will tell you how much better the first game was and how this one is a sell out, a travesty or a crime against humanity. Let them whine about the newly nerfed pistol and unique matchmaking system. Their arguments all boil down to “This game is not Halo. I really loved Halo. I am sad. And dumb.” And whining about that when you could be playing Halo 2 is just sad. And dumb.
Discuss this review in the forums.