Guest Review by: Andrew Rivas
Let’s get the obvious out of the way: Halo 2 is not a bad game. Though many various console fanboys will disagree with me, Halo 2 is actually a reputable entry in the console FPS genre. It does more things right than wrong (albeit there are quite a few things wrong), and the slick Limited Edition Halo 2 case is well worth the extra five bucks.
You didn’t misread me; Halo 2 is a good game. That is not to say that Halo 2 is a good Halo game. Halo 2 is a sub-par, uninspired sequel compared to what could have been. The original Halo was a cinematic masterpiece. I laughed, I cried—all that clichéd nonsense. It was the killer app for the Xbox console back in 2001, an epic ride that kept you on the edge of your seat from beginning to end, and left you wanting more.
Halo 2 tries to do the same with a supposedly “epic” storyline, gameplay changes up the wazoo and a new playable character. Though their ambitions are admirable, I would have told Bungie “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” Some of the changes are for the better; but it feels like a whole new game, not the sequel to the award-winning Halo, and that’s what I wanted.
The graphics in Halo 2 look pretty damn nice. They’re impressive when the engine works, anyway. I frequently noticed backgrounds popping up several seconds after a cut-scene started, graphical glitches, and inconsistent lip-synching.
No load times, though! One of the few really good improvements they made from the first game. I came to loathe those load screens, so much so that I’d frequently play a handheld game while waiting. But with Halo 2, it’s just one long load screen to begin with, and then one long smooth ride to the ending. There were small pauses every ten to fifteen minutes or so, accompanied with a “Loading…” on the side of the screen; but they were almost never noticeable. (Unless I was in the middle of a firefight.) The frame-rate never really dropped during single-player, but it did a few times in multiplayer. Even during system link, which I wouldn’t have expected. Overall though, the frame-rate stayed consistent, which was a plus in my book.
The gameplay of Halo 2 makes it very obvious that Halo and Halo 2 are two very different games. Halo practically made the two-weapon limit standard, introduced recharging energy shields (which almost every FPS released afterwards tries to replicate), and raised every other standard so high that it was difficult, if not impossible to release an FPS without it being compared to Halo. Every game promised to be the “Halo Killer”; every game failed.
Bungie took a risk and totally revamped the gameplay elements, so much so that it’s hard to find similarities between the two games. Some weapons made the cut, some didn’t, and some were just completely redone. Most of the alterations to gameplay elements were done in the interest of making the game more fair and more casual-gamer friendly. Some weapons in Halo, if you knew how to use them, made you a god. The pistol, for instance, was largely over-looked; but if you knew how to use it, you could take down any other player wielding any other weapon. A rocket launcher may seem like an obvious choice, but if you’re going to be in close quarters combat the splash damage might kill you. In Halo 2, they dumbed down all the weapons.
The Battle-Rifle replaced the Assault Rifle, for instance. The Battle-Rifle shoots bursts of three bullets, instead of automatically firing a clip of about thirty. Allowing more accurate headshots, but less consistent firing, it may not be your weapon of choice. The pistol was stripped of its scope; one of the worst changes, this makes pistols very near useless except for when it’s equipped with a more powerful weapon. The plasma rifle’s homing ability is greatly increased; the rocket launcher’s splash damage is greatly reduced (as is the damage by an actual rocket, though the rockets do hone in on their targets, removing all the actual skill needed to get a rocket-kill ); and a Needler is more practical now (though it’s still terribly weak compared to a SMG).
SMGs are also introduced, which are aptly nicknamed “bullet hoses” by marines in the game (you can empty entire clips into enemies and not get the kill). All these weapon changes are, err, okay… But why change the game so much for the sake of making the game more appealing to casual gamers, while alienating hardcore fans of the series?
Two new gameplay elements deserve their own paragraphs, seeing as how they are the two most radically different parts of the game:
Dual-wielding. Okay, I know you just wet yourself a bit. Picking up two weapons, one in each hand, and rushing into a room packed with enemies, emptying whole clips into their grotesque alien faces…. Ahh, it feels good, don’t it? Dual-wielding also adds a new element of strategy: Should you pick up two SMGs, mix and match with a plasma rifle, or pack a pistol to headshot your foes? Against different enemies, you’ll have to find different combinations of weapons to take them down the fastest, and that’s half the fun.
The downside to dual-wielding is that you can’t throw grenades while packing two guns (after all, how could you? Both your hands are occupied); though this can be quickly countered by pressing B, left trigger, Y, (dropping your weapon, throwing a grenade, and picking up aforementioned weapon.) You also can’t melee while dual-wielding: if you attempt to, you’ll drop your second weapon.
The second new aspect is hijacking vehicles. Everyone has that one friend who went on a rampage with a ghost, killing all the helpless foes in his path, unstoppable because he has the only rockets on the map. Now you can jack his ride! Just press B while near a vehicle, and you’ll jump on, and kick his ass out! If you try to hijack a wraith, you’ll need to break the hatch, and throw a grenade in.
This has a lot of uses, including having a lot more access to vehicles in single player. Just be sure not to damage the vehicles, because they’re destructible! That’s right. Shoot the hubcap of the warthog and see it fly off. Certain parts of the ghost are combustible, and you can also shoot the wings off a banshee and see the flyer’s driving impaired. Adding a whole new element to the game, this is a welcome aspect of the “leveling the playing field” that Bungie did with Halo 2. Unfortunately, I was that one friend that dominated the playing field with the Ghost, but I do appreciate the effort to keep old fans happy while roping in new ones.
All your favorite playlists are back, including capture the flag, deathmatch, and king of the hill. Multiplayer is also on Xbox Live, but for me, this detracts from the fun of the first game. I spent countless hours having LANs at my friends’ respective houses, just pwning n00bs, shouting in their faces how I just OWNED them, and getting owned myself. Just for the record, I do not act like this in real life. Halo brings out the animal in a lot of people.
In my experience, Xbox Live is filled with immature 8-year-olds, whining about how unfair the game is and how much lag is affecting their performance. As with any online game, anonymity plus sore losers equals intellectually painful conversation. I’ve been called more racial slurs than I can count, and my mother has been insulted as many times as I’ve been killed. I’d rather keep those fond memories of 16 player LANs and not pay 50 dollars to play strangers when I can play my best friends.
However, some of you might enjoy that. For you guys, Halo 2 has a matchmaking system, so you get to play people of your own skill level. There’s a ranking system for each playlist, so if you’re good at CTF, but suck at deathmatch, your enemies’ skill level in the game will reflect that.
Okay. Here comes the bad part.
Halo 2 has a painfully bad story. That is not to say that Halo 2 has a bad single player, because, well, it’s more of the same. You’ll be visiting the same locales, fighting the same enemies. Many complaints that people had with the first Halo (repetitive levels, uninspired level design) made their way to the sequel on the Xbox. Oh Bungie, why would you think I’d want to fight through another library? Please, oh please, find some way past that in Halo 3.
Hmm. New playable character. That might excite fans of another series, but not Halo 2. It’s frickin’ Master Chief, man. Who wants to fight as an elite? Raise your hand! Oh, can’t see ya there. Bungie may have wanted to put the Covenant’s plight in perspective, but we could have done it without playing as one. I also wanted to play more levels on Earth. Bungie made a big deal that Earth was under attack, that the Covenant had found “us”; they even had their gameplay demo at E3 2004 completely on Earth.
For all that trouble, you play two levels on Earth, and then you’re transported to more boring space levels and *GASP* another Halo! Halo 2 also introduced bosses into the Halo universe, and they stick out like a sore thumb. I don’t need an end-boss. I don’t need any bosses. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.
On a last note, Halo 2 skewed the difficulty levels to two extremes, way more in each direction than Halo’s. Easy is almost painfully easy; I played through the whole game without dying once. Normal was also pretty easy, I died around five times. (For a whole game, this is nothing.) Heroic was challenging (what normal should have been.).
Legendary is impossible. I could hardly get past the first level. It’s not that the AI is smarter, it’s just that they can withstand more hits, you can’t withstand as much, they shoot faster, and they dodge more. There isn’t any strategy to their dodging, they just run behind stuff. I used to absolutely love Halo’s Legendary mode. A friend and I spent six hours beating Two Betrayals on Legendary; that can tell you how much we loved it. Unfortunately, on Halo 2’s Legendary, if one teammate dies, the level restarts. This ruins it for me, since most of my friends are stupid and will most likely stick me with a plasma grenade just as we’re about to finish the level.
Despite all it’s faults, Halo 2 is a great game. I had a lot of fun playing it. Unfortunately, it fails to live up to it’s predecessor, thus earning itself a lower score. But if you’re a hardcore Halo fan, well, you already have this game. And if you’ve been MIA for the last year and a half or so, then pick it up. But for those new to gaming, or maybe FPS’s in particular, this is an excellent game worth your $30, and I’m pretty sure you can still find the Limited Edition everywhere (which is misleading—it’s not Limited Edition if they made four-million copies).
But beware Bungie: if Halo 3 doesn’t live up to Halo 1 and 2, fanboys’re gonna be pissed!