Many 30 second moments…

Halo: Com­bat Evolved (Halo 1) released on Novem­ber 14, 2001. Three
years have passed (minus a day or two) and Halo2 has been the game de
jour for many Xbox own­ers. Heck, First Per­son Shoot­er (FPS) fans have
even bought Xboxes just to play Halo — the ori­gin­al was that good. But
does Halo 2 live up to the very high expect­a­tions placed on it by fans,
fuelled by the Microsoft mar­ket­ing machine?

For me, right now, the short answer is no. Here’s why¦

Pre­face: This review is based solely on impres­sions and opin­ions
formed while play­ing the Halo 2 Cam­paign, in Co-oper­at­ive mode. For me
(us) the Halo 2 exper­i­ence has always been the Story Based Cam­paign -
not the extens­ive and enter­tain­ing multi-play­er modes — hence this
review. Warn­ing: There are plot and game-play details in the fol­low­ing text. Read­ing fur­ther may spoil the story for you — your call.

My first gripe is a big one. There is no improve­ment in the
Co-oper­at­ive Cam­paign game. Though Halo 2 sup­ports Xbox Live and Sys­tem
Link play, it doesn’t let you use them for the Cam­paign game! I feel
this was a huge oversite, as there’s noth­ing more reward­ing than
com­plet­ing a com­plex and enter­tain­ing game with friends. Ima­gine how
grat­i­fy­ing it would be to play the ori­gin­al Halo cam­paign (on
Legendary) with a party of eight friends over Xbox Live! Heck, I’d
envi­sioned a weekly Halo even­ing, over the Inter­net, help­ing each oth­er
as a team beat this game. Halo 2 falls flat right here. The only co-op
sup­por­ted is at the con­sole, split screen, not mul­tiple Xbox­en using sys­tem-link or Inter­net play. Very dis­ap­point­ing.

Halo 2 begins pretty much where Halo: Com­bat Evolved ended off. The
Cov­en­ant are still the prime enemy, though their fail­ure at Halo didn’t
sit well with the lead­er­ship. Nobody really under­stands the Flood yet;
human­ity is simply try­ing to defend against the great­er Cov­en­ant forces.

The intro­duct­ory story hooks you right from the start. If you played
Halo one, then after watch­ing 10 seconds of the intro, you’re
imme­di­ately com­for­ted that yes, this will be a sim­il­ar experience¦only
bet­ter. And for the most part, you’re right. Your old friend Cort­ana
makes an early reappear­ance and is once again your guide through the
plot. You’re intro­duced to the next gen­er­a­tion of Keyes — a young
cap­tain, and the ste­reo­typ­ic­al Mar­ine Ser­geant with an atti­tude.
Typ­ic­al fare yet com­fort­ing all the same. You know this uni­verse,
you’ve played in it before.

On with the story. What unfolds next is a series of FPS chal­lenges,
much like the first Halo. Your object­ive is to sur­vive between
check­points. Run up and shoot the ali­ens, get ambushed by the ali­ens,
drive vehicles and shoot ali­en vehicles, fly ali­en vehicles, use new
weapons (human and ali­en), attack or run from the flood. Yep, that’s
the basic FPS mech­an­ics — if you’ve got 30
seconds of great game play in a game, you’ve got a great game,  as one
of the astute young developers phrased it in the Col­lect­ors Edi­tion DVD seg­ment The Mak­ing of Halo2.

Yes, this game has a lot of 30 second moments, very well executed.

The envir­on­ments you play through are very attract­ive, and the
atten­tion to detail sup­port­ing the sus­pen­sion of belief. In one
envir­on­ment you see a huge star­ship off in the dis­tance, while you are
stand­ing on a beach. The ship is hazy and indis­tinct, yet so care­fully
detailed that it’s obvi­ously a huge star­ship — and it moves slowly
against the back­drop — a nice touch that sup­ports the exper­i­ence.

As with the first game, Halo 2 has many moments of con­fu­sion and
dis­or­i­ent­a­tion. Where are we going next, what was our object­ive, are
those friend­lies or enemy, WTF just hit
me??? Not quite as many nor are they all the same or as fre­quent as in
Halo 1, yet they are present, pro­du­cing a sim­il­ar feel­ing of
help­less­ness and frus­tra­tion — some­thing that often occurred when we
were play­ing through the cam­paign in co-op. Oh, and the enemy are much,
much smarter. The AI has taken a huge leap for­ward.

As you fight your way through the var­ied build­ings, star­ships, and
city­scapes, you’ll encounter new enemies and new weapons. One cool
fea­ture is the abil­ity for the player’s char­ac­ter, either our old
friend the Mas­ter Chief or our new hero the Covenant’s Arbit­er, to hold
and fire a weapon in each hand (called dual-wield­ing). This brings a
lot of fire­power onto tar­get in a very short time¦very effect­ive!

Anoth­er cool fea­ture is that you have many more cool ali­en weapons
to use. Like get­ting up-close-and-per­son­al, then the funky energy sword
is for you. Prefer to stand-off and snipe your tar­gets from afar? Then
there’s a great gun that’s much bet­ter than the human’s.

Vehicles have also been improved. There’s a slightly improved
Warthog with a big­ger gun. Cov­en­ant vehicles all are improved. Now the
player’s char­ac­ter can ride on the vehicle exter­i­or, not only inside.
In fact, agile play­ers can jump on enemy vehicles and attempt a hijack!
I had lim­ited suc­cess with that, but when I could pull it off, it was
cool.

As you can see, the developers at Bungie kept many of the things
that worked in Halo, added new things that evolve the game, but don’t
really do any­thing revolu­tion­ary. Yes, I’m still grumpy about the
multi-play­er co-op. I could go on about the out­stand­ing music and audio
effects, the breath­tak­ing vis­tas and the cool con­cepts (like a huge
ferry tak­ing you from place to place). But I should leave some­thing for
you, the read­er, to explore.

My final gripe; the game ends too damn quickly. Tess and I spent
weeks and weeks play­ing through Halo: Com­bat Evolved. Halo 2, we blew
through in four even­ings. Yes, we are bet­ter at the game now than we
were, and yes, we were play­ing on Nor­mal, not Legendary, but c’mon¦the
end­ing seems as if the developers made a decision to make a great game,
and then part way through devel­op­ment real­ized they couldn’t deliv­er it
in time for Christ­mas 2004. So they edited, pol­ished what they had and
shipped it. It almost feels like we bought half a game.

One oth­er thought struck me last night — I sure hope the sequel
isn’t an Xbox2 launch title¦that would really crisp my cook­ies -
for­cing us to buy a new Xbox just to com­plete the story. But I digress¦

Some folk like to see num­bers, some­thing that helps them sum it all up in a simple way, so here’s mine:

  • Game­play: 710
  • Visu­al Impres­sion: 910
  • Sounds & Music: 910
  • Reviewer’s Arbit­rary Ëœfeeling/enjoyment’ rat­ing: 610
  • Over­all: 7.75
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