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

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: 7/10
  • Visual Impression: 9/10
  • Sounds & Music: 9/10
  • Reviewer’s Arbitrary Ëœfeeling/enjoyment’ rating: 6/10
  • Overall: 7.75
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