Halo 2


Review by Matt Paprocki



Graphics: 10

Sound: 10

Gameplay: 8

Overall: 9

"Halo 2" is to video games in 2004 what "Star Wars" was to feature films in 1977. It's that big, that important, and that epic. It brings with it a new dimension to the way stories are told, how worlds are created, and how we interpret what occurs on screen. The only thing it doesn't change is how we play the games themselves.

In essence, little has changed in the way the game plays. At its heart, we still have a first-person shooter that puts players in the role of Master Chief, a cybernetic warrior hell bent on destroying the Covenant, a race of aliens who have begun to make Earth their home planet. It's a game that will create very few new fans, but rewards those who have taken the time to read the surprising well-written books and dissect every nuance of the original.

It's easy to see that developer Bungie has placed a bigger emphasis on vehicular combat this time. At least half of the 10-hour playing time offers up a well-armed machine to control. Whether or not you choose to put yourself in the drivers seat or go at the enemy with whatever weapons you hold is almost always a personal decision. To compensate, allies can now take over a battle and drive the futuristic ships into the heart of the battle. The AI routines can be a bit off at times, but they make sure to never injure or get in the way of the player. Squad-based combat also benefits from the new AI and adds to the intensity of the games more considerable fights.

New weapons introduce new strategies, but nothing adds more than the ability to wield two weapons simultaneously. Certain weapons do require two hands to operate (the sniper rifle as an example), but most of the available choices can have a partner in the other hand. This allows for devastating attacks and everyone should be able to find a combination that suits their playing style. You may even find yourself more willing to jump into a melee since the added protection gives you a new sense of confidence.

Surprisingly, those that relied heavily upon human weapons in the first game will receive a shock. Not only is there very little ammo available for guns like the assault rifle and the new battle rifle, but they prove to be scarce as the game moves on. Covenant weapons dominate the games levels so learning to use these early is a must.

A completely original treatment, the games well-written and gripping story means plenty of time is given to the company's latest creation, the Brutes. These ape-like beings are brutal, powerful, and stocked with weapons. That is not all it does though. It provides insight into the enemy, their religion, and their way of a life. It's absolutely fascinating to learn about the Covenant through the beautifully rendered cut scenes. It is something never really done before in a video game, and it's almost impossible to explain it all here while speaking of the big twists would be ruining the best part of the game.

Sadly, there are likely many people out there who won't even experience that portion of the game. The new multi-player modes, all of which can be played out on XBox Live, will consume people. Though cooperative play is not available in the online arenas (split screen is the only way to go here anyway), just about everything else is. New maps will require months of exploration to be sure you have found every hiding spot and any old ones (including a renamed Blood Gulch) have been reworked. This is the type of game that will live well beyond its years because of this feature alone.

Powering the action is an all-new graphical engine, one strong enough to give the game a better look than most of the CG-related junk Hollywood throws at us every year. As times moves on, developers are finding more and more tricks for the XBox to pull off, most notable of the lot, bump-mapping. Here it's used everywhere, giving each environment and character not just a texture, but a texture with actual depth. The way light reflects off these surfaces is nothing short of remarkable. There are those times when the engine has trouble keeping up (models obviously become more detailed the close you move to them), but this is a minor complaint in an otherwise flawless package.

Steve Vai produces a soundtrack for "Halo 2" that's haunting, beautiful, and fast paced all at the same time. The action theme that permeated what seemed like every fight in the original has been remixed with stunning results. A choir voices the title screen, a perfect way to tell gamers they are about to embark on an epic. Outside of the soundtrack, there are literally thousands of voice samples used by both the covenant (who know refer to Master Chief as "Demon") and the marines. You will never hear all of them. Also, as with the graphics engine, time has allowed Bungie to really play with consoles ability to produce 5.1 audio. If you don't have the proper equipment, you couldn't possibly imagine what you're missing.

That's not to say "Halo 2" is a perfect piece of work. In fact, it's far from it. That new graphics engine is oppressively dark, obscuring enemies and locations from the gamer constantly. It also makes navigation harder, especially considering there are no maps to be found and the mission objectives are confusing. You'll find yourself wandering aimlessly for a good portion of the game without a decent clue as to what to do next.

Most fans also find the ending to be a complete disaster, and there's no argument made for it here. After spending 10-hours of your life playing a game, you deserve more than two minutes in order to finish this story. Not only is it left wide open for the unquestionable sequel, but also the final siege doesn't even have to be completed by the player. The AI of your allies has no problem doing the dirty work.

Still, "Halo 2" is one of those games that will define this generation. It's one of the few games this hardware will long be remembered for, not just because it has broke new ground, but because it's a well-programmed piece of art. You have to wonder how much longer it will be before Hollywood really loses major ground to this blossoming industry after playing a game like this.


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Last updated: Sunday, April 22, 2007 08:36 PM