Halo 2 Xbox Review

The imported NTSC review of the much hyped Halo 2 is in, so read on to find out about the game you have been waiting on for so long. Be warned that this review contains SLIGHT spoilers, but no main ones. As these spoilers are getting discussed on other forums, I’m guessing many people will know about them by now.

Ok, where to start with this review? People familiar with the forum will know that I’m a huge fan of the original game. It came out of nowhere and grabbed me by the neck and never let go. It had been my favourite game of this generation, that was until now.

Ok the bad bits first, which are explained in full below.

1. The ending; it’s dreadful and unexpected.
2. The game’s length (probably shorter than the 1st).
3. Still slight repetition.
4. The 1st level of the game.
5. Some will complain about the graphics in cut scenes, but they are not pre rendered and really push the xbox, and in places they look amazing. I never really saw them as much of a problem.

That’s it, but these faults are enough to tarnish what is in my mind, an almost perfect game.

To being with, the game disappoints. The first level is poor and unexciting until around half way through the level, so don’t be concerned when you first start to play. Where things really start picking up is when you commence the second level. Its every bit as good as the original’s ‘The Silent Cartographer’ but twice as exciting. The third level is very different as from then on in it’s regular old Halo turned up to 10! Your jaw will drop at some of the scenes. There are bosses but not too often (certainly not at the end of each level) and the story is intense and wrapped beautifully around the gameplay.

Graphics

You have seen the fantastic screens and you should believe them; it really is that gorgeous! Apart from the sometimes slow updates in cut scenes, the graphics are amazing. I doubt anybody can really argue with that fact. It looks better than closest rival Riddick, and it stays true to the roots of the original Halo. Levels are very similar to the original’s design, but there isn’t the same amount of repetition, which was one of the heaviest complaints of Halo. Going back the other day and playing the original, I was shocked how much it felt like a last generation game. It was like playing halo in slow motion, praise to how good Halo 2’s engine really is!

Levels are truly great in scope, and have virtually no loading times what so ever. No loading even between the levels, they are all cleverly hidden. Some levels will last up to 3 hours, and that just goes to show the care that has gone into making this a fantastic game. You can see from one end of a level to another in places, and its jaw dropping what you can see in the distance. Some of the skyline however, does look like it’s been painted to the ceiling, and this somewhat ruins the illusion for a few seconds. An example of this would be the covenant mother-ship breaking the skyline of a certain level, that although some people will think it looks great, I personally didn’t like it.

Gameplay

But enough of how it looks, we all want to know how it plays. It’s perfect; it feels completely balanced with its weaponry, and its vehicles.

First duel weilding; I hated it to begin with (I mean REALLY hated it), but I couldn’t live without it now. Weapons in general are so well balanced, none out powering each other like last time (i.e. the pistol). Duel weilding takes some time to get used to. From what I can remember we have never had a game where someone uses their left hand, and it is strange at first to have your view on the left obstructed with a gun. Switching duel welding weapons is also a problem to begin with and does take practice. But it’s as odd as only having 2 weapons in Halo; you get used to it very quickly and before long it becomes second nature. It also adds a far greater tactical element. The needler is the best to duel weld with, as it’s practically useless on its own, but duel welding it and getting the duel tapping just right, unleashes an almost unstoppable force.

Everybody knows the human guns now gone from the game, replaced by far superior weapons such as the SMG and the battle rifle. The pistol has been seriously downgraded and is about as useful as you would usually expect a pistol to be. One thing to note is that I can only remember one situation where I actually picked up the pistol, or was able to in fact.

The Covenant has many more new weapons, an equivalent for every human weapon in the game and that includes the sniper rifle. But as always they are perfectly balanced and work ever so slightly different from their human counterparts. All guns now have a primary zoom, some more effective than others.

By far the best new weapon is the self acclaimed ‘son of a bitch stick’ energy sword. This is to halo what light sabres are to Star Wars; if only they appeared in different colours! This sword has limited power, but is effective against all enemies at close range and can take out the wing of a Ghost with ease.

There is only one gun that feels out of place in the game (and I can’t say what it is for spoilers sake) and that is a pity, though it doesn’t appear to often thankfully.

The vehicles have all had an overhaul, most obviously they all take damage now and this is a killer addition as it really makes the whole experience that more exciting and difficult. Warthogs are as great as ever, with two different variants on mounted guns; mainly a chain gun or rocket launcher.

Ghosts are the most common vehicle and damage very easily, but are highly effective if used properly. They have a new boost system, which is a great addition and makes the new mounting system all the more difficult. This little feature is one of the greatest things about Halo 2. Its easy to pull off (but not too easy) and becomes very natural into the Gameplay, while still giving you an amazing amount of satisfaction when you pull it off.

There is a Covenant equivalent to the warthog now, but it’s not as good as I would have hoped unfortunately, but does give you some new tactics to play around with.

Overall the best new vehicle in the game is one of its highlights overall, but I’m again not saying anything more! Your jaw will drop trust me!

The AI in Halo 2 is superb, although at times a little stupid (especially when they are driving a warthog!) but overall much improved over the original. Elites for example will hide behind crates, and if you find them they will start to actually climb the crates to get to a higher, more tactical position.

All the old gang of the Covenant are back, but there are some new editions. The Prophets (who appear in the Halo novels) are mostly in the background of the story. They call the shots and order the Covenant about; you really don’t want me to say much more.

The drones are like a swarm of bees. The manner in which they first appear is amazing, but after that they generally aren’t that interesting and don’t share the same personalities that we know and love about the Grunts and Elites for example. They mostly fire the plasma pistols which mean they don’t really pose much of a threat if you’re quick enough.

Brutes are dumb. Really dumb! But they sure are tough, and appear much later in the game than expected. I’m positive the AI was programmed this way, as they are like big oafs. They have the most powerful mêlée attack in the game (but only when you piss them off) and they have some neat weapons. The brute’s shot that is just like a grenade launcher and another weapon which is a revised version of an old favourite! I’ll say no more on that one. Out of all the new characters, I would say the brutes are the most welcome.

Sound

The music works near perfectly in Halo, with many of the tracks from the original game remixed. There’s a bit of crap rock thrown in for good measure, although one vocal rock track feels out of place in a particular scene. Overall it’s the best soundtrack for a game since halo and it does its job amazingly well to increase tension and build excitement, just as gaming music should.

Lifespan

The game is massively varied. You are rarely doing the same thing twice and there are sections that are very original. You go from a street battle, to protecting a bridge to chasing elites in a room with no lights on, to a boss battle all within 5 minutes, and it ensures that there are no complaints about lack of originality (I have not said the most original features because I do not wish to spoil the experience for you).

The levels are split up into secions as they are seriously long. There are around 15 to 18 selectable levels, but there are only 8-9 full levels in the game. It’s a short ride, and I encourage people who have finished the original on normal mode to play Halo 2 on heroic as its much more fun and will last longer. I finished the main campaign on easy in under eight hours, which frankly disappointed me (but then there is LIVE!).

Overall

Overall this is a game with its faults. It will intrigue new players with the hype and they will not be disappointed. As a big fan of Halo, I was smacked in the face by the ending, and it’s the single most disappointing thing in the game. But I guess I’m going to have to lump it and thank Bungie for the best game I have played since The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time as the level of excitement and awe experienced was only equalled/ bettered by it, and that is no bad thing. Music, gameplay balance, variation and an exciting story keep you hooked as the time passes all too quickly. Then you just want to start again and again, but believe the hype as this is almost gaming perfection.

9.2 out of 10

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