When you look at how Halo 2 has been marketed by Microsoft it's hard to know where to start. With success almost assured thanks to the marketing blitz, not to mention the fact it's a follow up to the biggest Xbox launch title ever, over 1.5 million pre-orders were recorded before the game was even near retail date. Finally it is here and while the Xbox Live side of the game is going to offer hours and hours of enjoyment, the overall package may come as a disappointment, especially to fans of the original game.
By now thanks to the aforementioned marketing campaign, you're probably aware about a small part of the storyline and that is that the battle has now come to earth. The Covenant are heading our way and it's up to the big man in the green suit to come and fend them off. What you don't know about the storyline is that it pretty much takes place right after the ending of the first game and many characters from the original somewhat make a comeback. Keyes, the commander who is killed in the original game, is represented by his daughter who is now a high level commander. There is a lot of references to the original Halo, and one massive twist in the story which we will let you discover for yourselves.
Like the original title Halo 2 is a first person shooter and overall does not differ that much to the original title. Basically if you have played Halo 1 single player you really have played the Halo 2 campaign, where the game completely differentiates itself is the multiplayer component. There has been a few big changes to the structure of the single player game however. The first is the Chief no longer has health and completely relies on his suit to keep him alive. Many people would think that this makes the game harder but in comparison to the original Halo, it is a major improvement. There is never a time where you just give up and reload a save game because you know if you can find enough cover that you will regain health and be able to fight on. This scenario does seem to make the game easier however.
If you are to compare Halo 2 to other console shooters on the market then it's really closer to Serious Sam than a puzzle based shooter. It is very linear and really only the first level of the game offers the chance to become lost and stuck, other than that all you really do is shoot and move. This is just one of the single player campaign's problems. Another problem is that despite the battle has to come earth, you hardly take part in combat there. When you are there it's probably the highlight of the game, but we would have liked to have seen more of it rather than alien worlds and of course the other Halo.
There is one thing which keeps the single player campaign going but considering it's probably the reason the single player story and features really were not talked about before the game shipped we'll let you find it. The game does provide tasks to complete such as find an enemy unit and take it over, but really the only time we checked the objectives was just to make sure we were on the right track. Due to the fact the game flows so well if you sit down for an afternoon and play through it, chances are you will reach the end by the time you stop. The game is shorter than the original title, and if you play games to get a great ending, Halo 2 is not going to give it to you. The ending made our jaws drop, but not in a positive sense. Even though some may find it disappointing, chances are you will feel compelled to keep playing.
While most of the game does seem familiar and that's to be expected considering it's a sequel, there is quite a bit of new content especially in the enemy ranks to see. Both the Flood and Covenant have returned for the second battle but as was revealed in the original game, the Flood is the enemy of both the humans and the covenant and they play a much larger role in the sequel. Most of the new enemies you encounter come from the flood, and they provide a much stiffer fight this time around.
Most weapons have been retained from the original but have been improved upon in terms of graphics and features and because Halo this time around is a much more multiplayer centric game, this has impacted the single player in terms of the weapons on offer. One of the most vicious new weapons added to the game is the plasma sword, and if you see an enemy with one its time to hide. They can take down chief in one hit, but on the flip side it is also a great weapon for Chief to use. You can still pick up enemy weapons and in fact most of the time you will be relying on these to get through the game. Other weapons have been upgraded such as the rocket launcher which now features heat seeking ability. The weapons and how the game plays out also brings up another problem some may have and that is the lack of vehicle combat. During our time finishing the single player campaign, we only encountered the warthog once, one of Halo's most popular vehicles, but with that said vehicles do play a significant role.
As mentioned before you do not play many missions on Earth itself and therefore most of the time the levels somewhat reflect the original game. Some of the levels do feature repetition. A situation came up which showed this quite well. We originally thought it was a bug when after reloading a level, it was devoid of life, and other interactive objects were not working. It was actually because we were progressing through the level backwards and it was not immediately obvious to us that was the case. However this repetition is a rarity and is not a major problem most of the time. Combat takes place both indoors and outdoors and overall the levels you battle in offer some decent eye candy.
Visually as expected the game has improved quite a bit but not as many much as some may have expected. The vehicles are now destructible and feature various parts to blow off. This affects how the vehicle can be used. Sometimes one part of a vehicle can be destroyed, and another area still useable such as a weapon. The enemy characters have also been quite enhanced but still retain mostly the same look from the original game. The voice acting is decent but not memorable but one area where the game definitely excels is the soundtrack. The pieces featured just seem to fit what is happening on the screen at once enhancing the gameplay and giving it a very cinematic feel.
Multiplayer on the other hand is a complete different story. Halo 2 is the definitive Xbox Live multiplayer title. Halo 2 shows just how powerful the system that Microsoft have put together for online is. There is so many game types on offer and how the games are organized is nothing short of genius. You create a party and then select the game mode you wish to play in. The game then finds the best one available for you at the time and considering your party can include all your friends, it is a great way to make sure you're all in the same game.
Halo 2 is a solid game that somewhat lives up to the hype. The single player campaign will be disappointing to some but others will appreciate it for what it is and that is a continuation of the Halo storyline and gameplay without much of a change. With Live it's a no brainier that this game must be played, but without that network cable sitting in the back of your Xbox, it's not quite that certain.