Developed By: Bungie Studios
Published By: Microsoft Gameworks
Reviewed by Firedancer34
Facts and Stats:
Halo 2 was the much anticipated sequel to Halo: Combat Evolved, and was released on November 9, 2004. Like its predecessor, it is also a first person shooter and was designed for the original Xbox console. Unlike the first Halo game however, Halo 2 had LIVE capabilities, and held the distinction of being the number one Xbox LIVE game for almost two years straight, when Gears of War was finally released and toppled Halo 2 from the number one spot. To date, Halo 2 is the number one selling game for the original Xbox console, with sales listed at nearly 9 million copies worldwide.
While the storyline received some criticism, Halo 2 is credited with helping to pave the way for how the gaming industry would develop. With Halo: CE, one had to drag his or her console to a friend’s house to enjoy multiplayer matches. By allowing players to now join with other players from all over the world in the comfort of their own home, Halo 2 set the standard for future online gaming. Bungie and Microsoft received recognition for their efforts in Halo 2 and the game received multiple awards, including several Game of the Year awards and many for the work done by the sound, music and audio department.
The story picks up immediately following the events of Halo: Combat Evolved. Several main characters from the first game have survived destroying the Halo ring and have made their way back to Earth where they are being honored for their bravery- most prominently, Master Chief and Sergeant Johnson. Though he died during the events in Halo: CE, Captain Keyes is also awarded a medal posthumously, and his daughter Commander Miranda Keyes, is introduced as she accepts the medal on his behalf.
During the opening scenes of this ceremony, we are cut to events unfolding on the Covenant’s side. The commander of the Elite forces that had been in charge of stopping the humans from destroying the Halo ring is being stripped of his rank and declared a Heretic for his failure and the loss of Halo which the Covenant holds in fanatically high regard. The Covenant is under the misguided belief that if they activate any of the rings it will bring them salvation through something they refer to as “The Great Journey.”
Back in orbit around Earth, a small Covenant force lead by the Prophet of Regret, shows up and the ceremony is cut short as everyone scrambles to defend Earth. Regret’s carrier slips through the fighting and heads to the major city, New Mombasa, Kenya where the Covenant launches an all out assault on the city. Master Chief leaps into action and with overwhelming UNSC forces against them, the Covenant retreat by making a slipspace jump while still in atmosphere, thus obliterating most of New Mombasa. Master Chief, Sergeant Johnson, Cortana and Commander Keyes pursue the Covenant aboard her ship In Amber Clad. Upon exiting the jump, our heroes are faced with stopping the Covenant from activating another Halo ring they have just stumbled upon.
Meanwhile, the disgraced Elite Commander has been brought forth to the Covenant Hierarchs who recognize that his failure was grave but that he is not a traitor to their people. To redeem himself they offer him a chance to become The Arbiter. It is an honored title, but one that is guaranteed to get him killed quickly. Faced with being labeled a traitor and exiled from his own people or dying with honor, the Elite soldier accepts the position of becoming The Arbiter, and is quickly dispatched to the new Halo ring where the Prophet of Regret has sent a distress call from.
The basic story is much the same as in Halo: CE in that the Covenant is trying to activate Halo while the humans are fighting to stop that. We are introduced to several new key players: one of which is the Gravemind, who controls the Flood. During the many conflicts, we see civil war break out amongst the Covenant fleet and the Elite race suddenly find themselves cast out not only from their position as the Honor Guard to the Hierarchs, but from the Covenant in general. The Arbiter is also finally made aware of the true nature of the Halo rings and begins to organize his own soldiers to work with the humans in stopping the other Covenant forces from firing Halo. The Gravemind either aids or works against you where it fits his own plans, and the battle is divided into several fronts. The Chief and Cortana find their way onto the Covenant carrier, High Charity, and in the middle of the civil war between the Elites and the Brutes. The Chief takes off after one of the Prophets who tries to escape on another vessel, leaving Cortana behind to blow up the Charity and Halo if the Arbiter, Keyes, and Johnson fail to stop the Brute Chieftain, Tartarus, from activating it.
Their efforts are only partially successful as they stop Tartarus from firing the ring, but a failsafe was triggered that put all the other existing Halo rings into a standby mode that could be remotely activated from a location only referred to as “The Ark”. They escape Halo even as the Gravemind is taking control of everything, unaware that Cortana has been left behind on the still functional High Charity. The final cut scene after the credits reveal Cortana caving to the Gravemind’s interrogation, thus spelling further doom for humanity’s survival.
Like the Halo: CE, Halo 2 had two types of gaming to offer - Campaign mode which takes a single player through the story of the game, and Multiplayer which allowed several players to join up either via system link or online in matches pitted against other players.
In the Campaign, Bungie took what made the first game such a success and built upon it. Most of the game mechanics were improved upon and things like driving the infamous Warthog became a little less nightmarish. A player no longer had to go hunting for health packs, and you could ‘jack’ an enemy’s vehicle if they are coming at you at a slow enough speed. A player could now also play as the Arbiter in parts of the game and there were new weapons, vehicles, and the ability to camouflage yourself for brief periods of time that was pretty cool. Overall, playing the game was an improvement as they introduced a new gaming engine that helped stepped up the performance of the mechanics. Unfortunately, Bungie ran into some serious deadline issues and instead of delaying the launch so they could release a polished product, they cut corners on the story’s development resulting in graphics issues throughout the game, not as much content as they had hoped for, and the abrupt cliffhanger ending.
Multiplayer was vastly improved upon with Halo 2 as a wide variety of maps were included with the original game and more were available for download at later dates. The environments were also much more complex and detailed, allowing players the chance to explore a variety of different terrains. The matches were made available on LIVE as was mentioned previously, and Bungie introduced several new game types. There were drawbacks to the new system however. A player would select from a generic play list and then be randomly grouped in with other players, not all of whom would be one the same playing level as you. Because of Bungie’s rush to release, there were a large amount of bugs in the various multiplayer maps, and players quickly began to exploit these in an effort to cheat during matches. A whole new generation of cheating was also born with Halo 2 as people figured out ways to use computer programs, and other technical tricks to gain control of matches, boost their player’s abilities, and wreak havoc for other players in general. While Bungie declared these various methods of cheating as illegal and threatened that players using such methods would face repercussions, it would not be until well after the launch of Halo 3 that they had the capability to really carry through on their watchdog program.
Of the entire Halo franchise, Halo 2 was my least favorite of the series. I got into Halo for the storyline and because development on the game was so rushed, I felt like many others in that the game wasn’t quite finished. It’s not to say that I didn’t enjoy the game, because I did. Not crashing the vehicles all over the place was definitely a huge relief for me, and playing as the Arbiter and now having access to certain Covenant toys that were once off limits to the players was a definite bonus. But everything happened so quickly and at the end everyone was all over the place and I found it was a little hard to follow what exactly was going down in places. I hadn’t even realized Cortana got left behind until I watched all the way through the credits! The whole ending was just too abrupt, and I was a bit let down.
Some high points for me however was in the music and sound of the game. While they might have had to crunch in the technical aspects and story development of the game, Marty O’Donnell and Michael Salvatori did yet another outstanding job with the music and sound effects in the game. Once again the entire game is scored with an amazing blend of music that thankfully helped support an otherwise sagging storyline. From the somber and beautiful piano solo in “Unforgotten”, to the stringed staccato of “Peril”, to the rousing electric and drum cadences of “Unyielding” a player is given the emotional lift that the game itself wouldn’t have achieved otherwise. Sticking with his belief that no part of the game should be quiet, O’Donnell was praised for his excelling work in seeing to the ambient noises throughout the entire game that helps make a game more realistic.
As for the multiplayer matchmaking online, I have mixed feeling about it. It was an amazing thing to be playing a game online with players from all over the world all of whom shared the same interest I did. However, as the cheating became more and more prevalent, I noticed a trend of how aggressive the players were becoming and suddenly this GAME was some kind of warped reality to these people who would become near psychotic while playing. Trash talking was taken to a whole new level, ‘t-bagging’ someone you just killed was born, and my eardrums began to bleed as the numbers of screamers increased exponentially. Sadly, I stopped playing the versus matches online altogether for a period of time because Bungie just didn’t have the resources to monitor the matches on Halo 2 extensively and cut down on such incidences.
When playing or watching a series of games or movies you notice that there tends to be the one part that you just don’t quite enjoy as much for one reason or another: slow start to the story, poor acting/directing, poor quality, gaps in plot, etc etc. For me, this was that game in the whole of the Halo series to date. I think almost every one of the Halo games could have used something more to make them a better game, but then no one ever really nails a product completely and that will make every gamer completely happy. Halo is a plot driven story with a vast cast of characters, and Halo 2 could have been so much more if Bungie had decided to delay the launch in favor of putting out a more finished product. Despite it being my least favorite, I would still buy it again simply because it is a critical part of the story, and despite some of its failings, the overall gaming experience was still enjoyable enough for me to have played it through more than once.
Rating on a scale of 1-10
Overall Gameplay: 7.5