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Halo 2: Limited Collector’s Edition

Score: 98%
ESRB: Mature
Publisher: Microsoft Game Studios
Developer: Bungie Software
Media: DVD/2
Players: 1 - 16
Genre: First Person Shooter


Graphics & Sound:

Reviewing a highly anticipated game is one of the most difficult things any reviewer can do. Think about it -- if the game comes out and tanks, you have to break the news to thousands of readers. Some will sink into depression, while others, denial. This latter group is particularly dangerous because then you have to deal with a loaded email box telling you that you’re a terrible person, have no clue what you’re talking about, and other not so nice things; not particularly good for the ego.

Thankfully, Halo 2 is none of this. Beginning with presentation right down to the excellent single player campaign and better-than-advertised multiplayer, Halo 2 delivers one of the year’s best gaming experiences.

Halo was the measuring stick by which all Xbox games were compared. Now that Halo 2 is here, Halo can finally retire to a peaceful commune in Florida where it will enjoy a life of early bird specials and bingo. Halo 2 takes everything you’ve seen on the Xbox and amplifies it, making it not only one of the best looking games on the Xbox, but on any console. Character models are fantastic and show off loads more detail than in the original. Vehicles are equally impressive, and now show real-time damage as you use and abuse them during battle.

The drab, look-alike corridors of the original have been replaced with ruined temples, a massive cityscape, and the bowels of Covenant spaceships. Special effects are what really make the entire game shine -- in particular, the lighting effects from both ambient sources and gunfire (especially the Covenant firearms).

Visually, the game does suffer from a few minor annoyances, like obvious texture pop-up during certain cut-scenes and some gameplay moments. These problems are minor and really not worth worrying over.

Sound is another strong point of Halo 2. Voice work is some of the best around, and the music is top notch. After watching the “Making of...” feature on the special DVD that comes with the Collector’s Edition, its rather impressive to see that Bungie got some celebrities (albeit rather minor ones) to voice background characters in the game. I enjoyed the soundtrack so much that I even went on to try and get a copy of the soundtrack (hint, hint -- you know where to send it). It’s just that much fun to listen to. Gunfire and various other sound effects are right on the mark, rounding out an amazing experience.


Gameplay:

Halo 2 wastes no time getting you into the action. After a brief introduction to the Chief’s newest armor system, the story quickly vaults you into a Covenant attack on the Earth. This eventually leads the game into a storyline that’s fitting for the game, but ultimately leaves more questions than it answers.

If the game has any flaws, it’s with the story. While it has more than its fair share of twists and turns and is enjoyable, it does tend to leave you hanging in some parts. I won’t go into details; let’s just say that by the end of the game, you’re going to be much more familiar with certain characters.

The single player mode is pretty straightforward and very enjoyable. Level designs are larger than before, and manage to keep most of the pointless backtracking out of the game. Mission objectives are story-based and will change with the situation. A number of missions will also pair you with troops, adding a larger scale to the game’s battles.

The two-weapon system from Halo is back, but your selection of guns has changed. Many of the original guns, like the shotgun, pistol, and nearly all of the Covenant weapons return in either their original or re-mastered forms. Under-powered weapons, like the Needler, have had their power ratcheted up to help make them more useful in combat. New weapons include the SMG and a new assault rifle. A new melee weapon, the Covenant Elite energy sword, also comes into play for those who want to get up close and personal with enemies. One handed weapons like SMGs and Covenant pistols can be dual-wielded, spreading the destruction a little more. The option of carrying two weapons adds a new level of strategy. You can alternate firing each between reloads in order to keep a constant stream of fire at enemies, or fire them both at once for a greater punch. Since you can hold two different types of guns, like a Needler and a pistol, you can work out new strategies for taking out shields and then going in for the kill shot.

A number of vehicles also make a return. All have received upgrades, such as Warthogs with mounted missile racks, but the most dramatic are Banshees which are now full-fledged air assault vehicles, capable of pulling off aerial maneuvers like barrel rolls. One level will even find you dog fighting with other Banshees.

All of this is well and good, but the real draw to Halo 2 is the inclusion of online multiplayer through Xbox Live. Halo 2 supports 16-player matches in all of the modes from the original like Capture the Flag and Deathmatch. A new mode has been added, called Assault, which is sort of like a game of Hot Potato with guns -- the last team to have the bomb loses. Online features are deep and will keep players online for a long time, making Halo 2 THE game to play online. The only disappointing aspect of the entire experience is the lack of online co-op modes. An offline two-player co-op mode is available however.


Difficulty:

If Halo was a game of checkers, Halo 2 would be chess. Along with every other aspect of the game, A.I. has been retooled. Enemies will now adapt to how you’re playing the game rather than following a set script -- making them just as unpredictable as human players, and requiring a little more thought when going into situations.

The game is a challenge, but isn’t undefeatable. Just as in the last game, four varying difficulty modes are available, including the ultra-challenging Legendary mode. The difference between each mode is noticeable and should help to provide a fun, yet challenging, experience for gamers of all skill levels.

Jumping into online games is easy, but once there, it’s anyone’s guess as to how you’ll do. It’s all about who you play and how good you are.


Game Mechanics:

On the surface, controls remain unchanged. But under the hood, they have been tweaked to ensure better handling and performance. Halo vets will jump right into the game and never look back while newcomers will take a mission or two to get comfortable. The beauty of Halo 2’s single-player campaign is that it ramps up ever-so-slightly to give newcomers that needed learning curve without making veterans work through a boring training session.

As with every other FPS on the Xbox, movement is handled with the analog sticks. The trigger buttons control weapons fire and throw in one of the game’s few adjustments. While using one weapon, the Left Trigger will allow you to throw a grenade if you have one available. While dual-wielding, the triggers will control both guns, removing the option to throw grenades (unless you throw down a gun).

A new twist has also been added to vehicle usage. In the original, you could only jump into the seat of a vehicle if it was stationary. In Halo 2 you can now jump into any vehicle at any time, regardless of who is piloting it by jumping on the vehicle and tossing the pilot out. This mechanic is a two-way street, so you’ll also have to be careful of an enemy trying to force you out of your own vehicle.

Halo 2 comes in two flavors. You can either purchase the stand-alone game at normal price, or shell out a few more dollars for the special Collector’s Edition, which comes with a special DVD containing a “Making of…” feature, deleted scenes, and loads of information on what goes into making a game. You’ll get the same game either way, but the Collector’s Edition is definitely worth the extra money if you can afford it.

Halo was the game that made the Xbox worth owning, as does the sequel. Halo 2 is one of the best gaming experiences to come along this year and should not be missed by anyone.


-Starscream, GameVortex Communications
AKA Ricky Tucker

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