I Would Have Been Your Daddy
Halo 2 will have you reprising the role of Master Chief, the deadly, ass-kicking protagonist from Halo: Combat Evolved. However, you will also play as another character, in a move that will undoubtedly anger many fans. Revealing the character would spoil the surprise, but it's not anybody you expect. The segments where you don't play as the Chief are almost exactly the same, gameplay wise, as the rest of the game, so there's little to worry about there. Halo: Combat Evolved featured an excellent campaign, with a deep and involving story that made many fall in love with the shooter. Fans of the first game will be rather disappointed to learn that Halo 2 can't quite stand up to it's predecessors legacy in that department.
Halo 2's first 5 or so missions will amaze you, sending you through amazing locales, and witnessing spectacular events at break-neck paces. However, the game can't keep this up forever, and quickly becomes bogged down, story-wise. While it will provide you with incentive to keep playing straight to the ending, Halo 2's story is simply average. Many gamers will be astounded to see the end of the campaign, and not in a good way. If you're looking for a great story, you'll have to hope that the Halo 3 can deliver.
The gameplay is excellent, including several new weapons, such as a wield-able energy-sword, the brand-new battle rifle, and the addition of a grenade launcher, the Brute Shot. Also checking in with the new weapons is the ability to dual wield one handed weapons. This is hardly anything new to the genre, but Halo pulls it off flawlessly. One handed weapons, such as the pistol (Which, sadly, does not feature a scope in Halo 2) can be picked up in addition to another one-handed weapon, and wielded in either hand. However, when dual wielding, you lose the ability to throw grenades, which makes a big difference. Also, to perform a melee attack, a Halo staple, you must drop your second weapon. The gameplay is very well balanced, and incorporates the new features seamlessly.
When Halo: Combat Evolved debuted on the Xbox system people were amazed at the level of graphical detail Bungie had achieved. Well, they've outdone Halo: Combat Evolved by leaps and bounds with Halo 2, which sports incredible graphics that rank among the best on the system. Halo 2 features destructible environments, something Halo couldn't do. Crash your Warthog against the base and watch the headlights fly off. Take head-on fire, watch cracks spread through the windshield. Kill someone with the rocket launcher, watch their body fly high into the air and off a cliff, tumbling to the ground. Halo 2 simply is full of incredible graphical detail. The player models sport higher res textures, the backgrounds look amazing, and everything is animated perfectly. All of Halo 2's cutscenes are rendered using the in game engine, and they look incredible, minus a few "Pop-in" textures. Overall, Halo 2's graphical look is superb, although the art direction is a little uninspired.
Another of Halo's trademarks is it's incredible music. Halo 2 does not disappoint on this front, featuring dynamic music created by Bungies Martie O Donnel. The music changes and shifts with the gameplay, creating a truly immersive experience. The music is in fact, good enough that gamers should do themselves a favor and pick up the two soundtrack volumes available in stores. Halo 2's music is simply that great.
Of course, the most anticipated part of Halo2 was online multi-player via Xbox Live. This is where the game really shines. Halo: Combat Evolved's multi-player was one of it's selling points, and the ability to play against anyone across the world with Halo 2 is simply amazing. The elite team of developers and programmers at Bungie managed to create an absolutely incredible experience on Xbox Live; one that requires nothing but a Live account to enjoy. No one else you know has Xbox Live? Thats fine because of Bungie's astounding matchmaking and friend systems. The Live menu presents you with several options: Matchmaking, Custom Game, Download Content, and a friends list. The matchmaking system has several pre-set game-types, such as slayer, Team Skirmish (Objective based games), and Big Team Battle. When you join in one of these, alone or with a group of friends, Halo 2 searches for other player of your rank, so you end up against players roughly your skill level, and drops you into a game. In a matchmade game, you have no control over the teams, level or other settings.For example, if you enter a Team Skirmish matchmade game, Halo 2 finds 7 other players your level, chooses teams, the level, and the variant you'll play, and drops you into the game. The system works great, and even though you'll run into some annoying little kids who think it's funny to yell curse words the whole game, you'll have a great time in matchmaking.
The other online functionality for Halo 2 is custom games, and Downloadable content. Custom games are where you can determine everything, as opposed to the match-making system. The host has ultimate control over the party, and determines things such as game settings, and map, although they have no control over the teams. Custom games are great fun with friends, and there are some truly inventive game-types out there, such as the popular user-created "Zombies". Halo 2 also offers downloadable content, which is used for adding maps to the game. Bungie is dedicated to their fans, and has already delivered 10 downloadable maps, all of which have been integrated into matchmaking and online play. And while Bungie is likely focusing itself on Halo 3, the possibility exists for them to deliver more content down this pipeline in the future. In summary, Halo 2's online is simply the best available, a fantastic service, and a great pipeline for new content from Bungie. Xbox Live and Halo 2 will suck more hours from your life than you can imagine, and it's incredibly fun.
Halo 2 had a lot of high standards set for itself, and honestly, it never disappoints. It looks great sounds great, lays great, and is a hell of a lot of fun. This game is a cultural phenomenon, and for good reason. Bungie put together an incredible effort, and Halo 2 can be called nothing short of amazing.