Does Halo 2 really need an introduction? Almost every Xbox owner has been waiting 3 looong years for this game, and it has finally arrived. In a year of big titles such as Fable and Sudeki, none have had even a fraction of the hype and anticipation that Halo 2 has, 1.5 million preorders pretty much tells it all. Now the big question, can a game so big live up to the massive amounts of hype? Oh yeah.

The Game
Halo: Combat Evolved was an interesting launch title, mainly because it didn't suck. In fact it is arguably the best "First Person Shooter" ever made, and has sold the most copies of any Xbox game to date. So the question is, how do you make a sequel to that? No problem, it's easy, just you take everything loved about the first game and pump it up so it's bigger, badder, and better. This is exactly what Bungie did. They know what the public wants and they set to deliver it in anyway possible, as well as a few surprises along the way. So get ready to suit up as the cyborg superhero Master Chief to once again beat down some covenant baddies.

The story in Halo 2 picks up right where the first left off. Master Chief has made it safely back to Earth, and is being rewarded for his bravery along with Sergeant Johnson, who has also made it back safely. Not long after their declaration they come under attack from a Covenant assault, and it's time to gear up and kick some ass! After beating off the invasion you will head down to Earth and well that's all I'm going to say because I don't want to ruin the story for you. I will however say that it is a much deeper and more epic story than the first with many plot twists, but overall the story isn't what you expect. Not that that's a bad thing, it just won't be what you expected it to be. And the ending, well you're going to love it or hate it, I for one love it.

Halo 2 isn't a huge departure from Halo: CE in gameplay and that isn't a bad thing at all. The pacing is still absolutely perfect; no other FPS can touch it. It goes from hectic fighting, with explosions, bullets, and screaming, to calm and silent in seconds. The vehicular combat is another thing in the Halo series that just can't be matched, and in Halo 2 it's even more exciting. The giant battles that ensue once you enter your vehicle are even more epic than the first; it's some of most exciting stuff in a game today. Also the transition from being in a vehicle to being on foot is seamless, and helps make the vehicles not only fun to drive but easy to use.

One of the first things you'll notice about Halo 2 is that you know longer have a health meter, that's right no health. It may shock you at first, maybe you won't even like it when you first start playing but once you get used to it, it becomes a very welcome change. You still have your shield though, and it becomes your main line of defense. This isn't to say that once your shield goes down your dead, because your not you can still take a few shots when your shield is down, you just don't know how many. Your shield still recharges, and now that it's your main line of defense it recharges much quicker, a nice little helper. There is also no fall damage now, so you can fall from high up and you won't die. I'm not a big fan of this change but it doesn't affect the gameplay all too much.

Another new tweak to the gameplay is the ability to duel wield, meaning you can carry two of the smaller weapons in each hand (you won't run into anything stupid like duel rocket launchers, or duel shotguns). This is one of the best new additions because it really does add something to the game. It's a bit tricky at first but once you master it, it will become one of the most powerful options the game has to offer. It isn't overly powerful though, because you can't throw grenades or melee attack an enemy when you're duel wielding. This adds a nice balance to the gameplay, and with Bungie the weapons are all balanced to perfection.

Speaking of weapons there are a few new weapons added to your arsenal, the Battle Rifle which takes the place of the old Assault Rifle, the SMG Sub Machinegun, the Covenant Carbine which is a covenant energy rifle, the Covenant Particle Beam Rifle which is their version of the sniper, and finally the powerful grenade firing Brute Shot. Other weapons from the original which couldn't be used such as the Hunters fuel Rod cannon, and the immensely fun to use Plasma Sword are now 100% usable. Other weapons have been tweaked such as the rocket launcher can now lock on to vehicles, and the pistol isn't quite as powerful. The vehicles have also been improved, for example they all take damage now, so you can't be as kamikaze with them like the first game, and they can all be boarded. So if you see a ghost you really want just jump on and kick off the driver. The vehicle boarding is another feature that was perfectly implemented. A couple new vehicles are now drivable as well, such as the covenant tank, and the new Covenant Spectre (basically the Covenant answer to the warthog).

The one problem I have with Halo 2 is the length. It isn't a very long game, probably 10 hours on normal, but it does offer the other, harder game modes. So if you want to savor the experience play on heroic and get maybe 15 hours out of it, or if you're suicidal play the near impossible legendary. Once again you can play multiplayer, from split screen or co-op, as well as the new addition of Xbox Live.

Thanks to the Live support Halo 2 is the best multiplayer experience on a console. The split screen is fairly similar to the original just now it has bigger, better maps, more weapons and vehicles and all the same gameplay additions as the single player. The online mode over Xbox Live is something to experience, if you've been waiting for a multiplayer on the consoles that can rival that of the P.C. this is it. It feels like a mix between Halo and Unreal Tournament 2004. You can have up to 16 people in a match in one of the many game modes, with a seemingly endless number of settings in any of the perfectly balanced maps. Halo 2 also features clan support so if you want you can join a clan of 100, so you'll always find somebody to play with, or you can join a party with your friends and play games with them. The whole multiplayer aspect is perfectly set up and perfectly executed.

Graphics & Sound
Halo 2 was said to push the limits of the Xbox's graphical capabilities to the max, but does it? Absolutely, it's easily one of the most beautiful and detailed games to date on the Xbox. It may not have the amazing textures of a game like Chronicles of Riddick, or the almost real look of some of the racing games, but what it does have is it's own artistic, unique, and beautiful style, every piece of every level is richly detailed and awesome to look at. From giant environments; to tight corridors if it's in the game it looks absolutely amazing. You can easily see how amazingly polished the game is from the very beginning. Bungie put their time into the game so it would look as good as it plays, and they succeeded.

It is a much better looking game than the original in every way. Characters, environments, weapons, vehicles, effects, and cut scenes have all been vastly improved from Halo. There is one problem with the graphics; it comes in the cut scenes. Now the cut scenes themselves are amazing to look at, but it almost seems like they tried to do too much, so you'll notice the textures popping in and out. Not a huge problem but a very annoying one.

The sound design is probably the biggest highlight of the presentation. Just like in the original Halo all the units will talk to you if their allies, or if their enemies you, for example the Covenant will call you "Demon". All the weapons and vehicles sound great too, all very distinctive and powerful. The real highlight of the sound though is the music. Probably the best music in a video game to date there is a mix of the music from the original game that has been all amped up, and the rest is totally new. From dramatic to kick ass the music sets the mood for the game, and it sets it well.

Halo 2 isn't the most innovative first person shooter, but it does have some original aspects that make it refreshing. Most of what tries to do to be innovative really works, for example duel wielding. Sure it's been done before but never to the effect of Halo 2. Vehicle boarding is the same way. There are games where you can steal vehicles, but none do it the same way as Halo 2. I don't ever remember being able to jump on a tank and beat the person until they die in another game. Probably the most innovative part of Halo 2 apart from the multiplayer is the no health. Nobody has ever thought of a FPS where you only rely on a recharging shield. Just doesn't sound right, Bungie obviously didn't think so and it's a good thing too because it has a bigger affect on gameplay than you may think.

The single most innovative feature Halo 2 has to offer is the multiplayer. Someone who plays PC. FPS's may no think so, but for a console game it's a real accomplishment. From the deep stat tracking to the games ability to match you up with people your own ability,the clan and party support, and huge number of game modes, Halo 2's multiplayer is defiantly a revolution for console multiplayer games.

Halo 2 does the impossible; it lives up to the hype created by its predecessor. It adds even more to the gameplay and story and delivers an unrivaled multiplayer. Halo 2 is the game that every FPS fan should own. And if you don't own an Xbox, this is the best reason to go out and buy one. Halo 2 is quite possibly the best game to ever grace this console.

Gameplay: 10, Graphics/Sound: 10, Innovation: 8, Mojo: 10. Final: 10

Reviewed by Cameron Bourne | Nov 18th 2004

Similar Games: Halo: ODST (9.0) | Halo Wars (9.0) | Halo: Reach (9.8) | Halo 3 (9.5)

Halo 2
Nov. 2004