VINE VOICEon 4 December 2004
I bought Halo 2 the day it came out, almost a month ago. It's taken me until now to reach an opinion of it that deserves reading. Here goes.
Halo was a tough act to follow. It splits gamers down the middle- some love its free-form action template, massive levels and small but innovative tweaks on the tried and tested FPS formula. Others find it repetitive, frustrating and lacking in plot and substance. With Halo 2, Bungie had to right those wrongs while keeping the winning ingrediants that made the original such a benchmark. And... they managed to pull it off.
The first, and most obvious improvement on the original are the graphics. They are absolutely gorgeous. The original Halo was shiny enough, even after three years, but Halo 2 is eye-candy of an unprecedented level, with the detail and polish of PC titles like Doom 3 and Far Cry and the massive, sublime levels that only Halo has done so far. From the gigantic temple in the middle of a volcanic crater to the water effects, Halo 2 drops your jaw over and over again. The sound is even better, improving on the original endlessly, and the music is arguably the best ever scored for a game. These improvements do more than just look nice, they increase the immersive aspect and the fantasy of the environments endlessly.
In correcting the original's errors, Bungie have done more than just improve the graphics. The physics engine is enhanced to increase the freedom of the player while making object interactions look very real indeed. The AI of both your allies (always dodgy in Halo) and your enemies is significantly smarter, especially on the harder settings. They hide from fire, use grenades well, sneak up behind you and run for help. Halo's cut 'n paste level design is all but absent, with every level being different to the last, and within levels the environments vary much more.
Where Halo 2 really excels is in removing the repetition of the constant gunning, through the use of vehicle sections and set-pieces. These awesome moments (such as jumping onto the Scarab or riding the gondolas) are what Halo's formula was lacking, and stick permanently in your mind. Halo 2 blends these unprecedented set-pieces with free-form combat in just the right amounts, so the player has freedom and option some of the time, and others is riding the rollercoaster of sheer spectacle. When it comes to making your own way through combat, Halo 2 gives loads of options. There are more guns, and the much anticipated dual wielding is a welcome touch, giving you more firepower at the expense of grenades or melee attacks. Vehicles are all destructible, and you can hijack any enemy vehicle, or merely plant a grenade in it and jump back off.
Apart from the single player, Halo 2's multi-player is truly in a class of its own. There are so many options, weapons and maps you can cater for anyone's taste, and there is massive variety and replayability. Playing it system-link is brilliant fun, and Live lets you fight people anytime all over the world. However, it's always better if the other players are in the same room, and even 1 v 1 multi-player is an absolute blast.
Gripes? A couple. The health/shield system has been altered, which makes the single-player extremely hard in places. Add to this the difficulty of Heroic and Legendary and you have some very frustrating moments. You still have to replay some sections many times to get through it. The opening level is also very mediocre, and a poor intro to the game. However, Halo 2 is an absolute masterpiece, with unbelievable levels of production, addictive gameplay and sound design. 95%, in the running for Game of the Year, on any format.