I should state at the start that this review mentions both the ending and the perceived ‘twist’ which makes the sequel better than the first. Please bear this in mind before reading the following review.
Well the Covenant are back. On Earth. That’s right, it can only be the sequel to the massively popular, critically acclaimed Halo.
Beginning almost directly where the first game finished, Master Chief has returned to Earth and its beefed up defence system, for a hero’s welcome. But the medals have barely a second to rest on his broad chest before the Covenant appear again – close to Earth.
Master Chief, the world needs you.
So begins one of the most anticipated sequels of recent times. But how can they improve on what was already a brilliant game?
Well lets start with bigger levels. Unlike in Halo, vehicles become a major part of the game. In the original they were a useful source of more powerful weaponry and occasionally used for transport. In Halo 2 they are constantly used for both, indeed some of the levels simply can’t be done without using the various vehicles dotted around the landscape. A few new vehicles have been incorporated since last time, including two different versions of the marine Warthog. Enemy vehicles can once again be hijacked and used against their owners, but additionally players can now simply take the vehicles off their owners rather than having to shoot them out first.
The second and probably most exciting ‘other’ feature is the ability to wield two weapons, in almost any combination possible, and thus add an even more strategic element to weapon carrying than was evident in the first game. That and its just looks John Woo cool. The new SMG can be wielded alongside an enemy needle-shooter, two SMG’s can be held, two needle-shooters can be used – the options are large. There are also new weapons available; the aforementioned SMG, which is a mid-range semi-automatic that spews bullets at a fearful rate, amongst others. The enemies also have new weapons including energy sniper rifles, called Carbines, that are oddly organic and don’t have a bullet limit before reloading, making them more useful in a firefight than the marine version. Best new weapons though are the deadly blades carried by the invisible warriors from the first game.
Further additions are new enemies; snipers, flying warriors and big hairy gorilla-type creatures called Brutes, all of which quickly become foes to fear.
The graphics are noticeably better, the first thing you notice is that the weapons you carry look chunkier and more realistic. Environments vary far more appreciably than Halo, with a greater range of locations from Earth to ….. other places shall we say. Each of the levels has a strong visual style that immerses the player in the game. One gripe though is that there weren’t enough levels set on Earth. The Earth levels were the most enjoyable level designs by quite a way, more should have been done and I suspect was but I’ll come to that at the end. The difficulty is hard, veterans of the first game will find Heroic tough going and Legendary beyond nails. Average gamers stick to Normal.
Multiplayer in Halo was brilliant fun, whether it be two player or more, there was a lot to be said for Halo being more than just a one-player fps. Halo 2 takes this whole idea one step further with the leap onto X-Box Live. Understanding the appeal of first person shooters played on-line, Counter-Strike, UnReal, Quake 3 etc, you can now, through the rapidly developing X-Box Live, play against people across the world on Halo 2. Team games, clan wars, a whole community has been created to worship at the altar of online Halo.
However if the costs of Live are too much for you, there’s always the multiplayer option. Right? Well kind of, you see the multiplayer maps are a bit useless. Many of them are too complex, meaning that in a two-player game it takes ages to find each other. The maps also rely on close-quarters gameplay whereas the first one allowed you to just pick up a sniper rifle and shoot each other in more open, action-packed maps. I’d suggest sticking to the original for ‘offline’ play.
So the major ‘twist’ of the new game. Please stop reading now if you have yet to play and don’t want to know.
You get to play several levels as a disgraced member of the Covenant. In a move of brilliance Bungie have opened the game and storyline to incorporate both perspectives of the battle, Human and Covenant. Thus in the Covenant levels you begin by playing against the human forces as well as some of your own. This breaks the game up cleverly and creates even more interest, as we slowly watch the two threads begin to come together. All covenant weapons are available to you right away, picking up the blade weapon for the first time and turning invisible is a blast. That said it also causes the major gripe of this game. Length.
I’m not going to reveal the actual ending, nor how many levels there are but what I will say is that the ending sucks. Sorry great game and all but the ending is absolutely unacceptable in any game let alone such a great one. All the new additions; the ability to play as both Covenant and Master Chief, the bigger levels, X-Box Live etc, all suggest Bungie simply bit off more than it can chew. This meant several things being cut from the final game and forcing a ‘to-be-continued’ ending that will have you gnashing your teeth in disgust. Especially when strong rumours abound that Halo 3 won’t see the light of day until the release of X-Box 2.
In conclusion then, Halo 2 is a brilliant game well worth purchase and better than the original. However the ending and the poor multiplayer maps stops it being an outright classic, which it should have been.
Reviewed by Owen Jones © 2005