Halo 2

Developer: Bungie
Publisher: Microsoft
Console: Xbox
Excellent Online Play
Fantastic Soundtrack
Intense Action
Some Repitition Towards the End
Covenant Levels Were a Bit Dull
Horrible Ending
Despite what the other companies will tell you, Halo 2 was simply the biggest game release of 2004. No game matched it in the level of pre-release hysteria, and Microsoft is surely reaping the rewards.

In honor of such a huge release, we decided to handle this review as a roundtable, in order to get a few different perspectives of the game. And while we all agree that this is one of the best releases this year, you will also see that not all of us completely bought into the marketing machine.

Joe: I enjoyed the campaign quite a bit, even playing through the whole thing in one sitting, but there were certainly a few design choices that bothered me.
John: Like what?
Joe: The biggest, in my mind, was the lack of Earth-based levels. The level design there was so much more exciting to me on Earth, and I felt it kind of dragged later on. I liked seeing objects I could recognize - cars and streetlights and such.
John: Yeah, that was a bit of a bummer. Although, there is a lot of earth-based FPSs out there nowadays.
Phil: I have to agree there. In fact the only levels I come back to really are the first two. I loved the scarab section also.
Hilden: That didn't bother me as much. I expected it to be on foreign worlds. It fits the mood to be somewhere other than earth, IMO.
Joe: That's true, but Bungie seemed to suggest that we'd be playing the majority of the game on Earth, defending it from the Covenant.
Phil: Thing is this was built up as being the battle for Earth. And they left out the E32003 level, which looked great.
Hilden: Well, they built up a lot of stuff that didn't pan out; not a surprise.
John: What about the level design itself? I was really impressed with how levels were laid out. They felt huge and very real.
Hilden: They really helped pace the game - the early levels, that is. It didn't feel like I was in limitless wide-open spaces, like the first one.
Joe: I felt a little deja vu in some areas, with some repeating room layouts, especially at about the halfway point. I thought it picked up towards the end, though.
Phil: The levels were great at the start but towards the end of the game felt rushed with repeating sections. I actually ran through the last 2 or 3 levels without taking hits.
John: Although I really liked how the levels were laid out, I felt some of them were a bit confusing due to their repetition.
Phil: I'd have preferred to not have faced the Flood.
Joe: What was the deal with the Flood, anyway? It felt like they showed up for no reason, other than to include them. It certainly didn't improve the storytelling, which I think Bungie completely dropped the ball on, anyway.
John: The Flood was aggravating, man.
Hilden: Yeah. A total pain in the ass.
Phil: I literally just ran away from them.
John: And there were a lot of bits borrowed from the Metroid franchise. As far as The Flood was concerned, at least.
Phil: Just a few.
Hilden: Yeah, there was a bit of sci-fi bleed through in general. But that seems to be typical. There is the obvious Starship Troopers stuff.
Phil: *coughs* Master Chief basic design.
Joe: Master Chief is just a generic action hero to me. I don't understand why people are so in love with this "character."
Phil: He's so basic. And that name!
Phil: Jesus I can imagine it now... “Err, what can we call this guy? How about The Chief? Nah we need something better...”
John: He is quite the stereotype, that's for sure.
Hilden: Even his lines have gotten cheesier. Arnold could have spoken them.
Phil: Maybe Arnie could play him in the movie?
John: But since we were just talking a bit about story, I will say that it was interesting to get the Covenant's side of things. It helped make them seem more real.
Hilden: I thought it was an inevitable choice - you know, to humanize the enemy - but not really needed for me.
John: I thought it made them more interesting. They seemed quite generic in the first game.
Joe: I'm split on the Covenant issue. I like the idea of giving them a bit more back-story, but I didn't like the execution here.
Phil: I have to agree that it was great to see the other side, but I'd have rather just had those bits as cut scenes rather than playable levels.
John: I agree.
Hilden: Same here. I just want to mow them down. I couldn’t care less about why they're there.
John: While playing as the Arbitor, I actually pined to get back to the Master Chief levels. Of course, it wasn't Raiden/Snake bad, but still...
Phil: Yeah but you'd think that Bungie would have learned from the reaction of the MGS/Raiden issue.
Joe: All that political crap just wasn't interesting to me. I didn't care what happened to the Arbitor.
John: I enjoyed the Covenant plotlines, actually, and I’m was glad they were there.
Joe: Not to the mention the fact that the Arbitor's levels weren't nearly as interesting. The lack of human weapons made the action less exciting, and sometimes I had trouble determining who was my ally - since it was Covenant versus Flood.
Phil: I had that trouble also.
John: Me too!
John: I would blast my allies without even knowing it at first.
Phil: I really think that the campaign needed another 2 or 3 levels to finish off with. This feels like an incomplete game.
Joe: Even one more level would have done it for me. I was so angry when I finished it. I felt betrayed.
John: Well, rumor has it that Halo 2.5 will be on its way, possibly as an Xbox 2 launch title.
Phil: Halo just seems to be going the way of the Matrix films
John: Already? Well, all this sounds a little negative. Let's talk about some good things, eh?
Joe: Well, my issues with the storyline aside, I think the gameplay was even better than the original. I loved all the new features they added.
Phil: I agree with that.
Hilden: It plays like a fine tuned FPS should. Dual wielding was a needed feature and it works well.
John: They made dual wielding sound so revolutionary, though. And though it does add to the gameplay, it was a "duh" kind of addition to me; especially considering Goldeneye had it.
Joe: It works well, and it adds just a little bit more strategy to the fighting.
Hilden: If they didn't have it, it would have been a problem at this stage of FPS life.
Phil: I found the dual wielding was OK, but pulled off just as well if not better in other games going as far back as Perfect Dark.
John: Well, the difference here is that with Halo 2 you can control the guns independently, which is far better than a game like Perfect Dark, in my opinion.
Hilden: Yeah, that I loved. Very nice.
Phil: But you can't throw a grenade.
John: Well, you can always throw down your second gun.
Hilden: Hence the strategy Joe was talking about.
Joe: How about jacking enemy vehicles? That's one of my favorite new aspects of the gameplay. It's just so much fun to kick that elite off his Ghost and then run him over with it.
John: Yes, jacking was great. Fantastic addition.
Phil: True
John: The first time I tried it I felt like an action hero.

Joe: Let's talk Xbox Live. I found the Live play so engaging that it completely made up for any disappointments with the campaign.
Hilden: It's good, but more of the same for me. In the end, an online FPS is an online FPS. There are only so many ways you can disguise "Kill the other guy”.
Phil: I have to say that when I first got online with this game I wasn't impressed.
Joe: Really? Why's that?
John: Well, I hate to join in the raining of the parade, but I'm not much of a DM guy. CTF, however, is fantastic in this game. I loved how they pulled it off.
Joe: CTF and the other team-based games are where I spend most of my time online. One Flag CTF is incredible fun; it's so fast paced with a good bit of variety.
Phil: I especially had problems waiting 3-5 minutes just to get an auto game. So could never be bothered to play as much as I wanted to.
Joe: Well, that was a problem for a while, I'll admit. Bungie has since patched the game, though, so that’s essentially a non-issue.
Phil: That is what I was just coming onto - since the patch I've found myself really enjoying it.
John: At first, I found the menu interface to be a bit confusing as well; the whole Party system and whatnot.
Phil: The thing with the LIVE stuff is that the game is only as fun as the people you are playing with.
John: Exactly.
Hilden: I like the integration of clans.
John: As do I.
Hilden: It doesn't feel tacked on like in Black Arrow.
John: Bungie.net is amazing. Just how detailed it is.
Hilden: The ranking system is extremely well done as well
John: Yes it is.
Phil: Sometimes you'll have a great game but 90% of the time I'm unplugging my headset so I don't have to listen to these dicks
Hilden: Yes, dicks are a problem. But that's online gaming for you
Joe: For sure. Always playing against people of near equal skill makes every game exciting.
John: Mine gets me into trouble all the time. Sorry...
Hilden: Nice.
Phil: You just had to didn't ya?
John: I did. I can't let an article go by without a dick joke.
Joe: How about the automatic match setups? I personally enjoyed it, because it keeps things nice and fair. But I'm big into ranking and competition and such.
Hilden: If I were big into the ranking thing, I'd love it. That's the way it should be. No one wants to be stuck in a game full of folks kicking your ass, or completely beneath your skill level.
John: Well, in DM everybody's kicking my ass!
Hilden: Until you shoot them in the back of the head, sure. Sorry. I'll stop picking on you.
Phil: It’s great but doesn't always work. Sometimes I'll get put with players like 5 or 6 ranks higher and they just slaughter everyone.
Joe: I usually just play the 4 on 4 games and we're almost always within 2 or 3 levels of each other.
John: We forgot one glaring omission: co-op online play. That was bullshit. They needed to put that in there and it's a grave disappointment that they didn't.
Hilden: Yeah! Word to that! That's one of my favorite parts of Rainbow Six.
Joe: I don't care so much about that, but system link co-op would have been nice. Hell, the original Halo had it.
Phil: I agree - that really should have been in this game.
John: Pummeling the Covenant with Phil would be brilliant. But alas... Perhaps next time.
Phil: ‘Twas not to be my friend.
Joe: Let's talk graphics. How about that texture pop-in, eh? It's certainly distracting.
Hilden: Obvious pop up. But it seems to function differently on each Xbox. I don't get it.
Joe: I've heard that, yes. Baffling.
John: I get the pop up every now and then, but it's hardly distracting for me. In fact, this is one of the most visually impressive games I've ever seen.
Phil: The pop-in is a huge problem. It's funny I tried all that stuff that Bungie recommended such as deleting every damn save and soundtrack and I get the same amount of pop-in. I'd rather have a game that looks consistent than have such technical problems.
John: As mentioned before, the level design was very impressive and realistic.
Hilden: Yeah, the atmosphere was great; very cinematic all the way through the game with great environments and effects. The attention to detail was pretty good as well.
Joe: And the enemy designs were damn cool, especially those flying guys. I just wish we saw more of them.
John: Yes, the enemies are far more varied this time around. Things were just much more interesting to look at than they were before.
Phil: This game is too beautiful for its own good.
John: And the cut-scenes are spectacular!
Phil: I loved the Delta Halo lake with the Covenant ship in the sky. That just had my jaw on the floor.
Joe: I thought the music worked wonders for creating atmosphere. It came in at all the right places.
Hilden: Yeah, a fantastic sound track. But I would expect nothing less as the first one was great, as well.
John: This is Phil's department, Mr. #1 Steve Vai Fan.
Phil: VAI! Oh yeah baby, big fan!
Joe: Vai?
Hilden: Yeah…
John: Joe, don't get him started.
Hilden: It’s about time that dude got a new gig.
John: Yeah, David Lee Roth stopped touring, I guess… No wait! He's playing at the casino down the road from my house next month!
Hilden: LOL
John: I’m serious. The DLR will be just west of Burnsville next month.
Hilden: Burnsville Tour!
Joe: Never heard of him? But if he was involved with Halo 2's audio, he's certainly got talent.
Phil: He's got talent? Single greatest guitarist of all time.
John: That guitar lick at the beginning is Vai. So are a couple of the levels.
Phil: Don’t forget the ending theme!
John: Not quite the greatest, Phil. But good nevertheless.
Phil: Good? BEST, dammit!
John: Let's not jump off any bridges here.
Hilden: I'm sensing we started something here.
John: Moving right along…
Joe: I wasn't thrilled to see the Covenant speaking English. I would've much preferred subtitles. I missed all the fun little things they'd say in combat, like "wort wort wort." They still say that one sometimes, but not nearly as often.
Hilden: I didn’t really care on the English. It didn't bother me one way or the other.
Phil: I agree there Joe, but Halo had them speaking English.
John: I thought the English was bizarre, but necessary. I didn't feel like reading subtitles all the time. And like Phil said, they spoke it in the first one too.
Phil: I loved the demon reference. Although I wish they called Master Chief a “freedom hater.”
John: Me too. See, that's what I was getting at earlier. Not the “freedom hater” bit, but that from the Covenant's perspective humans are demons. That shit is interesting.
Phil: Yeah, I enjoyed that aspect of the plot
John: But anyway, the overall soundtrack is fantastic. I dug the score a lot. Musical score, that is.
Phil: Definitely one of the best in any game.
Hilden: Absolutely.
John: Ok, scores; numerical this time.
Phil: I'd give this a 9.5. I want to give it more but there were too many issues holding it back.
Joe: It gets a 9.5 from me, as well.
Hilden: 9.1234555984920219034848. But we'll round that one up to a 9.5. But man, Hivner will be pissed about that. He doesn’t like rounding.
John: Holy shit! We have a consistent score! 9.5 from me too!
Joe: Wow.
John: But for Brendon's sake, I should give it a 9.284. Wait…can I give it Pi?
Hilden: LOL
John: I give it Pi, then.
Hilden: Yes, we should all give it Pi.
John: Ok, Halo 2's final score is 3.1415924…
Joe: Hehe.

Closing Thoughts

Joe: Despite some disappointments in the campaign, the actual gameplay is fantastic, and I just know you'll see me on Live with this one for months to come.
Hilden: A true step forward for the FPS. It's what I expected the next Halo to be. While the story was lacking, it's the least of my worries. You can only window dress the killing of bad guys so many ways.
Phil: It’s not what Bungie promised us story wise and it suffers with a few graphical problems. That aside it's a great game that should be enjoyed for what it is rather than what it isn't. Although next time Bungie should really consider not deceiving us with the story and over-hyping.
John: Though the game isn't an entire revolution, I'd have to say that much of they hype was warranted in this case. The level design was brilliant, despite some confusing interior bits, and the scope of the game is just massive. Online junkies have received a wonderful Christmas present from Bungie. Game of the Year? Maybe, maybe not. Best game on Xbox? Definitely.

Bottom Line: A fantastic game that was actually worth the hype. Well...mostly.

Article By: Team Fremont

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Hey, did anyone else notice that Hori has a pretty cool looking DS carrying case? I like it. If you want to check it out, click on the ad above.

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I'm so tired...

I feel all warm and happy now. And at the same time....dirty. And filled with shame.......

Good times. Good times.

WAGD is here to quench your literary thirst. Come and read the story of how Hilden, our hapless protagonist, was born. It's a beautiful tale of spite, disappointment and loathe just in time for the holidays!

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I'd like to go on record and state that Hilden's taken things way out of context with that comic. Those were mostly study groups.

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Yeah, it really is a great controller. They're also the people who made that crazy Onimusha Samurai Sword Controller a few months back. Click the link and check out their other products. They do great work.

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John's been using one for a few months now, and it's a really great controller. Especially if you're playing Mega Man or any of the old school games on your Cube.

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With each passing day, wires and cords become more of a pain in the ass. Luckily for Xbox owners there is Logitech's new headset for Xbox. See the review for more details.

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I understand Disc Golf requires a lot of wrist control. I'm sure Moe's got that market cornered.

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That's right. You heard me. Disk Skilz.

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Wow. You guys must feel right at home among the curling and shuffleboard enthusiasts.