Xbox console game: Halo 2

18 Nov 2004

Product: Xbox game
Price: €60

The long-awaited and highly hyped sequel to Halo — one of the most influential games seen on any gaming platform — launched last week on the Xbox, smashing previous industry records in the process with launch day estimates from Microsoft suggesting that 2.38 million units were sold through North America alone, totalling over US$125m in sales.

Developed by Bungie and published by Microsoft, there was never any doubt that Halo‘s sequel would be anything other than a rocket-powered runaway success. Chances are that wherever you’ll find an Xbox, you’ll also find a copy of Halo, with over five million copies sold worldwide to date.

Yes, it was just another ‘first-person-shooter’ game — where the action is viewed through the ‘eyes’ of a character as it moves through a richly detailed 3D environment — but Halo delivered much more than is par for the course in such titles — half this review could be taken up just praising Halo‘s strengths alone. But what’s Halo 2 actually like?

For starters, the storyline features a religious civil war of sorts, as the alien bad guys from the first title fight among themselves to find and activate another Halo ring. Halo was the name given to a vast, ring-shaped organic world in the original title, which also held — of course — impenetrable alien bases that the player inevitably blitzed through.

It was an artificial world; a sort of colossal galactic doomsday device that only You — aka Master Chief — could deactivate, explosively achieved at the end of the first title.

Cue the sequel, where character models, voices and animations are more detailed and varied than before. So, what else is new? Well, Master Chief can now hold two weapons at once; other vehicles can be ‘jacked’ from their owners if you can grab on at the right moment — a case of Grand Theft Halo, perhaps — and, erm… that’s about it, as far as any obvious developments go.

It’s a case of familiarity breeds content, perhaps — sorry, Bungie — even a sense of déjà vu and ho-humness, as at times it can feel like attacking the ocean with a bucket, such is the relentless onset of wave after wave of enemies. Yet, of course, what else can one expect from a title that involves endlessly shooting things, no matter how fancily and impressively it’s dressed up as?

That’s the single-player experience, but Halo 2 also has extensive multiplayer options. Being someone whose friends own PlayStations instead of an Xbox, my experience of that side to the game was restricted to multiple mayhem-filled missions at the press launch. By all accounts — forgive the pun — the multiplayer modes are quite a blast.

And yet, overall I couldn’t help but be a little bit disappointed. Textures often seemed bland; human characters looked plasticky; pop-up and glitching struck repeatedly; the single-player levels were a little unfocused and ‘lost’; and, sadly, the ‘wow’ factor of the first game just wasn’t there for me. It almost felt like the games order was reversed at times, with this being the unrefined predecessor.

Widely available for €60 incl. Vat, or €70 for a ‘director’s edition’ (presented in a tin presentation box with a Making Of DVD with bonus materials) Halo 2 is undoubtedly another heroic shot at redefining a genre.

By Shane Dillon

John Kennedy is a journalist who served as editor of Silicon Republic for 17 years