While Master Chief and the forces of the United Nations Space Command managed to destroy the Halo facility and prevent the destruction of all sentient life in the galaxy, the work for the cybernetic Spartan has just started.
Halo 2 begins as a tale of contrasts, with Master Chief, Sergeant Johnson and Commander Miranda Keys receiving commendations for their actions in saving humanity, while on the Covenant home world, while the Covenant Elite Commander, later known as the Arbiter, is punished for failing to stop the destruction of Halo. The Covenant forces believe that the ring world, Halo’s activation, will bring about the “Great Journey”, a time where they will join the ancient Forerunners in the “Divine Beyond”. On top of all this, the malevolent and parasitic force known as the Flood has also been causing havoc with both the humans and Covenant alike.
It is not long before the human fleet is attacked in space surrounding the planet Earth. It is now up to Master Chief and his fellow Marines to fight back against the forces of the Covenant before they do any serious damage to the planet Earth. Meanwhile, the Covenant Prophets have decided to commute the Elite Commander’s death sentence and instead, turn him into the Arbiter, a warrior destined to die in the service of the Prophets for the good of the Covenant. His journeys will take him into the ranks of his own people in search of Heresy. It is these two tales which will play themselves out in the sequel to one of the most prolific console First-Person Shooters (FPS) ever made.
The Halo franchise, whether you love it or hate it, is widely regarded as one of the best and most successful console FPS ever created. It has set the standard for shooters on consoles, in terms of play controls and established conventions. However, while Halo has widely been regarded as a trendsetter for consoles, it has been blasted by PC gamers as being fairly derivative and nowhere near as important as titles like Half-Life or Unreal, which set the FPS bar for PCs.
Halo 2, was released on the XBOX back in November of 2004 to much fanfare and enormous sales. The PC version was released back in May of 2007 and was one of the signature titles for the Microsoft Games for Windows initiative, which introduced Direct X10 to PC owners, as well as the ability to earn Live achievements in a PC game, as well as be connected to your Live account via your computer. This was a rather lofty goal for MS; not only this Games for Windows initiative, which asked PC gamers to begin utilizing Windows Vista, but also because their signature title was a port of a PC game that was nearly 3 years old on a platform that was somewhat resistant to the Halo hype.
Part of the Games for Windows initiative was the release of an XBOX 360 controller that was designed to work in PC games. Almost all Games for Windows games allow for the use of this controller in their games and Halo 2 is no exception. Having said that, I am a PC gamer and as such, I used the mouse and keyboard controls to gain a better idea of how Halo 2 would translate to the PC experience. I should also explain that while I have owned Halo 2 since its XBOX launch in 2004, outside of multiplayer modes, I never actually played more than about an hour of the single-player campaign.
As an FPS, Halo 2 more or less controls as we have come to expect an FPS to function. You aim with the mouse, a left click fires and the right click will also fire if you are duel wielding your weapons, which you will be doing in pretty much every scenario the game presents you with. While the ability to have more control and responsiveness with your aim is nice, outside of weapons with scopes, it is still not very easy to gain any type of accuracy with your weapons. There were many situations in which I had the position and the range to hit enemies, but my shots simply drifted away from their marks. However, weapons like the Covenant Carbine and the sniper rifles found are far more effective with the mouse controls and the aiming is solid for these weapons.
Outside of your standard variety of pistols, rifles and rocket launchers are the always handy grenades and my personal favorite, the Elite energy Sword, which can take down almost any enemy in 1-2 strikes. Although most of your damage will come from your pistols and rifles, grenades, both frag grenades and the ever popular plasma grenades, when used properly can turn the tide during some of the many battles in which Master Chief is completely outnumbered and being overrun.
Halo 2 also allows for the control of multiple vehicles, from the warthog, to the banshee and a couple of different heavy vehicles. You will have some pretty strong firepower to assist you on your adventures. In the single-player mode, you spend most of your time driving the vehicles, some of which have weapons that are controlled by you, other times you are merely the driver while you fellow troops will be the ones manning your weapons. I also must not understate the importance of the jump button, which I found can also add a tactical component to the game (especially at the end of the game). I also must mention that there is a new tactic that can be used against slower moving vehicles, which can result in a Grand Theft Auto-like vehicle jacking where you throw the drive out and commandeer his vehicle. I also discovered in multiplayer that this can be used against you, so keep this in mind while trolling in your vehicles.
Halo 2 will have you playing two roles, both as Master Chief and as the Arbiter. These roles are fairly similar, with the biggest difference being that the Arbiter has the ability to activate optical camouflage, which enables him to make a number of stealth kills throughout the game. This is the largest difference outside of plot and settings, meaning that all the weapons, including the energy sword, are available to Master Chief, just as the Marine weapons are usable by the Arbiter.
The online multiplayer component is nearly identical to the XBOX Live counterpart, with the exception that the Vista version comes with all of the bonus map pack content and the dearly desired Multiplayer Map editor, which allows for user created content; something that definitely would have been appreciated by XBOX owners. The modes cover the standard array of deathmatch, team deathmatch, capture the flag and assault. There are a few variants out there, but generally the real fun seems to be in team deathmatch, capture the flag and assault.
"As somebody who has been a PC gamer for most of my life, I found myself less impressed with the multiplayer..."
As somebody who has been a PC gamer for most of my life, I found myself less impressed with the multiplayer offerings of Halo 2. Much of what made Halo 2 so revolutionary as a console FPS title, merely makes it an average FPS on the PC. Games like Tribes 2 and Unreal Tournament have been carrying the torch for online deathmatch games, with and without vehicles. I fear that for my fellow PC gamers, Halo 2 online will be a fun, but an ultimately forgettable experience.
The game is almost as good looking at times as it is ugly at others. Halo 2, despite having DX10, seems almost entirely the same graphically as the XBOX version, even at higher resolutions. Perhaps in 2004, Halo 2 was considered eye candy, but in 2007, a gamer has a right to expect better graphics. There are certainly parts of Halo 2, particularly in the non-interactive cinematic, where it is clear that they have used enhanced graphics to help the game stand out. Having said that, the environments are still somewhat plain, featuring levels full of nearly empty, yet enormous hallways and buildings. Many of the criticisms for the original Halo sill apply to Halo 2.
Don’t get me wrong, Halo 2 is not a bad looking game, some of the views and vistas are rather compelling. The frantic and colorful firefights will delight the eyes and the vehicle portions are also well done, especially the enormous Scarab, which is an awesome enemy walker that makes its presence felt rather quickly. I just found myself shocked at how the game could go from presenting beautiful vistas and scenery, to boring and drab gray walls, obscured by smoke in the air, barely populated by enemies.
"The soundtrack for Halo 2 is absolutely a work of art.."
The soundtrack for Halo 2 is absolutely a work of art. The orchestra scores do an amazing job of lending Halo 2 a majestic, cinematic quality, which is likely the reason a game like this ends up releasing its soundtrack via cd. Outside of the stunning musical score, the voice acting is also remarkably well done, from your A.I. pal Cortana, to the dulcet tones of Keith David as the Arbiter. It is obvious that Halo 2 was made by people dedicated to bringing a movie-like performance to their characters. I also continue to be amused and amazed at the things that the Grunts are often overheard speaking, when they aren’t sprawled out and sleeping.
Halo 2 runs the gamut when it comes to challenge, ranging from easy to very challenging. I found the normal difficulty level to be fairly challenging at times, often requiring dozens of reloads in order to make it past a certain spot. Utilizing a checkpoint system in favor of save anywhere will likely not please all PC gamers, most of whom are used to being able to save at will. This will add to challenge, which ultimately makes the game more fun to play. While you do have a health bar, you seldom need worry to about it as you also have an energy shield which will replenish over time, meaning that simply hiding from an enemy will regain your energy. I may be mistaken, but I remember back in the original Halo having the energy shield, but also needing to collect health packs, something that doesn't make its way over to Halo 2.
There were a number of points in Halo 2 that involved moving through an area in a vehicle or on foot, basically proceeding from checkpoint to checkpoint in order to progress through the levels. On a number of occasions, you can simply run from checkpoint to checkpoint and avoid any conflicts with the Covenant and Flood forces. This can dilute some of the challenge, but fear not, as Halo 2 also has Heroic and Legendary difficulties, designed to shorten a person’s life due to stress induced heart attacks. Legendary was a good reminder of why I am okay with the standard, normal, difficulty level; but for people interested in a tough challenge, by all means try it out.
Halo 2’s single-player component took me about 10 hours to complete and I didn’t get the chance to try the campaign cooperatively, largely because most of my PC gaming friends have avoided Vista like the plague.
Halo 2 is the very definition of cinematic gaming. It manages to accomplish something that most PC shooters have failed at miserably, crafting a movie like experience combing compelling story and intense gameplay. From the majestic and triumphant soundtrack, to the amazing action set pieces, to the rather entertaining storyline, Halo 2 has something to offer most gamers.
However, as a PC FPS title, Halo 2 does leave a bit to be desired. It is by no means a super attractive game in the vein of Crysis or BioShock and the actual shooter elements don’t feel on par with your standard PC shooters. It is, in essence, a fairly perfect port of a console title that is nearly 4 years old. Compared to similar PC offerings, Halo 2 is fun, but not necessarily anything new or innovative. To be hones,t I am surprised that any port of a game like Halo 2, with its storied history, would be brought over 3 years later with only the smallest cosmetic changes. This would not have been an issue had Halo 2 been ported back in 2004 or even 2005, when the game was still fresh.
As one of the signature titles for Microsoft’s Games for Windows Live, I think I was expecting more than a map editor or in-game achievement points. While it is a novel idea, the fact that it would require PC gamers to pay for something that they have received for free all these years is silly.
Halo 2 is a fun game which I easily recommend to those, like myself, who never completed it back in XBOX days. To those gamers, I think the game is a worthy purchase indeed. To all other PC gamers, the fans of Half-Life and games in the Unreal Universe, well you folks likely weren’t even compelled enough to read this review of the Vista version of Halo 2 in the first place. While overall I genuinely enjoyed my time with Halo 2, I cannot say that it was really so much a “good” game as a “good” gaming experience.
+ Solid Port of an XBOX Classic
+ Entrancing Soundtrack
+ Exciting Story-driven single-player campaign
+ Robust Multi-player options
- Game still feels more like an XBOX than a PC game
- Graphics tend to look more like older XBOX version than DX10 enhanced
- Checkpoint and energy shield system dilute the challenge of Halo 2 in equal measure