Year of release: 2004
Game score: 42
Replay ability: 2
Learning Curve: 2
Patch version: Dynamic
Bugs: 5 (the sky is the limit...)
Modability / Community support: 0
There are always games like Halo 2 every year, totally hyped, millions pre-ordered, and ready to bust the competition. But, aside from Half-Life 2, most hyped shooter sequals end up "console-railed," rushed in development, and linear.
Halo 2 is no exception to the general rule. But, it does have one or two good aspects that are worthy of mentioning.
First, the graphics. Although running on the pathetic XBOX system specs (see below), its graphics can match games such as Call of Duty or Unreal Tournament 2004, but can't even compare with Half-Life 2, Doom 3, or Far Cry. The Nvidia "X-chip" lives around the GeForce 3 graphics chip generation, so it is amazing to see full dynamic lighting with self-shadowing enabled with good performance. In fact, when playing 4-player split screen, the games framerate only slows down a little, even though the XBOX must render the game four times.
The other cool part to this game are three or four great moments in single-player. Probably my favorite was near the end of the game, when a massive battle was unfolding between elites, flood, and brutes. Regardless of Cortana's comment: "You might want to sit this one out," a hard song roles in and its impossible not to have a blast. Too bad there are so few of these moments.
The only neutral element of this game are the cutscenes. They tell the story fine, but it seems that Bungie forgot that they were developing Halo 2 for the XBOX. In every cutscene there are rediculous close-ups of characers, allowing the player to see pixelated textures and blocky character limbs.
Now, to the negatives. The first is the lame "weapon balancing." In almost every map, the sniper rifle rules all. Not only do they both get at least four shots off before any kind of reload, but while aiming the game pulls the reticle to enemy players. Considering the gun kills in two shots (but half the time one of those is a head shot...) whoever spawns closest to the sniper rifle wins. Then, afterwards, anyone who spawns will be immediately sniped because of Bungie's awful choice of spawn points. On any map without sniper rifles (there are very few) either the shotgun or the rocket launcher rule all, considering that they both give instant kills. Bungie goes on and on about their new weapons and perfect balance, but one of my favorite new weapons wasn't even in multiplayer: the fuel rod gun. The fuel rod gun would be a cool counter to the rocket launcher, but apparently Bungie wants the luckiest spawner to win.
Another crappy aspect of Halo 2 is the new character model, allowing any player to play as an elite in multiplayer. The model is stupid though, because the head area is huge and hangs down over its upper chest, so any sniper will hit it in the head and anyone who attacks from the front will hit it in the head. Playing as an elite may be new, but you won't be able to compete.
Probably the most frustrating aspect in all of the game is the matchmaking service on XBOX Live. Bungie brags how it is "dynamic" and matches players against people of the same level. Not quite. In matchmaking head to head, having never played the game before, I was ranked one, so naturally I was expecting to be matched against another level one. Instead I was matched against a level 6, and was severely pwned. How is that an advanced "dynamic" matchmaking system? It isn't even fair. When matchmaking in 4 vs. 4 games, the same problem occurs. The only real way to win is to happen to be matched with the better group of guys, making every match a random draw. Just playing today I counted fair matchmade games (taking the average of all the player's ranks on each team), and only one in five matchmade games were fair.
Now to the small annoyances that Bungie either completely overlooked or blew off without regard to their massive community. The first is their A.I. From my experience, the A.I. was better in the first game. Aliens will run right into traps, dive out into the open and get killed, overlook boarding a vehicle, and jump out from cover onto boxes, where they can be shot right off. Your A.I. teammates suck too. Sure, they can drive vehicles this time around...yeah...into walls, at enemies with rocket launchers, and unbelievably slowly.
Before the game's release, Bungie went on and on about their A.I., so the community eagerly thought about A.I. bots, and Bungie was always really unclear about their bot intentions. On their faq, Bungie stated that "they have heard the community's pleas for bots" and were still thinking about adding them. So as the community kicks the idea around, Bungie comes in with a new update on Halo 2 called the "Rumor Buster" which tells the community that Bungie has denied bots all along, and that bots are stupid and pointless anyway. Even days or even weeks after this Rumor Buster post, the faq still stated that Bungie was still thinking about adding them.
On numerous updates on Bungie.net, Bungie bragged about their new physics. In games like Far Cry and Half-Life 2, the bodies flop around hilariously and add a sweet variety of death sequences, but in Halo 2, when a player is blasted into the air, the same stupid flailing limbs animation occurs, preventing any cool moments in large, explosive battles. Only when bodies hit the ground do the Havok physics kick in.
The last problem with Halo 2 is the unbelievable amount of exploitable glitches. After playing Halo 2 on live for only a week, I knew several tricks, such as "sword flying." In this one, it is possible to fly accross an entire map and stab somebody with the energy sword, with ease. There are worse flaws too, such as the "standby" glitch. In a game, a player can just reset their router, causing everyone else to have to wait to reconnect to the game while the cheating player can kill their idle bodies or capture the flag many, many times. Are the Bungie people gonna tell me that while performing "extensive tests over every nook and cranny" no one tried a router reset? I guess the test team was way too busy enjoying the fact that they were getting to play the game that millions of people were eagerly anticipating.
Good stuff: Good Graphics for the XBOX, Fun Moments in Single-Player.
Bad stuff: Absolutely no Weapon Balance, the New Player Model is Worthless, Aggravatingly Pathetic XBOX Live Matchmaking System, Crappy AI, No Bots, Stupid Havok Physics Implementation, Multifarious Exploitable Glitches and Bugs.
Reviewer System Specs: XBOX:
CPU: Pentium 3 733-MHz
RAM: 64 MB "Unified Memory Architecture"
Video Card: 250-MHz Nvidia "X-chip"
Sound Card:Built-in Intel (exact specs unknown)