Wookiee Hut Game Reviews presents:
Halo 2: Limited Edition
Review by Shadow Chaser

Rating: Death Star

Warning: Massive spoilers ahead for anyone who has not finished the game yet!

I gleefully skipped my only class for that Tuesday, November 9, 2004 just to pick up my copy of Halo 2.   At least I can say that, but the truth was that I wanted to sleep in then go pick up Halo 2.   It was the shiny silver Limited Edition case…and I was going to borrow my R.A.’s X-box to play seeing that I didn’t own my own X-box.

My R.A. and I made a deal: I can borrow his X-box whenever I want to play Halo 2 and he can play my copy of Halo 2 whenever he wants.   Fair trade.   ^_^x  

Now, enough blithering on and on, this review will be divided into three parts:
  1. Single Player
  2. Multiplayer (non-X-box Live)
  3. Details (i.e. Music Score, Graphics, techie stuff).  
All right?   Ready? Battle rifle loaded?   Let’s go kill some Covvies boys and girls!

Part 1 — Single Player

“Only the strongest will survive
Lead me to heaven when we die
I have a shadow on the wall
I’ll be the one to save us all”

- Excerpt lyrics from Halo 2 – Breaking Benjamin’s “Blow Me Away”

* * * * *

It’s sufficient to say that if you haven’t read the three Halo books that connect the series, you won’t be terribly lost when you play Halo 2.   The only thing you’ll probably be confused is how the Master Chief, Spartan-117, returned to Earth and why Sergeant Johnson is still alive after being supposedly consumed by the Flood back in Halo: Combat Evolved.

Being a computer geek and growing up with only computer games and no consoles in the house, my first experience with Halo was over a friend’s house on the X-box with Halo: CE.   Then came the PC version and life was good.   But now, with Halo 2, I am hoping to get an X-box for Christmas so I can frag my sister on multiplayer.

Anyways, you once again take up playing the giant green-armored SPARTAN, Master Chief Petty Officer, Spartan-117 (or if you’ve read the books, John-117).   This time though, you get an upgrade of the new Mjolnir Mark V armor to Mark VI.   Bungie also gives you the ability to dual-wield, meaning holding two single-handed weapons in both hands (some weapons are still single wield like the rocket launcher and shot-gun).   This gives you the possibility of combining Covenant and human weapons to create a deadly effect when firing upon opponents, however, the bad thing is that you cannot throw grenades unless you free up a hand when dual-wielding.

Gone is also the health bar and only your shield monitors are left.   However, when your shields go down, you do have a limited amount of hits you can take before you die, but it is best to find cover when that shield meter starts to beep wildly.   Another improvement is that the enemy AI and ally AI have been improved dramatically.   Gone are the stupid Covenant and Flood who normally run at you or run away when you fire at them.

They take their time in making kills, especially the Elites who come in a variety of classes starting from the beginning of the game.   You encounter from the normal Blue Elites all the way up to the Special Ops. Blacks in the first level alone.   Some might retreat and ambush you when fired upon, others may flank you for an attack while even some might approach you head on, wielding their energy swords.

Speaking of energy swords, Halo 2 allows you to wield this mighty Covenant weapon (though limited in power amount), and with the Master Chief’s (MC from now on) ability to adapt to situations so readily, you are able to either hit enemies normally or wait until the targeting on your HUD turns red on an enemy and hold down the fire/attack button for a one-lunge kill that is deadly as heck.

Immediately after you are squared away with getting used to moving around and looking with the controls, a long FMV sequence plays, introducing you to what’s been going on in the Halo universe while you were waiting for Halo 2 to come out.   The MC has returned to Earth to warn of an impending Covenant attack that is to come (this information is found out in the book First Strike), and is also there for an award ceremony for him, Sergeant Johnson, and (posthumously) Captain Keyes for their bravery on Halo and escape back to Earth.   Here you are introduced to Keyes’ daughter, Miranda, a sharp commander of her own right, and re-introduced to Cortana, who is just as witty as ever (and sporting a new hairdo).

You are also introduced to the Covenant Elite commander who lost Halo, a sacred ring to the Covenant hegemony, to the humans and (though they don’t say it except in the book First Strike), the ship Ascendant Justice.   The Elite commander is tortured by who will become one of the main villains in Halo 2, Tartarus, a new species of Covenant called Brutes (who look like giant apes mixed with something else).   You are also introduced to the three main Covenant leaders, the Prophets of Truth, Regret, and Mercy.   However, the Prophet of Regret is not there in person and is instead, launching a pre-emptive strike at Earth.

Regret’s forces come pouring out surrounding the Earth orbital defenses (of which you are on one of them), and launch an attack to disable them before running his fleet down to Earth.   You, the MC, are ordered to defend the station.

Defending the station is not as easy as I had thought it to be.   Neither is dual-wielding.   This time instead of just going in and blowing things up, you have to survey your landscape, your enemy/ally monitor, and make sure you have enough bullets to finish the job.   It took me a little bit and a couple of times dying to find out which combination of weapons were the best against the invading Covenant forces.   I tended to use the Covenant plasma rifle and a SMG (sub-machine gun) and as the SMG ran out of bullets; either replace it with the Needler or another plasma rifle.   There are different combinations, but these are my favorites to use.   However, two weapons I have to point out are the human pistol (name changed to a magnum), and the battle rifle.   Gone was the deadly 2x scope on the pistol which made it a favorite back-up weapon, and instead it is placed onto the battle rifle which shoots more like a rifle than its predecessor in Halo: CE.

After defending the station and disarming a bomb placed on the station, you are picked up by Commander Miranda Keyes and head down to Earth, specifically to New Mombassa city to stop the invasion — and instead find a new Covenant battle weapon, a large spider-like thing that is capable of blasting anything to pieces.   This final battle with the spider-like thing gives you the opportunity to start wielding one of the coolest melee weapons ever produced (besides the lightsaber in Jedi Knight), the Covenant Energy Sword.

In Halo: CE, you only got see the Elites wielding this deadly energy blade that could essentially kill you if you’re not careful, but this time, you get to even up the odds by wielding one of these little babies and there are two different types of attacks.   By holding the “B” button on the controller will make regular slashing attacks.   If you let your targeting on the HUD turn red on an opponent and hold down the right trigger key, the MC will lunge at the opponent for a one-hit kill.   Very effective for fighting against the Flood and Brutes later on in the game.

After you piggy-back to the fleeing Covenant ship carrying the Prophet of Regret, a transition is in order and the game play takes a new twist.   This time, you play as a fallen Covenant Elite who has fallen out of favor with the Prophets and with the hegemony, but is given a second chance as an Arbiter, a semi-bezerker-like Covenant who will stop at nothing to attain its goal.

Your first mission, take out rogue Covenants who don’t believe in what the Prophets are saying.   Now, the end of this mission is quite disturbing and it does sow some doubt into your and the character’s mind as you start to wonder what is the Covenant’s whole purpose for trying to annihilate the humans from the face of the Universe.   I must say that playing as a Covenant was hard at first as I kept shooting my allies, being so used to being the MC and blasting Covvies this way and that — note to self, don’t shoot allies.   This is also the first time you encounter the Flood in battle.

Quick little digression: When I first came upon the Flood or rather noticed signs of the Flood, I saw a blood splatter that was the trademark Flood color.   Now, I hate the Flood, they’re annoying, deadly as hell, and just scare the wits out of me when I was playing the later levels of Halo: CE (I especially detest “The Library” level).   My first thought, “Oh (insert expletive here and repeat) ...”

Okay, if you thought the Flood were just an annoyance in Halo: CE, you are in for a big surprise.   They’ve gone through an upgrade and are now a lot smarter.   The spore forms, popcorn-like little things, now are less, but once they hit you, they do more damage, and as soon as your shields are down, they instantly kill you.   They are also better strategists, sometimes hiding to ambush you when you least expect it.   I’ve actually died a few times in the Flood intro level because I was careless about my shields and some little spore dropped down on me after I fought off the fighter forms.

But from here on in, the plot thickens and the message of why the Covenant want destroy the human race becomes convoluted and lost.   You switch between the Arbiter and the Master Chief, each of them with their own goals, but ultimately learning to respect each other’s race and by the end; an unlikely alliance is formed in wake of the Brutes usurping Elites’ power within the hegemony as civil war breaks out in the Covenant ranks.   Of course, within all of this is the Flood, 343Guilty Spark wrecking havoc and generally saying that all forms of life should be destroyed, and a new puzzle thrown in, the mysterious being known as Gravemind.

Halo 2 ends with the inevitable sequel in the works as the Master Chief’s last words to the ranking Admiral in command:

“What the hell are you doing here [Master Chief]?”

“Stopping this war.”

Part 2 — Multiplayer

“Duck, run, point, shoot ... ohhh, is that a shiny Covenant Energy Sword?”

Blasting everyone to pieces with a rocket launcher as Kelly-087 or Shadow ...

* * * * *

When it comes to Star Wars Jedi Knight and Jedi Academy multiplayer, I’m pretty good with a lightsaber and my Force powers, but for some odd reason, I generally suck at Halo multiplayer — except when holding a giant rocket launcher or driving the Scorpion, then I’m a force to contend with.

But that doesn’t deter me from having fun and exploring a few options of the multiplayer scenario.   Of course, I’ve never played on X-box Live and don’t plan to unless I suddenly get rich by winning the lottery, I mostly play LAN network or with my friends.

Halo 2 multiplayer allows almost all of the vehicles in the game, including the Banshee which wasn’t available in Halo: CE, but in the HaloPC version, which makes for happy times with different weapons.   You are able to dual wield and do a variety of different games including the traditional slayer and CTF (capture the flag).   The maps have been redone and added new touches which gives the players an advantage over certain terrain.

One map I have to point out is the single-flag Zanzibar map which was shown in E3.   This map made for interesting times when played upon, especially trying to bomb the defensive team’s base.   There are two points of entry and each must be defended or else the offensive team would have easy access to the base.

Also, customizable team insignias on the shoulders give identifying marks to different groups or individualize players.   You have different emblems to choose from and from that, a variety of colors that you can customize your own Spartan or Covenant Elite (a new option!), to.   For my two personas, I chose the white hawk and sage colored armor, reminiscent of something close to CorSec (yes, I am a Corran Horn fan and everything I do has to be somewhat related to Star Wars).

Overall, multiplayer has greatly improved upon the original, and while I’m not too big of a fan of multiplayer (more of a fan of single player and storyline), it is most certainly worthwhile to hijack rides from opposing players (also done in single player), and drive off laughing then return and blast them to pieces.

Now this will make for more interesting Red vs. Blue clips!

Part 3 — Details

It’s all about merchandising ... God willing we meet again in Halo 3: The Search for More Money

* * * * *

I don’t know what the folks at Bungie were thinking, but I do know this, they knew how much fans wanted Halo 2 and decided that they were going to leave Halo 2 hanging so they can make more money in the inevitable sequel, Halo 3.   Barring that fact, the storyline in Halo 2 has gone from simplistic, to convoluted, filled with twists and turns that made me at times, scratch my head, and wonder what the writers were thinking.

Nothing really made sense anymore, and the original purpose of defending the Earth from a massive Covenant forces, as depicted by the two E3 conventions that Halo 2 previewed at, has been regulated to the first four levels.   Granted the interviews on the bonus DVD disc said that they wanted to tell the Covenant side of the story, it made everything more confusing.

Speaking of the DVD in the Limited Edition, it’s packed with little goodies, including a well-made one-hour documentary on the making of Halo 2.   There are also other mini-documentaries, about the concept arts, the sound, deleted scenes and characters (sniff, no Covvie Engineers who were cute in the books).   A fun thing to do was to watch the little outtake of the sound system when setting up the DVD, but it’s a good DVD for five dollars more for the Limited Edition.   Now where are those Easter Eggs ...?

However, one thing I must praise and denounce at the same time is the music.   Martin O’Donnell, the composer for Halo: CE returns to compose music for Halo 2 and instead of rehashing a whole bunch of the old music, he remixes a few and spices them up with some cool guitar riffs.   However, he also throws into the CD a few Incubus songs.   I don’t have a problem with Incubus as I rarely listen to their songs, but just to hear great orchestral followed by some rock-ish songs just threw me off.   Also, there are two other songs, one by Breaking Benjamin, which the instrumental actually appears near the end of the game, is pretty good (except for the scene it appears in which is just weird in of itself).   The other is Hoobastank.   “Connected” the song Hoobastank specifically composed for Halo 2 just does not fit with the overall mood of the CD.   It’s so out of place that if I can delete a track from the CD, it would be that one.

Gone is also the creepy Flood music, and instead is replaced by a far more sinister composition called “Ancient Machine”, which I guess is the music for anything that’s Forerunner/Flood related.   That track is just creepy ...

All right, on to the technical detailing.   The graphics have improved a lot more and textures can really be seen in the game play — however, some of the frame rates in the FMV sequences are still not onto par.   It switches from almost seamless sequences to jumpy static which made it sometimes annoying to watch.   But one thing that has always caught me to Halo was its voice acting.   Some games are just horrible at voice acting, but Halo is the exception.

If anyone remembers Robin Atkin Downes who played Byron on the TV show Babylon 5 will most certainly recognize his voice as the Prophet of Regret.   Of course, as a fangirl, I am attracted to the Master Chief’s sexy deep voice ... now if they’ll only show the face of the MC.   Cortana’s witty phrases and Sgt. Johnson’s cracks are back which makes it for interesting and sometimes funny times.

Also, the marines have a lot of things to say to and one memorable line is when you are on another Halo (Delta Halo), and you come to a picturesque place where a Forerunner building is set against the backdrop of a few cliffs and a lake:

Marine 1: Wish I can take this as a postcard to the Sarge.

Marine 2: Dear Sarge, wish you were here.   It’s pretty.   Love, the Marines.

Sgt. Johnson (over the comm.): I heard that Marine ...

It’s just random lines like that, that makes me love this game so much.

Now about the A.I. in the game.   While I had said the enemies were smarter, your allies, the ODST and Marines are also smarter.   You can trade weapons with them, and even though they hero-worship you they will not trade an empty weapon you have for their full one as they want to protect themselves too.   (Though if you trade certain weapons, a Marine might say, “See, he wants my weapon.”)

You are also able to take gunner seats in vehicles, and let the marines drive instead of you driving around all the time, but I must say that the Marines are the worst drivers in the world, not really ducking from enemy fire and instead causing more damage to you then good.   It’s better for you to drive the vehicles instead of relying on your Marines.

Overall, Halo 2 is an excellent game that was worth my money to buy and why it got a Death Star review.   Now I’ll have to just pull myself away from the X-box ... and go through Halo 2 withdrawal ... uh-oh.   So when is Halo 3 coming out?

Screenshots from http://www.xbox.com/en-US/halo2/default.htm

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