Halo 2 kicks your ass

Most fans of Halo haven’t played the sequel, and already managed to make it a complete success. They’ve pre-ordered millions of copies months before its publication. They’ve bought into the brilliant marketing and convince all their friends to do the same. They’ve created and contributed to thousands of message boards across the world, setting up clans and tournament dates. And lets face it, any sequel that has a fan base that play the original like maniacs up until the very hour the follow-up is released has to be a sweet game, right?
Hell yeah.

After spending a few days playing for myself there isn’t an ounce of doubt in my soul – Halo 2 is the Godfather of sequels.

Surpassing the original by leaps and bounds, Halo 2 is a seamless presentation of the most polished graphics, sound and physics any system has to offer. The game simply looks and feels amazing.

To boot, the team at Bungie have taken to heart their mission of creating a sequel with its own mystique and draw. I get the feeling they don’t want you to play Halo 2 because the first one was a great game, rather give you something familiar while raising every standard to an inconceivable level.

A huge piece of this was achieved by doing away with the repetitive gameplay we saw much of in the first Halo. To be honest, I began playing Halo 2 with a preconceived notion that I’d know where the next Covenant gun slinger would show up. But I was quickly – like 5 minutes into the game quickly – taken to school when a barrage of aliens rushed me, firing mercilessly while kicking boxes and dead cohorts out of their path. Throw in sweet lighting effects, gnarly new creatures and jaw dropping landscapes and suddenly we’re talking best game of 2004.

The storyline in Halo 2 picks up right where things left off. Just as our hero, Master Chief, is being honored for destroying the Covenant forces in the first Halo, revenge seeking aliens are back in action to destroy mankind. After a short space battle, the Covenant armies breech earth’s defenses and Master Chief finds himself back on earth defending what is left of our cities.

The campaign or story mode in Halo 2 is epic. The maps are massive and just about everything you encounter can be used in gameplay. This allows for a new depth of warfare as you can use grenades to topple stacks of cargo, blow up energy canisters to take out nearby enemy forces or chip away at concrete with your assault rifle to get a better sniper shot at long distance targets.

The new weapons are an eclectic mix, but my favorite by far is the energy sword, a glowing blade of death that lets you spring across rooms to fell your enemy with a well-placed single blow. There are also plenty of new vehicles to tool around in like the sleek, plasma-toting Spectre and troop carrying Shadow.

The biggest upgrade, though, is Halo 2’s redesigned multiplayer mode via Xbox Live. The user interface here is the best I’ve used (including that of SOCOM 2) and the vast network of servers managed to run even the 16-person battles lag free.

Halo 2, always the innovator, adds a Party system to the typical Xbox Live fare. On top of being able to join and invite friends and create competitive clans, Halo 2 has a system that allows you to create a hang-out group that moves from the game to game with you. It’s pretty cool and easy to use. All you have to do is invite friends to your party and then when you switch games they go with you.

Thank God for the Party system, because Halo 2’s online pick-up game system leaves a lot to be desired. To play a quick match or optimatch game you still just pick those modes and it randomly throws you into a game. But when the game ends everyone is kicked out and you have to start over.

What this means is you can’t have any rematches or be assured of hanging out with this new group of potentially future friends. It’s really annoying having to wait the few minutes between game end and game start to get back into the thick of things. It feels as if Bungie doesn’t really want you playing not as a clan or in a party. Instead they just want you to use those new systems. That’s fine, but it makes the ability to form new friendships through the game pretty limited.

Overall, this is one of the best first-person shooters I’ve ever played mixing the best elements of story and action into a game that really sings. Despite a few little hitches in online play, Halo 2 also offers up one of the best online shooting experiences around.

Buy this game and prepare to lose big, sleep-deprived chunks of your time.

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