Halo 2 Spoiler Review

I hate to term this article a review, and tend to think of it more as a discussion.  ThereÂ're no shortage of thoughts available on the quality of Halo 2, and though they range across the spectrum I think we can all, by and large, agree that the bulk of the response has been positive.  There are those that will claim it is praise born of hype, others who will stand solidly convinced that Halo 2 is a second coming of one kind or another, and seemingly every opinion between.  As is common with a game that everyone is talking about, look long enough and youÂ'll find a review that says what you want to hear, so letÂ's dispense with that tapdance.  My thoughts are not meant to tell you whether you should rush out and buy the game, or how many arbitrary points it should receive.

This intro will stand as the only spoiler free paragraph in this Â"reviewÂ", if you want to call it that, because what I want to do is talk about the game as a whole, the narrative, the gameplay, everything, and I want to speak unrestrained by spoiler tags.  And, to be clear, that does mean IÂ'm going to give away the ending, talk about the plot twists, and leave nothing as sacred.  So, caveat emptor; if you donÂ't want spoilers, this is not the review for you. 

Spoilers abound from here on out.

First and foremost on the table for discussion, I think, has to be the story behind Halo 2, which has probably thrown a majority of gamers for something of a loop.  In what has been billed, or at the very least implied, as an epic battle in defense of the Earth, what we really become entirely focused on is a civil war of the Covenant.  Only two chapters into Halo 2 we abandon Earth completely following what appears to be widespread destruction and an uncertain resolution, thrust for the majority of the game onto a second Halo, essentially tasked with the same goals as the first game. 

While an unanticipated turn, the real question for gamers, I think, is can one let go of their expectations and embrace this alternate path Bungie has set us upon.  To further complicate matters, we are not locked into the visor of Master Chief, spending a significant portion of the game playing as the Covenant Arbiter.  Again, opinions abound on the quality and coherency of this dual storyline as the player shifts between the Master ChiefÂ's struggle to secure this second Halo, and the ArbiterÂ's conflict and ultimate alignment with the heretics.  

As game narratives go, this is a complex delivery.  The player is asked to maintain the thread of two disparate entities who do not cross until the final stages of the game.  And even at that point, these mortal enemies, both survivors from the incidents in the first game, are never given a distinct resolution in this game, much as we arenÂ't resolved on Earth as mentioned above, which begins to highlight my only strong disappointment with Halo 2.  We are asked to invest a number of hours into a story that at no point grants one iota of resolution.

Not only is there a cliffhanger ending as the battle is pressed on Earth, the Arbiter and comrades must journey to The Arc to thwart the activation of other Halos, the Prophet Truth and loyal brutes remain apparent victors in their coup, and Cortana is left at the mercy of the Gravemind -- a final denouement played out after the credits finish rolling -- but there seems to be no resolution in any of the multiple threads that have been left dangling.  ThereÂ's a clear legitimacy to the complaints about Halo 2Â's ending, not because itÂ's a cliffhanger per se, but because it feels severed from an incomplete story.  When Master Chief says his final line, one expects to begin the next mission, not see credits.  ItÂ's hard not to feel cheated.

I have no issue with cliffhangers.  In fact, I love them, but this is something much more profound.  A cliffhanger as the end of any act leaves us usually with some resolution to hang our hat on.  It leaves us wanting more, certainly, but there is some logical conclusion to the secondary narrative threads that feeds the desire to follow the main plotline further.  In Halo 2Â's ending absolutely nothing is settled.  It feels less like the end of an act, and more like the end of a page in the middle of an act.  Even in cliffhangers, there needs to be logic to the ending.

None of that is to say, however that I donÂ't care about the story.  In fact, my complaint stems from my very interest in the characters involved, and that itself is a relative rarity.  IÂ've certainly complained enough in the past that not enough attention is paid to telling good story, so itÂ's all the more frustrating when IÂ'm finally involved in a good one that stumbles at its apex.  I certainly donÂ't agree with those who argue that the fundamental story itself is weak.  I am, in the end, interested in seeing the multitude of story arcs resolved; I want to know the ArbiterÂ's fate, what Cortana and the Gravemind have to say to one another, and, of course, that Earth is well defended.

ItÂ's not that I donÂ't like the story.  ItÂ's that I feel like IÂ've read a book where someone tore out the last several chapters.

Fortunately, where I do take issue with BungieÂ's narrative delivery, IÂ'm hard pressed to complain about the actual game.  But to talk about that, I should talk about what I wanted from Halo 2, so you have my measuring stick in hand when I boldly ignore complaints by other sources, and what I wanted was more Halo 1.  IÂ've never enjoyed first person shooters on a console, and I maintain the argument that even Halo 2 is hamstrung by an inferior control system for the gametype, but letÂ's set that aside.  Suffice to say that most console shooters start the inning with two outs, and very little patience for camera and control issues, but Halo 2, and its predecessor both have tight enough and well incorporated control systems to make me often forget that IÂ'm not using my precious mouse and keyboard combo.  In fact, the only time the controls were an issue for me was when I was trying to be precise, and that is more a function of dexterity than development.

Further, the world sucked me in entirely.  With a much wider array of locales and more complexity to familiar surroundings I was entirely satisfied with the environment and gameplay conceits.  Yes, Halo 2 suffers from some repetitive levels and near cookie cutter sections as the former did.  Yes, one can lose their sense of direction in the sameness of a few areas.  Yes, the levels feel less like real (or alien) environments and more like architecture designed specifically for a first person shooter – itÂ's a game, not a road map.  No, I donÂ't care.  I didnÂ't care while I was playing, and I canÂ't work up any serious criticism now. 

ItÂ's a matter of delivery, and Halo 2 sells it.

While I had gone into the game expecting to spend more time on Earth than it turns out I did, revisiting a second Halo was fine by me.  It is, after all, the foundation environment upon which the game itself is based, and IÂ'd much rather explore unique and alien environments than another alley in a third world country.  I was always a little put off by the thought that Halo 2 might very well have little to do with, well, a Halo.  Even tromping through a revamped Library fighting off swarms of Flood was a welcome reminder of what made the first game so notable for me.

But, what IÂ'd really been looking forward to was the Xbox Live component.  Halo 2 suffers from some matchmaking issues that can hopefully be refined over time – on a side note, itÂ's troubling that IÂ'm becoming accustomed to the possibility of Â"patchingÂ" console games.  Once in a Live game, however, the action is satisfying even if the gametypes are not plentiful nor particularly inspired.  Standard Deathmatch and CTF form the foundation of Halo 2Â's multiplayer, though the Oddball gametype is a welcome addition.  Yet, Halo 2Â's multiplayer, while good, is not the paradigm shift in online console FPS gaming that one might hope.  It is solid, visceral, and extremely fun when played with the right opponents, but itÂ's all pretty much been done before, maybe better, certainly as well. 

In the end Halo 2 is an excellent game, though occasionally flawed.  For me, the flaws could be overlooked for the sake of the experience, but they were certainly not invisible.  The story will certainly be frustrating for some.  The divergence from expectation is welcome enough to me, though some will feel cheated out of the story they wanted to play out.  The gameplay is more refined than evolved from the first game.  Dual wielding, the energy sword, and playing as the Covenant are fun enough, but they donÂ't really alter the game in meaningful ways.  Halo 2 is, at its heart, a straight run through a gauntlet of enemies.  It is not particularly cerebral, rarely challenges more than dexterity, and speeds by at a quick clip.  It wonÂ't redefine console FPS gaming even as much as the first game did, but it is an extremely competent sophomore effort which leaves a promise of more to come.

Halo 2 will benefit from hype, and that tidal wave might just carry it to a Game of the Year win, but whether it deserves it or not is certainly a topic valid for debate.  It is a good game, and worth the pennies I threw at it, but it wasnÂ't quite what I expected.  That is both good and bad.

- Elysium

Comments

Halo2 ending felt more like the introduction of Flood in Halo1, this hellish even happened and now you have to survive but in halo2 you have to wait for that maybe another 3 years. I for one happy with the game, the story and the game play. I do have small gripes at minor things, liek the cutsceens made the game look unpolished to the level of halo, however everything else is great. Some fans are complaining that the story did not follow the books too close nor did it answer the question that were raised at the end of it. Like what the hell happen to Dr. Hastly(not sure about the speling) and the Spartan that she took with her. I fear that Bungie is building something up with those lose ends for a major finali.

We probably will hear Master Chief will say "It ends tonight!". That 10 min of the Matrix 3 were the only thing that worth seeing just for fun!

I have to say I agree 100%. Excellent game... but its a kick in the groin ending that even now almost 24 hours later makes me want to try again as I MUST have missed something.... Apparently I didn't. As I said in the forums: Halo 2 devs must kick puppies for insperation for their end game sequences. Mind you it MAY be fun to kick puppies but I dislike the idea of puppy kicking as much as I disliked Halo 2's ending. Being someone without Live / broadband or friends who like gaming i'm left with a $55.00 coaster that I'll never sell just because someone might decide they love me and grace my house with a deathmatch game... I just won't hold my breath.

PS: the sword was fun

Halo 2.5 anyone?

I think that half way through development, the story and game got too big for a single release, so they simply made two parts to it, and ended the game like they did knowing that the 2nd part will be released just around the corner, could be in time for christmas or maybe later. If they could keep the existance of the 2nd part secret till close to release, that would be a major coup for any game studio and certainly almost double the money they make, because most people would love to finish the story and connect the loose ends.

I have no problem getting to the end of a game, and being told, essentially, "to be continued". That's fine with me, so long as the ride was good and it leaves me wanting to see the next part, which apparently everyone wants to.

Of course, I have to wait anyway, since noone has mentioned a PC port yet.

ChairborneRanger wrote:

I think that half way through development, the story and game got too big for a single release, so they simply made two parts to it, and ended the game like they did knowing that the 2nd part will be released just around the corner...

Perhaps you're right, but that's a BS way to create entertainment. Sadly there is now precedent (Matrices 2 & 3, Kill Bill, etc.), but the so-called "rules" of episodic/epic story telling were not "created" so much as interpolated from human reaction. People like to be engaged in a good story. People like to get cliffhung. But people also need to feel that this story they have invested their time and emotion into has been resolved in some way.

I agree with most of Ely's points, but aside from the royal brain rape that was the ending, I also take issue with the fact that in a number of situations in H2 I simply had no idea where I was supposed to be going, nor what I supposed to be doing. Cortana was helpfully suggesting that I "Come this way Chief" a number of times when I had no idea where she was and therefore which way "this way" was.

Still, as H2 is fairly mindless in its objective structure it didn't take too much brain energy for me to figure out whom to slaughter, it was aggravating nontheless. I prefer my midless entertainment to be as mindless as possible. Any time I have to stop and take three minutes to figure out which door to go through in order to continue my bloody rampage, my enthusiasm goes cold.

Elysium, that is a really great review and I'm glad that there are no numbers to go along with it.

I was not happy with the single player game. I liked the story but I do feel cheated with how it ended for how short it is. I know the game is about multiplayer but even then it isn't anything special. The reason I enjoy multiplayer is not because of the great design and levels that the game offers but because of playing with other people.

Really good revewi!

I agree with your review. I think you're saying it's a solid game but it's not the 2nd coming like some of the hype may claim it is.

I got bored with Halo. I never made it to the Flood levels that I'm hearing so much about now. I may go get a copy of the original again just to see what I missed.

At one point, Halo 2 started to suffer from the same repetitive level design and I was starting to worry. Fortunately they stopped just in time, though it is starting to happen a little bit now. Although that turned out to be even shorter. So it seems like they have learned from their mistakes.

Jason_O wrote:

I got bored with Halo. I never made it to the Flood levels that I'm hearing so much about now. I may go get a copy of the original again just to see what I missed.

Dude, what? Go back, and give that game another shot. That's one of my favorite gaming moments, ever.

I go fighting across the level, then mysteriously the covenant disappears. Then, I start to see them. The Flood, everywhere. What the hell?

Ammo starts getting low, so track back to the elevator, Flood right on my ass, only to have the elevator collapse, and a ominous fugue start.

I look down at my rifle....60 rounds left.

And here comes the Flood.

mateo wrote:

And here comes the Flood.

o/~ Here comes the flood, all dressing in Blood! o/~

Ok I got nothing

The flood annoyed me.

I think they put in repetitive levels on purpose in Halo/Halo 2 because of technological limitations. I see no other explanation.

Actually I read they did that on purpose somewhere (EGM's Halo 2 feature, I think), however now they realize the repetitive levels in Halo 1 were a bit of a mistake.

Also, I cannot stress enough how much I hate the ending. I like cliffhangers when I know where the payoff will be. A cliffhanger that says "Tune in next season" or "tune in next week" is fine by me. A cliffhanger that doesn't even bother to say "to be continued" annoys me to no end. I'm the type of guy that beats all the games I buy, because I have to have resolution. If I care about the game in any way, I have to see it through to the end. Really, it shows how much I enjoyed Halo 2 up until that point that I hate the ending so badly. But the ending is not only sloppy because of no promise of payoff, it resolves absolutely nothing. Kill Bill had better resolution than this, and it was meant to be one movie from the beginning. It's completely turned me off to the entire Halo story, and I enjoyed all the Halo novels. They'd better get around to finishing the damn thing soon, or at least throwing us a bone and telling us when they'll finish it, becuase I hate to be strung along. There's a good chance that if it takes more than 6 months or so for me to find out what's going on, I probably won't care anymore.

However the multiplayer is another story. I love the multiplayer. Not because the gameplay itself is particularly brilliant (though the multitude of gameplay options really keeps it fresh), but because of the matchmaking stuff. It's criminally easy to sit down, see what's going on with my friends, find someone to play with and have fun. The entire multiplayer process has been streamlined and simplified to the point that I can say to myself "I'd like to play some Halo 2 online" and have fun. I don't have to think about Gamecal or finding people to play, organizing everyone, getting the teamspeak server going, waiting on technical glitches and router problems, I can just jump in and have fun. Any technical difficulties are resolved in the most reasonable way possible, someone drops and the game goes on. That's what I love about the new Bungie.net. No matter what's happening, the game goes on. You're always back to your party, the people you like to be with, and you can always find something to do. There's no downtime at all, when you're deciding what to do we can all bullsh*t in the party chat. As far as I'm concerned, it's the best multiplayer experience I've had in a very long time. I can't wait till more games start to copy the Bungie.net matchmaking model.

Not sure what E meant by "though the Oddball gametype is a welcome addition"....as it was right there in Halo as well.

Agreed with most of the review though.