I hate to term this article a review, andÃ‚Â tend toÃ‚Â think of it more as a discussion.Ã‚Â ThereÃ‚'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.Ã‚Â 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.Ã‚Â As is common with a game that everyone is talking about, look long enough and youÃ‚'ll find a review that says what you want to hear, so letÃ‚'s dispense with that tapdance.Ã‚Â Ã‚Â 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 Ã‚"reviewÃ‚", 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.Ã‚Â And, to be clear, that does mean IÃ‚'m going to give away the ending, talk about the plot twists, and leave nothing as sacred.Ã‚Â So, caveat emptor; if you donÃ‚'t want spoilers, this is not the review for you.Ã‚Â
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.Ã‚Â 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.Ã‚Â 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.Ã‚Â
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.Ã‚Â 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.Ã‚Â Again, opinions abound on the quality and coherency of this dual storyline as the player shifts between the Master ChiefÃ‚'s struggle to secure this second Halo, and the ArbiterÃ‚'s conflict and ultimate alignment with the heretics.Ã‚Â Ã‚Â
As game narratives go, this is a complex delivery.Ã‚Â The player is asked to maintain the thread of two disparate entities who do not cross until the final stages of the game.Ã‚Â 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 arenÃ‚'t resolved on Earth as mentioned above, which begins to highlight my only strong disappointment with Halo 2.Ã‚Â 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.Ã‚Â ThereÃ‚'s a clear legitimacy to the complaints about Halo 2Ã‚'s ending, not because itÃ‚'s a cliffhanger per se, but because it feels severed from an incomplete story.Ã‚Â When Master Chief says his final line, one expects to begin the next mission, not see credits.Ã‚Â ItÃ‚'s hard not to feel cheated.
I have no issue with cliffhangers.Ã‚Â In fact, I love them, but this is something much more profound.Ã‚Â A cliffhanger as the end of any act leaves us usually with some resolution to hang our hat on.Ã‚Â 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.Ã‚Â In Halo 2Ã‚'s ending absolutely nothing is settled.Ã‚Â It feels less like the end of an act, and more like the end of a page in the middle of an act.Ã‚Â Even in cliffhangers, there needs to be logic to the ending.
None of that is to say, however that I donÃ‚'t care about the story.Ã‚Â In fact, my complaint stems from my very interest in the characters involved, and that itself is a relative rarity.Ã‚Â IÃ‚'ve certainly complained enough in the past that not enough attention is paid to telling good story, so itÃ‚'s all the more frustrating when IÃ‚'m finally involved in a good one that stumbles at its apex.Ã‚Â I certainly donÃ‚'t agree with those who argue that the fundamental story itself is weak.Ã‚Â I am, in the end, interested in seeing the multitude of story arcs resolved; I want to know the ArbiterÃ‚'s fate, what Cortana and the Gravemind have to say to one another, and, of course, that Earth is well defended.
ItÃ‚'s not that I donÃ‚'t like the story.Ã‚Â ItÃ‚'s that I feel like IÃ‚'ve read a book where someone tore out the last several chapters.
Fortunately, where I do take issue with BungieÃ‚'s narrative delivery, IÃ‚'m hard pressed to complain about the actual game.Ã‚Â 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.Ã‚Â IÃ‚'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 letÃ‚'s set that aside.Ã‚Â 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 IÃ‚'m not using my precious mouse and keyboard combo.Ã‚Â 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.Ã‚Â With a much wider array of locales and more complexity to familiar surroundings I was entirely satisfied with the environment and gameplay conceits.Ã‚Â Yes, Halo 2 suffers from some repetitive levels and near cookie cutter sections as the former did.Ã‚Â Yes, one can lose their sense of direction in the sameness of a few areas.Ã‚Â Yes, the levels feel less like real (or alien) environments and more like architecture designed specifically for a first person shooter Ã‚– itÃ‚'s a game, not a road map.Ã‚Â No, I donÃ‚'t care.Ã‚Â I didnÃ‚'t care while I was playing, and I canÃ‚'t work up any serious criticism now.Ã‚Â
ItÃ‚'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.Ã‚Â It is, after all, the foundation environment upon which the game itself is based, and IÃ‚'d much rather explore unique and alien environments than another alley in a third world country.Ã‚Â I was always a little put off by the thought that Halo 2 might very well have little to do with, well, a Halo.Ã‚Â 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 IÃ‚'d really been looking forward to was the Xbox Live component.Ã‚Â Halo 2 suffers from some matchmaking issues that can hopefully be refined over time Ã‚– on a side note, itÃ‚'s troubling that IÃ‚'m becoming accustomed to the possibility of Ã‚"patchingÃ‚" console games.Ã‚Â Once in a Live game, however, the action is satisfying even if the gametypes are not plentiful nor particularly inspired.Ã‚Â Standard Deathmatch and CTF form the foundation of Halo 2Ã‚'s multiplayer, though the Oddball gametype is a welcome addition.Ã‚Â Yet, Halo 2Ã‚'s multiplayer, while good, is not the paradigm shift in online console FPS gaming that one might hope.Ã‚Â It is solid, visceral, and extremely fun when played with the right opponents, but itÃ‚'s all pretty much been done before, maybe better, certainly as well.Ã‚Â
In the end Halo 2 is an excellent game, though occasionally flawed.Ã‚Â For me, the flaws could be overlooked for the sake of the experience, but they were certainly not invisible.Ã‚Â The story will certainly be frustrating for some.Ã‚Â The divergence from expectation is welcome enough to me, though some will feel cheated out of the story they wanted to play out.Ã‚Â The gameplay is more refined than evolved from the first game.Ã‚Â Dual wielding, the energy sword, and playing as the Covenant are fun enough, but they donÃ‚'t really alter the game in meaningful ways.Ã‚Â Halo 2 is, at its heart, a straight run through a gauntlet of enemies.Ã‚Â It is not particularly cerebral, rarely challenges more than dexterity, and speeds by at a quick clip.Ã‚Â It wonÃ‚'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.Ã‚Â It is a good game, and worth the pennies I threw at it, but it wasnÃ‚'t quite what I expected.Ã‚Â That is both good and bad.