Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Halo 2: Above and Beyond

So finally I get around to writing another review for one of the greatest franchises in gaming history.  This time I will be reviewing the successor to Halo.  Unsurprisingly, its called: Halo 2.  Does it meet the level that Combat Evolved did?  Well I have to say yes it does, and then it beats it.  Halo 2 is one of the most thrilling and exciting games I’ve ever played.  At first I was struggling to get some content to this review; mostly I was just thinking this is an awesome game, there’s nothing bad to say about it.  But thankfully I now have a decent amount of points to, well, point out. 

The presentation and graphics of Halo 2 are absolutely phenomenal.  I cannot emphasize enough that Halo 2 is a superb game.  It is excellent.  From the incredible landscapes you fight in to the highly detailed character models this game pulls out all the stops.  The level designs are some of the most beautifully rendered levels I’ve seen in a video game, though I have to admit they don’t look that much different from Combat Evolved.  Once again there’s nothing quite like seeing the ring rising on the horizon and the landscapes look very realistic and believable.  The cinematics are excellent and are complemented with some great voice work, including the talent of Ron Pearlman and Julie Benz.  I also think Jen Taylor does a really good job as the voice of Cortana.  Cortana consequently is one of the strongest characters in the Halo universe; this is great as it is the case that there is a lack of female characters in video games.  Cortana isn’t the protagonist but she is actually more of a proper character than Master Chief so its good that this character has been well scripted and voiced.  It’s also good to hear the Australian voice actor there, adding his accent to the mix.  From the level in space at the start of the game all the way through the game has far more variety and many fantastic visuals.  I especially enjoyed using the Arbiter against the Brutes in the mix of jungle-temple terrain, even if at times it did seem somewhat like predator vs a whole bunch of chewbaccas. 

The story of Halo is one of the best in science fiction.  Whilst the story for Halo 2 in particular may be a little weird and confusing to some people, I was able to follow it pretty well although, as criticized by many, the ending is indeed disappointing and all too sudden.  Switching back and forth between Master Chief and Arbiter is also a criticizing point, although I personally enjoyed the alien point of view – after all Master Chief isn’t much of a character himself since you don’t really know much about him.  Its good to see what the Arbiter is going through during the exodus of the Elites from the Covenant, and proves that Halo isn’t just about ‘humans vs aliens.’  Its also good because it fills in some details about the Covenant and fleshes out the Halo universe.

The gameplay of Halo 2 once again is impressive.  The controls are tight, movement is very smooth and the new addition of dual-wielding is brilliant.  Added to the fact that like the first Halo you could pick up basically any weapon in the game, this makes for some cool combinations if you like to use different weapons or use two of the same to pack that extra punch.  I really enjoyed dual-wielding two SMGs with twin needlers as my second preference.  Oh and this time around you can actually wield the energy sword, which is a really neat weapon.  You can hack and slash with it or slay your foes in one fell cut.  A very welcome addition to Halo 2 is in fact not an addition but a cut – that of the health packs.  The shield regenerates much faster and not having to hunt around for health spurs the game back towards the action.  The vehicles handle pretty much the same as before; though I think the Warthog is slightly better than its nightmarish counterpart in Combat Evolved.  In addition, you can attempt to board enemy vehicles which adds an extra level to the combat.  I remember once I boarded a ghost, knocking the Brute off, and then he did the same to me, before I finally wrested control back and mowed him down.  It was a memorable experience.  Having said that, the enemy AI is very good and is definitely a highlight in Halo 2; if you play the same level twice chances are you’ll play it out differently each time due to the enemy AI.  The multiplayer on Halo 2 is very entertaining, especially if you have more than two players.  In addition you can customise your character to an extent – you are able to play as the Arbiter and choose from a whole selection of symbols and colours for your avatar (this of course is updated further in Halo 3.) 

Finally, the sound and music on Halo 2 is truly a masterpiece.  Just like Combat Evolved the world resonates with the sounds of birds in the trees, the chattering of gunfire and the incredibly good AI banter of your fellow teammates.  But its the score by Martin O’Donnell and Michael Salvatori that really is the best aspect of Halo 2’s audio.  This is cinematic music, and is very uplifting and powerful, and at times, highly emotional.  There is good variety there, from Gregorian type chanting to fast-paced beat, a rather sad lament and also the sort of music movies play during heroic battles.  I would definitely recommend playing this music out of game, so if you can get hold of a copy of the Halo 2 soundtrack and you’re interested in game or movie soundtracks, then do so. 

So there you have it: a great and robust game that may not surpass the first Halo’s story but despite of that, pretty much outshines it.    I’m giving it a 9.

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