Good as the single player Halo 2 experience is, it’s clear that Bungie has spent even more time making the multi-player experience better than any other console game before it. You can still play through the Campaign with a friend to help you, using the cooperative mode – only this time you can use the System Link feature if you don’t want to play split screen. Of course you’ll need two consoles and two TVs to do this, but it’s worth the effort.
But it’s the Xbox Live! implementation that sets Halo 2 apart from every other console game that I’ve played. Now, I play games online as often as I can, but the games are usually PC based. However, Microsoft has done an amazing job with Xbox Live! and Bungie has made the most of the service. You can play pretty much any type of multi-player scenario via Live! and once you’re connected to a game, it’s smooth as silk. What’s amazing about Live! is that it’s a peer to peer service, so the games you are playing are actually being hosted on someone’s Xbox, not on a dedicated server as with most PC games. The built-in voice functionality is superb, and you can coordinate with your team mates quickly and easily, or even just have a chat – the quality of the voice function is so good, that you could be talking to someone sitting on the couch next to you.
One aspect of the Live! service that I really love is the ability to create friends lists, and only invite your friends into your games. Yes, it can be fun playing on open servers and killing complete strangers, but that’s nothing compared to the satisfaction of getting one over on your mates. Especially when it means you can gloat about it next time you see them.
I have no doubt that Microsoft will be selling a huge amount of Xbox Live! packs off the back of Halo 2. As if to confirm this, you get a two month Live! trial free with Halo 2, and believe me, once you’ve tried playing Halo 2 on Live! you’ll be signing up for a full account in no time.
So, is Halo 2 everything I wanted it to be? On most counts it is, and on some counts it’s more than I’d hoped for. The multi-player options are so good, that you’ll be playing this game for years to come without getting bored. I’d never thought that online gaming on a console could be as good as on a PC, but with Halo 2 and Xbox Live! it is.
However, the Campaign mode just felt a little short to me. There are 15 levels, and some of them are very long and intricate, but it didn’t seem to take me as long to battle through Halo 2 as it did to complete Halo. One reason for this may be that Bungie has avoided repeating the same levels in different directions, like in the original Halo. This was one of the only criticisms that was levelled at Halo and it’s good to see that Bungie has taken heed.
But if I’m honest, it’s probably not that Halo 2 ends too quickly, it’s the way that it ends that bothers me. Quite simply, there isn’t an ending at all. I’m not going to spoil it for you and tell you what happens, but suffice to say, one minute you’re caught up in the story and the battle and the next the titles are rolling and it’s over! It’s very clear that there will be a Halo 3, but how long we’re going to have to wait for it is anyone’s guess. Will it be the last great game for the Xbox, or will it be the big launch title for Xbox 2? Who knows.
Despite the fact that the Campaign felt a little short, and the ending is unfulfilling, there is no better game on the Xbox than Halo 2. Bungie has addressed all the issues that players had with Halo, and added some extra stuff that no one knew they wanted, but everyone is grateful for. If Halo was a good enough reason to buy an Xbox three years ago, Halo 2 is an even better one.
One of the best sequels I’ve ever played. Halo 2 keeps everything that you loved from the original, but adds enough new features to keep you playing until the early hours for many months to come. The multi-player environment is second to none, and shows Xbox Live! off fabulously – if ever there was a reason to sign up to Live! this is it. Once again, the storyline is better than half the films that roll out of Hollywood, but just like a Hollywood studio, Bungie is keeping you hanging on a cliff until the next instalment.
Screenshots courtesy of www.bungie.net