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features /  game column
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halo 2
games: halo 2
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Is the Halo slipping?

It's a bit misleading to talk about “a game”, singular, with Halo 2. You're really getting two very distinct games, the solo campaign and the multiplayer which could be broken down even further. Both offer very different experiences, but are united by shared character models, landscape textures, weapons etc. It's a bizarre relationship really, as the campaign is so much about a narrative, whereas multiplayer games are about anything but.

What is particularly impressive is how developers Bungie have expanded the narrative of Halo into an epic space opera. Halo had a strong story – heck, the fate of the human race is always a meaty subject - but throw in the theme of a zealously religious empire (a sci-fi staple but one with obvious subtext values) and a classic loner hero, and Bungie created a winner.

Of course, Halo 2 was hyped to the hilt but it just about lived up to it. Bungie, presumably in an attempt to inject some freshness into the experience while also sticking to the winning formula of the original (the oft-quoted “30 seconds of fun repeated over and over again”), made some challenging decisions about the way the campaign would unfold. Playing it feels reassuringly familiar, bar one key aspect – you spend half the game as a Covenant Elite, ie, the enemy.

This is all very well, as it enabled the story to go into some depth about the nature of the Covenant itself, but I doubt I'm the only one who was somewhat shocked by the very sudden ending. And the lack of the Earth-based mega-battle we were led to expect is somewhat disconcerting. The game is excellent, but it feels like there's a final level missing. Another Bungie quote is “without a story a game is a lesser thing”. Though it pains me to be critical of the game I've been most looking forward to, I'd have to say that without a solid ending a story is a lesser thing. Are these factors an indication of business pressures from above perhaps? Leaving an opening for a sequel?

Thankfully, this very specific disappointment was compensated for by the energetic multiplayer options. Although the Xbox Live navigation is mildly awkward, the games themselves are superb. Dynamic, varied and fun (well, when playing with friends - it's not so much fun being trounced repeatedly by the ubiquitous American teens), they prove a worthy heir to those of the original. Oddball or Territories or your game of choice involves an impressive amount of mayhem, offering an online multiplayer experience comparable with that of PC multiplayer first person shooters like the Unreal Tournament franchise, for example, at its best. But better. Why? Just because it's Halo.

Daniel Etherington 19 November 04
Halo 2 is out now on Xbox.
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