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Friday, November 26, 2004

Halo 2

Well, after an initial binge, and then a bit of a gameplaying famine, I finally found a bit of time to finish off Halo 2. It's hard to think of what to say about it, since so much has been said elsewhere. Let me run through a couple of points quickly, however:

1. Some people thought the plot was shit. These people were not paying attention.

2. Some people didn't like the ending. It's clearly the end of a second act of three act narrative, and as such, it's hardly conclusive. It's not meant to be. I assume the people that object to Halo's ending didn't like the ending of The Empire Strikes Back, either.

3. Some people thought the game was repetitive. Balls. The only repetitive thing about it was the little sections you have to walk through in each level, between the various battles. I'll take these over a loading screen any day. If these little bottlenecks weren't there, the levels couldn't be as large and sprawling or as well paced as they are. The game's settings, its pacing, the enemies you face, and the resources available to you are enormously varied as you progress. I don't understand what the people making this complaint are comparing the game to.

4. Some people thought the game wasn't innovative. Bollocks. They've taken just the right amount of risk with this game, and every design choice was the correct one. Getting rid of "health" is genius. One simple decision really helps the game's pacing and tension, and completely eliminated the need for backtracking. The weapon management in the game (which was completely revolutionary in the first Halo, and a masterstroke) has been refined to perfection here. You've got accessible (and what's more, useful) melee attacks that you can use in a pinch, without having to scroll through a menu to select them. You've got the most intuitive use of grenades ever in a game, which really do affect the dynamic of most battles you find yourself in. You've got the best use of vehicles in a game ever, made even better by the ability to "board" them. And then you've got the addition of dual wielding. Not only does this allow for some cool weapon pairings, but it evens out an already very balanced selection of weapons. There really isn't a bad choice. Sure, the pistol's been nerfed, but you can pair one up with an SMG, a needler or a plasma weapon to make it into a genuinely useful tool. For each weapon in the game, there's a situation in which it's the best choice. You'll want and need to use them all, depending on your read of the battle you're going into, and who you think you'll be going up against, at what range, what equipment they've got, and what the terrain's like. I can't think of a single other FPS that's achieved that sort of balance.

5. Some people think they've seen it all before. I'd like to ask, where? You might have seen a plot this good, AI this good, vehicles this good, and so on, but I don't know of a game that blends them all into such a well rounded package. If there is one, please let me know - I'd love to play it.

6. Some people thought the texture mapping and LODs popping in during the cut scenes looked crappy. Well, okay. These people kind of have a point. But to fix that, you'd need loading screens between gameplay and cutscenes, which would interrupt the game's pacing. This was a tradeoff on Bungie's part, but I think they made the right decision here.

Here are the things I liked best about the game:

1. The AI. Honestly, I've never seen better. If you don't like it - try a harder difficulty setting. Honestly, it makes the game come alive.

2. The weapons. Not a bad one in the bunch. And there's not a single "uberweapon" that you always want to use, either. Every situation demands that you look at it strategically, and make the correct choice on the fly, from what you can pick up on the battlefield. This is also unprecedented.

3. The vehicles. You can get in and out of them fluidly and seamlessly, even when someone else is already driving them. The controls mesh well with the FPS controls used elsewhere in the game. They offer a genuine sense of power without ever unbalancing the game. Also, they're just a world of fun - again, there isn't a dud.

4. The soundtrack. Even though there was a bit of wailing metal guitar on this, it still really hit home with me. It's not necessarily what I'd listen to outside of playing the game, but at all times it seemed entirely appropriate, and helped the atmosphere of the game.

5. The pacing. This game knows just when to throw you into the thick of it, and when to let you relax and cruise. It also knows when to pat you on the back. The amount of playtesting they'd need to achieve this sort of experience boggles the mind.

6. The regenerating shield. I said it above, but the effect this has on the pacing of the game cannot be overstated. It's a stroke of genius, and even Half-Life 2's system of health packs and armour shards seems decidedly quaint and old-fashioned by comparison.

Here are the things I liked least about the game:

1. The graphics. Okay, so I've been playing Half-Life 2. So Halo 2 looks a bit crap by comparison. I mean, the game looks good for an Xbox game, but I'm not sure it's even as pretty as the Riddick game, for example. The aliens and alien architecture look great, partly because it's more stylised, I suppose, but the human faces and environments look a bit wonky somehow, because you know what they're *really* supposed to look like.

2. The physics. They've used the Havok physics engine in this game, but not very much. Again, the comparison with Half-Life 2 is probably what's making this seem like a problem. It's not much of a one - I just wouldn't have minded seeing some more dynamic use of physics as a part of the gameplay. Not puzzles, necessarily, but moving things around for cover, or throwing something to distract an enemy. That sort of thing.

3. I wish the Arbiter had a flashlight.

4. The B button should have been used for boost on the Banshee, and the L trigger for the bomb. You've gotta aim the bomb, but you can't steer when you're boosting, so you need your right thumb on the analog stick for one but not the other. That seems like a simple, obvious blunder to me. But a tiny one.

To sum up: 10/10. If there's any part of you that likes action games of any description, you'd be mad to pass it up. Also, I've only talked about the single player game here: the multiplayer is absolutely groundbreaking, polished and utterly without equal. If it's multiplayer you're looking for, then I recommend it in even stronger terms.

Great game. Possibly the best of the year. Depending on how much I enjoy the rest of Half-Life 2.


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At 4:09 pm, Blogger Mr. McKelvin said...

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HALO 2 ROCKS!!!!!!!!!!!!!


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