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Halo | 2 | review | game | Lollipop
(Bungie for the Xbox)
by Eric Johnson
For some time, Halo was the Xbox's sole bragging right, and its sequel has been accompanied by a volume of hype consistent with a big budget action film. Legions reserved copies of the title months before release, creating a sales juggernaut while still effectively in utero. Pre-sold masses aside, the uninitiated, PS2 owners, and the frugal must wonder what the big deal is.
Despite its rabid fanbase, Halo was revolutionary only because it was the first console-based first-person shooter good enough to survive direct comparison to its PC counterparts. Halo 2 retains its predecessor's smooth and intuitive control scheme, but adds vastly-improved level design, better weapons, a more complicated and interesting plot, and unprecedented, unparalleled, grossly addictive and easily-accessible online play.
For those without Xbox live, the tale of an outmatched humanity's war with a rabid fundamentalist alien religious sect bent on its destruction will certainly prove entertaining, but not inherently worth the purchase price. It's well-crafted but standard sci-fi action fare: A taste of plot is followed by a burst of action, some more plot, ye olde protagonist switcheroo, and yet more action. The best new addition is the Arbiter, a disgraced covenant elite voiced by the great Keith David, who shares the spotlight with the charismatically-challenged Master Chief. Excellent cut scenes reward you for slugging your way through one fantastic alien environment after another. The unfortunate brevity of the game is my only complaint, since after three years of teasers, it would really suck to crash headlong into a cliffhanger ending after a week or two of casual playing.
The real revolution here is Halo 2's live support, which is centered around an idiot-proof matchmaking system that, while I had to get used to it, provides the technically unsavvy with an unending cavalcade of opponents of equal skill level through an under-the-hood ranking and matchmaking system. Without great graphics, savory firefights, a wide variety of well-designed maps and stellar game modes, this system would've been pointless, but fortunately, this game delivers. Live subscribers shouldn't hesitate unless they hated the original. That said, Halo 2's real accomplishment - and where comparisons between it and a major Hollywood release fall short - is the fact that the more people who own it, the better the already astonishing online aspect becomes.