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This afternoon I finally finished Halo 2 for XBox. I had played almost all of Halo 1 for the PC, and while I was impressed by the game in general, it got to be extremely repetitive towards the end. The story was interesting – but not enough of a "hook" for me to actually finish it. Multiplayer was very fun, however, and was a frequent method of relaxing at my company after development meetings.
I wasn't sure what to expect with Halo 2. I knew it looked better, but I'd be going from Halo 1 on the PC to Halo 2 for the Xbox. Plus, I had never played a first person shooter (FPS) on a console before. I had my doubts about how well it would work, especially aiming without a mouse.
Halo 2 was quite a surprise. First off – I didn't have to worry about aiming. Either the game "fudges" a bit, or I'm a much better console player than I thought I was. The difficulty in general (I played at the easiest level) was dead on perfect. As you play – you pass checkpoints. When you die, you return to the last checkpoint. The game seemed to space the checkpoints closer during more difficult parts. I remember one particularly brutal portion where I was fighting a large group of monsters on a platform. A checkpoint seem to show up every 30 seconds or so, but it still took me multiple attempts to get through it. At no point did I feel frustrated and want to give up, something very difficult for a game to achieve.
The next thing I want to talk about is the soundtrack. In my review of Untold Legends, I talked about how it reminded me of Diablo 2, and how strong that soundtrack was. Halo 2, though, is far and above the best scored game I have heard in my life. The music sounds like something you would hear in a movie – and not some small Indie move but a big budget drama made by an A-list director. It is simply amazing and must be heard to be believed. It is a perfect complement to the drama unfolding on screen.
And speaking of drama – in general, FPS games have been high on action and low on story. That's fine. I played many hours of Doom multi-player in the old days and didn't mind the lack of a story. Halo 2's story, however, is amazing. On top of that – playing the game is like participating in a high paced, well done action film. I don't know why – but I kept thinking of True Lies. If you have seen that film, you may remember how the last 40 minutes or so is pure action. From the race on the bridge to the atomic bomb to the jet flying around in the city – it was a great (if not deep) film to watch at the theater on a huge screen. Now imagine a game full of "cool" moments like the best action film you have ever seen. I can't remember the last time I couldn't wait to tell a friend about the last neat thing that happened on the game. The pacing – the direction – the story – are all dead on – and seem much more like a movie than a typical game. If I had to guess I'd say Bungie had consultants or employees with some background in Hollywood instead of just programming.
In summary – I'd highly recommend Halo 2 to anyone with an Xbox. One small thing I feel I should mention, and it is a tiny bit of a spoiler. Before I played the game, I had heard it ended a bit quick with an obvious pointer to Halo 3. That isn't exactly true. There is a cliff-hanger end. But to be honest, the story and gameplay was so good, I don't mind. I wouldn't call the game "short" however. If you do feel the single player version is a bit short – the multiplayer will more than make up for it. Before people ask – no – I do not play online. Only because I simply do not have time to make the monthly costs worthwhile.