Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Playing Halo 2 for the first time in 2016

The iconic Halo series has had a poor relationship with the PC. Halo 2 didn't come out for PC until two full years after the Xbox 2006 release and even then it was artificially restricted to those who had upgraded to Microsoft's unpopular Vista operating system. If all that wasn't enough to annoy PC gamers the port was badly optimised and buggy. The game has never been made available as a digital download so it has pretty much been forgotten by the PC community. Yet Halo 2 remains an important milestone in gaming history and I have long intended to play it so I finally bit the bullet last week and did so.

The original Halo (Combat Evolved) was important because it showed that first person shooters could work well on consoles and introduced a number of innovations that have become standard to this day (the game pad control scheme, the two weapon carry limit and the recharging health/shield scheme). Halo 2 introduced on-line multi-player with automatic matchmaking  and its massive popularity paved the way for the success of Call of Duty and other online shooters which are so dominant today.

Is the single player game any good? Does it still stand up in 2016?

Yes and no.

Yes the shooting is still very good. There is a wide variety of enemies who hit hard, move constantly and use a variety of  tactics to keep you on your toes. You have an equally wide variety of weaponry to kill them with.

On the negative side this is a very linear corridor shooter and after a while you begin to notice that one corridor looks very much like another. This isn't just an impression - it is a fact because artwork is reused over and over again. No doubt this saved time and money in development and it may even have been required due to hardware limits of the original Xbox but it does get very monotonous,  It only takes about ten hours to complete the campaign but I think they should have chopped at least a third of that off for a shorter tighter experience.

Compared to the first game Halo Combat Evolved, Halo 2 has more of everything: more enemies, more weapons and more vehicles. You even have the novelty as playing one of the Covenant but this doesn't introduce any real variety sadly because you end up fighting the same enemies with the same weapons as when you play as Master Chief. Bungie somehow managed to craft a storyline where you play as a member of the covenant and never actually shoot any humans.

One positive thing I realised while playing the game is that the Halo mythos has evolved into a very rich back story that has grown  beyond the games into books, comics and animation. It is reminiscent of the Mass Effect universe and I would like to experience more of it. Unfortunately the remaining Halo games are not available on PC and I do not have an Xbox to play them on.


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