Naturally, after the success of Halo CE, a sequel was inevitable. For years, gamers were scooping up every last detail they could find about the latest development news regarding Halo 2. They knew it was coming and anticipation was slowly mounting. All the while, Halo CE continued to be the most popular title on the Xbox and even three years after its initial release, it was still being played daily by a large portion of Xbox owners. Halo alone brought console gaming into the limelight and made the Xbox not just a viable platform for professional tournaments, but a preferred platform. The AGP, IGames and MLG all chose Halo as a premier title for their tournaments.
So what is it about Halo CE that made it such a runaway hit? Certainly, credit must be given to the development team; Bungie did an incredible job. Especially considering the rush they must have been in to get the game out on time. However, no matter how much work a development team puts into a game, there's no way they can guarantee a great game. The really good video games just have something special about them, something that sets them apart from other games and it's not always something the developers even realized was there; the game takes off seemingly of its own accord. Once this happens, players flock to the game and the more creative players give the game new life and are able to find ways to play that the developers had not originally had in mind. This was certainly the case with Halo CE, but would it be the case with Halo 2?
Well, now that November 9th, 2004 has been and gone, I think I speak for the majority of the hardcore Halo CE players when I say that Halo 2, regrettably, is not what we had all hoped for. It is by no means a bad game, but as the successor to Halo CE, it had impossibly large shoes to fill and well֩t didn't fill them. I'll be the first to admit that when it came out, I played it and thought it was awesome, or at least I very much wanted to think that. However, after a few weeks, I could no longer keep up the charade, Halo 2 was a far cry from Halo CE. Balance, the one thing that Bungie wanted to incorporate is exactly what they failed to implement. Many people, usually the less skilled players, complained incessantly about the pistol being overpowered in Halo CE and claimed that it threw the balance out of whack. To remedy this, Bungie dumbed the pistol down for Halo 2 and changed various features on other guns in an attempt to balance it out. However, what no one seems to realize is that the pistol in Halo CE is what created a nearly perfect balance. While some claim it was overpowered, it was the pistol that put everyone on an equal playing field. No matter which other weapon your opponent had, you at least stood some kind of a chance, even if you just spawned, because you had the reliable sidearm in your mitts. This helped ensure that the better players would win the games, not those who happened to get lucky and spawn next to the more powerful gun. Halo 2 caters to the inexperienced player as strafing and dead-on aiming are no longer required to get kills. Instead you just have to stay on the trigger and keep the other player in your target and sometimes that latter isn't even necessary; bullets will magically hit the player even if your aim is a good deal off.
When Bungie dumbed down the pistol they, intentionally or not, completely changed the feel of Halo. This effect was furthered by the overhaul of the physics engine. Halo CE has, to this day, the best physics in any FPS out there. Maybe not the most realistic, but by far the most fun to play around with. It was possible to send warthogs flying all the way across a map with the rocket launcher in Halo CE. In Halo 2, grenades and rockets just do not have the same effect. Halo 2 may look like Halo CE, but it doesn't feel like it, or even anything relatively close to it.
Another reason Halo 2 doesn't measure up is the glitches and bugs found in the game. Forget about cheating online, there's a ton of that going on and it's not likely to stop any time soon. But what about actual glitches in the game? Ones that don't involve a standby modem? In Halo CE there were plenty of bugs, but the odd thing about these bugs was that they actually made the game more fun to play and gave creative players a competitive edge for out-thinking their opponent. Sure you could run into a base on Battle Creek, grab the flag and walk out, but more clever players would jump in through the roof, crouch and grab the flag through the floor and toss it up to a teammate who remained on the roof. In Halo 2 all the rage is super jumping to an otherwise impossible to reach area and camping to your heart's content. Halo CE is about skill and style; Halo 2 is about running mindlessly for the better weapon, all the while spraying bullets in every direction. Skill takes a back seat to dumb luck.
If you feel that Halo 2 isn't all you had hoped for, you are not alone. While the masses flock to it like flies to a dumpster, the Halo purists have not. The website www.halo2sucks.com attracts a community of these people who have not fallen for all the hype surrounding Halo 2. At first, I was skeptical about this site. I thought it would be nothing more than a bunch of ignorant fan boys spouting nonsense and whining about how they don't like Halo 2. However, while there are some pointless comments, the site is by and large very professional and well done. The people voice valid reasons for not liking the game and don't really bash Bungie the way you might expect. They are the players who made Halo CE what it is. They play the game with a different mindset and discover all the outrageous tricks and secrets that make the game so unique to this day. They are not the twelve year old punk sitting in front of his television set shouting racial slurs and other ridiculous things over Xbox Live while using a standby modem to rank up in Halo 2.
While the main focus here has been on the multiplayer side of things, the single player campaign must be addressed as well. Halo CE had one of the most engaging single player modes of all time. The story was top notch and the environments were amazing. Levels such as The Silent Cartographer and Assault on the Control Room represent some of the best single player maps ever conceived. In Halo 2, the levels get severely boring towards the end and the story takes a bit of a hit as well; at one point it even resembles a hentai series, La Blue Girl style, complete with a huge monster֠um what is up with that?
With the release of the Halo 2 map pack, I'm sure plenty of people will be glued to their televisions and Xbox Live. The game has certainly caught on with the general public, but at what cost? The community that raised Halo has been abandoned and have stuck with Halo CE as a result. The glory days of Halo are behind it, but there are a select few that much prefer to play the original over the new game. What follows is a quote from the halo2sucks website that seems to best describe why Halo 2 is a disappointment. The wording may be a bit awkward, but the idea it presents is what's important: s as if Halo went from being a step above the rest to now with Halo 2 trying to be like the rest.t;/I>
It's as if Bungie was trying too hard to one up themselves and ended up losing sight of what made the original game such a hit. They were so lost in what they were doing that they didn't realize all Halo players really wanted was the original game with Xbox Live support and maybe a few new maps for good measure.
If you are interested, I highly recommend checking out what www.halo2sucks.com has to offer. The videos are very revealing and the Halo rap song, Requiem for a Pistol is a funny, yet depressingly real representation of what has become of the series. It's also pretty well done, and worth a listen even if you don't like rap (believe me, I don't).
This article appeared in the July 2005 Issue of CVGames. You can view this Issue by clicking here.