Incredibly unpopular opinion time: I’m not a fan of the Halo campaign. Though there’s some absolutely stunning set pieces, a number of brilliantly wide open battles and really groundbreaking enemy AI that still stands out as impressive even today, there are so many issues with the way the narrative is handled and the level design of more than a few stages that it baffles me when I hear the game being held up on a pedestal these days.
I do think that the absolutely stunning implementation of split screen co-op and competitive multiplayer does an awful lot of the heavy lifting for Halo; the actual mechanics of the gunplay are another aspect that still impresses today. It’s influential for a reason; the shield/health mechanic and switching between two weapons was co-opted by an awful lot of first person and third person shooters back in the day, though none quite hit that ’30 seconds of fun, over and over’ that Halo is so famed for in its strongest moments.
I’ve covered this before in a far lengthier review focusing on the first game’s campaign of course. Does the sequel fare any better though?
I’m reviewing the Master Chief Collection version of Halo 2, as I did with the first game – and one of the first things you notice is how incredible the cutscenes now look. It’s a bit jarring that only Halo 2 has been given this treatment, but they really do look impressive. They were given an incredible lick of paint by Blur Studio, a visual effects company – and I can’t praise these additions enough.
The overall look of the game is not bad in general – and it’s nice to be able to switch between the original and remastered looks to see how much of a difference there really is.There’s been some minor additions in the remastered visuals in-game too, with some subtle arrows integrated into the environment to assist with navigation in some of the more repetitively designed levels.
And that’s unfortunately still an issue in Halo 2, as it was in the latter stages of the first Halo – everyone mentions the Library, but then conveniently forgets that a number of levels after that are just as bad, if not even worse for repetitive and confusingly designed interior levels. Not only that, but the narrative is poorly told, though this time there seems to be less of it told during firefights – making it marginally easier to follow than in the first Halo.
It shouldn’t be a secret by now that for a large portion of the game’s running time you’ll be in charge of a disgraced Covenant Elite called The Arbiter, voiced by the always dependable Keith David. Though it’s initially quite a novelty to take control of the ‘bad guys’, there are stages where it becomes incredibly confusing to know who you’re supposed to be shooting at, with little to distinguish your Covenant allies from your Covenant enemies. Not only that, but his part of the story just feels like it’s taking you away from the story you actually care about – the stages that see you in control of Master Chief.
The Flood are still a boring antagonistic force too – a real step down from the AI you’ll see in action from the Covenant. Vehicles are more numerous and varied, thankfully – and I don’t know if it was just the fact that I was getting used to them, but they did seem easier to control this time around.
The campaign ends abruptly just as things seem to be heading for a massive climax; though it’s not too much of an issue these days when we can simply move to Halo 3 on the menu of the Master Chief Collection, I remember this annoying me so much back in the day that it took me a very long time indeed to pick up and play Halo 3.
Of course, I’m not reviewing or taking into consideration the wonderful competitive multiplayer here. The co-op is brilliant though – and once you’ve made your way through a level or two with another player, you won’t want to take on the challenge alone again.
So a bit of a mixed bag for me. I played it through to the end as the positives did outweigh the negatives – but there’s an awful lot here that I hated; poor level design, the return of The Flood and a muddled narrative being chief among those problems. It’s a fun game, but far from the flawless masterpiece that everyone was convinced it was upon release. Partly, it’s because game design – even game narrative – has come a long way since then, but some of these issues really stood out to me when I played through Halo 2 during its week of release – especially the abrupt, open-ended conclusion.
Will Halo 3 stand up to scrutiny? I’ve not long finished a fresh playthrough on the Xbox One, so you’ll be hearing about it very soon indeed…
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