I find myself once again putting pen to paper (electronically at least) on all things Halo. It’s always a privilege writing about this truly fantastic franchise, however it’s one of the weaker entries that will take centre stage in this feature – Halo 2.
Until the disappointing Halo 5: Guardians, I would have had Halo 2 down as the weakest of the lot. Now this is not to say that it’s a bad game, not by any stretch of the imagination, however it just cannot escape the shadow cast by its brothers that came both before and after it.
When Halo: The Master Chief Collection was released back in 2014 fans were treated to Halo 2: Anniversary, which looked absolutely stunning, breathing new life into the game. However, we’re looking at the original here so let’s travel back even further, another ten years prior; way back to 2004.
Halo: Combat Evolved was released to acclaim from both critics and players, and could have very easily been a stand alone entry if not for the game’s huge success on the newly released Xbox console. However, it was, and so Halo 2 quickly became a reality.
This time round, the story delved deeper into the societal workings of The Covenant, as well as introducing many new characters and creatures. Existing characters had been tweaked too, with Jackals seemingly levelling up since the first game and becoming pretty difficult to take down. Also, the Flood had annoyingly developed the ability to resurrect their fallen friends during battles. Arguably the most important new character introduced was the Arbiter, who was playable alongside the Master Chief. As a result, you found yourself dipping in and out of two story strands that, although connected, had very different tones.
There were new weapons to play with too, including the extremely effective beam sword. Not only this, you could dual wield weapons which was very satisfying indeed (check out the chief’s cover art pose). As a consequence of this, some weapons, such as the pistol and needler, were seemingly “nerfed” to stop you being too damn tooled up to stop. There were also tweaks to other weapons, such as the rocket launcher which boasted a new lock on feature. Handy, but nowhere near as satisfying as lining up your own shot the old fashioned way, watching a banshee fly straight into the path of your perfectly timed rocket.
Probably the biggest difference you’ll notice in Halo 2 is the number of vehicles available to you, both Human and Covenant varieties. This time around you could pilot wraiths too, jumping onto moving vehicles to give the driver a good pasting
before hopping in yourself. This sets up some truly epic missions, such as taking down the mighty scarab as you pursue it through New Mombasa.
Your HUD also had a makeover in Halo 2, the humble health bar ditched in favour of a standalone rechargeable shield. This meant the death of health packs and also made plasma pistols particularly deadly if hit by a charged shot. This, of course, means your shield will be instantly stripped away leaving you vulnerable for a short time. Just another reason why those pesky Jackals became such a threat this time around.
Halo 2’s narrative was more complex than the first game, but sadly ended on a cliffhanger, which managed to feel cheap and frustrating at the same time. It seemed to come from nowhere and felt like such a dissatisfying way to end another solid outing for the Master Chief. We deserved better.
However, one thing that Halo 2 really nailed was the multiplayer. It completely eclipsed what was on offer in the first game, and also added Xbox Live functionality. There were more maps, weapons and game modes which realised a multiplayer experience that the original didn’t have time to fully develop before release.
Once again, Martin O’Donnell and Michael Salvatori produced a truly epic soundtrack. It was so good I remember buying it on CD, and nearly wearing the bloomin’ thing out. It also contained two excellent songs, one by Breaking Benjamin and the other by Hoobastank. All in all, it added up to be the best soundtrack of any Halo game ever released. That’s just a fact.
The visuals had also been noticeably improved in Halo 2, from character and vehicle designs to the chief himself. Everything looked more vibrant, with Covenant purples and blues popping all over the battlefield. This also extended to the Covenant themselves, with the prophets looking particularly well realised, right down to their jowly necks. Cortana had also been given a makeover, and somehow for an AI, was looking slightly older, sporting shoulder length hair.
For me, despite all of Halo 2’s positives, its narrative was not as gripping as the other games in the series. At times, as in Halo 5: Guardians, being forced to play as the Arbiter instead of the Master Chief became tiresome, as it’s the Chief’s adventure that we all really cared about. For the record however, the Arbiter missions are much more entertaining than Spartan Locke’s in Halo 5: Guardians.
Also, Brutes. I can’t stand them and have no interest in them whatsoever. In fact, the “boss” battle against Tartarus towards the end of the game is a pretty mediocre encounter; it’s not nearly as exciting as the conclusions to both Halo and Halo 3.
What Halo 2 did do well, however, is open up the franchise, giving it space to grow into the vast universe it is today. Although comparatively it’s one of the weakest of the bunch, it’s quite possibly one of the most important. Stood alone, it’s still a great game, and at the end of the day you don’t need any other reasons than that to play it.