Malik (4/20/04)

HALO (FREAKIN') 2!!!!!  A Preview

From the insanely brilliant minds of Bungie

This review originally was presented on lazy.GEEKS (8/25/03) shortly after I witnessed a live demo of Halo 2 at a local Halo tournament.

Well, just about everyone who owns a XBox has or has played Halo. It is the game that defines what a FPS should be (on a console at least). The controls are perfect, the graphics are dazzling, the audio is awe-inspiring, and the game itself offers far too much fun on far too many levels. Well, we now have far ahead on the horizon a shining light to draw us all away from the Halo we love...that light is Halo 2. 

Most geeks have seen the pictures and the rumors and the preview articles. Some may have even checked out some videos that have been circulating from E3 that are on the net. I took it a step further this last weekend when I saw the first level being playing right in front of me. Let me say, first and foremost, the videos, the pictures, the stories, the articles, the rumors, and any other info on the game out there fails to even begin to describe what it is like to see the game being played in real life (for one thing, when the audience applauded an action done by the Bungie guy in the game, we had that joy of seeing him do it again to make us geeks all the happier!). 

I think I'll try to tackle this like a review, even though it is hard to know where to start when seeing something that I know, when it is released, will claim my life. I will not be able to ever put down this work of art once it hits my own XBox...that's how good it is. 

By the way, if any of this seems vague or short on details...well, I'm still freaking out a little over how kick ass this game is going to be.  I could hardly pay attention enough to note the details since I was in geek heaven.  Anyways, if you have any questions about the game, just ask me in email.  I can explain only stuff that was in the first level and I can't explain the controls or whatever since I was merely a passenger on this ride.


Ok, I can't put too much here, since unlike some dumb-asses on the internet and in magazines, I like to keep things in my reviews (and in this case; previews) to the facts. However, here is what I saw from the first level. The Covenant has made planet fall on what I believe was supposed to be Earth (or a close facsimile) and the good guys, being the humans, need to do the clean-up. This means one really cool thing; you get to play in cities. As your ship arrives on the planet, you disembark with a few marines to find out the status of the war. It is pretty easy to tell that, at least for now, your side is losing pretty badly. The city you land in has been blown apart pretty badly and there are large plasma cannons throughout the place that are bombarding the humans. 

Your job, much like in Halo, is to clean up the mess as only a SPARTAN can...with a lot of weapons and even more luck. You soon meet up with one of the more commanding officers who tries to lead you to the front, but before you are given a proper welcome by your forces, the Covenant welcomes you in their own way. People are dying, buildings are exploding, and Covenant grunts are flooding the place. 

That's pretty much all the story that can be given without me giving away the plot of the level. There are some nice features that add to the realism and intrigue via comments being shouted by the Marines. Not to mention some visuals that add to the epic feel of the story, like when you see a squadron of bombers fly overhead and bomb a plasma cannon straight to hell. Anyways, if Halo 2 is anything like Halo, then the story wont really pick up to a dramatic climax for several more chapters...despite that, the level I saw has more story to it than most FPS have in their entire game. 


I always say, "it's not the graphics, but rather the game play"...well, I have to go back on this a little and say this; the graphics are too amazing to be just considered eye-candy. The visuals are so finely detailed that they make you feel like your a part of this war, not just some spectator. People are lying on the ground bleeding to death as medics race to save them, buildings are exploding into clouds of dust, giant plasma cannons loom over the city making you feel like nothing more than a bug to the might of the Covenant... 

My favorite visual effect is the new look and feel of the sniper scope. The weapon I saw initially (which seems to be a cross between the assault rifle and the sniper rife from the original, I believe it is called the battle rifle or something like that), when put into sniper mode, has the most amazing effect I've seen for separating a normal view into a partially zoomed one. This time around, when you snipe, the center was a clear and crisp image of the zoomed in scope, while the surrounding area was a blurry mess, like you would get in real life if you looked through a scope on a firearm. As our friend Mr. Sosa would say, "It's so real!". 

If the graphics were not this good, I don't think that it would feel the same. If the people didn't look so real (if you thought people looked pretty damned realistic in Halo, just wait until Halo 2...Halo looks like an Atari 2600 game compared to Halo 2) and the explosions so deadly, the would not be the same breath taking experience that I, in all my 20-some years of gaming, thought was not at all possible on a console. For those of you who've seen the pictures and movies on the net and in magazines...those don't do Halo 2 any justice. 


You know those great sound effects from Halo? Like the graphics, the audio is back with one hell of a vengeance. The guns, the explosions, the screams for help, the vehicles, the...sensory overload...I don't know if it was the sound system being used or what, but everything sounded like it was coming from the room we were in. I will just say it sounded more realistic than any game I've ever experienced. 

On the downside, I was so engrossed with all the visuals and sound effects that I honestly can't remember the music (or even if there was any music). So, that's not a bad thing for the game...if anything it's a good thing. If the game was so good that I couldn't focus on every aspect, it means whatever Bungie is doing, they better keep doing it. 

Game Play 

Don't know...wish I was a demo that only the Bungie dude was playing. However, from the looks of how he played the game, it looks like they kept the control pretty similar to Halo. Master Chief (or whoever the SPARTAN main character is) did all the actions we know and love from Halo. 

From the looks of things, it seems that the controls for the Ghost is greatly improved. When the Bungie dude ran his Ghost into a destroyed car, instead of flipping out, the Ghost simply floated down under some pretty good control (until he hit a street light...then he flew out from the Ghost...that was funny). Also, the other vehicles all see to have the great controls we know, but with some fine tuning to make them even better. One cool new vehicle feature is how the NPCs will take control of a Warthog and allow you to be the gunner. 

Another cool new feature is the destructible environments. At one point, the Bungie dude was facing a squad of Covenant shield guys (sorry, I never did learn their name, but you should all know who I mean), instead of trying to blast them down with his dual SMGs (yes, you heard right. A gun in each hand...oh yeah!), he simply fired at a car next to them, GTA-style, causing the car to explode and take out all his enemies in a matter of seconds. 

Also, in a blending of audio and game play, the people are now far more realistic in their dialogue. The medics are freaking out about trying to save some poor guy on a stretcher, the soldiers are screaming for backup, some people recognize you as a SPARTAN and throw in their two-cents. The coolest example of this I saw is when one of the more seasoned soldiers is trying to escort you to the fighting. He stops by a doorway and shouts something to the effect of, "Is it clear?" to a soldier on the other side. Just then an explosion rocks the doorway and the second soldier shouts back, "You tell me!". 


I guess the best way to put it is like this; I think I wasn't able to fully pick my jaw off of the ground for a good five minutes after the demo concluded. Not only does it look like a lot of hard work went into Halo 2 (and this isn't even close to being the final product...that thought blows my mind), but you can tell the fine people at Bungie are having a good deal of fun making what will no doubt be one of the most breath-taking games ever to grace a home console. I'm just glad I only got into Halo a couple weeks ago...I don't want to imagine the pain of those who got into Halo at the beginning...waiting for another half year is one thing, but to have been waiting for a couple years already would be too much for me to bear. At least there is a light at the end of the tunnel...and it is a good light indeed.  If I was to give this demo a score, I'd give it a perfect 10/10.  The Bungie dude knew how to put on a show, and that game knew how to too...making one of the best 10 gaming experiences I've ever had.