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Halo 2

2004

"Halo 2" now sits on the mantel of the greatest Xbox games, and the reasons why become apparent the second you turn the game on.

The folks over at Bungie (the in-house Microsoft team that designed the game) were wise to keep the things that worked best in "Halo" and added just enough stuff to make the sequel out-of-this world.  So, it kept maps like Blood Gulch and Battle Creek in the game, it kept the soundtrack mostly the same, it kept that same ominous voiceover used in multiplayer (lending dramatic depth to lines like "Red Team has the flag!" and "Triple Kill!"), it kept the ability to only hold two weapons at a time...the list goes on and on.

It's what the game did add that makes it the best game currently available on the system--just enough work on the fringe to elicit praise from everyone involved.

The energy sword.  The sword is, obviously, useless from a distance, but due to its lock-on capability and the fact that it's a one-shot kill, it makes for a devastating weapon from a few paces away.  It's also cool as hell to watch someone else eat it at the hands of a sword, because when the sword locks onto a target, pulling the right trigger allows the user to charge the opponent while leading with the sword.  Awesome.

Xbox Live.  This is the biggest change to the game, and Bungie has really done an excellent job using the Live interface.  You can very quickly invite friends to your games and play alongside or against them; you can talk in game lobbies before games begin.  You can also set up Clans, view game statistics online, you can play on Live with guests on your home machine, meaning up to three of your friends can play alongside you on one TV.

Proximity sound effects in-game.  While playing in a game, you can only hear people two different ways:  if they are standing somewhere near you within a map, or if you hit the radio button on your controller and you are playing on a team.  What does this mean?  You can't hear all 16 people at the same time any more in a game, which is actually quite good because it can get loud on your headset.  It also means that when you are driving a Warthog with two other guys, you can talk to them like they are right next to you while you are all in the car together.  When you want to call a buddy across the playing field, you have to hit the radio button to ask him a question, lending the game a more authentic feel as you need to use your radio for instant communication.  Maybe this is easy to do technology-wise, but no other game has tried it before, and the result is spectacular.

Double-fisting.  Maybe even cooler than being able to carry two weapons at the same time is the fact that they fire separately (you need to pull each trigger to fire each weapon) and you can mix and match the weapons you are carrying...so, you can double fist with a pistol in one hand and an Uzi in the other.

Ride jacking.  The first time you jump on a moving ship like a Ghost or a Banshee and kick the driver out of the pilot seat and take over, you will have an orgasm.  I know this sounds crazy, but just do it in the game and send me a quiet "You were so right" e-mail at your convenience.  Maybe the coolest innovation out of all of these, being able to take any vehicle on the field at any time lends a "Grand Theft Auto" feel to the game without explicitly stealing the idea from the folks over at Rockstar.

All of this being said, I have only played the multiplayer portion of the game.  I don't have any interest in the Campaign mode (the single-player version of the game), because it simply isn't as cool as playing against other people.  The multiplayer is as easy as it always is over Xbox Live; you can play with your friends if you want, or you can play against random people in QuickMatch or OptiMatch settings.  You are assigned a ranking as you play in multiplayer, which is really just a way of tracking your experience like in a role-playing game.  This is key, because the matchmaking system allows for you to only play against players with similar skills...so, you'll never be a rookie matched up against a long-time veteran.  So genius.

What can I say?  You must play this game.  To read more, read my essay "Stinger!" about my love for this ridiculously-cool game.

Rating:  Opening Weekend

 

Feedback?  Comments?  Salma Hayek's digits?  justin@bellviewmovies.com

 

Bellview Rating System:

"Opening Weekend":  Buy this game right away, and don't ask me any questions as to why that's a good move.  A game experience that will almost guarantee repeated controller abuse, lots of ManScreaming and high resale value, you will assuredly play this bad boy for months on end. 

"$40":  Usually after games have been out for a while, they drop in price slightly, or can be bought for slightly cheaper in combination with other new games.  Usually, that's about $40.  You'll feel good getting the game for this price, since it isn't quite run-out-and-get-it-right-now good, but it has enough game in the box for a few weeks' worth of enjoyment.

"eBay":  This game is not too bad, but you'd be better off buying it used from either half.com or eBay.  You also might let a friend buy this game, let s/he beat it, and then try to buy it from them to make them feel better.  Yes, this does tend to feel like "Sloppy Seconds."

"Rental":  Like my cousin Ron, you should always rent games that you aren't sure about first, to make sure that your $50 is going towards something worthwhile.  For games in this category, this is the maximum amount of money ($5) and/or time (3-5 days) you'll need to either gain satisfaction from the game, or beat the game in its entirety.  Rental-rated games are also sometimes perfect for a weekend when you are going to be at home on your ass, with some time to kill.

"Dogshit":  Games like this should have never been released.  If you play this game for any reason, you will regret every second of the experience.  Further, if you can get this game for free, don't do it, because even for FREE, it will still be a negative experience for you!

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The "fine print":
All material by Justin Elliot Bell for SMR/Bellview/bellviewmovies.com except where noted
1999-2009 Justin Elliot Bell This site was last updated 01/08/09