In 2002, long-time FPS developer Bungie accomplished something that showed the industry just what it was capable of. That was Halo, a launch title for the much-vaunted Xbox that was dubbed by the media as a killer app for Microsoft's new console. It was a resounding success, and so Bungie quickly got to work on the sequel, a spanking new adventure that continues the story of the ongoing war between humankind and the relentless alien Covenant. To many Xbox owners, it was a long and arduous wait, but two and a half years on, Halo 2 was finally unleashed. And now, console-ation for PC-only owners, as 2007 sees the release of the PC version.
Remarkably, and as Halo fanatics the world over had hoped, Halo 2 somehow manages to evolve beyond the original game. Taking on board the minor criticisms of Halo, Bungie's sequel refines the basic play mechanic and already-stunning AI of its predecessor to deliver something bigger, better and bolder than before.
One of Bungie's greatest strengths lies in its ability to create a game world that is paced in a dynamic fashion, and Halo 2 is a prime example. From the outset, players are free to tackle the game's vast environments in multiple ways, whether they charge in guns-blazing or adopt a more subtle, almost stealth-like approach. This is partly thanks to some diverse level design and enhanced player abilities that give players the freedom to make their own choices from level to level. Because many of Halo 2's beautifully rendered environments are wide open areas filled to the brim with numerous props and hiding places, any given level can be completed in several ways. Secondly, your enhanced super-soldier can now wield and control two weapons at once (provided those weapons can be held in one hand) offering a more gung-ho approach for trigger-happy gamers.
That's all well and good, but there is one key feature in Halo 2 that's puts most others in the genre to shame, and that's AI. Artificial Intelligence is an aspect of game development that some software houses will overlook too often for our liking. Bungie however, realised a long time ago that a good FPS can only become a great FPS with the aid of smart opponents. Halo demonstrated just that, and its sequel does even more so. Level after level, hostile members of the alien Covenant behave in a manner that is not only smart, but also difficult to second guess. It's as if your enemies have been trained - they react to your actions as any solider would, and they are more than capable in combat.
Single-player game aside, Halo 2's multi-player experience is unrivalled. Halo 2 comes blessed with more than a dozen multiplayer maps that are well suited to all of the game's multiplayer modes. These comprise of Slayer, Oddball, Juggernaut and of course, Capture the Flag. Maps vary in size, with some geared towards larger parties, but all boast the usual plethora of pick-ups and weapons, and parties can even commandeer a number of vehicles to swing the battle in their favour.
It's difficult to criticise any area of Halo 2, because Bungie has produced a game that somehow manages to surpass its first-class predecessor in almost every way.
There are two kinds of gamers out there: those who played Halo 2 on the Xbox and those who haven't. For the first group, the actual value of this PC version is wholly dependent on their interest in the editor.
While it's not enough for us to recommend it, gamers who are keen to create their own maps and game types will be rewarded by what the PC version of Halo 2 has to offer.
For gamers who haven't played Halo 2 yet, the recommendation is a bit more positive, but still somewhat conditional.
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