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Are you going to buy an Xbox One X This Holiday Season?

Hope to Receive it as a Gift

Game Profile
GENRE: First Person Shooter
PLAYERS:   1-16
November 09, 2004

Halo Wars 2

Halo 5 Guardians

Halo: New 343 Industries Game

Halo: Combat Evolved Anniversary

Halo: Reach

More in this Series
 Written by Gavin Wright  on January 08, 2003

First Impressions: ?Halo 2 is a lot like Halo, only it's Halo on fire, going 130 miles per hour through a hospital zone, being chased by helicopters and ninjas. And the ninjas are all on fire too.? ? Jason Jones, project lead.

We all knew it was coming, but at a recent press event Microsoft blew the top off of the most hotly anticipated game in the world, Halo 2. The recently-released trailer provided little more than a setting for the game and a glimpse into the revamped graphics engine, but now we've got a bit more information to keep Xbox owners going a bit longer as the wait until the 2003 holiday season treads dreadfully closer. Bungie has always felt that Halo could have been better, so they'll be going all-out with Halo 2. While still keeping close to the basic ideas set forth in Halo, the sequel will address the game's major criticisms and expand on the team's original vision. Although the sequel to the Xbox's best-selling game will indeed bring us new weapons, vehicles, and enemies, Halo 2 is going to be a whole lot more.

The story for Halo 2 picks up right where the ending of Halo left off. Somehow, the Covenant have located and destroyed all of the human colony worlds, and have now focused in on our last hope for survival ? Earth. The Master Chief, now donning an all-new impressively detailed battlesuit, returns to earth in the Covenant ship he used to escape from Halo, only to find a planet scarred by Covenant attack. Unable to land, he instead braces himself up against a wall and opens the ship's cargo bay, then jumps out into space and directly onto a Covenant dropship orbiting the planet. With Cortana's help, the Master Chief must defend the earth, then take the fight back to the Covenant's home world in hopes of ending the war once and for all.

Halo 2 reveals a lot of the story behind the Covenant, as well as their motivations for attempting to eliminate the human race. The Covenant is comprised of two alien races - the Elites and the Prophets, the latter of which had not been introduced to us in Halo. The Prophets are a species that look similar in size and posture to the Grunts, but are actually the religious and spiritual leaders of the Covenant troops. The Prophets control the other alien forces in combat, but are probably very weak on their own. Halo 2 will also introduce yet another alien race into the mix, currently known as Brutes. The Brutes, much like the Flood in Halo, are hostile to both humans and Covenant. Though their true identity is still unknown, it is possible that they are actually the Forerunners, the race responsible for building Halo and containing the Flood.

Bungie is completely re-writing the enemy A.I. routines for Halo 2. Instead of focusing squarely on attacking and hiding, enemies will be able to adapt and interact to their environment in ways never possible before. They will also formulate group-oriented attacks, something that Halo touched on but didn't have fully in place. Storming a base will alert every single enemy to your location, so they will already have a plan of attack in place once the Master Chief arrives. Bungie has always placed a higher emphasis on artificial intelligence, and Halo 2 is looking to be no different.

The A.I. of your marine allies has been beefed up as well. Whereas in Halo 1, in which each marine functioned primarily as a separate entity, in Halo 2 they are programmed to rely on one another and coordinate advanced attack strategies in combat. Soldiers toting assault rifles and shotguns will advance to the front lines, covering each other's backs and warning one another of any potential hazards. Snipers will typically seek out a good vantage point up on a hill somewhere, then proceed to let loose on their unassuming targets from a safe distance. Marines may request backup fire in tight situations (not only from their buddies, but from yourself as well) or call upon one of their comrades to lob a grenade into a pack of enemies. Marines even have the ability to flip over objects and use them for cover as they see fit. As was the case in the original, the marines often have some important (and at times amusing) things to say, but you'll have to be in the right place at the right time if you want to hear them. In fact, it has been said that at least 70% of the story will be communicated through in-game interactions such as these. And with all of the improvements geared towards smartening up the marine's A.I., it's safe to say that we'll be seeing a lot more of them in Halo 2.

A large part of what made Halo's combat such an intense, strategic experience was the weapon selection. Since the Master Chief could carry only two weapons at a time, the player was forced to decide which weapons to hold on to based on the enemies and the battlefield that lies ahead. If there's a room full of jackals with plasma shields, you won't want to run in blasting them with a needler, since the projectiles will simply bounce right back. That's why the introduction of new weapons must be done carefully, with regards to retaining the delicate balance found in the original. We now know of two new weapons so far that have made the cut for Halo 2, one of which was showcased in the aforementioned trailer. The weapon from the trailer is a combination of the sniper rifle and assault rifle, which has come to be known as the battle rifle. The other is an automatic machine gun that fires caseless ammunition, and closely resembles a tentative model of the assault rifle that was seen in some of the pre-release screenshots for Halo. Of course, there are many more that have yet to be revealed, but the old standards are sure to be there as well.

To go along with his new look, the Chief will also have a handful of new tools at his disposal. First off, he now has the ability to peer around corners and check out a scene before entering it. Although he can't shoot or toss grenades from this position, it allows him to keep tabs on nearby Covenant soldiers without getting tangled up into battle, and it may even provide him with an opportunity to eavesdrop on the enemy. And if that were not enough for you, then perhaps you'd prefer the idea of combo melee attacks. If you time your button presses properly, you'll be able to string together up to three melee attacks into one skull-crunching combo. Lastly, the Master Chief will have the ability to pull down his weapon and break into a full sprint. While sprinting, any action or digressive movement will automatically throw you back into combat mode, so you needn't worry about dashing headstrong into an alien nest unarmed, as you're weapon is always just a touch away.

According to Bungie, Halo 2 will more than double the amount of vehicles from the original. New to the game is the Shadow, a Covenant equivalent of the Warthog that can carry up to four and comes equipped with a plasma cannon on the back. There's also an ATV, which basically looks like a slimmed-down Warthog. The vehicle has no weapons, but can carry a single passenger faster than any other vehicle. Halo 2 also has three different models of the Warthog, each suited for different environments. The Jungle Hog has modified wheels, a chaingun, and camouflage cover; the Snow Hog comes with snow treads and an enclosed interior, yet appears to be unarmed; and the Transporter Hog has seating for up to 6 Marines, but also comes with no attached weaponry. Again, this is only a small taste of what's to come.

The level design in Halo has long been a topic of debate. Many areas were startlingly similar in design, and some even relied on arrows painted onto the ground to keep players from getting lost. A lot of this was forced upon them ? Bungie had to work under a very tight development schedule to get the game out in time for the Xbox's launch. But with Halo 2, which they've already been working on for nearly a year, the team has a lot more time to work on the level design. Of course, since a good deal of the game will take place on Earth, many of the environments are going to be quite different from those in Halo. Man-made buildings will replace the alien architecture, and interior levels may even take us to well-known landmarks such as the White House or the Pentagon. It will be an entirely different experience, and the new setting will likely hit some of us a lot closer to home.

We all know the levels in Halo 2 are going to look a whole lot better, but Bungie isn't content to stop there with the improvements. For starters, certain fragile objects in the game - things like columns, doorframes, and thin wooden structures, can be crushed, shattered, and otherwise blown to bits through repeated gunfire or explosions. And this isn't strictly a cosmetic detail either, since the enemies are well aware of which surfaces can or cannot be destroyed. Certain sequences will also allow you to shoot out lights and hide in the shadows to take out the Covenant. Enemies may even come equipped with flashlights for low-light situations such as these. But keep in mind that the designers have no intention of turning the game into a stealth-based affair. This is still the same old Halo, only in a delightful, smartly refined form.

The multiplayer aspect of Halo 2 will be expanded to support multiplayer games over Xbox Live. There will be plenty of original maps, with a stronger focus on outdoor, vehicle-based levels like the ever-popular Blood Gulch map from Halo. Allegedly, the game will not include multiplayer bots, as Bungie would rather have people playing online or via split-screen. The developers envision large-scale, squad-based online games, something that will be made possible only through XBL.

Final Thoughts
As I've already hinted at, Halo 2 is not simply an add-on to Halo, nor is it Halo 1.5. It's a full-on sequel in every way we could have ever dreamt it to be, and with it will come drastic improvements to what still remains one of the greatest games ever made. The expectations for Halo 2 are undoubtedly high, but from what we've seen so far the game could very well surpass the original, which in itself is a lofty proposition. The release date is set, and 2004 couldn't possibly come sooner.

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