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Which Console Did You Buy/Receive Over The Holidays?

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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 Troy Matsumiya  on October 06, 2004

Specials: Hey, you never know ? it could happen?

Okay, before I get bombarded with quasi-literate hate mail like, "UR teh n00b! Halo 2 pwnz U!" let me make it clear right up front: I'm not saying Halo 2 does suck, or will suck ? I'm just asking what if it's not as good as we're all hoping?

"Blasphemy!" you say? "Halo hater!" you cry? "U suXX0rZ!" whatever the hell that means?

I hope I'm wrong ? I really do. Believe it or not, I'm a big Halo fan for the same reason you are: it's one of the best Xbox games ever. Halo LAN parties are a blast, and there's nothing more satisfying than winning deathmatches strictly by running over your friends in a Warthog. Graphically, it is still one of the most beautiful games on the Big Black Box, even though it is three years old ? a lifetime in the video game industry. Most importantly, Bungie has a long and proud history of making fun, exciting games, and despite what must be enormous pressure from Microsoft to get the game out the door, they have stood their ground and taken the classic id Software philosophy, "When it's done," to ensure the game is not rushed to market before it's ready. In fact, I think Bungie would?have to purposely do a bad job in order to mess up what should otherwise be a sure thing.

But there's still that little nagging doubt sitting at the back of my mind that's making me worry. Why? Well, there are two reasons:

The Hype

Ah, yes, The Hype. It's everywhere ? from well-timed screenshot releases to tease us, to hands-on demos at trade shows, to the bizarre viral marketing campaign (which will go down in history as either the most innovative or the biggest waste of consumers' time ever), we are all being whipped up into a mouth-foaming frenzy about this game. Halo 2 is even overshadowing big titles like Knights of the Old Republic 2, Prince of Persia 2, Mortal Kombat: Deception, Ghost Recon 2, and MechAssault 2, all of which would otherwise be receiving a heck of a lot more attention than they are now. In fact, Halo 2 is mentioned in the same breath as heavyweight triple-A titles like Doom 3, Half-Life 2 and Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas, which is pretty darn impressive for a game with only a fraction of the customer base as the PC and PS2.

This kind of overwhelming hype serves to build up great consumer excitement, but is also dangerous because it can get people too excited and raise their expectations to unrealistic levels. If the product doesn't meet these elevated expectations, consumers will invariably be disappointed and criticize the product much more harshly than it deserves.

Want proof? Look at Brute Force. The marketers hyped it as "the next Halo" and the next killer franchise for the Xbox, and successfully got gamers all hot and bothered about it. But as we all know now, the hype backfired badly when Brute Force didn't deliver on the promises. Countless forum threads by bitterly disappointed gamers not only slammed how "crappy" the game was, but also the developers for promising the stars, but delivering dirt. Yet in reality, Brute Force wasn't that bad; yes, it had its shortcomings but overall, it was a fairly decent game.

The same thing has happened with the Star Wars prequel films. When the prequels failed to live up to years of enormous hype fueled by fond memories of the original trilogy, the films were trashed by moviegoers. True, they're not as good as the originals, but taken on their own, they're fun, exciting action movies and really don't deserve a lot of the harsh criticisms leveled at them.

And that's a big problem for Halo 2. Gamers have been pummeled with seductive propaganda for over a year telling them how mind-blowingly fantastic this game will be, how it will be the ultimate gaming experience, and how it will be the shining crown jewel for the Xbox. What game could ever live up to that kind of hype? Yes, I know that the original Halo actually did live up to its hype, but for Bungie to go two-for-two makes for some pretty big odds.

I really hope Halo 2 can live up to the hype, but realistically, I don't think it is likely. Personally, I have been avoiding a lot of the Halo 2 hype and fan sites for precisely the reason that I want to judge the game on its own merits, and not have my opinion tainted by some marketing baloney. This, however, is not the case for millions of gamers who hang on every word written about Halo 2, and it is for their sake that I hope Bungie delivers.

The Original

The strangest thing to me is that all of this hype is built up around a sequel to a game that was great, but wasn't that great. Yes, Halo single player is fun, and is probably one of the best FPS games ever released on a console, but it is not "teh b3st game 3V4R!" as the forum quasi-literates like to say. I have been playing FPS games since the original Doom, and I can easily name a dozen games that are better designed, are more exciting, and most importantly, are more memorable than Halo. The entire Doom series, the Quake series, Duke Nukem 3D, Half-Life, the Jedi Knight series, Deus Ex, Medal of Honor: Allied Assault, Call of Duty ? these and many more are all classic (or soon to be classic) games that most hardcore FPS fans should have in their "Top 10" lists. In my opinion, Halo comes close, but doesn't quite make it into this elite group.

Granted, a lot of Halo's shortcomings are a direct result of Microsoft pushing Bungie to get the game ready in time for the Xbox launch. We all know about the things Bungie wanted to put in, but were forced to leave out simply because it would take too long to implement. And we can see the painful results: the Library, for example, is a boring and poorly designed level with the same hallways and rooms repeated over and over ad nauseam; the same can be said for large sections of Assault on the Control Room. All of the levels are pretty linear, yet can be confusing; who among us hasn't gotten lost at least once without any idea where to go? Some of the poor level design also spilled over into the multiplayer maps; how many times have you played Boarding Action? Thought so.

Again, a lot of these poor design decisions were probably a result of taking shortcuts to get the game out on time, which probably won't happen with Halo 2. But it still raises the concern that the same bad design decisions might creep into the sequel somewhere.

Fortunately, these shortcomings paled in comparison to areas where Halo really shined, with its unique look, beautiful graphics, interesting weapons, fun vehicle combat, intelligent AI (at least for the Marines and the Covenant; the Flood AI was actually pretty dumb), interesting bad guys, great music, a hilarious sense of humor, and for setting the standard for proper console FPS controls. But Halo truly excelled in multiplayer, with a wide variety of cool maps (except Boarding Action, of course) and gametypes ? and you could even make your own custom gametypes! And who can forget the indestructible Warthog, which suffered a lot of abuse as gamers found new and creative ways to use grenades and rockets to toss it around like a soccer ball. Multiplayer is where I believe most gamers developed their fond feelings for Halo, and rightly so ? it's so damned fun, after all.

And this is where Bungie really has to pull it off. Yes, many gamers are looking forward to Spartan vs. Elite battles over Xbox Live, but remember, over 90% of Xbox owners are not Live subscribers. If Bungie can improve multiplayer (especially offline) to new heights, then even if the single player component doesn't live up to expectations, I think gamers will still enjoy it enough to push Halo 2 to record sales levels.

However, in the worst-case scenario, if Bungie fails to deliver, expect a lot of disgruntled red-faced gamers, a couple corporate black eyes, a few job losses, and potentially millions in lost revenue from future Xbox hardware and software sales. Yes, folks, as the Xbox's number one franchise, Halo 2 will make a huge impact on the bottom line one way or another; if it rules, it will fuel demand for things like new consoles, extra controllers, other titles, and Xbox Live subscriptions. If it sucks, you can kiss all of those sales goodbye. So you see, Halo 2 plays a much more important role than just satisfying excited gamers.

Worried For Nothing?

So will this over-hyped sequel to a great-but-not-overly-outstanding game suck? I honestly don't think it will, but I also don't think it will deliver on the hype either. Very few games ever do live up to the artificial accolades of their marketing departments; Bungie did it once and if they can do it again, it would be phenomenal to say the least. If they can't ? well, you might want to start practicing how to type "suXX0rZ".

It's okay to be excited about Halo 2; I certainly am. I'm just not expecting a mind-blowing pseudo-religious experience when I first pop it in the tray. But if that happens, trust me ? I will be absolutely ecstatic to eat my words.

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