I have updated the fan art page with six new images from various people, but I can’t be arsed to link them all so I’ll just say what they are here. There is a comic by Zamie The Cat, pictures of Rogue, Virus and Blasphemy by SilverenX, a picture of Lothar by Sasian (I think that’s the name, I can’t make out the letters properly, if it’s wrong sorry mate) which has been waiting to go up for about 2 months now. Finally we have a picture of Virus by Shepard, which has been waiting a while too. Thanks everybody.

I’ve been thinking about the actual quality of Halo 2 in comparison to Halo 1 a lot recently, and the general reactions to the game within the Halo community. To that end I now present a revisionist view of Halo 2. Get comfy, in MS Word this thing was four pages long.

Let’s face facts, Halo 2 has its faults when compared to Halo 1, but it also improves on a lot of Halo 1’s elements. However is it a better or worse game that Halo 2? I admit a lot of people, me included, have looked at it through rose tinted glasses. So let’s have a look shall we?

Story : Halo 1’s story was pretty standard sci-fi fare, but was executed incredibly well, and the ending sequence (the warthog ride through an exploding ship) was one of the most thrilling endings of any game. Part of Halo 1 story was slightly marred by the extremely repetitive level structure in some of the games levels, such as the Library (entire Halo community groans) but was none the less pretty damn good. Halo 2’s story is an attempt to make the story far deeper and more epic than its predecessor, but it’s more of a hit and miss affair. The main examples of this I can think of are the fact that the player only spends 3 levels on Earth during the Covenant Invasion, where as the advertising would have you believe that the game would centre on this.

We are also introduced to a new protagonist in the Halo universe, the Arbiter, a disgraced Covenant Elite warrior who will now fight to gain back his honour. However, initial impressions of the Arbiter are far from positive as he is stuck in levels which highlight the problems of Halo 1. Repetitive level design and a dull enemy in the form of the Flood. Also, I personally had to wonder why I had to start caring about an enemy I will spend half the game killing. However, in the last two Arbiter levels of the game, we finally start sympathising and possibly liking him as he, along with the other Elites, Grunts and Hunters, decide to rebel against the Prophets (the Covenant leadership) as well as the Brutes, Jackals and Drones and stop their plans to begin the “Great Journey”. Which, unbeknownst to most of the Covenant (but possibly known by the Prophet of Truth), acts as a metaphor for activating the Halo ring world’s and wiping out all life in the galaxy.

The ending is by far the worst part of Halo 2. The story has just gotten incredibly interesting and the player is ready for an all out battle against the Prophet of Truth, when suddenly, the ending credits roll. The game builds up to this huge climax yet doesn’t follow through on this, instead waiting for the inevitable sequel. While Halo 1 had a cliff-hanger ending also, it was not as brazen as this. The ending in Halo 1 left you satisfied as there was a resolution, in Halo 2, while the player has stopped the ring from firing, a much bigger story has unfolded with the revelation of the Gravemind and the Prophet of Truth heading for Earth on an ancient Forerunner ship. Since no resolution is left, it ends up making many players feel disappointed with having to wait years before we finally get the ending we so desperately want.

If the Halo storyline, including the games, books and I Love Bees phenomenon is looked at as a whole, the ending of Halo 2 is disappointing when looking at the other “chapters”. It smacks in the face of good story telling, though admittedly, it does have the community wanting more and will probably be the reason why many will buy the inevitable third game to get the ending they wanted from Halo 2. As indeed without an ending Halo 2 feels like only half a game. However, as part of a larger story, despite the odd hiccups in narrative, the story of Halo 2 is successful in keeping players engaged with the characters and situations.

Graphics : Graphically Halo 2, while not as detailed as the likes of game such as Chronicles of Riddick: Escape from Butcher Bay, is still one of the most impressive games on the Xbox. However, these impressive graphics are marred by the purposeful inclusion of a “glitch” to eliminate loading times. During the games cutscenes, textures are still being mapped onto the characters and environments as they begin playing, as well as during some of them. Instead of immersing the player in the game world, this “glitch” keeps reminding players that this is environment is artificial.

Gameplay : The gameplay in Halo 2 takes the award winning mechanics of Halo 2, but improves on them. One such example is the omission of health packs, instead replacing them with a faster shield and self healing system. Whereas in Halo 1, you had your shield bar and normal health bar, Halo 2 has a stronger shield which recharges faster and eliminates the health bar, which in turn eliminates the need for players to worry about their characters health and run around looking for health packs.

The enemy A.I is improved on slightly, allowing for the new enemies with different abilities, and improving the skills of existing enemies. One of the more controversial is the Jackals and their new found sniping ability. Personally I find the snipers a fun new challenge to face, although on the higher difficulties it can be extremely frustrating to walk out into the open and be killed by a sniper without even knowing where the shot came from. However that would be the point of snipers, and the problem can be overcome by either being cautious or simple trial and error. My favourite improvement to Halo 2’s enemies is the toughening up of the Hunters. While at first frightening beast in Halo 1, they soon became laughing stocks when players discovered they could be defeated by one shot from the Pistol.

The two weapon limit of Halo 1 was quite a refreshing change of pace from having a character that can carry 3 million guns on his body. Again this has been tweaked with the addition of duel wielding, allowing combinations of certain weapons to increase fire power. There is also the replacing of weapons of the first game with new versions of themselves. In Halo 1, we had the Assault Rifle, now replaced with the SMG. The Battle Rifle essentially replaces the pistol from Halo 1, probably the most loved weapon in the game. Some fans hate this, as the Battle Rifle is slightly less powerful than the Halo Pistol. I recently started playing Halo 1 again and while still a great weapon, the pistol feels over-powered for a weapon of its size. In Halo 2, the pistol has been toned down to a weapon which is more befitting its small stature. And the grenades are just as useful as they ever were.

The vehicles in Halo 2 remain as fun as ever to drive, but with a few new additions, on the Covenant side the Ghost and the Banshee have gained boost abilities, allowing for faster transport through the levels, along with the addition of the Wraith tank. The human vehicles remain essentially unchanged aside from there now being two variants of the Warthog, one with the standard machine gun, the other with a power anti-vehicle gauss cannon. However, the ability to destroy the vehicles does even things up in the multiplayer battles, no longer are players forced to be cut down by some prat in a Ghost if they know what they are doing. The ability to steal vehicles off other players evens things up too, and to be blunt, there are few greater feelings in the game than successfully stealing a Banshee of an unfortunate pilot.

On of the things a lot of fans are not happy with are the increasingly linear nature of the Halo 2 levels and the lack of fun glitches. In Halo 1 you could explore a lot of the terrain if you knew how. I think what is overlooked sometimes that these glitches are actually oversights on the part of Bungie. Ideally players are not supposed to be able to get out of the levels on Halo 1, and a lot of the fun exploration is down too the fact that Bungie has overlooked these things. However, you could in turn argue that it is the fans love of the game that leads to these fun discoveries. There is also the famous “Warthog Jump” in Halo 1 that allowed players to use the games sometimes exaggerated physics to send the indestructible Warthog sailing into the air.

The one thing I hate about Halo 2’s gameplay is the “boss” fights. Halo 1 had no boss fights and it felt like a more realistic war story because of it. In Halo 2 these battles really do make you notice that Halo 2 is indeed a video game. The final boss battle against Tartarus also pails in comparison to the Warthog finale of Halo 1, which was tense, exciting and bloody good fun. Fighting Tartarus is an annoyance more than anything else.

Sound : I think most fans will agree that Halo 2’s music is an improvement on Halo 1. So not much to say on how good it is, apart from the fact it is the best use of sound and music in a computer game I have seen, or rather heard. Except for one instance, during the first level on High Charity, during the levels last fight, the music from Breaking Benjamin’s “Blow Me Away” starts playing. While the song is decent enough, and I suppose it “suits” the situation, it doesn’t really feel like it should be there and doesn’t match up well with the otherwise extremely suitable and accomplished music from the rest of the game. Even the music from Incubus was used effectively and felt right in the situations it was designed for.

Multiplayer : I really enjoy Halo 2 multiplayer over Xbox Live. I can’t really say good things about it that hasn’t been said before. That said, the fact that almost half my Live friend’s list play Halo 2 ONLY is bloody annoying. I don’t play on Live that much compared to them , so their stats are higher than mine, which is beside the point really, but the fact that I can’t play them on classics like Crimson Skies (which I feel is easier to get “in” to than Halo 2 on Live), Dead or Alive Ultimate or Splinter Cell is bloody annoying. Halo 2 is probably the best Xbox Live game, but playing against the retards on their gets tiring and there is more to Live than FPS’s. Change games once in a while people.

I think that about covers everything. So all in all what do I think of Halo 2 in comparison to Halo 1? Personally I think overall the single player portion of Halo 2 is worse than Halo 1, with the graphical flaws and underwhelming story, however I think most people can agree that it is one of the better FPS games out there despite this. The multiplayer however is probably the best I FPS multiplayer I have experienced on any system.

I think what annoys me most about a large potion of the Halo fan community is that there seems to be two sides to it. You are either one of the so called “hardcore” fans who believe that compared to Halo 1, Halo 2 is nothing and then you complain about the “fanboys/girls”, yet still play the game religiously. Or, you are one of the “fanboys/girls” who see nothing wrong with the game and start bitching to the “hardcore”, failing to acknowledge the game’s flaws. There seems to be very little room for a happy medium where people acknowledge the flaws but can still enjoy the game. There also seems to be little tolerance for the varying opinions.

But let’s face it, Halo 2 is better than 90% of the crap that takes up room in our game collections. So what if it isn’t perfect, what game is? (Anybody who suggests any game is perfect can just shut up.) Hell, Halo 1 was a brilliant FPS, but everyone can acknowledge its flaws decently. Halo 2 ,while not as good as Halo 1 in many ways, is still a great game, so can we not afford the same courtesy to it?