Halo 2 retrospective review
Let’s be clear: Halo 2 is an unfinished game. It is a shadow of what it could have been, and for every part that shines there are ten that are noticeably rough to the touch, and even some that leave splinters.
The first thing you notice about Halo 2 is that it looks better than Halo CE. Much better. The opening cutscenes are gorgeous, aptly showing off Bungie’s new game engine, with lighting and textures made especially impressive by having finished the first game a mere ten minutes previously. Almost as soon as this graphical prowess has been established however, it begins showing its holes. While the Master Chief looks incredible, other human characters look terrible, with facial animations and details which are just downright embarrassing. These inconsistencies are found every few seconds throughout Halo 2. The vehicles may look great (the Ghosts and Warthogs are particularly pretty, especially when damaged), but the surfaces you use them on are just ugly, with rocks and stone being the worst. Explosions and muzzle flares are horrible to look at too, lacking any kind of definition, reducing them down to monochromatic clouds. The design work is more or less the same as Halo CE, but with unforgivable corners cut; whoever decided that the ring should be obscured by cloud on the Delta Halo levels should be shot.
The sound design suffers from the same problems. Ghosts sound wonderful, and some of the new Flood sound effects are unforgettable, but everything else just sounds fluffy and flat. None of the weapons have any kick to them, rendering the Plasma Rifle, SMG, and Beam Rifle in particular completely undesirable. Even the much lauded Battle Rifle is unpleasant to use as it just feels fat and vague. The only two weapons with any notability are the Carbine and the Brute Shot, but even these aren’t anything to write home about sound-wise. The soundtrack is more or less the same with some unnecessarily dull extra tunes thrown in, and the voice acting swings between impeccable (Ron Perlman as Lord Hood is an inspired piece of casting, and Sergeant Johnson rightfully gets a fully fledged role) to the terrible Miranda Keyes and supporting marines.
It’s the gameplay however that scores the lowest. Gone are the sprawling open battlefields of Halo CE, replaced instead by miles upon miles of identical corridors. The vehicle physics are vastly improved, but at the expense of anywhere interesting to use them. With very few satisfying weapons to use, shoot-outs on foot are boring, a problem made especially frustrating with the huge number of ‘defend this point’ objectives (I’m looking at you, Outskirts). Worst of all are the Arbiter missions, which while narratively interesting, are devoid of any excitement. After getting frustrated and bored by the initial infiltration of the Forerunner facility in the Arbiter’s first mission, I realised I could just cloak and run through the mission, meaning that every Arbiter level could be completed in ten minutes flat.
Despite all this and the general consensus of everyone else in the world, I like Halo 2’s plot. The internal politics and religious drive of the Covenant are valuable additions to the universe, leading to a much better informed, and thus motivated battle. Dramatic irony is used to perfection, and while the Gravemind isn’t as shocking a revelation as Bungie perhaps wanted it to be, there is much more going on than in Combat Evolved. The Covenant is no longer purely homicidal, but misinformed and ironically primitive, and the development of the Arbiter’s character is a fascinating portrayal of religious disillusion and consequently dissolution. Having said that, the plot’s integration into the gameplay is terrible. While the previous game had little or no filler, Halo 2 is almost entirely filler, with logical gaps (why have the Arbiter fight on the gondola to the Library when there is a Phantom following above it away from the Flood’s reach?) and entirely unnecessary missions (Outskirts, Regret, Sacred Icon, Quarantine Zone) abound. This is a four hour campaign stretched out to fill eight to ten.
Halo 2 is hugely disappointing and unmistakably incomplete. A product of too much ambition and not enough time. 5/10.