There are two kinds of people in this world: those who invert the thumbsticks and those who look at us 'inverters' like we've just walked off another planet.
Choosing the setup you're used to makes a huge difference. Make the wrong choice and even a veteran killing-machine becomes someone who stares fixated at the floor when they should be paying attention to the purple plasma-toting kestrel soaring above.
I'd like to think that one day in the future all 'inverters' will stage an uprising. Just like the Covenant, we might command a fleet of galactic battleships and could try to nuke Earth for our zealous upside-down cause. But when you start thinking like that, you know it's time to relinquish the Xbox controller and take a rest.
It's little wonder that at the end of three days of hammering Halo 2, I want to destroy everyone. Having completed the game on Heroic difficulty, this relentless exercise in carnage and destruction is finally over. Even now, I still can't come down from the buzz of excitement and the brain-frazzling ferocity of the whole experience. Not since the 2001 prequel (Issue 01, 9.7) has any FPS nut spent so long 'in the zone' in one sitting. Halo 2 pushes the extreme limits of competitiveness and concentration, leaving you physically shattered but flooded with endorphins at the end. You'll love every minute of it and here's why...
This is the point where I have to 'chill out', so to speak. To lose control of my enthusiasm and blurt out all of the game's biggest surprises would be downright irresponsible. Particularly so, because one of the best cards in Bungie's hand is to play on the expectations set by the first game and throw them back in your face in a new and startling way. Like the prequel, Halo 2 doesn't try to revolutionise the FPS (see Riddick - Issue 33, 9.0 - for that). Instead, it takes all the features the fans loved and gives them a fresh and crowd-pleasing upgrade.
It's not originality and certainly not the plot (although Bungie's marketing people would have us believe otherwise) that makes Halo 2 great. It's all down to the excellence of execution; the exquisitely balanced weapons, the staggeringly brilliant AI and the simply unbelievable art direction.
Although there's not much of the story we can talk about that won't ruin the surprises, the first chapter is almost a carbon copy of the original game's opening level, The Pillar of Autumn. This time, the fleet defending Earth comes under attack. Master Chief and Sergeant Johnson must reclaim their space-bound manor from the Covenant. Earth itself is also very much under threat, for the next two levels at least. The immense concrete metropolis of New Mombassa is the staging ground for some insane street-to-street fighting - like Stalingrad with seven-foot tall alien Nazis.
Despite the Battlestar Galactica premise, we have a far more complex and conspiratorial tale than it at first seems. At the heart of it all is the Covenant's religious fanaticism pitted against the humans' adulation of hardware, technology and the man himself, Master Chief. Hearing the Covenant describe MC as 'The Demon' while the Marines boast "I've got a SPARTAN killing machine - what have you got?" are just two examples of inspired in-game speech that drives the story and characters forward.
Halo 2 is one of the very few FPSs confident enough to place multiple non-player characters at your side. Despite being expendable in terms of the mission, these gun-crazy Marines make the total war experience believable. They sweep the area and take cover when the Covenant is attacking in force. They even jump into vehicles and let rip with homing rockets, all the time hollering with vitriolic put-downs and macho boasts (of which Sergeant Johnson is the undisputed king). On the other hand, when the chips are down, they'll scream for help and sulk just so you know that Master Chief should pull his big green finger out.