We got a raw deal from Halo. Where there should have been wonder there has been disappointment. Where there should have been one of the greatest PC games of all time, there has been a moderately entertaining shooter.
You might recall that there was a time before the Xbox, a time when Halo seemed like the saviour of FPS gaming on the PC: beautiful, vehicular space-war with burning energy weapons, roaring vehicles, proudly chromed aliens, all wrapped up within a mysterious ringworld sci-fi mythology. We were so excited, so sure that this would lead us into perfected escapism. Way back, a month before I'd even started working on the mag, PC Gamer revealed the world's first look at Bungie's project. "Halo Gorgeous," Gillen punned, breathlessly. "It's just f**king cool." It promised so much.
Seven years later and I am slumped at my PC wishing this game would go away. Halo 2 is a lazy port of a less-than-perfect sequel to an FPS that was pretty good on a console and only average on a PC. Oh, how the hyped have fallen.
Let's break it down. Firstly and most fundamentally Halo 2 doesn't deliver fights with the promised pizazz. Shooting people, which constitutes 100% of Halo 2's game, struggles to satisfy from the start. The AI of both enemies and allies is solid and reliable, but hardly as inventive as that in Half-Life 2
or F.E.A.R. The weapons are all agonisingly similar, and none of them require much skill to master. They're either splash-damage monstrosities, or designed to spit loads of damage over a wide angle. Point in roughly the right direction and you're going to win (perhaps do some weird floaty jumping to avoid hostile fire).
The same is true of the enemies who are fighting you: by the end of the game it's a case of ordnance-spam attrition. Can you pump out more grenades and rockets in the first few moments of the fight than your enemy? Good, then you'll reach the next checkpoint. It's boring. Halo 2's fighting is soulless and tiresomely predictable. It's boring like tidying your house is boring. Pick up some shoes, wash the dishes, bazooka the conveyor-belt of linear monsters. Halo 2 has no puzzles that I can recall, no notable physics events, a handful of interesting scripted scenes, and no memorable emergent glories at all. It is repetitious shooting that leaves us feeling, at best, sad and unfulfilled.
These problems are amplified by the overall pacing. It starts out competently, with a punchy opening sequence, but soon it stumbles, occasionally picking itself up and looking around, clueless and dazed. There are long, absent-minded pauses, as if the game forgot to make anything happen. It happens again and again - moments pass... wasn't I supposed to be saving the human race? The vehicle-based levels are the worst culprits. These are huge open maps where you can find yourself wandering on foot if your Warthog jeep (now destructible) gets exploded. I found myself simply driving through a couple of the later vehicle levels, just to get past their tedious, lingering exchanges of ammo. The AI seems to assume that I'll stick around to fight it, and had no real plan for me just driving on through.
Fighting through the last two hours is laborious, like hard maths where you have to show your working. I couldn't enjoy it, and began to feel ill. I swear there was something weird going on in my heart. It might have been boredom making my organs go hard. Boredom can do that, you know. Beware.
Think I'm done with bitching? I've got more: there's the overall level design and visual drabness. This is an old first-generation Xbox game. It looked unexceptional back then, but these days no amount of upped resolutions and anti-aliasing is going to save it from a case of the grey-walled uglies. Crap textures, made worse by lack of artistry and lack of computational palette, make Halo 2 soporifically uninteresting.