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Halo 2 Review

ON OTHER PLATFORMS: Xbox, PC
GAME INFO
publisher: Microsoft
developer: Bungie
genre: Shooters

MINIMUM REQUIREMENTS
PIV 2000, 1GB RAM, 7GB HDD, 256MB video card
ESRB rating: M
homepage:
www.microsoft.com/games/halo2/

release date: May 31, 07
» All About Halo 2 on ActionTrip


Bungie's Xbox juggernaut, Halo 2 has come to the PC but there is a little catch. Microsoft has spent countless millions of dollars and man hours to bring their latest operating system, Vista, to the market place. With that much work and money going into a product, you can be sure the boys in Redmond are doing everything they can to convince every XP user that its time to dump what is arguably the most stable Windows OS ever and upgrade. Gamers are being tempted to make the jump to Vista in a variety of ways that (depending on who you talk to) are either pure genius or pure evil. From my experience so far, it appears it's a little of both actually.

In case you are new to the gaming scene or were just paroled from a lengthy stay in prison (Hi Mom! We're proud of you!), I'll try to get you up to speed. If you did not play Halo 2 or somehow avoided the media blitz that came with it, here is a quick refresher: Released in the fall of 2004 for the Xbox, Halo 2 is the sequel to (what else?) the original Xbox launch title, Halo. Both games are first person shooters in a classic space opera setting. As humanity has set to exploring space, they have bumped into an alien race governed by a religious patriarchy and, of course, they want us dead. Following a massive fleet to fleet battle, one human ship trying to escape while being pursued by the covenant manages to slip away and stumbles upon a massive ancient alien artifact floating in deep space: a ring (hence the title). You play Master Chief who is decked out in olive green battle armor and has a slot wired into the back of his head used to carry your battleship's AI persona, a female hologram named Cortana. While Cortana does not actually help you fight, she does fill in points in the back story and helps to advance the plot through voice overs and cut-scenes. With the stage set, players battled their way through swarms of aliens as they tried to uncover the mystery behind Halo and find a way off of Halo alive.

Both Halo and Halo 2 were runaway hits for the Xbox due to great level design (I will take the liberty here to dispute that fact. Heavily. - 2Lions), cool implantation of weapons, a wide variety of drivable vehicles and a kick-butt soundtrack. The games also included a multiplayer component that helped secure Xbox Live as a must-have for most who owned the console. Bungie had managed to pull off the nearly impossible: convince most of us snooty PC whores that a solid FPS can be found on a console. For the die hard in the PC camp who could not be swayed to the Xbox dark side, Microsoft released Halo for the PC in 2003, two years after it launched on the Xbox. Now they are releasing Halo 2 for the PC but the catch that I mentioned is that if you are not running Windows Vista, you don't get to play.

So the real question is: Is a new OS and the annoyances / headaches that come with it prior to the first service pack release outweighed by the Halo 2 experience on a PC? Gameplay-wise, if you played it on the Xbox, you are not going to find any new plot twists on the PC version. Halo 2 features the same single-player content with its very good enemy and teammate AI. Technically there are some system-specific feature differences such as higher resolution options and higher level of detail on models, the ability to use a mouse and keyboard (you can use a gamepad if you must) and being able to save at any point during the game are welcome additions.

But with those higher PC resolutions you also realize the game engine is getting quite long in the tooth. Character models are certainly not the prettiest girl at the prom and you also notice in some of the cut-scenes (done within game engine) that these were generated with the limits of the original Xbox hardware clearly in mind. So instead of seeing the dozens of alien ships orbiting the Earth as you would with a title developed first for the PC, the number of ships is scaled back. To be fair, these are not huge issues but they are to me, subtle yet constant reminders that this is a console port. And a console port of a title that came out nearly 3 years ago at that.

There are additional features that have been added to the Vista version of Halo 2 that are being touted as reasons why you should upgrade to play. Namely:

LIVE integration which is the PC version of the Xbox Live service. If you already have an Xbox Live account on the Xbox you can login using those credentials and you are ready to go. Or at least that is what it says in the documentation. I was unable to use my Xbox Live account for some reason. I ended up having to create a new account in order to get into the game.

Achievements which are another Xbox Live feature. As you achieve goals in a game, your account is updated with an Achievement to show everyone else on Live just what a cool player you are. You can't redeem Achievements for free food or anything, (they are just for bragging rights) so the whole point is lost on me but I tend to have a one-track mind in that regard. Achievements in Halo 2 are only available in the PC version.

Dedicated Servers:
Like any good PC shooter, Halo 2 allows players to host their own multiplayer game servers and control which maps and game types you prefer to play.

Custom Maps and a Map Editor:
Halo 2 multiplayer fans that are desperate for some new content should be glad to hear that two new maps are included with the PC version. Also players now have the ability to create their own maps for use in multiplayer matches. The user-created maps I have experienced in other games run the gamut from awful to genius, so I am curious to see what comes from the user community this time around.

Tray and Play:
Console boosters have always touted the convenience of dropping a disc into their system and playing the game 30 seconds later. Tray and Play tries to bring this same functionality to the PC. When the game disc is loaded into your system the user is asked if he would like to begin playing the game while it installs behind the scenes or go through the traditional install process. I tried jumping into the game while it continued installing on my machine and I encountered no draw back (other than what I will mention in a moment). Tray and Play is a Vista feature that only time will tell if it becomes a way of life for PC gamers, or is lost in murky past of great marketing ideas.

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HIGHS
It's Halo 2 on the PC! Great music, good multiplayer component, fun gameplay;

LOWS
It's Halo 2 on the PC. Dated graphics, short single-player game, runs on Vista which entails steep hardware requirements.

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