Of course I can only be talking about one thing — it’s time to continue exploring the Master Chief Collection and dive into Halo 2. Which is very much more of the same.
Okay, saying “more of the same” is a little bit uncharitable — you can feel the improvements across the board.
Vehicles are faster and the controls more responsive, so gunning around in a Warthog doesn’t feel like such a chore and the Banshee doesn’t (quite) drop out of the sky so often. The shotgun, reassuringly, appears in the first level instead of half-way through the campaign. The NPC soldiers who join you seem all round less fragile and so can actually keep up with you for more than five minutes.
There are a couple of new enemies, though not as many as maybe would have been nice. There are some new guns, again not many, but thankfully one particularly egregious hole from the previous game has been filled — the Sentinel drones drop their beam weapons so you can use them for yourself. After all, everybody loves a beam weapon; it’s rude to keep them locked to just the enemies.
So yeah, more of the same but feeling much tighter. As one would expect from a sequel.
Indeed, one of my biggest complaints about the first Halo, how repetitive and padded it felt, is fairly comprehensively off the table.
Halo 2 has doubled down and absolutely gone to town on the techno-monolithic grandeur. Instead of long chains of suspiciously similar corridors and chambers, we are treated to a slew of unique, varied and beautifully massive vistas that would make Star Wars proud. From the chunky human city on Earth to the curvacious Covenant ships and the perfect angles and glowy bits of the Forerunner temples, everything I did want more of from the first game’s aesthetic is out in force.
There is also much more plot on show. The biggest shake-up is that right from the intro we get to see a lot from the perspective of the alien Covenant rather than just barrelling along blindly as the humans, and we even get to play several missions as the Arbiter, the disgraced leader who failed to protect the original Halo from the Master Chef’s ministrations. Maybe if the aliens had a sassy AI of their own, they’d have done better?
Though the start is a little weird, because we left Halo on a bit of a cliffhanger — the titular ring was destroyed, but the Master Chef and Cortana were stuck in a bomber with no fuel and drifting near the wreckage. How did they get back to Earth? Oh well.
Halo 2 does have a few peculiar additions. It is possible to dual-wield weapons, picking an extra one up off the floor to hold in your other hand. In theory this is really cool — you can still only carry one gun in reserve so being able to keep a third one by virtue of it staying in your hand is a way to pad things out a bit, plus you get the extra firepower of being able to fire at twice the pace.
In practice, though, it means even more of your screen is filled with weapon, making it quite hard to direct all that extra firepower at your enemies. The dual-wielded (dual-welt?) weapon is also immediately discarded when you throw a grenade, melee attack somebody, switch to your other weapon, or do pretty much anything other than walk and shoot, so it’s more like a tiny situational bonus than anything properly useful. Which is a shame because, yeah, dual-wielding.
The two-weapon limit is actually even more laughable here because Halo 2 is very generous with its equipment, at least on Normal difficulty. Convenient fly-bys by allied dropships have scattered the world with weapon crates, and even if they didn’t, every enemy in the universe drops something you can pick up; so the constraint of having to pick and choose what you want to take with you isn’t so much an interesting tactical choice as a minor irritation.
(Actually some of those fly-bys happen while you’re there… one might have landed on my head and killed me. Oops. Good thing the checkpoints are generous too.)
So yeah, not much to say about Halo 2 except that it’s… a pretty good sci-fi romp. It makes up for a load of its predecessor’s shortcomings (though not all of them), continues to deliver all the sassy dialogue you could want and lets you blow up a lot of aliens. I can definitely see more clearly from here from whence the “cultural phenomenon” emerged, though I’m not going to be putting Halo 2 on any of my favourite game lists. Maybe you had the be there.
Having said that, Halo 2 commits one of the most heinous acts possible — it doesn’t actually end. It just stops, right in the middle of the action. Boy, I sure am glad I waited until all the games could be played as a single unit…