Monday, March 07, 2005

Video Games: Halo 2

After I finished Halo, the next game on my Christmas game stack was Halo 2. This one was a gift from my parents, and a game I was really looking forward to after seeing all the good reviews.

In a lot of ways, the game lived up to my expectations, it was a good game. The gameplay was significantly more varied then Halo 1, which kept things fresh all the way to the very end. The maps also felt much less repetitive, which was a huge improvement to what was my biggest complaint about the first Halo.

The addition of dual-wield weapons makes only being able to have two core weapons at a time much more manageable (because you can have effectively three, but one gets dropped if you switch weapons). Also Halo 2 features quite a few more weapons then Halo 1, and some were even useful, which was nice to see.

Finally, one of the best improvements was the addition of stronger weapons at the end of the game. Specifically, the Brute Shot and Brute Plasma Rifle let you plow through enemies at the end of the game that would have required a charged plasma shot + head shot at the beginning of the game. At the same time, they introduced some more difficult enemies so that you weren't overly powerful, but it was nice to run up on jackals or elites at the end of the game and watch them fall away in no time flat.

That said, I did have a few complaints about the game (have I ever not?)

First up, the graphics. These were a real sore spot with me, and they nearly ruined the game early on. But lets back up. The graphics in Halo 2 are pretty amazing considering the age of the hardware the XBox sports. High Dynamic Range lighting, normal mapping, everything you would expect from a modern graphics engine appears to be here. However, the implementation is frustratingly bad.

The problem is on-demand texture loading, or the lack there of. It's obvious that Halo 2 is pushing the edge of what is possible on an XBox, and what they had to give up to get things working was allowing textures to delay-load when they should have been on screen. This causes visible and disconcerting texture 'popping' into scenes. While you are actually playing the game, it is not that bad (it only seems to happen if you get just the wrong distance away from something or spin around quickly). But during cut-scenes the texture popping really destroys the illusion.

For example, what might happen is that you are listening to some character talk, with a close-up of his head on the screen. Then he says 'Look over at that screen', and the camera pans over to....nothing. Then a second or two later, the 'screen' pops into view.

Sometimes whole vehicles appear to be solid colors and suddenly get a texture+bumpmap all at once. Or a characters face will be a flat texture, only to have a detail map pop in slightly later.

It really annoyed me, especially during the beginning of the game when it is much more cut-scene heavy. Or at least the beginning seemed to have more cut-scenes affected by the problem.

Considering the XBox is a static platform, I don't understand how they could have made the decision to ship the game in the state it was. Actually, I know exactly why they shipped it when they did, had to make Christmas 04, but it still disappoints me. I would have much preferred if they had dialed the graphics back ever so slightly, so that the textures didn't pop in all the time.

My other complaint about the game was it's length. It is really short. Even though it took me a month to beat the game, I didn't play very often at all. In fact, I quickly got the feeling I was racing through the game, and I consciously tried to play for only short periods of time in order to extend the experience somewhat.

I can't put an exact guess on the number of hours it took to beat, but I would guess maybe 10 or 12, and I am a very slow FPS player. I'm sure a better player could finish it in half that time, or perhaps a similar amount of time if they played on 'Legendary' difficulty.

The length issue was readily apparent as I finished the game, and Linzy said 'You didn't really just beat it, did you? That was really short'. Plus the ending is as bad as rumored, basically rubbing your face in the fact that they only gave you half a game.

Since I don't play have XBox Live, or play online, that aspect of the game doesn't offer much to me. And, granted the game was a gift, but it still made me angry that they would deliver such a short game for $50. Especially when other games released around the same time offer many times that much gameplay.

Anyways, despite these two complaints, I really did enjoy the game. I liked that there was more variety in the gameplay (one minute you would be on foot, then in a vehicle, then flying a ship, etc), I liked the new enemies and weapons, and I thought the weapon variety was much improved.

I would just recommend renting it, not buying it.


Scooter said...

I hadn't seen a link on your site yet, so I thought you might want to see this if you hadn't.

From Chris Sells' blog at

"Robert points out a hilarious video of what happens in an XBOX Live session of Halo 2 when the other players find out you've fallen asleep. But, even more interesting than that is the ability for that kind of real-world fidelity to make it into a virtual world so that guys from across the country can all haze the guy in his sleep. I want that for my PC!"

Steve Eck said...

Hehe, I hadn't seen that yet.

I can't imagine falling asleep during a game of Halo 2. But it was pretty funny to watch.