It?s here. The sequel to the game that launched a thousand (well, several hundreds of thousands) Xboxes has arrived. Bungie?s seminal FPS pretty much defined the Xbox when it was launched alongside the console at the beginning of 2002. For many gamers, seduced by the super-slick graphical prowess on offer, Halo 2 has been the single most anticipated game of the year. As promised, it?s a further improved take on the console FPS genre.
The sheer level of attention attracted by Halo 2?s release does invite a certain amount of scepticism though. In many regards, Halo 2 reflects the state of Microsoft?s outlook on and understanding of the console gaming market. As the follow up to the Xbox?s single most important flagship title it should show off the machine?s full potential. Technically speaking, it accomplishes this with consummate ease; but in terms of offering a new or innovative gaming experience, it does fall short. It reminds us of a well-polished, yet slightly chilly show-home: with sparkling skirting boards and the ambient chemical hum of alpine meadow breezes hanging in the air, yet lacking the toasty hearth with which to truly warm your gaming cockles.
The extent to which Halo 2 will impress you simply depends on what you expect it to offer. As an FPS, or a straight updated sequel to your favourite game, it works brilliantly and goes down instantly as a classic. As the most crucial Xbox exclusive title of this year, however, it does seem less remarkable. Let?s say, for example, that an owner of the old-style PS2 has come into a little spare cash this Christmas. What would make these people buy an Xbox as a second console? Probably not Halo 2: because if the original Halo wasn?t enough of a temptation, Halo 2 isn?t sufficiently different to warrant fresh investigation. So instead, looking at the likes of San Andreas, GT4, Jak III and Ratchet and Clank 3, such folk might choose to simply opt for a nice new slimline PSTwo. If Halo 2 had spread its net further, advancing the FPS genre in the process, perhaps then it could have been as important a game as Microsoft claims it to be.
Quite simply, we believe that Halo 2 should have been a more expansive experience than it is. With such substantial resources available to the development team, and a comfortable, reassuringly popular precedent behind it, Bungie hadn?t necessarily needed to take any undue risks. The anticipatory hype had commenced over a year ago, and Halo?s fanbase had pledged its allegiance to the idea of a fairly sober, no-nonsense sequel. But the fact that Halo 2 is more of the same definitely invites a certain level of criticism from more demanding gamers. Just how life-shatteringly exciting can another FPS be?