That question is even more poignant bearing in mind the scheduling of this release. Wedged between Doom 3 and Half-Life 2, which on high-end PCs are capable of casting shadows over the Xbox?s new leader, the extent of Halo 2?s shock and awe effects are somewhat subdued. But for those less inclined towards PC gaming, it is difficult to argue that Halo 2 is anything less than the best console FPS ever made. Indeed, from a superficial perspective, it could also be suggested that Halo 2 is the best Xbox game ever made. But that will only last until the next big FPS comes along, at which point Halo 2 will be all but forgotten, bar the most fervent fans.
SPOnG?s still in two minds as to whether or not Halo 2 is worthy of praise. As a pure FPS, it is fantastic; but for FPS purists, the Xbox isn?t necessarily the best tool. The true Quake-schooled trigger loon generally prefers the keyboard/mouse set-up for the most precise and speedy control. So straight from the off, Halo 2 is angled at the slightly less than hardcore. And in this case, it becomes more reasonable to criticise Halo 2 for just being an FPS. If you only own, or only intend to buy, a handful of titles for your Xbox, is Halo 2 really as essential as Microsoft Game Studios would suggest?
Bungie hasn?t made any pretence about Halo 2 being anything other than an FPS, and we?ve never expected anything else, so in many regards we have no cause for complaint. Just like when Pro Evo 4 and Burnout 3 were released, nothing was asked for other than football and racing respectively. However, bearing in mind the impressive and substantial engine behind the game, we just wish it came with a more interesting design. Fundamentally, Halo?s sci-fi setting is as about as generic as it could possibly be.
It?s no secret that there is a distinct cross-over between fans of sci-fi and fans of video-games, but equally, it?s no secret that sci-fi plotlines are often turgidly formulaic and devoid of any genuinely engaging factors. We weren?t particularly fond of the Halo universe in its first po-faced iteration, and the return really hasn?t added anything more appealing. Although the story is far from crucial to the general level of satisfaction gleaned, particularly in the case of a straight-up shooter like this, it does seem that Halo 2 could have made much more of its ?cinematic? aspects.
The last FPS we thought really made the most of its character cast was probably Goldeneye. Seeing the world through James Bond?s eyes made the whole experience seem more exciting (like a great many other British males, we want to be 007 when we grow up); but when the first-person perspective afforded is through the soul-less, bionic goggles of ?Master Chief? it does feel markedly less involving. There just doesn?t seem to be any appeal to this character, right down to his entirely meaningless name. It?s just some anonymous figure in a robot suit thing who is somehow a famous hero in the process. Considering how much thought has gone into the larger structure of the game, one might imagine that a more creative approach would have made it immediately more interesting.