It’s difficult to imagine many PC gamers who don’t know about Halo 2 or never grabbed an Xbox controller and tried the game. The title was so immortalized that when the Xbox 360 came out, a good chunk of people took that exact same game to play on the new console with little more than the benefit of being able to play it on their shiny white boxes.
The original Halo game lingered on PC sales charts (along with the likes of perennial sellers like Battlefield, Half-Life, World of Warcraft, The Sims, etc.) when it was released years later. Why? I’m not entirely sure since it was the same game with higher resolution graphics but multiplayer had something to do with it. Fast forward two and a half years and we have Halo 2 for PCs running Windows Vista. Maybe Microsoft was hoping people liked Halo 2 so much they took it to the Xbox 360 now they will buy Windows Vista just to play it again?
Much has been made of Windows Vista and its steeper system requirements. At the time of the operating system’s release also signaled the herald of DirectX 10; dubbed the next generation of PC gaming graphics. After looking at Halo 2 for Windows Vista, one has to wonder what exactly Microsoft is trying to prove here with an almost three year old game when the game ran pretty comfortably on a 733Mhz Pentium III and a GeForce 3/4 GPU. Luckily, it runs on DirectX 9 but again only on Vista. There is support for up to 1680x1050 resolution and while enough action occurs in single player and particularly multiplayer to drag a modern gaming PC down, the basic textures, level design and architecture are clearly something that came out three years ago. Suffice to say, there have been other games released on console and PC over the past few years that look better.
As a single player game, Halo 2 picks up pretty much where Halo left off with Covenant forces attacking Earth. Master Chief fights alongside fellow humans on Earth and later takes the fight to the enemy on board Covenant ships and such. Halo 2 introduced a slight wrinkle to the game with you assuming the role of the enemy too, as the Arbiter, who practices his death wielding skills amongst the various factions of the Covenant. The mystery of the Halo is also revealed.
The campaign itself is pretty short. Even though it is short, the Arbiter sequences feel like they are extending the campaign a little too much. I’ve always felt like Halo 2 was very much like The Matrix Reloaded. If a few scenes could be hacked away from Halo 3, it could probably fit neatly to form a nice continuous storyline in Halo 2 instead of artificially inflating the story with a cliffhanger ending. Oh wait, Pirates of the Caribbean did that too. There simply isn’t enough substance to justify the dozen or so hours you’ll take to get through the sequences. Another disparity I (re)discovered is the strength of the Master Chief and Arbiter levels. By far the Master Chief levels are more fun to play especially when you get to team up with some fellow soldiers. The dual-wielding weapons were pretty cool back in 2004. But they hardly turn heads in 2007.
Multiplayer Halo 2 has proved to be a fan, no I take that back, cult favorite amongst Xbox owners. While it’s not terribly sophisticated, the interesting weapon design and 23 maps have kept the game alive even on a dead console. Recent comments from a Bungie employee that he can’t even bring himself to play Halo 2 multiplayer seem to be in the minority, although I personally never found the multiplayer to be too addicting.
Ironically some of the benefits of playing Halo 2 on the PC will probably end up being pertinent to gamers who are on Xbox Live, ergo those console owners who have already played the game.
Since Halo 2 supports Xbox Live as part of the new Games for Windows initiative, you can rack up achievement points that will also be available in your Xbox 360 Live login. You can also use an Xbox 360 gamepad to play the game and voice chat is also available throughout the multiplayer section as it is on the console. I would imagine if you already have the gamepad and the Live account, you must be part of the 90% of Xbox owners who have already played Halo 2.
Unlike the recently released Shadowrun, there is no cross-platform multiplayer gaming, although Halo 2 only gives the auto-aiming ability to gamepad users. No news on whether this will change when/if cross-platform support is implemented.
The mouse and keyboard combination is still the way to go if you’re going to rack up any significant amount of kills in the game. Although the game comes with a free gold level Xbox Live month, it is not required to play the game online but you do have to activate the game on the PC, which hopefully is not a sign that games will become a pain in the rear end in the future. Oh and one more neat thing – you can play the game without installing it or while it installs. This is something PC publishers have to take into account as it often takes me an hour just to install some multi DVD titles these days.
Considering people were claiming Halo 3 wasn’t stretching the limits of graphical prowess on the Xbox 360 in the recent beta test, it’s doubtful that a barely upgraded Halo 2 is going to wow anyone. It questions the minimum Windows Vista requirement when this game is probably not the one that absolutely needs it. This is not a showcase title anymore. Thus, it’s difficult to recommend this game to anyone except those PC owners who are completely in the dark about Halo 2, which wouldn’t be a lot considering the natural cross pollination of gamers between PC and Xbox especially amongst first person shooter fans. If this were a hit game on PS2 or GameCube, I can imagine a lot of PC gamers not having the chance to play the game. Unfortunately, that’s not the case thereby making Halo 2 even less gratifying.