In a perfect world, Bungie would have heard the calls of its fans and released a “Halo 1.5” sometime between 2001 and 2004 — a rehash of the original but with online support. Instead, the bit-chomping masses had to wait for “Halo 2,” and while the advantages of a true sequel are inherent to the five years of production, the new multiplayer mode is not without drawbacks.

The biggest of these is the dual-wielding feature that allows players to use any combination of two single-handed guns at once. The new tactic is innovative and intuitive, but it makes overall weapon balance a bit lopsided. Even though the player must drop one of the weapons to use grenades or swing a rifle butt, those two abilities are usually less important than having double the firepower.

This wouldn’t even be a huge drawback if some of the double-handed guns were more effective. The battle rifle, for example, simply isn’t powerful enough, especially at long range where its zoom scope comes into play. The shotgun is a great weapon for one-shot kills, but only at near-point-blank range. These shortcomings, combined with the overbearing strength of the new one-slice-kill Elite sword result in overuse of the same strategy: start with the submachine gun as a primary weapon, try to double up with a pistol or plasma rifle, and raise hell with the sword if you can get your hands on it.

But before going on with the review, let’s make something clear: These criticisms are being offered only because few reviewers have dared to do so. “Halo 2” is still the most glee-inducing first-person multiplayer on the market, especially with the Xbox Live support that so many console gamers have been waiting for.

In fact, part of the weapon imbalance problems may be due to the frantic nature of online play. All of the default matches are eight-person free-for-alls on smaller maps. This results in lots of close-quarters combat with little room to hang back and snipe. That style of play is possible in other game modes like Capture The Flag, but it’s decidedly lacking on the true proving grounds of Deathmatch. With the mind-bogglingly intricate stats and rankings system that logs almost every event in online- play, gamers should be tested on their skills in a larger variety of combat situations.

Unfortunately, the in-your-face fighting that so often occurs with current settings can’t be modified unless gamers want to play unranked games, but this can change via updates. With any luck, Bungie will begin throwing gamers into smaller matches or larger arenas with different time and frag limits in order to change the game’s dynamics. In it’s current state, “Halo 2’s” multiplayer gets a rating that is lower than it truly deserves. Hopefully, Bungie will spend some time tweaking in order to provide a more diverse experience for their faithful online community.

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