When the Xbox first launched in November 2001, Microsoft’s console had one game that set it apart from the other systems on the market: “Halo.” The revolutionary first-person shooter effortlessly added lush graphics, nonstop action and a sense of freshness to an otherwise overflowing genre. With “Halo 2,” Microsoft and Bungie have gone above and beyond gemers’ lofty expectations, easily creating the best gaming experience on Xbox.

“Halo” saw the super space marine Master Chief fight off the evil alien aliance known as the Covenant. “Halo 2” continues after the destruction of Halo, a Covenant space station. Unfortunately, Covenant forces decide it’s the appropriate time to bring their war to Earth, forcing Master Chief and the rest of the marines to engage in battle to defend their planet. The plot as a whole remains just as gripping as the original and is propelled through the action sequences and cutscenes between levels.

What differentiates “Halo 2” from the origianl are the number of new facets to its almost flawless gameplay. First and foremost, more weapons are available for use and gamers can also now employ two guns at the same. The double-fisted action that ensues adds a new wrinkle to the well-refined action.

Further separating “Halo 2” from its predecessor is the inclusion of Covanent missions. Players assume the role of the Arbitor, a Covenant foot-soldier, and fight through throngs of oppossing alien forces. Additionally, when playing as the Covenant, gamers can utilize features like cloaking and fight with the plasma sword. While the combat is still extremely similar to the scenarios with Master Chief, it at least adds some variety.

The most exciting new ability in “Halo 2” is the skill to steal the enemies’ vehicles. By simply pressing the “X” button, a la “Grand Theft Auto,” the player can carjack Covenent rides like the Ghost, a hovering speeder. Moreover, with the more powerful vehicles, Master Chief knocks out the driver, and the player can choose to toss a grenade into the hull of the tank. But the vehicular theft is not limited to the good guys, as Covenent members can just as easily swipe Master Chief’s Warthog, a hi-tech Jeep.

“Halo’s” incredible multiplayer returns to form in the sequel. With even more customization and all of the abilities added to Campaign mode present, death matches have never been more fun. The split-screen action is reminiscent of past console shooters, exacerbating the limitations of the mode. Gamers can spy on their opponent’s screen to discern their location, eliminating any attempts at stealth. Xbox Live support might be the most anticipated advancement in the series and it doesn’t disappoint.

Though there are some graphical issues such as the loss of textures, and the short length of the Campaign mode, “Halo 2” is easily the best game available for Xbox. If only all sequels could live up to the hype.



Offline: 4 and 1/2 out of 5 stars

Online: 3 and 1/2 out of 5 stars

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