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Critical Reception: Microsoft's/Bungie's  Halo 2

Critical Reception: Microsoft's/Bungie's Halo 2

May 30, 2007 | By Danny Cowan

May 30, 2007 | By Danny Cowan
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More: Console/PC



This week's edition of the regular Critical Reception column examines online reaction to the newly released PC port of Halo 2, which has been labeled as "mediocre" and "a relic" by disappointed reviewers.

As one of the first major PC releases exclusive to the Windows Vista operating system, Halo 2 promised a full port of the popular 2004 Xbox first-person shooter enhanced by a number of extras, such as a level editing tool and a full set of multiplayer maps previously featured in the Halo 2 Multiplayer Map Pack.

Critical response has been largely underwhelming thus far, however. Whereas the original Xbox version of Halo 2 has earned an average review score of 95 out of 100 over the years following its release, the PC port only clocks in at 72 out of 100, according to Metacritic.com.

Mike Smith at Yahoo! Games awards Halo 2 a score of 4 out of 5 stars, despite questioning how worthwhile an experience it will be for series veterans. "Honestly, you're probably pretty well familiar with the Halo 2 formula by now," Smith admits. "Few gameplay changes are made in this port -- you'll instantly recognize the single-player campaign and most of the multiplayer maps -- all of them, if you paid for Microsoft's downloadable expansion for the Xbox game."

"But with that said," he continues, "Halo 2 PC includes a ton of features you're much more likely to associate with the Xbox than your computer. Achievements, for one."

Smith explains: "Though we can't help feeling like Microsoft stooges for saying it, there's a certain pointless, yet addictive charm in racking up achievement points, so bringing them to the PC world is a welcome development."

Though this addition provides ample replay incentive, Smith notes that much of the game will seem a bit too familiar to a majority of its audience. Even the interface is "nearly identical," to the original Xbox version, with menu options labeled with the Xbox controller's face buttons rather than PC-specific equivalents.

"What Halo 2 represents -- an integrated online experience, smooth, console-like mechanics and a hassle-free setup procedure -- is a great development for the PC's future as a gaming platform," Smith emphasizes. "But all the philosophizing in the world isn't going to change the fact that it's a port of a three-year-old game that we've all played to death, and try as we might, we just can't get excited about that."

GameSpot's Jeff Gerstmann reports the same sense of dj vu in his review, in which he rates Halo 2 at 7.0 out of 10. "The multiplayer side of Halo 2 is the part that still gets attention to this day, and it translates to the PC fairly directly," he praises. "Halo's multiplayer moves relatively slow when compared to other popular shooters, giving it a more methodical, tactical feel."

However, Gerstmann claims that a critical control flaw brings the experience down several notches, and could negatively impact gameplay balance in multiplayer matches in a big way. "By default, a player with a mouse will be able to turn more quickly and, if that player is skilled, more accurately than a gamepad user," he writes. "Gamepad players can increase the right-stick sensitivity to turn faster, but they also get another benefit that feels downright dirty."

"Like the console version, the PC game employs a certain amount of auto-aim when you're using a gamepad," Gerstmann continues. "This makes sticking to other players for up-close shotgun blasts or melee attacks significantly easier with the gamepad, and there doesn't appear to be any way to disable it or even detect that another player is using a pad."

The results, according to Gerstmann: "After pumping up the gamepad's sensitivity, we found ourselves doing more damage when armed with a gamepad, which makes the two control schemes feel unbalanced."

"Halo 2 feels like something of a relic when you put it out as a 2007 PC game," he states in conclusion. "The PC has more than its fair share of amazing shooters that blow Halo 2 away in every possible way, making this one best suited for Halo fans that want an easy way to play custom maps. However, even those fans are just as likely to be put off by the imbalance between the game's two controller options, making it a bit of a no-win situation, despite its high production quality."

Jim Rossignol, writing at PC Gamer UK, feels that Halo 2's antiquated feel is its most significant flaw, and that the title has difficulty in living up to the standards set by modern first-person shooters. "Halo 2 is a lazy port of a less-than-perfect sequel to an FPS that was pretty good on a console and only average on a PC," he quips in his 6.6-out-of-10 review. "Oh, how the hyped have fallen."

"Firstly and most fundamentally Halo 2 doesn't deliver fights with the promised pizazz," Rossignol says. "Shooting people, which constitutes 100% of Halo 2's game, struggles to satisfy from the start. The AI of both enemies and allies is solid and reliable, but hardly as inventive as that in Half-Life 2 or F.E.A.R."

The same mediocrity extends to other facets of the gameplay as well. "The weapons are all agonisingly similar, and none of them require much skill to master. They're either splash-damage monstrosities, or designed to spit loads of damage over a wide angle," Rossignol complains. "The same is true of the enemies who are fighting you: by the end of the game it's a case of ordnance-spam attrition. Can you pump out more grenades and rockets in the first few moments of the fight than your enemy? Good, then you'll reach the next checkpoint."

Despite all this, Rossignol is hesitant to call Halo 2 a bad game. "Halo 2, you see, isn't truly awful, it's just achingly, repulsively mediocre," he concludes. "Average isn't good enough, especially when it crushes our expectations of greatness. I can't be genuinely appalled by this failing - Halo 2 is just too boring for that."

Few reviewers call Halo 2's gameplay into question, but many are skeptical as to whether the PC port offers enough new features to make it a worthwhile purchase. Some critics also argue that the title fares poorly against more recent fare, and might end up being a disappointment in comparison. Achievements and a level editor might be enough to win over devoted Halo 2 fanatics, but other gamers should exercise caution before making a purchase.


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