Monday, September 07, 2009

Halo 2 (PC) Review

Unless you've been living under a rock for the last half decade, you've likely heard of a little game called Halo 2. If you owned an original Xbox console, you likely own or owned a copy of Halo 2, and if you have a PC that's running Microsoft Windows Vista, you might just have already tried the PC version of Halo 2.

Heck, who am I kidding, you've probably played the game to death like I have, and know pretty much everything there is to know about Halo 2. So why am I reviewing the PC version after all this time? Well, I never got to play it myself until recently. You see, my PC runs Microsoft Windows XP Home Edition, and while it can run current generation games like Gears of War, BioShock, and Dead Space just fine, apparently it's no where near advanced enough to run Halo 2, as Microsoft Windows Vista is a requirement. For shame on you Microsoft, using this ploy to try and sell copies of your then-brand new operating system?

That little bit of shameful marketing aside, Halo 2 is still an exceptional game and the best of the trilogy, in my opinion. So how does it actually fair on the PC? Well, when I moved out last Spring I needed to get my old man a PC since I took mine with me, and of course being 2009, he got Microsoft Windows Vista and being a fan of first person shooters and the Halo franchise, I got him a PC copy of Halo 2 for Father's Day (yup, my old man's in his 50's and loves his shooters. Only on a PC though, he hates Controllers). Of course, this meant that whenever I went over to visit, I got to give the game a whirl. It took me a couple of months to scrap together the time and have enough uninterrupted gaming sessions, but I finally played through the Campaign on Normal Difficulty.

For the two of you that have never played Halo 2, the game picks up shortly after the end of Halo: Combat Evolved. The Master Chief has returned to Earth after defeating the Covenant's forces and the Flood on the mysterious ring-world Halo, destroying Halo in the process. Now, a Covenant fleet is heading to humanity's home world, and the Chief and the UNSC need to prepare to defend their home. Meanwhile, on the Covenant side of things, the Elite Zealot who was in command of the Covenant fleet on Halo is under trial for his failures, and we're finally introduced to the leaders of the Covenant, the Prophet Hierarches. Halo 2 delves deeply into Covenant politics and motivations, really fleshing them out as an enemy and also introducing us to some new baddies, the Wookie-like Brutes, and insect like Drones. Oh, and Grunts are back too, and yes, they're just as funny.

There's even more new enemies thrown into the mix, as well as some new vehicles, and of course new weapons. Gone is the Assault Rifle, and introduced is the Battle Rifle, and awesome three-shot burst weapon with a scope. The Covenant also get a single-shot rifle, the Covenant Carbine, as well as a Sniper Rifle, the Beam Rifle, and the Pistol has been greatly toned down and it's own scope removed. You can also dual-wield single handed weapons with the click of the mouse, but at the expense of tossing Grenades. Vehicle wise, in addition to the Covenant Spectre, Shadow, and Phantom, some old favourites get tricked out. The Warthog now has an emergency break for trickier maneuvering and can come mounted with a Gauss Canon for anti-vehicle fun, and the Banshee can also to tricks and roles. There's more, of course, but I don't want to ruin any of the surprises for the small amount of new players who have not yet experienced this game's greatness.




You get to use the Energy Sword! Okay, I just had to toss that one out there. How many times were you sliced and diced with this bad boy in Halo: Combat Evolved, and now you get to use it for some ownage of your own!

The PC version of Halo 2 features the same great gameplay innovations that set it apart from all the other shooters out there: Vehicle boarding, dual-wielding, and exceptional level design, where the way you'd tackle any given situation would be dictated by what weapons you chose to carry or what vehicles, if any, you chose to take. This really gave Halo 2's Campaign a great deal of replayablity, and is something rarely seen even in new shooters today.

Considering Halo 2 (PC) was first released in May 2007, we had no issues what-so-ever with the install or with Games for Windows Live, and I'm happy to say one of the most well known issues that plagued the Xbox version of the game, extreme texture pop-in, is completely gone. In it's place is a horrendous amount of texture tearing! There's no V-Sync option to be found in any of the game's menus, and I guess no one at Microsoft thought to have it enabled by default, but texture tearing aside, the game does look excellent for a then two and a half year old console title.

The textures are all high resolution quality, and while there's no mistaking that the game originally came from the Xbox, which was already three year old hardware by the time of Halo 2's original launch back in November 2004, it still looks good enough to get the job done. In addition to the high resolution textures, it's also welcoming to have true wide screen support, which really enhances some of the vistas in the game.

Audio wise, the game has the same dialogue, sound effects, and exceptional music featured in the Xbox version, and being a PC title, the game also features full mouse and keyboard support. Honestly though, I found this very disappointing, as said support seems to have been implemented rather poorly. No matter how I adjusted it, the mouse just seemed real sluggish, and ultimately I gave up and plugged in my Xbox 360 Wired Controller, which worked like a charm. The mouse wasn't too bad controlling the Master Chief, but vehicles were a real pain.

Of course being a Games for Windows Live title, Halo 2 now features a full set of Achievements that you can earn, many of them being very simple. You'll get over half the game's Gamer Score simply by playing through the Campaign on Normal. One thing I didn't get to try was the PC version's Multiplayer. While I can pause the Campaign at any point, or Save and Exit at any point, there's no such luck in Multiplayer, so it's harder to accommodate when I'm a guest at someone else's home. Aside from two exclusive maps, however, I'd expect it to be near identical to what was offered via the Xbox version, save that a mouse/keyboard combo is now an option.

So, the final verdict? The PC version of Halo 2 is more or less an enhanced version of the Xbox game with higher resolution graphics, removal of texture pop-in, and Achievements, however some really sloppy aspects of the port stand out like a sore thumb. The texture tearing does detract from the upgraded visuals, and the mouse/keyboard implementation was so horribly done that a Controller is actually preferred! Unheard of on a PC shooter! Granted, these overall improvements do not warrant a re-purchase if you already own the Xbox version of the game; it's still Halo 2 with no new content save for two additional multiplayer maps (though the Xbox version also has two exclusive maps of it's own), and aside from Gamer Score, there's nothing drastically new here for you to see.

If for whatever reason you do not own a copy of Halo 2 but happen to have a Microsoft Windows Vista PC, this'd be the version I'd recommend, if simply for the proper Games for Windows Live integration. Halo 2 is an exceptional game that no one should miss, regardless of the platform, and at such a low price point, there's no reason why you can't scoop this epic up.

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