Sunday, May 28, 2023

Review: The Master Chief Collection - Part 2 - Halo 2: Anniversary [2020]

My successful play-through of Halo: Combat Evolved Anniversary last year meant that I would soon return to the Halo universe to continue the space-opera in Halo 2: Anniversary. While gun-play, vehicles and story were good I found a significant part of the original boring and lazy as it basically had you backtracking huge sections of maps. I was assured that there'd be far less of that here and that it was much better. I didn't need this affirmation, as I'd be playing it anyway, but it was good to know.

Like most sequels to new franchises it's something that thematically or narratively follows an original that itself was not necessarily designed to even have a sequel but Halo 2 slots in well after the events of the original. The developers were able build upon the technical success of Halo and enhance the experience with major improvements. The writers were able to pick up threads of story from the original and meld them into a new more expansive narrative so vast they even had to end the game on a cliffhanger like The Empire Strikes Back, and just like Return of the Jedi, there was no question that a Halo 3 wouldn't be too far behind it.

If Halo was "Combat Evolved" then Halo 2 is "Combat Evolved Evolved". Master Chief has his standard load-out of weapons, but dismally retains the two weapon limit popularised by 'realistic' WWII shooters but makes zero sense considering the arsenal you could carry in a powered suit of armour (as in other such fantastical games). That said, unlike a WWII shooter, the abundance of weapons strewn about the landscape after you kill your enemies is always more than you need and makes up for the anaemic load-out. In retrospect I think I ran out of ammo twice in the whole 10 hours. The smoothness of combat actions, and picking up an expanded range of weapons from the ground and dual wielding them was genuinely cathartic and I don't know of many FPS experiences like it. 

Halo 2's action is sublime, your shields regenerate faster, you can swap weapons with your AI team mates if you prefer theirs and take control of (or sit in the gunner's seat) of any vehicle - including your enemy's by yanking him out! Enemy AI improves to where they will duck, take cover, frag you and can be more aggressive, but your own shielding, melee attacks and superior dual-wielding firepower is usually more than enough to combat any banzai charge. Level design was more varied and environments more unique here and indeed there was no backtracking over familiar ground, it was always full steam ahead adding to your sense of progress.

It's not RPG quality obviously but for a shooter Halo 2's narrative quality was boosted beyond the original (which was already not too shabby) and delved just as much into the story of the Covenant and their motivations, trials and tribulations. For a lot of the game you take control of the Covenant Arbiter, voiced by the legendary Keith David (The Thing / Platoon) and experience his battles against renegade Covenant and The Flood. It's safe to say that the simple premise of the original has been blown wide open and you can see how Halo 2 sets up the saga for years to come.

Final Verdict: An overwhelming improvement over the original and well worth playing today even if I'm quite late to the Halo party overall.

Playtime 9.8 hours through Steam on RTX4070Ti, Max graphical settings @ 3440x1440 120FPS on Windows 11. Windows HDR provided solid enhancement.

Availability: Halo 2: Anniversary is available either as a stand-alone title from either Steam or the Windows Store (€9.99) or as part of  Halo: The  Master Chief Collection (€39.99). Review copy of The Master Chief Collection purchased in Apr 2020 for €31.99.

Series Releases:

Halo: Combat Evolved [2001] (Xbox)
- Halo: Combat Evolved [2003]
Halo 2 [2004]
- Halo 2 [2007]
Halo 3 [2007]
- Halo 3: ODST [2009] (Xbox)
- Halo: Reach [2010] (Xbox)
- Halo: Combat Evolved Anniversary [2011] (Xbox)
Halo 4 [2012]
- Halo: The Master Chief Collection [2014] (Xbox)
Halo 5: Guardians [2015]
- Halo: The Master Chief Collection [2020] (PC)
-- Halo: Combat Evolved Anniversary
-- Halo 2: Anniversary
-- Halo 3
-- Halo 3: ODST
-- Halo: Reach
-- Halo 4
Halo Infinite [2021]

No comments: