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Halo 2

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Halo 2 is literally a game of two halves; a game with a multiplayer mode that arguably had fans looking forward to it more than the single-player. After playing Halo 2 both online and off, Gamestyle decided that to best appraise the title, we had to review the two modes separately. While aspects of the single-player campaign may have been disappointing for some (does the word “Audrey” mean anything to you?), the multiplayer aspect of Halo 2 is quite possibly the best game on Xbox Live.

After customising an online avatar, be it a Spartan (Master Chief) or Elite skin, the player has quite a few options to choose from. If a player decides to go for the ranked games, they will find it somewhat different from most Xbox Live games. For starters, the process is almost completely automated – right down to choosing who hosts the game. The only real decision for players is what type of game they would like to tackle from the available playlists. At the time of writing, these included “Rumble Pit” (where eight players compete against each other in deathmatch-style games, including King of the Hill, Oddball and Territories). “Team Skirmish” is similar to Rumble Pit, but played in teams of up to four people on each side. “Big Team Battle” is the same as Team Skirmish, but with teams of up to eight people on each side. “Head to Head” is where two players partake in one-on-one battles, and “Team Slayer” is a team deathmatch-only affair. Then there are the two Clan gametypes: Major (eight players per team) and Minor (four per team) – featuring the same gametypes found in team games, but for clans. The list also includes Rumble Training and Team Training, which features all of their respective, ranked games (but are not actually ranked).

When playing a ranked game, your ranking goes up or down depending on how well you do in the game. This is quite important, as when you enter a ranked game, the game tries to set you against opponents that are of a similar rank to you. Each player has a rank for each gametype as well, so whereas a player could be Rank 23 on Rumble Pit, they could also be a Rank 10 on Team Slayer. This is a good system, as you are always playing people on a similar skill level to your own (unlike games such as Rainbow Six, where you won’t even know if you’re playing against people who are ten times more skilled than you are). Once the game selects your opponents and gametype, it then selects the person with the best connection to become the host, and away you go. This system goes a long way to eliminating lag. Gamestyle has only encountered serious lag on perhaps 10% of the games we have played, and trust us, we’ve played a lot of games (but please don’t ask how many we have won).

Another addition is what happens if the host of the games decides to quit. The game pauses for a short time while it decides who among the remaining players has the next best connection. This process is mostly quick – only taking around 30 seconds – however sometimes it can take up to five minutes for a game to get going again. In one particular match of Rumble Pit where the host quit, we waited for five minutes before the game reconnected and in that time every other player had quit (and because of that we won the match by default; patience pays off it seems).

Once a game finishes, the game drops players back at the menu to start the process again. One of the drawbacks of this is that you can’t play against people you have just played and had a good time with – but ultimately this is the point of ranked games. The opponents keep changing so that you get a more rewarding experience (and it also eliminates the problem of people creating ranked games and just playing the same people over and over again to get higher rankings). Plus, the menu allows people to create their own games and then invite those they’ve played against earlier to these games.

Halo 2 has plenty of features which compliment the excellent gameplay. The game has Xbox Live 3.0 upgrades – such as voice messaging, which makes contacting friends a lot easier than typing them out on the software keyboard. It also features the clan system that was introduced to Xbox Live by Rainbow Six 3: Black Arrow (but with all of the added functionality already mentioned). However, because of the way the matchmaking system works, you cannot challenge a specific clan to a ranked clan match. This seems a bit of an oversight on Bungie’s part; it would’ve been great if rival clans could’ve challenged each other to ranked games (but again was probably instigated to stop clans playing against certain opponents and ranking up that way).

Bungie is also keen to point out its new “proximity voice” system. Basically, the further apart players are the harder it is to hear each other (or not at all after a certain distance). To hear players more clearly, either move towards each other, or press the White button on the Xbox joypad to turn on your radio – which will allow everyone on your team to hear you (or everyone in one of the non-team games). However, one of Halo 2 Online’s best features – if not the best – is the statistics tracking system.

Bungie tracks every game of Halo 2 over Live, and if you go to their official site (www.bungie.net), you can view every single game that has ever been played (along with various statistics about them). The site allows players to view maps of games that tell them who they have killed, where on the map they’ve killed, and what weapon was used for each kill. You can also check your ranking, comparative to people you’ve played against, as well as determine how many more points are needed to reach your next ranking. The site can even tell you how many shots were fired in each game (amongst other things), or give you medals for killing sprees, assassinations, sniping and more. Some people have complained that you need to visit a separate site to view these stats (although, after a game finishes you can view the final stats for your game, but they are lost once you’ve started another). While this can be annoying, the overall amount of stats compiled by Bungie.net more than makes up for it.

While playing against an ever-changing list of adversaries is fun, Halo 2 is best played with a group of friends. Because of this, one of the best features of Halo 2 is the “party system”. If you want to play games (ranked or unranked) with up to seven friends, you can all enter a game as a party and stay together in all the games you play. You can also do this with people on your “previous players” list. After a game ends, you just return to the party screen with your friends. This is one of the best additions to the online aspect of Halo 2, as friends are no longer forced apart after a ranked game ends (as in other games like Splinter Cell: Pandora Tomorrow).

And then there are the options available to players when they partake in custom unranked games. Unlike the ranked games, players have complete control over the games they can create – what weapons to use, what map to play on, what vehicles are available, whether to have shields on or off, and many more options. Gamestyle is particularly fond of the custom game “Zombies” (which we would love to explain here, but we’re quickly running out of words to describe the brilliance of Halo 2 Online).

No matter what games you play and whom they are played against (apart from obnoxious Americans), you will have a great time over Xbox Live. It’s only ever the infrequent lag – or people who shouldn’t be allowed an Xbox Live account – that ruin the games. A special mention should also be given to developers Bungie as well, because if a problem ever arises (such as matchmaking taking too long), they fix it as soon as humanly possible. Some developers/publishers could learn a lesson from this (cough, we’re looking at you, EA). Combined with the forthcoming free downloadable content, Bungie has created the best Xbox Live game available (despite the odd flaw – such as the graphical glitch in Coagulation where flags practically poke through the floor and into the basement/banshee hangar). And for that, it earns top marks.