As soon as anyone turned on, probably for the first time, their XBox and placed the Halo CD on the tray, they knew that a sequel was coming. The sweet anticipation, the trembling hand with the sore thumb and the sweaty sigh of release at the end of a session, were the signs that Bungie had got it right.
The success of its predecessor has all gamers hungry for any morsel, as tiny as it may be, of information regarding Halo 2. In fact the whole story surrounding the sequel has a lot more to do with what we all know rather than with what we do not.
You already know Halo 2 is the sequel to Halo. You already know Halo walked off with a ton of rave reviews and Game-of-the-Year awards. You already know the bar has been raised and expectations for a sequel are high. You already suspect that Bungie would not create such a game only to destroy it by its sequel.
What you really want to know is: What does it look like? What's new? What's the solo campaign all about? What about multiplayer? And of course the all-important When can I get my hands on it?
The game itself is everything you loved about the original Halo, but with all the knobs turned up to 11 this time round. In fact, Jason Jones, Bungie Studios head described the sequel saying Halo 2 is a lot like Halo 1, only it's Halo 1 on fire, going 130 miles per hour through a hospital zone, being chased by helicopters and ninjas and the ninjas are all on fire, too.
This is not a quickie Halo 1.5 follow-up using the same engine. Bungie are using a completely rewritten graphics engine which allows artists to work in previously unimaginable complexity and detail. Anyone who thinks the original Halo stretched the Xbox's graphical abilities to the limit is mistaken. There are gorgeous new realms to be explored, and Halo 2 will take you there. There will be several new weapons in addition to the reliable old standards from the first game. Not to mention the new vehicles you'll ride into battle. Or the many new enemies you'll face. If you had a hard time with the handful of Covenant races you met in the first game, you may wish to start practicing now; you'll need it when they unleash the rest of their army.
Halo 2 returns you to the role of the Master Chief - still humanity's best weapon against the Covenant. Their defeat at Halo was only temporary, and they are pursuing their goal - the complete obliteration of humankind - with renewed zeal. Human military forces are exhausted and unable to stave off the Covenant's rapid advance toward Earth. Even with the Master Chief back in action, the situation looks dire - and this is at the beginning of the game, before things get a lot worse. In true Bungie tradition, the solo campaign in Halo 2 deepens and expands upon the story that began in the first game: old questions will be answered, new mysteries will unfold, and the truly epic nature of the story will finally be revealed.
The true difference between Halo and its sequel, will of course be the multiplayer aspect. Now that XBox - Live is fully launched and well established in most gaming nations, Halo 2 has the potential to prove very useful in drawing in XBox Live subscribers. Halo 2's multiplayer function, will be designed from the ground up. What's more, the multiplayer experience is being completely redesigned. The first Halo offered just a glimpse of what Bungie originally had in mind. In Halo 2 we should expect a few surprises, a hint as to what those will be comes from lead designer, Jamie Griesemer, we still have the multi-player game-types that people loved in Halo, but we're planning something special for multi-player in Halo 2. I don't want to ruin the surprise, but imagine the essential Halo single player experience: pitched battles between the humans and the Covenant, massive vehicle and infantry engagements. Now imagine that every combatant is an actual person playing over Xbox Live. With no bots planned, Bungie are really trying to create a Next - Generation title.
The Halo 2 online multiplayer experience will feature squad-oriented team-play, real-time voice chat, and extensive community support.
Some will be surprised that Bungie chose to create a new engine for Halo 2, after all the original Halo engine seemed to be working pretty well. Changing the graphics engine however, was of paramount importance if the sequel was to offer something new, something better.
Our code squeezes every drop of power out of the Xbox, said Chris Butcher, one of the sequel's engineering leads. We're doing dynamic lighting and shadows, per-pixel everything, rendering gigantic, lush environments. The graphical features we're using are so advanced we don't even have buzzwords for them yet.
Although some may be quick to dismiss the above quote as pure hype, a quick look at the trailer, which offers in-game footage, will definitely make you think twice about Bungie's claims. As seen in the trailer, shadows, lighting, textures and detail are out of this world.
The game will also feature cinematic quality sound which promises to contribute greatly in the creation of the eerie atmosphere which offered so much to the first Halo. A decent Dolby capable system is definitely a worthwhile investment for anyone waiting for the sequel. According to Mat Noguchi, who is responsible for Bungie's tools and sounds on Halo 2 says, I've improved our sound engine so that we can play more sounds with higher fidelity all the time. Most of the sounds in Halo were played at the equivalent of AM radio on a typical receiver. For Halo 2, we're going full-bore, with sound as good as that you get from a professionally recorded CD. Basically, the best audio experience out there.
Halo 2 is destined to become an FPS classic, a title which will not only claim its predecessors position in gaming but one which will attempt to improve on the original. The various gameplay aspects of the title are more or less known, more weapons (7 is just not enough), more enemies, more frantic action. The real difference however, will be in the new graphics engine. Worlds of unsurpassed beauty and complexity will invite you to carry out your very detailed and textured slaughter.
The other important difference is online play. Utilizing the, quite impressive, XBox Live connectivity capabilities, Halo 2 will attempt to do what no online FPS has yet managed to do, create a completely immersive world where everyone you see is another gamer.
For now, Bungie are under Lockdown orders in order to preserve the air of mystery surrounding the title. We do know it has been delayed and will not be on time for Christmas 2003 but will see release in Q1, 2004.
Whatever the release date however, Halo 2's success will be immediately relevant to the survival and future of the XBox console and of the XBox Live service.
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