No matter what system(s) you owe allegiance to, it’s impossible to deny the colossal impact Halo had on the game industry. Bungie’s epic 1st person shooter single-handedly made the Xbox a worthy purchase in the eyes of millions of gamers and currently endures as one of the most critically acclaimed titles of all time. Since the sequel was announced a year and a half ago, demand has been off the charts, with most big name game stores each already having sold hundreds of preorders. The manager of one such store firmly believes that, based upon consumer response, the release of Halo 2 will be the biggest game event in the industry’s history.
Obviously, with hype like that there is bound to be plenty of information, both bogus and legit, flying around the ‘net, and the purpose of this preview is detail all that has been officially announced while putting to rest rumors that are completely baseless or have been debunked by Bungie themselves. Every last bit of game information detailed in this preview has been mentioned by Bungie or Microsoft, either on their official website, via press release or through their Weekly Update. So get ready Halo fans, this is the ultimate compilation of legitimate information for the your most anticipated game of 2004!
For a long time Bungie has simply left it that “the game will out when we get done with it.” This cryptic response wasn’t terribly informative, but recently Bungie did come out and say that fall 2004 is the official release date. Technically, this would be anywhere from September 22nd to December 21st, but that is subject to interpretation. Both GameStop and EB Games have the release pegged for September 1st, but according to Bungie’s statements, these should probably be considered “placeholder dates” and nothing more. There are also rumors of a mid-November Halo 2 release to coincide with the third anniversary of the Xbox’s launch (and the second anniversary of Xbox Live), but, though rational, this has yet to be stated by Microsoft or Bungie and so can’t be considered official. Bungie will no doubt nail down the launch date as fall 2004 approaches, but until then be very skeptical to any other dates you might come across.
Obviously, Bungie keeps specific plot details tightly under wraps (who wants major spoilers anyway?), but there have been a few small hints that have leaked out. From the impressive eight minute demo that was unveiled at last year’s E3, we now know that the Covenant have begun attacking Earth. The Mombasa setting featured in the demo will be part of the final game, contrary to rumors indicating otherwise. The specifics are unknown, but many different Earth locations will be explored and players will get to experience such weather effects as heavy rain, snow and sand storms. Besides Earth, Bungie has also confirmed that the Master Chief (MC) will find himself battling on a lunar base, another Halo ring and “several other completely new locations.” Rumors have been swirling about MC taking the fight to the home planet of the Forerunners or the Covenant (due to Bungie loosely saying “you will take the battle to the Covenant”), but neither of these have been 100% confirmed. Gamers should definitely expect a “Sixth Sense” like plot twist to occur at some point in the game however, so fans of the flood surprise in Halo should have something to get very excited about.
On a side note, Bungie has recently shot down a rumor that there will be an underground lava and mine cart level.
Tons of new gameplay features have been confirmed for Halo 2, but one of the absolute coolest additions is the ability to jack vehicles like in Grand Theft Auto. This was seen at one point in the E3 2003 demo, when the MC jumps on a Ghost, kicks an Elite out and mans the craft himself. In order to promote realism, Bungie has confirmed that only vehicles that are moving relatively slowly (or steadily) enough can be jacked (this ought to eliminate possible cheese in multiplayer). It has also been confirmed that you can opt to blast someone from their seat with a gun (instead of knocking them off) as a means of stealing their ride. Oh yeah!
The enemy AI in Halo was impressive, but has been considerably beefed up for the sequel. Now, baddies will be much more tactical in their use of the environment by performing actions like leaping over obstacles, climbing up structures and knocking out windows in order to get a better shot or get away more effectively. MC can now shoot out lights in order to do some Sam Fisher-like covert sneaking, and the Covenant will actually intelligently use flashlights to scour the darkness for you. The AI for your marine buddies will also be much improved, as they will actually point out sniper locations, call in reinforcements and flip over objects and vehicles in order to create cover.
MC will also be able wield two guns at the same time (one in each hand) as seen in the E3 demo. Bungie has spent a great deal of time perfecting the duel-wielding system, so expect aiming and firing to be smartly implemented (the left trigger will fire the left gun and the right trigger will fire the right gun). Don’t expect to be able to wield two rocket launchers or sniper rifles at once though; there is a limit to the MC’s physical capabilities. In the first Halo you were able to swap weapons as you found them lying on the ground. In Halo 2 you will actually be able swap guns with fellow soldiers. This new feature will come in very handy when you spot a favored gun being toted around by a marine or when you want one of your squad mates to be better equipped (A rocket launcher, for me? Ahhhhh Master Chief, ya shouldn’t have…).
Most of the classic Halo weapons will make return appearances, but some will be tweaked in various ways (either visually or gameplay related). The rampant rumor that the pistol’s effectiveness will be toned down is still unconfirmed, in fact, the pistol’s very presence in Halo 2 (along with the shotgun and assault rifle) is still unconfirmed. Two completely new gun additions to the sequel are the battle rifle and the SMG (Sub Machine Gun), both of which were seen in the E3 demo. The battle rifle is essentially an evolved version of the original assault rifle with increased accuracy, a scope and a slower rate of fire. The SMG is a smaller machine gun that has a rapid rate of fire, but is inaccurate from greater distances. Bungie is also working on adding a “super cool” new alien weapon that features zoom capability (with possibly a nifty alien zoom interface). The details of this new weapon are still a secret, but one small tidbit of info is that Covenant Elites will be capable of wielding it.
At various points throughout the game, MC will be able to use gun turrets/placements to mow down baddies. In the original game, Covenant plasma turrets (i.e. Shades) were available, but quite a few new ones have been added (a human gun placement was seen in the E3 video). There will even be an opportunity to man a massive Covenant siege weapon (the huge purple cannon in the E3 demo). Also new is the stun effect grenades will have on nearby enemies. Even if they are outside of the blast radius, baddies may still become temporarily disoriented after an explosion. And for all you pyromaniacs out there, as of now it appears that a flamethrower weapon will not be included in the game due to Bungie fretting over the difficulty in achieving realistic flame effects. Despite that, here is an extremely good bit of news: Bungie says that you will likely have an opportunity at wielding a blue Elite energy sword. Yes!
Besides the newly implemented jacking, some very significant additions have been made concerning vehicles. First off, a slick new human 4-wheel ATV has been thrown into the mix. This lightly armored one-man vehicle promises to be a great choice for evasion and reconnaissance due to its increased speed. Of course, the Warthog will be making a return, but this time around there will be multiple variants with different mounted weapons. For example, some Warthogs will be equipped with gauss rifles to make them more effective against opposing vehicles. Speaking of which, in Halo 2 every vehicle will be destructible (with location specific weak points). Shooting off the wing of a Banshee and blasting a Warthog’s tire are now totally acceptable methods of disabling an enemy’s ride. The Scorpion tank will also make a reappearance and has undergone some serious changes, unfortunately all of which are being kept top-secret by Bungie.
And remember those Covenant drop ships in Halo that flew down, dropped off troops and fled with their tails between their legs? Well, they have been replaced by the Phantom - a bigger, badder drop ship that is much more aggressive and armed with some extremely formidable firepower (it can be seen in the E3 video). A smaller Covenant transport ship dubbed the Creep has also been confirmed, and can also be seen many times in the E3 video. Bungie also revealed the addition of yet another new Covenant ship called the Shadow that, judging from early concept sketches, appears to be an alien equivalent of the Warthog, complete with mounted plasma gun turret. On a side note, many across the ‘net have been saying that there will be a flyable pelican drop ship in Halo 2, but this rumor has been shot down by Bungie.
Naturally, plenty of Grunts, Hunters, Jackals and Elites will be there to torment MC in the game, but what about new enemies? Bungie has officially revealed two new baddies, Prophets and Brutes, as well as mentioned the existence of some “highly classified” enemies. Prophets are being described as “giant space popes” that are very high up on the Covenant’s chain of command and provide spiritual leadership for the alien masses. Brutes are being called “a cross between a gorilla and a rhino and a serious force to reckon with on the battlefield.” There is little information available regarding other new enemies, but apparently work has been done recently on a particular “varmint/critter/monster” that should pose “some tricky problems for the player to contend with.” Rumors have been swirling that the flood will also be in the game and Bungie has confirmed this. Now, if only they’d give confirmation of the shotgun!
One of Bungie’s biggest goals with Halo 2 is to make it the definitive Xbox Live experience and chances are this goal will be realized. After all, the entire line up of old multiplayer modes like Oddball, Race, Slayer, CTF, etc, will be included - how could that not equal Xbox Live bliss? A maximum of 32 players is being aimed for in one match, but that may not be possible. However, Bungie does promise that at least 16 player online play will be available. Other multiplayer additions include human versus Covenant warfare and the ability to use flying vehicles, along with some others that Bungie are currently keeping under wraps. Oddly enough, there has been no official word on whether or not Halo 2 will contain LAN play, split-screen deathmatch or split-screen co-op. However, judging from the popularity of these options in the first game, one would expect them to be available in the sequel.
First and foremost, the graphics in Halo 2 are NOT based off the Halo 1 engine. Everything has been reworked, tweaked and, more specifically, bump-mapped to perfection. And I mean everything. Environments, guns, vehicles, and even the MC himself have been significantly enhanced to take advantage of every last drop of power that the Xbox can provide. If you don’t believe me, go check out the eight minute E3 demo and treat yourself to the awe inspiring visual splendor that is Halo 2. And that’s from a nearly one year old build of the game!
One of the most impressive new aspects of the game’s visuals is the advanced real-time lighting engine. This new addition allows for shockingly realistic lighting, shadows and complicated self-shadowing - a trick that allows every model in the game to cast shadows on itself as well as its surroundings. Also, like the vehicles, Bungie made the environments destructible. Now, objects like doors, crates, columns and windows will shatter into pieces when they take damage. The improved enemy AI means bad guys will actually recognize these objects and strategically destroy them to flush out or expose you. Of course, as seen in the demo, MC can also use the environment to his advantage by doing things like blowing up a car and thereby annihilating a group of nearby Covenant grunts. Issues like framerate haven’t really been touched on by Bungie at this point in development, mostly because things will change quite a bit over the next six months or so until release.
Fans of the original Halo theme will be glad to know that it will make a return appearance in the sequel. In fact, the same team that handled the music in the original will be back for the scoring of Halo 2. Also returning are the same voice actors for MC and Cortana, along with some new ones that Bungie is not willing to reveal at the moment. Several strides are being made to make Halo 2 more complete in the audio department, including: better use of Dolby 5.1 surround (for whizzing bullets, scattering debris, ricochets, etc), the accurate muting of outside noise upon entering a building and the realistic separation of certain noises (like a Warthog’s tire and the gravel underneath it). Basically, expect the game to sound like a million bucks by the time it is shipped this fall.
Well, that does it for the preview. Keep in mind that, though everything in this article has been taken directly from Bungie in one way or another, with all unfinished products there is always a possibility that things will change. That said, since Halo 2 is only about six months away, don’t expect any major overhauls to happen. This year’s E3 should open up a floodgate of new info, but always remember to question anything not coming directly from the guys at Bungie, and never add to the ever-present clutter of Halo 2 misinformation by spreading baseless rumors on internet forums. The best way to keep abreast of new game info is by reading Bungie’s Weekly Updates (but you Halo nuts knew that, right?). Now then, because absorbing this much Halo 2 information at once nearly always results in a bowel loosening experience, be sure to change those shorts and rinse off in the shower before engaging in any social activities. You’ll thank me for the advice later.