After completing Halo: Combat Evolved, I was left with many more mixed feelings than when I finished Halo: Reach. Though the gameplay in Combat Evolved was tight, the level design left a lot to be desired, the story was largely bland, and I often lost track of what exactly I was supposed to be doing as I fought hordes of the same enemies using the same tactics in mazelike environments with no destination markers.
However, Halo 2 has rekindled my enthusiasm for a series that seems to offer more classics than disappointments. Halo 2 provides the formula for what a sequel should do, as it takes everything good from the original, alters the formula slightly, and fixes all of the problems. Many cite this as the high point for the series (Game Informer gave it a perfect 10 out of 10), and it isn’t hard to see why; for its time I can’t imagine anyone thinking a Halo game would ever pass this incredibly high benchmark.
Across the board, Halo 2 holds up just as well today as it did over a decade ago, which is something that cannot be said for its predecessor. Gone are the dull levels with the same enemies and a bland story; from the opening, lengthy, two-pronged cutscene featuring the humans congratulating Master Chief (and the inexplicably alive Sgt. Johnson) for his role in saving the human race in the first game and The Covenant publicly shaming the alien that they held responsible for the destruction of the original Halo, to the final shot of Master Chief tearing through the atmosphere on his way to Earth, the storytelling is dynamic, cinematic and fascinating. And even if it can’t quite achieve the emotional high and low points that Reach achieved, this game is much more ambitious than Combat Evolved, and it acquires a much broader range of appeal as a result.
Through the familiar FPS action across the game’s multitude of levels featuring two main protagonists, the action never gets dull, the missions are much more varied and epic, and the mazelike level design from the previous iteration is largely removed. There are a few nitpicks that I retain from the series as a whole revolving around a fickle checkpoint system that can lead to frustration, but other than that, this is as good as I could ever imagine Halo becoming. I still hold onto my affinity for Halo: Reach, and it remains my favorite entry in the series so far, but that may be more due to it being my first experience in the Halo universe than on its merits as a videogame on its own. As far as Master Chief and Cortana go, though, it’s hard to imagine them ever being better. Even so, that hangman’s ending does leave me wondering how the Bungie trilogy will reach its climax in the third installment…