While many consider our second outing in the Halo universe to be the runt of the litter, I must remind you of its superiority over every other game in the franchise. For while Halo CE gave birth to a legend, it was Halo 2 that allowed us to understand that legend and pretty much everything else as well.
I’ll be the first to admit, when I went from the familiar visor of the Chief to taking control of a disgraced Sangheili, I was somewhat annoyed and disappointed. But that was just the realm of the unfamiliar coming down and grabbing me by the balls. From then on, things dramatically improved and then came together to form, what I consider to be, the most important Halo game of all time.
By now some of you will be throwing fiery objects at an effegy you’ve quickly created in my image whilst screaming all kinds of langage at my seemingly inaccurate statement, but there is truth in it. I promise. So just put out the fire, wipe you monitor clean of saliva, sit down and relax. I’ll explain why.
Halo: Combat Evolved threw us into the heart of a war that, according to the storyline, had been raging for years. Twenty seven years to be exact. And in that time, colony after colony had fallen to the Covenant and millions had gave their lives in the hope that humanity as a species would survive. But the future was a far cry from rosey. We were losing. But all of this was, to be honest, irrelevant.
What was still happening on Reach or any of the other colonies was of little consequence to our adventure. For all intents and purpose, it was the first time we had encountered the various client species of the Covenant. Any previous information that we had digested which pertained to the background of Halo before Combat Evolved was simply there to inform us, and this includes the Fall of Reach novel by Eric Nylund. We saw nothing of Linda, for instance, when thawing out on board the Pillar of Autumn. But this isn’t a bad thing. It simply wasn’t relevant.
There was no need for us to know of the inner workings of the Covenant or how they had systematically wiped humanity from the face of nearly every colony they encountered. Combat Evolved was the beginning of the story. For the Halo universe, and despite the later release of Halo Wars, it was genesis. So learning all of the aforementioned information and backstory would simply have overwhelmed the majority of us. So we took things one step at a time and gradually absorbed the enormity of the events in Combat Evolved, including the existence of the Forerunners, the purpose of Halo and the emergence of the terrifying and relentless Flood. We then fought and won. But even as we slowly drifted from the remains of the shattered Forerunner structure, I’m sure many of us realised that it was far from over.
Butlins was certainly impressive, but the food was terrible.
Though we had stopped the Covenant from acquiring or activating Alpha Halo we still needed to win the war. And this was something that I was very much looking forward to. Because even though the Chief’s mission on Halo was important I still felt significantly detatched from the war effort. So I was eager to jump back into the fold and help out my fellow human.
And eventually I got my wish.
When the details of Halo 2 were announced, I realised that I would, at last, be coming home to “Mother Earth”. I would now have the opportunity to fight for her. Fight on my home turf. But when it came to playing it I thought different. I loved the defence of Cairo Station and the close quarter battles in the streets of Mombassa, but then, WTF? I’m now the Arbiter. Where the hell did this come from? What I failed to realise, at first, was the gravity of the situation and the opportunity that was in front of me. I could now see what made the Covenant tick and witness the first hints of division among a seemingly unstoppable war machine that was now so close to winning. I saw hope. But there was more.
Halo 2 provided other things as well, big reveals. Just like The Empire Strikes Back did with Star Wars, our second outing in Halo showed a universe about to fall on its head. We were now defending a major stronghold, the Covenant were here in force, we got to board and fight on a Scarab for the first time, saw the religious centre of the Covenant, a second Halo, division and betrayal among our enemy, new species in the Covenant and for the first time the controlling intelligence behind the Flood. The Halo 2 storyline was huge. It explained and solved some issues from Combat Evolved and laid the foundation for both Halo 3 and ODST. But its sizeable storyline and the importance of it also became a back-breaking hinderance.
Bungie were severly pushed for time. Microsoft wanted the sequel out there, making money. And who could blame them? Combat Evolved had set the presidence for console gaming and first-person shooters as a whole, and was clearly a juicy apple, ripe for picking. In comparrison to Combat Evolved, the production of Halo 2 was a bit of a train wreck. Problems with the graphics engine proved to be a serious time consuming element of the games’ development as it had to be ripped out and redesigned. And after a year of development, Bungie were still without a playable build of the game and the clock was ticking.
High Charity celebrates the millennium by killing everyone in sight
In an effort to finish the game, everyone at Bungie embarked on an insane crunch period, working round the clock. Some employee’s even spent several days at work, sacrificing personal and family time to meet the approaching deadline. And along the way there were a number of casualties. The game was meant to be longer and the Chief was supposed to return to Earth so that the player could spend the final level of Halo 2 in his boots. Instead, we were provided with a closing and angonisingly frustrating cut scene that hinted to a possible follow up.
But despite this, I still maintain that Halo 2 was a masterful piece of storytelling. The Elites went from the murderous and unthinking enemy in Combat Evolved to a species with its own issues and a lot a stake. And an enemy needs that. I don’t want a powerful adversary who just blasts everything away without a second thought, I like an enemy to think its way through combat. I like them to have character. And they certainly displayed this throughout Halo 2. I felt honoured to fight among them.
But I should point out that I don’t think of Halo 2 as the single best game of the franchise, but as the best example of storytelling. Reach is obviously better in terms of graphics and Halo 3 changed a lot of things with the inclusion of Forge and Theatre mode and a more refined online experience.
I suppose they all have their own good and bad points, but in truth they’re all greatly balanced. But in terms of sheer storytelling power, Halo 2 wins hands down for me.