No Trail of Breadcrumbs Required
Missions aren’t as hard to follow. Bungie has laid out every level in the game along linear lines. You trace a single route along narrow corridors and chambers, stopping only for lengthy ambush points in larger rooms and open spaces. Little is imaginative. Aside from the opening level, where Master Chief battles the Covenant on board Cairo Station in Earth orbit, everything is dreary. No matter if I was going through the ruins of an Earth city, rooting out entrenched alien opposition on a bridge, chasing heretics with the Covenant, or battling the massive boss at the close of the game, everything was strictly shooter by the numbers.
For me, the biggest problem was repetition. Most levels were straightforward crawls through hallways and rooms that all looked the same. Bungie didn’t do much to differentiate the different areas in the game. Many corridors were virtually unadorned, and rooms lacked cohesion and common sense. All areas were lifeless. I never got any sense of a greater purpose for these rooms, never could imagine that they were home to anything but a videogame. That’s unacceptable in a day where Half-Life 2 and yes, even DOOM III, are creating environments that both seem realistic (bitch about the Mars base all you want, but it sure seemed like a living and breathing facility where real people really worked) and are highly effective arenas for shooteriffic gunplay.
Lack of color is another sore point. Almost everything is washed over with pale blues and grays that further make all of the levels blur together. Vibrant colors are so few and far between—all I can remember is that one of the Covenant missions featured control panels in bright hues—that when they did show up I oohed and aahed like it was the Fourth of July. Textures also presented a problem, especially during cutscenes. A scene would occasionally begin with a decidedly low-res texture on a wall or Master Chief’s shiny armor, then suddenly switch to the proper high-res version. At least the character models and weapons are quite good, thanks to a lot of detail.
Shooting and Snoozing
Level design and architecture also combine to make for some truly uneventful combat. As in Halo, the enemy AI in Halo 2 is reasonably impressive, with foes that know when to retreat, when to charge, and even when to try and flank you. But the bland environments cause trouble because there aren’t many features for enemies to take advantage of. Battles always play out in the same fashion. A baddie spots you. Said baddie opens fire. Then it takes cover behind the nearest box or box-like object. Every room is like a stereotypical shooter warehouse level, with cubes scattered around for cover. So while fights can be gripping and intense, they are also repetitive and artificial. Battle mechanics just don’t vary. Also, the pace is rather slow on Normal difficulty. Presumably, this is to compensate for the gamepad controls, which are much clumsier than the PC standard mouse and keyboard. Still, it makes the action a little too ponderous, and ensures that you are always aware of the deficiencies of the controller.
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