Master Chief returns in brute force

PUBLISHED : Monday, 22 November, 2004, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 22 November, 2004, 12:00am

Product: Halo 2
Price: $299 [regular], $328 [limited edition]
Pros: 350,000 players are online each day
Cons: Unable to customise online game

Forget the first-day US$110 million takings for Spider-Man 2 at the US box office. Halo 2 is the biggest entertainment release this year. The sequel to Halo: Combat Evolved raked in US$150 million on its November 9 debut.

Bungie Studios - maker of the Marathon and Myth franchises and part of the Microsoft Game Studios publishing network - developed Halo 2 exclusively for the Xbox.

The new game adds a much-needed 'killer' title to the Xbox platform, which remains behind market leader PlayStation 2. The original was a best-seller for Xbox, until Halo 2 arrived.

The sequel picks up the story from the original. Master Chief returns to Earth to continue his fight against the dreaded Covenant. This alien civilisation is bent on the conquest and destruction of any species daring to defy them. Master Chief, a genetically enhanced soldier, is a brute: he is 2.13 metres tall and weighs about 500kg in his armour. He is carnage incarnate as he deftly wields a range of weapons. After lobbing a grenade into a cluster of aliens, he strides close to his enemies and finishes the job with his shotgun.

An upgrade on Master Chief's Mark VI armour has boosted performance. When injured, the gamer can just duck out of the line of fire so the armour can recharge the player's health to 100 per cent and return to the fray in mere seconds. The first-person shooter game is visually stunning, with room-shaking sound effects. The story may be linear, as a player hits each level. But surprises are thrown in the mix to make a vastly compelling game experience.

Where Halo 2 really shines is in the artificial intelligence of the enemy units, making each game level more difficult. It was easy hooking up to the Xbox Live online arena, but there were plenty of hard lessons to be learned.

I was smashed, splattered and mercilessly beaten down in every match. I wish I could say I gave as good back. The ability to use the headphones and microphone, which comes with the game, to chat with your teammates or taunt your rivals in real time is a blast.