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Halo 2 Limited Collector's Edition Xbox

Published by Microsoft Game Studios
Developed by Bungie
Release Date: Out Now
Price : £39.99

The most eagerly awaited Xbox title of 2004 is finally with us. Halo will go down in console history as one of the most successful launch titles ever and since it's release it has continued to sell large numbers and only recently has been introduced to the Xbox Classics range when other launch titles have been on the Classics range for a long time now. The reason for it's appeal was simply that it was a great console FPS and it actually felt right. It's so easy to label most console FPS games as awkward and being nowhere near the standard of PC FPS games but Halo showed that a console FPS could be enjoyable and control superbly and it deserved all the success it had, and still enjoys. Of course with the game being such a success it was inevitable that a sequel would follow and at last it's finally here and this time it's got full Xbox Live play too.

The story for Halo 2 is pretty surprising and it's full of twists. Perhaps the biggest surprise with Halo 2 is that you don't play all of the game as the Master Chief. Bungie have decided to give gamers both sides of the story in Halo 2 and when you're not controlling the Master Chief you'll be controlling a character known as the Arbiter. Early in the game you'll see the Covenant Prophets passing judgment on Supreme Commander for his failure to protect Halo. The verdict is that he's to be sentenced to death. However instead of executing him they decide to make him the Arbiter, an honoured role but one that almost certainly leads to death. As he becomes the Arbiter you'll gain control of him and from that moment on you'll alternately control both the Arbiter and the Master Chief. Essentially this allows you to see the two main threads of the story and whilst it's not immediately obvious why Bungie decided to do this it does become clear in the later stages of the game.

There are extra weapons and new techniques in Halo 2 that manage to spice up the game. My favourite new technique is the ability to jump on a moving vehicle and throw the enemy character from the cockpit. This makes battles against enemy vehicles much more satisfying and now you know that if you are faced with taking on a Ghost whilst you're on foot you can easily turn the tables on your enemy with a bit of good timing. You can now also dual wield most of your weapons. Dual wielding isn't a new concept in FPS games but having each weapon fire independently is. When dual wielding you lose the ability to throw grenades but in close quarter situations this doesn't matter and two lesser weapons when dual wielded can be just as effective as a powerful one in such situations. Playing as the Arbiter also gives you access to a stealth mode. Pressing the white button allows you to become undetectable for a short while. It's not a major thing but on the higher difficulty settings it can buy you breathing space in difficult situations. The best new weapon in my opinion has to be the Covenant Energy Sword. This is a Sangheili weapon and it's great for taking enemies out quickly. Think of it as Halo 2's version of a dual-bladed light sabre and you can imagine how effective this weapon is. Pressing the B button performs a regular melee attack but the right trigger allows you to perform an undercut attack or deadly fatal lunge attack for the quick kill. The Covenant Energy Sword is a lot of fun and makes a refreshing change to the usual weapons you have to control.

Criticisms of Halo usually revolved around the repetitive level design which at times made things a little confusing. Halo 2 also has some repetitive level design but it's nowhere near as irritating or confusing as in the first game. That said though it's still a little disappointing and some of the later levels can become a little mundane because of this. On the other hand though some of the levels in the game are spectacular. I particularly like the earlier levels which are based on a futuristic Earth. The open and light nature of these levels was greatly appreciated, especially after completing the game, as towards the end of the game you often find yourself in dark enclosed environments that just aren't as enjoyable to play. Another disappointment is the AI of your comrades when it comes to driving vehicles. I was killed around five times because an AI driver decided to drive straight over the edge of a precipice. On the other hand though the AI comrades do an excellent job when they man the gun turrets so my advice would be to do the driving yourself and let the AI man the guns whenever you are in a hazardous location.

Whilst Halo could be played over a System Link and online through unofficial means, we've had to wait for Halo 2 to provide a true online experience. With full Xbox Live support the lifespan of Halo 2 should be far greater than that of Halo. The game types on offer are Slayer (where you have to kill the most opponents), Capture the Flag, Assault (a game where you have to plant your team's bomb in your opponents base), King of the Hill, Oddball (you have to keep control of the ball and hold it for the most amount of time), Juggernaut and Territories (which involves you attempting to control as many territories on a map as possible. The maps are mostly based on the missions from the single-player game and overall they are very good. As an online experience Halo 2 is impressive however it's a little disconcerting that all forms of communication are voice based. Xbox Live really needs to support text communication because until it does deaf gamers are not going to be able to appreciate the Xbox Live modes in games in the way they are meant to be appreciated. If you're not into online gaming it's worth mentioning that the 2-player co-op mode once again makes a return and as before it's an enjoyable experience.

Halo 2 manages to raise the standard when it comes to the quality of the graphics. Having completed Halo 2 I decided to revisit Halo and it was amazing to see how much more detailed in certain places Halo 2 really is. The character models and weapons for instance look much more detailed in Halo 2 and it's great to see that the frame rate remains constant throughout with all this extra detail. The cutscenes are not as impressive though. When a cutscene is activated you'll notice that the textures take a second or two longer to appear than the objects they are meant to be on. This is quite a jarring experience for a game that is as polished as Halo 2. Bungie have commented on this and they are quick to point out that this is because there are no load times in Halo 2 and everything is done on the fly as it were. This is absolutely true and you don't get delays for sections to load up but personally I would have rather seen a loading screen than be left with cutscenes that look somewhat rough when compared to the rest of the game.

Halo was very disappointing from a deaf gamer's perspective. There were no subtitles at all and as a result deaf gamers were completely unaware of the story. Halo 2 is better for deaf gamers but sadly it's nowhere near as good as it could have been. You can enable subtitles for the cutscenes but that's about it. Over the years we've come across some strange ways in which you enable subtitles and the way in which you enable them in Halo is far from obvious. When you first play the game you have to create a profile but there is no option to enable subtitles. However after creating your profile you can choose to edit your profile and then you'll find the option to enable subtitles. Objectives can be checked at any time which is always useful. Conversations and speech outside of the cutscenes are not subtitled and whilst some of this speech doesn't matter and is unimportant, some is actually quite useful such as directions or information you'll receive from Cortana. It definitely pays to check your objectives from time to time in case something has been said to you that has changed your objectives. There is also the problem of not having any visual clues or captions for noises in the game. You won't hear enemies approaching like a hearing gamer would and this can make things tricky, particularly if you play on the harder difficulty settings. Halo 2 makes greater use of icons and in both single-player and Xbox Live games you'll see important icons appear onscreen which convey such information as reload, low ammo, dropped flag and an icon to highlight a friend during online play.

We were fortunate to receive the Limited Collector's Edition to review and therefore we can comment on the exclusive bonus DVD. The DVD contains, amongst other things, a look behind the scenes at Bungie, features on games design and animation, deleted scenes and outtakes. You'll also find commentaries from the development team and concept art. This bonus DVD is a normal DVD and can be played in any DVD player (you will need the DVD remote for your Xbox in order to watch it on your Xbox). Thankfully the entire disk appears to be subtitled. We've watched most things on there and everything we've seen did have subtitles, which is absolutely excellent and it makes buying the Limited Collector's Edition worthwhile for deaf gamers.

Halo 2 is a successful sequel in all but it's provision for deaf gamers. The single-player game is slightly better than the first game and the online component is impressive although as we said earlier the Xbox Live system itself needs to support text communication in order for it to be deaf gamer friendly. Whilst it's great that the cutscenes are now subtitled it's unfortunate that the rest of the game remains unsubtitled. After seeing what's been done with Half-Life 2 it's obvious Bungie could have done a lot more to make Halo 2 a more complete experience for deaf gamers. That said though Halo 2 is impressive and although a sequel has yet to be confirmed it's obvious from the ending that the story can't be left where it is because it's far from a conclusion. I suspect though that it will be scheduled for the Xbox 2 (or whatever it's finally called). Let's just hope that next time we can say it's fully subtitled and captioned because then it will truly be excellent for deaf gamers.

Overall Game Rating: 8.5/10
A great sequel to Halo that still isn't completely deaf gamer friendly. If you're buying the Limited Collector's Edition though you'll be pleased to learn that the bonus DVD is subtitled so you'll be able to enjoy it.

Deaf Gamers comment:
Cutscenes are subtitled and objectives can be viewed but there are still problems for deaf gamers.