Halo 2

The pre-release hype that surrounded the latest iteration of the Halo series reached never-before-seen levels. Microsoft even took the step of advertising the game launch on one half of the most famous billboard in Sydney (the first company to do so in 30 years) - the iconic Coca Cola billboard at the top of William St, Kings Cross. But does the title live up to expectations?

Halo 2's storyline picks up from where the original left off. Playing as Master Chief, you're on a battle station orbiting the Earth and amidst a medal ceremony rewarding you for your previous heroics. Out of the blue, the Covenant begins to attack Earth and you must spring back into action to save the day (yet again).

Best described as a run-and-gun style of play, you must dash across the landscape and take out the enemies as you make your way to the next checkpoint. As far as console FPSs go, this title is hard to beat. But if you're a PC gamer and a huge fan of the mouse and WASD keyboard configuration, I would recommend waiting for the PC release for the control familiarity and the increased resolution and graphics.

Some new elements have been added to freshen up the gameplay and include new weaponry, dual wielding of weapons and vehicle jacking. The dual weapon wielding is particularly interesting as it offers a whole new perspective on battle tactics. Different weapon combos work for different areas and it is up to you to discover which are suited for any particular scenario.

The visuals and sound effects are top notch in Halo 2. It's encouraging seeing progressive damage introduced to the vehicles and rather satisfying when the Banshee vehicle I was using gave me a visual representation of just how banged up it really was. The audio effects during battles sounded tremendous when pumped through a 5.1 system, a must for any true gamer.

Multiplayer is definitely Halo 2's strength and through Xbox Live, this title really showcases its online features. Supporting up 16 players with various gameplay modes, the full voice support via Live is a treat. Gaming with friends over the Live network adds that extra dimension when you can hear them curse, taunt or relay instructions to other team mates or yourself.

As much as Halo 2 is an improvement from the original, there are still some niggling cons which seem to have been overlooked. The single player campaign was too repetitive and way too short for my liking. The team and enemy AI also seems a little unbalanced and could have done with some extra tweaking. I won't even mention though how displeased I was with the campaign ending, the story just ended abruptly and left me seething. If you're a fan of console FPSs or even the original Halo title, pick up this title for the multiplayer fun alone. - Ryan Shaw

VISUALS: Intricate character details, exceptional damage models; AUDIO: Dramatic battle score, the Live voice support must be heard to be believed GAMEPLAY: Similar to the original, some new elements; SCORE: 4 1/2 out of 5 stars; DEVELOPER: Bungie; PUBLISHER: Microsoft; URL: www.halo2.com.au

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