The Covenant have found Earth. How? Cortana? Guilty Spark? Either way, Earth is under attack. Ground forces as well as an orbital bombardment punish Earth.
But all is not lost - John 117, known as the Master Chief, the last remaining Spartan, has arrived from his recent battle at Halo Installation 04. With a new suit of MJOLNIR armor and some nice new guns, the Master Chief jumps from a UNSC ship orbiting Earth to deal swiftly with the orbiting Covenant cruiser below.
Halo 2, the sequel to the extremely popular game Halo: Combat Evolved, was one of the most anticipated announced games for the Xbox console. The game was released on November 9, 2004 to rave reviews from the press. Microsoft allowed Bungie Studios a much more lenient schedule than the schedule for Halo: Combat Evolved, in order to get the game as close to perfect as possible. Unlike Halo: CE, which was rushed to production so that it could be released closer to the Xbox release date, Halo 2 was claimed to be "a lot like Halo 1, only it's Halo 1 on fire, going 130 miles per hour through a hospital zone, being chased by helicopters and ninjas," by Jason Jones, head of Bungie Studios.
Even though Halo 2 runs on the same platform and specs as Halo: CE, Halo 2 takes the console's power to the next level. Bungie's programmers have squeezed every last drop out of power of the Xbox. New dynamic lighting allows for destructible environments - something that could not be done for Halo: CE because if something disappeared in Halo: CE, its shadow would still exist. Destructible environments allow much more advanced gameplay. If an enemy is hiding behind an object, the player can destroy that object to force the enemy out. But don't think the destructible environments will only benefit you - your enemies will be able to do the same. And if you blow their cover, they will run and find another hiding spot.
The enemy AI is much more advanced in Halo 2. The Covenant will no longer just stay in packs waiting to be slaughtered by your dual Sub-Machine guns (Yes, DUAL). If you let a grunt survive long enough for him to scurry off to find reinforcements, he will do just that. Unlike Halo: CE, if you kill one enemy, say with the sniper rifle, others will notice (in other words, the sniping spree you go on in the Halo: CE level Truth and Reconciliation is not exactly possible.) Enemies are able to move to other areas to better thwart your attempts to kill them. Some enemies will take up sniper positions, while others will try to find your hiding spot and push you out into the open.
Of course, the Master Chief isn't left completely helpless. New weapons including a Battle Rifle, a breed between the pistol and assault rifle of Halo: CE, compliment your already formidable arsenal. As already mentioned, the Master Chief is able to use two weapons at once. And these weapons do not necessarily have to be the same weapon. Imagine hitting an Elite with a charged blast from the Plasma Pistol in your left hand and finishing him off with a burst of armor-piercing rounds from the SMG in your right hand. There are also more vehicles for you to drive/pilot, as well as ride on. Marines have the ability to drive, while you man the turret mounted on the Warthog. What's more, all vehicles are destructible, and they handle differently depending on their condition. Ghosts, in particular, explode when damaged too heavily -- and if you return too quickly to try and flip a sparking convoy, the secondary explosion will ensure you don't repeat the same mistake.
Classic weapons still remain in the game: the Sniper Rifle, Shotgun, Rocket Launcher and Needler all return to the sequel. The Rocket Launcher will now track vehicles and turrets if you can target them for several seconds. The Needler is no longer an unviable choice for multiplayer combat, especially when dual-wielded and timed correctly.
What might possibly be the most fun addition to a FPS is the ability to hijack vehicles. In Multiplayer, this increases possible strategies. Slow-moving vehicles will all be possible targets; drivers will have to improve their skills in order to avoid having their vehicles, in the words of Joe Staten, "taken!"
On January 30, 2004, Bungie confirmed that Halo 2 would be released sometime in Fall 2004. The choice was reconfirmed on May 11 at E3 2004, and Halo 2 was officially released on November 9, 2004, or November 10th and 11th in some world regions. Gamers who preordered their copies could select the Collector's Edition, complete with a metal case and extra special features DVD. The classic green Xbox edition is also available. As of this writing (March 2005), many stores still have copies of the Limited Edition for purchase in both new and used formats. A notable variation to these two versions of the game is that the regular edition contains a manual written from the human perspective, while the Limited Edition's instructions are authored by the Covenant.
Halo 2 is a worthy sequel to the award-winning Halo: CE, and has gained much of the respect that Halo: CE also commands. As with any game, there are currently debates as to whether too much was changed in Halo 2, and many gamers have remarked on the lack of "presence" offered in the original game.
Battles rage on Earth, in Covenant settings, and even a new Halo Installation - but not only against the computer. Halo 2 is fully Xbox Live enabled, allowing huge battles with up to sixteen players using Microsoft's online console gaming service. In addition, more than two teams per game; now the classic Red versus Blue matchups can include players of eight different colours.
Bungie also appears to be committed to issuing patches for various minor issues found in the Multiplayer version game, through Xbox Live and a possible rumored "expansion pack" disc. Additional maps may be made available in the future as downloadable content.
For more information about the game, check out Bungie's official Bungie.net site, as well as other Halo 2 community sites for news, tips and tricks, and game updates.