OK, fellow players of Halo, let's talk about Halo 2! I... can't say I really liked it. I definitely appreciate the move towards all the dumb video game tropes that I like, like massive setpieces, bossfights, villains to hate and Keith David to listen to. I really liked some of the new Covenant weapons, and I loved that bit where you jump off a bridge onto the new Covenant Metal Gear to kill everyone inside it and shut it down. I still had a fun time blasting through another Halo campaign, buuuut...
It didn't really keep me engaged like the first Halo did, though. Despite a lot of really nice improvements, I could only get through the game one or two levels at a time, whereas I finished the first game in a couple of days. It could just be shooter fatigue, but I also feel like that first Halo has such a solid throughline of "we crashed on a Halo and we have to escape", so you always know where you're going and what you're doing. Halo 2 adopts more of a globetrotting style with a different goal, a different environment, and even a different playable character for seemingly every mission, so it's constantly halting its momentum and restarting over and over.
But more than that, I think it's just that I found the story totally impenetrable. Bungie likes to come up with a couple of dozen generic nouns to use as names of characters or McGuffins, breezily introduce them exactly once, and then just assume you're keeping up for the entire rest of the game because nobody has time to explain why they don't have time to explain anything to you and the game never slows down to take a breath. You're endlessly pushing towards the next thing while characters throw around capitalized word salad like Truth, Regret, Oracle, The Sacred Icon, High Charity, Brutes and Grunts and Elites and the Forerunners and the Reclaimers and the Demon. I suppose you can either keep up with all of it, or you can just fall hopelessly far behind with no chance of ever catching up.
Adding to my confusion is that the Covenant just speak English now. At first I thought it was an MGS3 situation where their BLARGs were being translated into English for my watching benefit, but then I got to a scene where the Arbiter and Master Chief spoke to eachother in perfect, American-accented English, while being held by a giant tentacle monster that also spoke English, so I don't know what's going on. Honestly, I even had trouble keeping track of where anyone was during the story in the game. I was playing as the Chief on a new Halo and I fell into a tropical ocean, and then I played as the Arbiter for a bit on what I thought was a totally different planet, only to fall down a hole in a snowy installation and end up in a chamber with the aforementioned giant monster... with Master Chief right next to me. And then the very next mission started with Chief teleporting into the inner sanctum of the Covenant's holy city. And I accept that some of this is probably down to me being dumb and missing stuff, but I feel like once we're getting to giant tentacle monsters that live inside Halos and can teleport you wherever they please, you can cut me some slack for losing the thread. The tentacle monster doesn't even come back until after the credits.
I don't mind so much when the rickety, held-together-with-duct-tape Master Chief Collection crashes, but it really sucks that it lacks any kind of individual audio mixing sliders, and its subtitles option doesn't actually seem to work. You get subtitles in cutscenes, where you probably don't need them, but you're left high and dry during gameplay where the bulk of the exposition actually happens, and the audio mixing is such that the in-game dialogue is completely drowned out by the general roar of combat. Basically I just couldn't hear about 75% of the script, and the parts of it I did catch sounded like they wrote a normal script and then went back through it to cut out any of the connective tissue or explanations for things to make absolutely sure I wouldn't understand anything. And then there are these terminals you find that boot you right out of the game to a separate Halo Xbox app to show you some cutscenes of 343 Guilty Spark studying Covenant history or something, which I'm sure the Halo Wiki editing crowd must eat up but doesn't really do anything for making the actual moment-to-moment storytelling of the game any easier to take in.
It is a joy to watch Halo 2 Anniversary's NNGOOORGEOUS cutscenes, though, even if you aren't following the story they tell. It feels like an entire high budget CG movie's worth of goodness, writing cheques that the in-game graphics absolutely cannot cash.You watch the beautiful cutscenes, then the gameplay starts and you think "Oof, these must be the old graphics", so you hit the button to swap to the new style but then you realise, double oof, you were already on the new graphics and these are the old old ones. Again, it's still a nice-looking game, but that ability to A/B so quickly between two sets of graphics just puts it all in such stark contrast. Music is still incredible, though. I don't know what they paid Steve Vai to shred as hard as he did, but whatever it was they got their money's worth.
So I think I'm going to take a break from Halo-ing before 3 so as not to Halo myself out. I was already just sprinting from checkpoint to checkpoint at the end of 2. It's not an ideal point to take a break, considering Halo 2 doesn't really have an ending, as such, but I suppose I'll have to manage.