Posted By: wraggster
Let me tell you the story of the number 33, an American teenager called Marine14, and how I never became a doctor of film.It's a story in which I claim that Halo 2 is a masterpiece, which is especially exciting because I can't remember much of what happened in the single-player side of the game aside from me getting quite cross and wishing Bungie had read more Robert McKee. Actually, I only wish that was true - I do remember more.I remember a plant made of flesh who rearranged the story's major players in an unprecedented act of deus ex flora, I remember playing as not-Master Chief for longer than the zero seconds I would have found this acceptable, and I remember that the campaign wasn't so much forgettable as actually unfinished, less of a cliffhanger than a narrative power cut.More importantly, I remember that none of it mattered. And in not mattering, Halo 2 blazed a dubious trail for a whole genre of iterative billion-dollar shooters with half-formed, interchangeable storylines delivered as a blaring Hollywood howl.All of which is to say that Halo 2's multiplayer was both authentically revolutionary and the best online console shooter there has been.The sweet, sweet taste of a plasma grenade planted right in the gob.
Halo 2 emerged almost a full decade ago into a gaming world, it's worth remembering, very different from our own. I knew Halo 2's multiplayer was likely to be good because its LAN-only predecessor in Halo: Combat Evolved had inspired me and a group of my friends to learn the basics of network cabling and regularly rearrange our houses into wired battlegrounds. The promise of doing this online was huge - Halo 2 wasn't just the reason I bought my first Xbox Live subscription. It was the reason I got broadband. It dragged me and a generation of gamers through the rabbit hole and into the bittersweet connected wonderland beyond.For the purposes of the entirely arbitrary rhetorical formulation I'm about to deploy, three distinct things combined to make Halo 2's multiplayer so exceptional. The first is a mainstay of the series from Combat Evolved onwards - its just-so sense of movement and aiming. Articulating the elusive satisfaction that comes with physically existing in the world of Halo has proved difficult over the years, so naturally I've come to rely on the lyrics of an artfully shoddy band from the 90s you've probably never heard of called Animals That Swim. In a song called London Bridge, they sing about treasuring a lump of rubble snatched from a remodelled laundrette, and the pleasure of holding it to feel its "splendid weight". I appreciate we're a long way from holy wars among the stars and the audacious grace of lush green ringworlds here, but this comes closer than anything else I've found to capturing the deep joy taken in something that's so perfectly the right measure and dimension. That's how moving in Halo feels.Secondly, Halo 2 was balanced and level in a way which encouraged skill and strategy. Starting weapons were standardised, with more powerful alternatives to be fought over on the map. Deathmatch became a matter of territory and tactics. The game offered no geography-defeating power-ups of flight or speed, making knowledge of and fleet-footed navigation around the maps crucial. And there was skill-based matchmaking to ensure a mostly steady curve of challenging opponent - actually skill-based, because your rank would fall if you lost matches. In sharp contrast to the accumulative 'Well Done' of ranking in today's shooters, Halo 2 wasn't afraid to tell you you'd gotten worse. Its multiplayer was an elegant bare box. Learning its depths took time, and its complexities were unlocked by patience and ability rather than the brute investment of pure hours and the XP they bring.