Halo has been a top seller for more than a couple years now. The series has been well received and made Bungie a lot of cash in the meantime. Halo 2 itself was released on the Xbox in 2004 and was a great success. But after waiting three years and then go as far as to use it as a selling point to upgrade your rig to Vista is just plain crazy. Halo 2 has taken too long to arrive, packs no new punches, and restricts itself to too few gamers by being Vista only.
The entire game is still intact from its console counterpart, including achievement points via your Live account. It includes a great map editor, but that too will be quickly overlooked by those who have been keeping up to date on the high-profile PC shooters. Being the same, you'll also remember the single-player campaign to be a little on the short side. The story hasn't changed--Master Chief will yet again rise above the Covenant, an evil group of aliens, and take out yet another giant planet destroying mega-weapon called "Halo." Earth becomes involved, and a bunch of political ranking issues happen on the Covenant side of the story. The different covenant races still battle it out themselves at points, ensuing chaos, meaning it's still easier to just run through sections than to battle it out, especially if you have a vehicle at your disposal. Being three years old shows in other ways as well, like sections of tunnels and corridors that drag on for much too long, too few enemy types, and very unfulfilling boss battles.
Graphics is all we heard about Halo 2 three years ago. Shouldn't that be a key aspect to a PC port? Obviously not. This one has simply been ported, tweaked, and shipped. Though definitely more refined than its console rendition, it doesn't shine anywhere, and falls short to those being released today. Jacking your rigs specs far past the suggested requirements would be much like tuning up your Ferrari for a Honda only event. Minimum requirements will probably get you the Xbox level of play with few frame drops. But remember that online play is more demanding as anything can be thrown at you at any given time, which can big that frame rate to a halt. All in all, the game looks old, and cranking up the anti-aliasing is only an attempt to make it look less old. It still looks like Halo 2 at any level of edge definition, so those detailed Covenant ships still look cool; it's mostly lighting and effects that bog it all down. The sound effects and score are still epic in my mind. Everything in this area still shines as the quality hasn't changed. An ever growing trend, ambient sounds can be heard during regular play and music will cue around turning chapters within the plot. Each song hits the nail on the head for this sci-fi shooter every time thanks to Martin O'Donnell and Michael Salvatori.
Since there isn't much else we can say about the single player campaign that half of the western civilization doesn't already know, we might as well continue to the multiplayer. Halo LAN parties will live forever, and Halo 2 is no different. Supporting up to 16 players, the play is much the same. Of course you'll come along plenty of worthy adversaries with a franchise such as Halo, so be sure you know your maps and weapons. Dual wielding opens up a whole new style of gameplay for many users, and combining that with different types of grenades and melee weapons, there are tons of ways to smother or get smothered. Smashing a head or two with a giant axe really takes your mind off things, satisfyingly killing your foe in one swing. To make the action even more intense your shield will drain even faster than before, it will take slightly longer to initiate the recharge, but then gets back to 100% faster than before too.
Halo 2 comes with 23 included multiplayer maps alongside a map editor. The match types range from a simple deathmatch or team deathmatch (or "slayer", team "slayer"), to capture the flag but with objective based twists. Most of these variations include set weapon sets or pickups within the base style of game, like Rockets, which is a Team Slayer match with only Rocket Launchers. Making your own variations is a nice touch, but can get out of hand with some of the consumers the Halo market seems to fall into the hands of. Every youngster in the neighbourhood has a match type named "Xxx-DeathBLASTmania-xxX", which is neither descriptive nor fun. There's no description until you're in so, you'll simply have to take the dive and if worst comes to worst, you can always just chime in on some classic Halo head-chatter.
Games for Windows titles such as Halo 2 fully support the wired Xbox 360 controller. While the game arguably plays better with a mouse and keyboard (gaming or not), playing with a controller will be the choice for most die-hard fans as this was the way it was played on the original Xbox. This will surely be a sore spot with many gamers, as one could provide an advantage over the other after personal configurations.
Halo 2 on the Xbox introduced matchmaking, which intelligently paired you up with players of similar skill levels. On PC the game finding is faster, but only because this feature has been stripped and it simply chooses the first host that comes along. While not recording player rankings, Halo 2 is the first PC game to support "Live" gaming. You'll simply login to your Live Account (Xbox Live) on startup and earn achievements towards your total gamerscore along the way. You'll earn points for completing each chapter within the single-player, but the meat of the points is tallied up through online ranked matchups. Taking out three guys with a rocket launcher, or jacking someone's ride (among many others) will get you some sweet gamerscore. The game comes with a free month of gold access which basically means you're allowed to play online for a month without buying an Xbox Live gold account. The probability of a PC gamer who mostly plays first person shooters paying a monthly fee to play online past this free month is next to null, making the silver account on PC's useless. Although adding gamerscore to your Xbox Live account is cool, it's safe to say most gamers would prefer playing online without a paid (gold) account. Silver members are limited to using the server browser to find their games, whereas gold members can hit 'quick match' and cross their fingers they won't be thrown into an empty game. Thus, the server browser works better anyway, making the selling point for a Gold account even more pointless. I'm sure many will ask if it plays cross-platform with Xbox 360 gamers, and the answer is no. So, why get gold? To be awarded the multiplayer achievement points, as only gold members will receive them.
Halo 2 is Vista only. It doesn't offer any new features, gameplay, graphics, or audio. It took three years to arrive. But it is still Halo 2 and does rock to play with friends. It's a great game you can relive on your PC once the price comes down, but for now there's really no reason to be chomping at the bit. It doesn't compare to the competition out there so for right now it's strictly for the die-hard fans. Most others will be better off to just slide their original Halo 2 disc back in and play away, either on the original Xbox or Xbox 360 as it is on the backwards compatibility list.