Underwhelmed

So there are three or four things milling around in my head that I want to post about today, but I’ll just stick to one for now. And that’s Halo 2.
My copy of Halo 2 arrived yesterday and I immediately set about to playing it against some friends via Live. Okay, first I had to set up Live. That didn’t take too long, as the Live install was included on the Halo disc, and a 2-month subscription was included with the game. It did force me to input my credit card information, which I found very annoying, but I’ll just call them up in six weeks and cancel my account before it auto-bills.
What required more time was actually triangulating to find the point in my living room where the ethernet cable to the router, AV cable to the TV, and Xbox power cord to the wall intersected. At first that problem had a null solution, so after untangling some ethernet cables from my Linux server and dragging the router a foot closer to the TV, I was able to create a small region of calm in an otherwise messy living room floor, where I put… the Xbox. Okay, but that’s neither here nor there – it just means I need to get a wireless bridge.
The Halo 2 multiplayer experience was fun, but it was basically a clone of the Halo 1 multiplayer experience, with the addition of Xbox Live. So, it was great that I was able to play with my friends and chat with them via VOIP (only when your characters are within close proximity), but other than that I didn’t see much difference at all. Sure there are new maps, and updates of old maps, and a few new vehicles. And frankly, that was okay, since the multiplayer experience is more about the fun you can have against others than it is about the particulars of the experience itself.
However, I expected more from the single-player experience, especially after being told that Halo 2 is the second coming of God. And guess what. It’s the EXACT SAME GAME. Look, the game starts out and we’re being invaded. Look, I have to crawl through hall after hall of flying squirrels and robots with guns, some behind shields. Look, I’m lost again because all the halls look alike and I’m not sure which direction I just came from. What is it that everyone loves about Halo 2?
Maybe what they love is that it IS the same game. Maybe people just wanted more of the same – they want to experience the same world, and the same “dramatic arc” if you can call it that. And Bungie has delivered that, so props to them for being able to make the same game twice. But it would have been nice to see more changes beyond being able to wield two weapons at once. I have to think that the original development team, who was so creative when developing the original title, must have been absolutely bored creating Halo 2.
Beyond my sadness at waiting years to get merely a clone of the original game, I’m surprised at how lousy the cutscenes are technically. The FMV scenes are nice, but the real-time cutscenes… I’m surprised they let this thing out the door! Your soldiers will react to… something, and then the something (a big bad monster) will pop in – guess the model hadn’t quite loaded yet, sorry guys! Also, the world frequently fades in by drawing the polygons, then the textures, then light maps, bump maps, and so on… you can see the individual layers as they’re being loaded and rendered. The LOD pops are awful too. What were they thinking? Gah.
If this was a new experience I wouldn’t be so hard on it. I’d probably be more caught up in the storyline and the experience. But as a sequel, and after being hyped for SO long, I really expected more. I have to think that after the experience of creating a whole new world, a new experience, like Bungie did with the original Halo, that a lot of them have a creative itch that they just did not get to scratch with the sequel. I wonder how many of them have left the company? Perhaps that’s why Alex Seropian left to start Wideload Games.
I’ve only played for about an hour so far, maybe I shouldn’t be so harsh.