The Infinite Zenith

Where insights on anime, games, academia and life dare to converge

Review and Reflections on The Master Chief Collection: Halo 2 Anniversary

“Master Chief, you mind telling me what you’re doing on that ship?”
“Sir? Finishing this fight.”

– Fleet Admiral Hood and Master Chief John-117

Covenant Supreme Commander Thel ‘Vadam is stripped of his rank and branded a Heretic by the Covenant High Prophets, who recognise his long and distinguished service. They offer him the position of Arbiter. Meanwhile in the Cairo Orbital Defense Station over Earth, Fleet Admiral Hood commends Master Chief and Sergeant Avery Johnson for their actions on Halo. However, a Covenant Fleet soon arrives, and Master Chief fights his way to a hangar where the Covenant boarders have activated a bomb. He disarms the bomb and rejoins the UNSC marines to repel the invading Covenant forces in the city of New Mombasa. The ground forces are successful, and in orbit, the Defense Stations repel the Covenant fleet, prompting the Prophet of Regret to flee. Miranda Keyes follows in the In Amber Clad, arriving at Delta Halo. Meanwhile, the Arbiter is tasked with assassinating a Heretic leader; after fighting through a Forerunner gas mine, the Arbiter catches up to the Heretic leader and defeats him, but learns of conflicting information about the Halo rings. On Delta Halo, Master Chief is tasked with capturing the Prophet of Regret. Intercepting Covenant messages, Master Chief and Cortana learn the Covenant’s obsession with the Halo array is tied to their religion, and with the threat the Halo array poses, Keyes orders Master Chief to kill the Prophet of Regret instead. While he is successful, a Covenant orbital bombardment destroys the area, knocking him into the lake below, where he is captured by a massive Flood. With the Prophet of Regret’s death, the Elites are deemed unworthy and are replaced by the Brutes. The Arbiter is sent to retrieve the Index from Delta Halo’s library, but upon giving the Index to Tatarus, the Brute Chieftain, Tatarus betrays the Arbiter and knocks him down a shaft, leaving him for dead. It turns out that both Master Chief and the Arbiter were saved by the Gravemind, a sentient Flood. Here, Gravemind reveals the function of the Halo array and implores the two cooperate to stop the Prophets from activating Halo. Master Chief is sent to the holy Covenant city, High Charity, to kill the Prophets, while Arbiter returns to Delta Halo’s control room to reclaim the Index. Master Chief ends up saving several captured Marines, but sees the Flood-controlled In Amber Clad crash into the city surface, starting a Flood infestation. In the ensuing chaos, the Prophet of Mercy is killed by the Flood, and Master Chief pursues the Prophet of Truth into a Forerunner ship, leaving Cortana behind. The Arbiter, meanwhile, strikes an uneasy alliance with Sergeant Johnson and fights his way to the control room, where he manages to kill Tatarus. Keyes retrieves the Index, stopping Halo from firing, but this activates a fail-safe that puts the remaining Halo rings on standby. The Master Chief returns to Earth, resolving to finish the fight.

Halo 2 was originally released in November 2004 for the original Xbox and immediately became acclaimed for its multiplayer and game-play, which was far more evolved and sophisticated than that of its predecessor. Dual-wielding was the most prominent feature, allowing players to utilise two weapons simultaneously for increased firepower at the expense of lengthier reload time and versatility (players are no longer able to melee or use grenades). By allowing players to mix a handful of the weapons, one could become more effective in a combat scenario for a short period of time, but then players would need to be mindful of the situation and switch up their loadout accordingly. In addition, the ability to board enemy vehicles (and in exchange, be boarded) was also added, allowing players to now hijack vehicles from the Covenant as needed. Halo 2 marked a major update from Halo: Combat Evolved. Similarly, Bungie took a much more ambitious approach in their storytelling, expanding upon both human and Covenant civilisations by the twenty-sixth century that remained unexplored in the first Halo: Combat Evolved, as well as the horror that is the Flood. While this ambition built up the Halo lore considerably, it also left Halo 2 with its infamous cliffhanger ending, which would not be resolved until Halo 3 came out in September 2007. However, the larger story also gave players a chance to explore unique settings, from Earth and the Delta Halo, to the Covenant city High Charity and Forerunner installations. Halo: Combat Evolved had been criticised for backtracking in its final missions, and Halo 2 averted this outright. While Halo 2‘s story is far busier than the spartan, minimal story of the first Halo: Combat Evolved, it also built up the universe to the point where the franchise could be expanded upon in spin-off novels and other media. With the introduction of new mechanics and deeper world-building, Halo 2 added much depth to the Halo universe through its campaign, setting the stage for future developments in the franchise.

Screenshots and Commentary

  • I believe it was eleven years ago when I first set foot on Cairo Station to repel the Covenant boarders; Halo 2 Vista had just released, and I had been itching to play Halo 2 on the PC for the longest time, since I have no Xbox. However, having just bought a Dell XPS that was running Windows Vista, I decided to spring for Halo 2 Vista after learning that there was indeed a version for PC. This turned out to be a fantastic journey, and per tradition, I always kicked things off with the campaign. This tradition has endured for the past decade, and so, once Halo 2 joined The Master Chief Collection, I similarly began with the campaign once the game became available on May 12. A day earlier, I enjoyed a delicious homemade sirloin burger and a side of crinkle-cut fries for lunch and had been reading articles on Halo 2 during breaks to hype myself up for launch.

  • I had been most excited to finally return to Cairo Station once more, but since the game files only unlocked at 20:00 PDT on Steam, I ended up downloading the files the next morning. My initial install proved ruinous, as the Halo launcher declared it was missing several .dll files. It was a tense bit as I sought out the solution: fortunately, after I downloaded the missing files, slotted them into the right directory, and restarted my machine, I was relieved to see that the Halo launcher was at last working, and so, I began my journey later that day. I fired Halo 2‘s BR-55 Battle Rifle for the first time in over seven years, and immediately found myself at home with Halo 2‘s campaign.

  • For this post, I will be going through Halo 2 on the anniversary graphics, rather than the classic graphics. Like Halo: Combat EvolvedHalo 2 allows players to freely switch between the original and remastered visuals seamlessly with the press of a button. While not quite as dramatic as the differences between Halo: Combat Evolved‘s original and remaster, Halo 2 received a very substantial upgrade in its visuals, as well. Weapon models have been given a significant overhaul and look amazing, and the observant viewer can even spot the grain of the grips on Master Chief’s gloves.

  • While the visuals have been given an overhaul, Halo 2‘s anniversary edition plays identically to the original version: despite having mechanics sixteen years old, however, Halo 2 feels very smooth and responsive. Player movement is crisp, and the shooting feels incredibly satisfying. Halo: Combat Evolved feels a bit dated by comparison, and while still sporting a reasonably solid experience, Halo 2 feels very polished and refined in terms of how things handle. The Battle Rifle feels particularly satisfying to fire and feels more powerful, despite being identical to its original in performance.

  • After clearing out the armoury, the Master Chief is able to pick up the Gunnery Sergeant’s M90 Shotgun. Compared to its Halo: Combat Evolved incarnation, Halo 2‘s shotgun had a wider spread and reduced carrying capacity (36 rounds can be carried in reserve at maximum in Halo 2). It is no longer effective against vehicles, but nonetheless remains a powerful weapon at close quarters, and can clear out the Covenant forces guarding the bomb with relative ease on standard difficulty. With a friend, I completed Halo: Combat Evolved‘s campaign on legendary: this marks the first time either of us had the time (and patience) to do so, and for our troubles, we were rewarded with the legendary ending.

  • One thing I did notice in the campaign was that there were some areas where the game slowed to a stuttering crawl and dropped frames. This lag froze out the entire game for a second or two, but never persisted, and as I moved through the campaign, the issue did not reappear. After exiting Cairo Station and single-handedly destroying a Covenant Cruiser with their own antimatter bomb, Master Chief hits New Mombassa to repel the Covenant. Fighting in the remastered city streets was a thrill, and I was able to play around with the different combinations of dual-wielded weapons: most effective to utilise is the plasma rifle with the submachine gun and plasma pistol with submachine gun: plasma weapons make quick work of shields, and then the bullets can finish off unshielded opponents with ease.

  • After clearing several waves of Covenant, a pair of Hunters will breach the courtyard doors. Halo 2‘s Hunters are tougher than their predecessors, but can still be beaten with well-placed shots to their exposed orange regions. If the machine gun is still intact, players can use this to trivially eliminate both Hunters before moving on into what is known as Jackal Alley. This narrow street is covered by Jackal Snipers, Halo 2‘s most-feared enemy: on legendary, Jackal Snipers can one-shot Master Chief, and their low visibility means that by the time players spot them, they’re already respawning.

  • Outskirts introduces players to vehicular gameplay: after fighting through a Covenant squad defending a hotel entrance, players arrive at the river. Marines in a Warthog will greet the player, along with several Covenant Ghosts. These vehicles were common in Halo: Combat Evolved, and in Halo 2, human vehicles are now destructible. Because the vehicular segments of Halo 2 involve a more linear level design, AI drivers were implemented, although they’re not particularly effective, and players looking to complete levels swiftly should take the wheel themselves.

  • I’ve found that a Ghost is the best way to travel through the tunnels of New Mombasa: these light vehicles retain their status in Halo 2‘s predecessor as the fastest and most common Covenant vehicle available. In Halo 2, they’ve been given an infinite boost that makes them the best choice for zipping through the tunnel. Coupled with their moderately effective forward-facing plasma cannons, a Ghost has enough speed and firepower to deal anything that isn’t a tank for much of Halo 2.

  • Outskirts was featured in the E3 footage of Halo 2 from 2003, which had been the world’s first news about a new Halo. Back then, the New Mombasa sections of Halo 2 were supposed to be much longer, and the story had a greater focus on defending Earth from the Covenant invaders. There were also several notable gameplay differences, with the Battle Rifle handling more like the DMR of Halo: Reach, and having the ability to holster dual-wielded weapons. The final product seen in Halo 2 is quite different than the E3 demo, and even now, many players wished that more elements from the E3 demo had made it into Halo 2.

  • The third mission of Halo 2 opens with a battle across the bridge leading into downtown New Mombasa. Players can take the Scorpion Tank or the Warthog depending on whether damage or speed is their priority. While rolling across this bridge, the Anniversary version of Halo 2 will begin playing the Scorpion remix of the Halo Mjolnir Theme, which remains one of my favourite themes to any game. For me, I typically roll across the bridge with a Warthog for speed, but since this is my first time going into the Anniversary version, I figured I’d play the game the way it was meant to be played, slowly turning every single Ghost on the bridge into rubble.

  • Unlike the Scorpion in Halo: Combat Evolved, the Scorpion in Halo 2 has a much more accurate coaxial 7.62 mm machine gun and can be reliably depended upon to mop up any remaining forces. The main 90 mm cannon also reloads faster than it did in Halo: Combat Evolved, making the tank much more effective in a combat role. One subtle visual update in Halo 2‘s anniversary mode is that the powerful 90 mm rounds from a Scorpion, and the rockets from the rocket launcher, both explode with a visible shockwave: this is a nice visual touch. A skilled player can also pick Banshees out of the sky with a Scorpion, and while this is the usual course of action in a normal play-through, players looking for the Scarab Gun are advised to keep at least one Banshee intact.

  • At the time of writing, I’ve managed to reach the Scarab Gun, earning myself an achievement that only 0.5 percent of players have, but in this post, I’ll be going through an ordinary play-through: after clearing the tunnel out, players will arrive in a park area covered with Covenant forces. Players can opt to pick them off with the beam rifle from a Jackal Sniper, or else board the Gauss Warthog and move onto the next area, which has a Wraith. The Gauss Warthog swaps out the Vulcan multi-barrel gun for a gauss cannon, which has a slower rate of fire but can devastate infantry and vehicles alike. In Halo 2, the AI are capable of driving, but they tend to take players on a bit of a ride before their destination, so where possible, I will opt to take a Ghost instead.

  • The soldier operating the Gauss ‘Hog, is a passable driver, and with me on the gun, the Wraiths blocking the main avenue become destroyed fairly quickly. After players hit the road leading into the city centre, Earth City (Kilindini Harbour in the Anniversary edition) begins playing on the soundtrack. This song, with a powerful instrumental and choral component, is one of my favourite tracks on the Halo 2 soundtrack, and I remember this song best, having listened to it while en route to school to take a math exam early: I can’t quite remember why I was taking an exam at eight in the morning that day, but since then, the song has reminded me of my high school days.

  • The final bit of Metropolis involves wiping out the crew on the Scarab that had been giving the UNSC forces much trouble: after traversing a narrow canal, it will get stuck, allowing Master Chief to board it and eliminate the occupants. The interior of the Scarab looks much improved, feeling a lot sleeker than it originally did. My first experience with Halo 2 was a year after it launched, when a friend had invited me over to try the multiplayer out: we had been working on a science fair project, and after sorting out the work for that, dropped into Coagulation for FFA Slayer with two other people.

  • I still remember that science fair project: it dealt with the safety of nuclear fission reactors as a power source, and in our category, my friend and I won bronze. In retrospect, that project was very hastily done, and having volunteered as a science fair judge for a few years now, I feel that the assessment of our project was a bit too lenient. I spent the past week looking over virtual submissions for the city-wide Youth Science Fair and focused largely on the health and technology projects, being generally impressed with most of them. There were some truly standout projects and many solid ones; while I might not have been so kind to our old project, my friend was pleased with the results, and in the years subsequent, he would invite a bunch of folks I knew over for LAN parties.

  • In those days, we had to connect the Xboxes together with Ethernet cables to a router to have 16-player parties. Setting these LAN parties up always took forever, and by the time I’d hit high school, my friend became interested in creating Halo 2 multi-kill montages, seeking the coveted “Killtacular” medal (four kills, each within four seconds of one another, or four kills within 28 seconds). Thus, Sunday afternoons became the default for LAN parties. After two years of LAN parties, he never did get a Killtacular under normal match conditions, but the numerous LAN parties he hosted were extremely fun: we would play MLG Team Slayer (Battle Rifle start, first to 50) on classic maps like Midship and Lockout, and then transition to whackier game modes (rocket ball on Coagulation or Siesta on Warlock) as the LAN party progressed.

  • Because we were focused entirely on multiplayer, my best friend and I always wondered what the campaign was like. For the longest time, the both of us could only wonder what experiencing the campaign of Halo 2 felt like, and for me, I would finally get to see it myself when Halo 2: Vista came out. My best friend, on the other hand, would not get to Halo 2‘s campaign until now, when The Master Chief Collection became available on Steam. This release was monumental for us, since it marked the first time we could actually co-op together and experience one of the most iconic games in all of the 2000s.

  • After Metropolis, Halo 2 puts players into the Arbiter’s shoes as he sets off to kill a heretic who had been preaching ideas contrary to what the Covenant believe in. Unlike Master Chief, the Arbiter has an active camouflage system that renders him invisible for a few moments, which is useful for flanking enemies or escaping danger. Towards the end of the mission, the Arbiter will take to the skies in a Banshee, and here, Follow in Flight begins playing. On the whole, I found that Halo 2‘s anniversary had the superior soundtrack, and Follow in Flight immediately evokes memories of the Halo 2 LAN parties my other friend hosted back in the day.

  • While I had originally enjoyed the Master Chief’s missions of Halo 2 more for the locales it brought players to, Halo 2 anniversary has done a fabulous job on remastering all of the missions, and while Arbiter and The Oracle may rank as two of my least favourite missions in classic Halo 2, the remastered version does an excellent job of bringing new life to each area. In Halo 2 anniversary, none of the campaign missions were ever a chore to go through, and I rather enjoyed revisiting the Arbiter’s story.

  • The Oracle was perhaps my least favourite mission in all of Halo 2 because of how the mission left players stuck in areas for extended periods of time; it’s a grim location to be in, and marks the first time in Halo 2 that the Flood are introduced. There is no suspense or terror this time around – the Flood are simply another kind of foe that must be dealt with in the game. While the Arbiter does not have access to a shotgun for this mission, the Energy Sword is actually a superior weapon for handling the Flood: a well-placed sword lunge can destroy a Flood combat form’s body and make it impossible to resurrect, whereas other weapons are only capable of knocking the combat form down, after which infection forms can revive them.

  • After a lengthy elevator ride into the bowels of the gas mine, the Arbiter will be locked in a room and will need to fend off wave after wave of Flood before the doors unlock, allowing one to continue into the next area. The Flood behave as much as they did in Halo: Combat Evolved, although a more sophisticated engine means that players can now instantly kill combat forms if they manage to hit the embedded infection form. Moreover, since the health system is removed, being hit with an infection form when one’s shields are down now becomes an instant death.

  • The absence of a visible health system in Halo 2 is compensated for by a fast energy shield recharge: health recharges at a slower rate and allow players to survive a small amount of damage even when the shields are down, leaving players to focus on the mission rather than worry about locating health kits. According to radio chatter, the heretic leader has escaped onto a different platform, and the Arbiter follows with orders to sever the cables connecting the platform.

  • Unlike Halo: Combat Evolved‘s remaster, Halo 2‘s remaster remains very faithful to the original aesthetic of an area. The former was criticised for brightening up areas of the game that were originally grim and dark: the Forerunner facilities in 343 Guilty Spark and The Library became much more well-lit in the remaster as a result of Forerunner architecture becoming much more detailed. With the inclusion of glow panels and illuminated inscriptions, the facilities become more detailed, but this also took away from the sense of foreboding that accompanied the Flood. By comparison, Halo 2 respects design choices of the original, and instead, simply uses intricate textures to portray Forerunner architecture in greater detail.

  • Beating the heretic leader is relatively straightforwards – despite possessing a hover pack and deploying two holographic doppelgängers to obscure his position, the heretic leader himself is no more difficult than the usual Elites. However, in a twist of irony, the heretic is actually in the right, and a part of the question that is raised once the Arbiter defeats him, is to what extent do the Elites know about the actual nature of the Great Journey their Prophets have been preaching. Thus, the mission to silence the heretics is the set The Arbiter on a path that will lead him towards saving the galaxy and stopping the Prophets from realising the Great Journey.

  • Although the heretic is silenced, the mysteries he holds will endure in The Arbiter. Here, Halo 2 switches back over to Master Chief’s point of view. After Keyes follows the Prophet of Regret’s cruiser into slip-space, they find another Halo ring. With their knowledge of Halo’s danger, Keyes orders Master Chief to locate and kill the Prophet of Regret to prevent him from firing the ring. After an insertion, Master Chief and a group of ODSTs land near derelict temples in a temperate region of Halo. They repel Covenant forces long enough for a Pelican to deliver a Warthog.

  • The verdant scenery of Delta Halo reminds me of the parks around my area, and with the recent rainfall, it finally feels like spring as all of the trees have finally greened. So far this year, the weather appears to have matched the melancholy, with there being more cloudy days than sunny days, and it’s also been rather cooler. This makes the sunny, clear days all the more treasured, although I won’t deny that constant overcast weather is tough on morale.

  • While Master Chief starts Delta Halo with a rocket launcher, intended for making quick work of Covenant stationary guns, I actually carry it a ways further so I can deal with the Wraith across the bridge. Halo 2‘s rocket launcher is a straight upgrade from its Halo: Combat Evolved incarnation – besides having a wider blast radius and dealing more direct damage, the rocket launcher has a faster reload time and can even lock onto enemy vehicles in the campaign. On standard difficulty, two shots will destroy a Wraith. Halo 2 is where my sense of invulnerability against armour originates from: since rocket launchers were relatively common where there were vehicles, I never once felt worried about enemy armour.

  • After pushing through a cliff-side path to a temple and clearing it of Covenant, players end up in a narrow valley crawling with Jackal Snipers. Throughout the mission, Covenant weapons are generally in greater supply, but Pelicans will occasionally drop weapon pods to resupply Master Chief, and while plasma weapons are great against shields, generally speaking, human weapons are a lot more fun to wield in Halo 2. After clearing the valley of Covenant, I turned back briefly to look back into the area, and the lighting threw the details of the sniper rifle into sharp relief. The upgraded firing sound for the sniper rifle in Halo 2‘s anniversary edition, much like it was with Halo: Combat Evolved‘s remaster, feels much more powerful, and every shot fired from a sniper rifle in Halo 2 is immensely satisfying.

  • Upon arriving in one of the temples, Master Chief will come face-to-face with the honour guards, special Covenant members that are tasked with defending the prophets. They are uncommonly tough and may even survive a direct lunge from the energy sword, although they are vulnerable to plasma grenades: on standard difficulty, there are three honour guards keeping watch over the hologram of Regret, and my preferred way is to stick the first two honour guards before dealing with the last one. Once they are dealt with, Delta Halo comes to an end.

  • After reaching the gondola platform, Master Chief and some marines will need to fend off more Covenant, defeat a pair of hunters and then clear the gondola. It suddenly strikes me that there are a fair number of gondola rides in Halo 2 – to the best of my recollection, there were not any in Halo: Combat Evolved. While they can be perceived as dragging out a mission’s runtime further, they also serve to show the scale of the Forerunner constructs on halo, and with the updated visuals, these segments look absolutely stunning.

  • The observant reader will have noticed that I’ve deliberately timed this post to coincide with the home release of Makoto Shinkai’s Tenki no Ko (Weathering with You): May 27 in Japan, and May 26 for me. This is his latest film, releasing in July of last year, and I’ve been longing to see it since it premièred in Japanese theatres. However, for undisclosed reasons, there was a ten-month gap between the theatrical release and home release, rather than the typical six-month gap. Coupled with the fact that theatres in my area adamantly refuse to screen anime films, this inevitably means that by the time I get around to writing about Tenki no Ko, my post will be irrelevant even before I created a draft of it: any post I write about Tenki no Ko, irrespective of how detailed it is, will not likely be worth reading to most, who’ve either seen the film for themselves already or have read earlier commentaries on the movie.

  • This raises the question of whether or not writing about Tenki no Ko is even worthwhile, and while Halo 2‘s release means I’d rather play Halo than write a blog post no one will read, the fact is that there are reviews of Tenki no Ko out there that aim to deliberately misrepresent the film and Makoto Shinkai’s intentions. Having another perspective out there to challenge these existing ones would therefore serve to help readers gain a fairer and more comprehensive picture of what Tenki no Ko‘s themes and messages are. As such, even if it is an exercise in futility, I will aim to write my own piece to address existing points and present fairer, more comprehensive view of things.

  • Back in Halo 2, after traversing a submerged area, Master Chief ends up in an underwater installation. A pair of Hunters will show up, and my current loadout here proved adequate for the job: if one can flank a Hunter, the shotgun will make quick work of them. I will note that later, I discovered that there’s actually a fuel rod cannon concealed in the temple ceiling where the first elevator is, and having one of those handy will make very short work of the Hunters. After fighting through a partially-flooded tunnel and returning to the surface, one more gondola ride awaits Master Chief. This gondola will take players to the temple where Regret is hiding.

  • Regret is well-defended: besides the honour guard, his hovering throne possesses an energy shield that can repel all weapons; the only way to damage him is to board the throne and beat Regret to death. There are a few ways to make this battle go a little faster: either one can clear the honour guards out first and then focus on meleeing Regret, or else focus on meleeing Regret at the expense of ignoring the honour guard. The latter exposes players to fire from the honour guard, and the former means Regret will fire a plasma cannon in his hover throne to deal massive damage. Once Regret is dead, this mission draws to a close as the Covenant forces bombard the temple and perspective returns to that of The Arbiter’s.

  • The Arbiter’s assignment is to lower a containment field surrounding the Index, which the Covenant refer to as the Sacred Icon. In this mission, players must reach lower levels of the facility by means of pistons that can be opened. On lower difficulties, one can conserve on ammo and activate them manually, whereas on higher difficulties, one must shoot them to open them. In the moments before starting the mission, one can look over and see the lakes where the Master Chief had been.

  • Whereas Sentinels simply appeared in Halo: Combat EvolvedHalo 2 introduced the Sentinel launcher, which spawn endless amounts of Sentinels until they are destroyed. When defeated, the Sentinels drop the Sentinel Beam, a directed-energy weapon capable of sustained fire. Suited for dropping shields, the Sentinel Beam is also particularly effective at fighting the Flood infection forms and other Sentinels, replacing the Assault Rifle and Plasma Rifle as the preferred general-purpose close-quarters solution for Flood and Sentinel heavy missions.

  • While going up against a Sentinel Enforcer initially looks difficult, the Enforcer is only shielded from the front, so overloading the shields and aiming for the limbs will do the most damage. Since The Arbiter also has a cloak, it is possible to flank and stick the Enforcer with plasma grenades. Two to three plasma grenades will suffice in defeating an Enforcer. Later, vehicles will make handling Enforcers a lot easier: a Scorpion can destroy Enforcers in two shots, and sustained fire from a Ghost will make short work of an Enforcer. Once this first Enforcer is destroyed, The Arbiter can lower the shields surrounding the Library and continue onward towards retrieving the Index.

  • Sentinel Majors are protected by an energy shield, but remain vulnerable to plasma weaponry and fire from a Sentinel Beam. While my loadout throughout the Sacred Icon mission seems unusual, it is because I am primarily fighting the Flood: the Flood handle more or less the same as they did in Halo: Combat Evolved, and since Halo 2 changed things up, the best setup against the Flood would be a combination of the Energy Sword (for destroying combat forms) and Sentinel Beam (for mopping up infection forms and prompting the carrier forms to explode). In the absence of the Energy Sword, the shotgun works just as well.

  • After dropping through a few more passages, The Arbiter reaches the Covenant camp, where other Elites have gathered. Whereas in my original play-though of Halo 2, the Covenant camp looked especially drab, the Anniversary remaster looks brilliant, the difference between night and day. The only issue I have with the remaster is that in some areas, the more sophisticated lighting actually reduced visibility: dark areas are much darker than they were in the classic graphics, and my screen would occasionally white out when I got hit by plasma fire or was caught in an explosion. I did switch between anniversary and classic visuals from time to time for a more practical reason: the simpler graphics and lighting of the classic Halo 2 means it’s easier to spot enemies.

  • Quarantine Zone is one of the longest missions in Halo 2, involving extensive vehicular sections, followed by a lengthy gondola ride to the Index. The level design was likely a response to the criticisms that in Halo: Combat Evolved, the Library was a very monotonous and repetitive mission. Whereas Alpha Halo appeared to have had its Flood specimens under control until the Covenant released them, Delta Halo’s Monitor, Penitent Tangent, neglected to conform with containment protocols, and was captured by Gravemind. Sentinels began constructing a wall to contain the Flood, and this directed resources from the maintenance of other parts of the Halo, which explains why the areas the Master Chief went through resembled tropical ruins.

  • I ended up commandeering a Scorpion tank after proceeding through the first area so I had the firepower needed to deal with hostile Wraiths and Enforcers alike. While ballistic weapons are said to be useless against the shields of an Enforcer, the Scorpion’s coaxial machine gun will quickly overload the shields, allowing one to hit the Enforcer’s main body 90 mm shells. The Scorpion is the best vehicle for this section despite its slow movement speed, and the only thing to really watch out for are the Rocket Flood, and getting too close to Enforcers: when an Enforcer is sufficiently close, it will use its arms to pick up and crush the Scorpion, resulting in an instant death. It is possible to escape before the Scorpion explodes by jumping out, and then mount a counterattack while the Enforcer is busy using plasma grenades.

  • After reaching the gondola leading into the Library, Tatarus’ Phantom will arrive and provide some covering fire. It is unknown as to whether or not Alpha Halo had a similar gondola for accessing the Library, since Guilty Spark teleported Master Chief directly into the upper floors of the facility. Quarantine Zone is named after the Sentinel Wall that was built to restrict the Flood’s movement, and while lacking its predecessor’s monotony, is still a bit of a slog to get through. Folks who are playing in the interest of speed to reach the gondola may find taking a Ghost as their main vehicle and skipping the vehicular combat to be helpful.

  • The gondola ride is one long waiting game, and Flood will assault the Covenant forces on board. The Energy Sword is the best weapon for the job here, since it will be entirely combat forms that attack. Because of the sword lunge, players can inadvertently find themselves launching themselves over the platform to a swift death, caution should be observed with the energy sword: I find that a melee swipe with the sword will still deal with the combat forms without engaging the lunge, which is useful on some parts of the gondola.

  • After the gondola comes to a stop, The Arbiter will be greeted by the same sight that greeted the Master Chief in Halo: Combat Evolved: the cavernous hallways leading up to the Index. At this point, only a few clusters of infection forms stand between The Arbiter and the Index: a pair of submachine guns is more than enough to deal with them. Whenever the Sentinel Beam is not available, dual submachine guns is a suitable substitute, and during my first play-through of Halo 2‘s campaign nearly ten years ago, this was the same loadout I wielded entering the last moments of Quarantine Zone.

  • While Master Chief starts off the Gravemind mission with naught but a single Needler, there’s a second Needler immediately available for use against the Brutes. The Needler was downgraded from its Halo: Combat Evolved incarnation, and now must be dual-wielded in order to be effective: with a larger magazine, slower rate of fire, slower projectile speed and inferior super-combine explosion radius, individual Needlers are ineffective. As soon as the Brutes are disposed of, they’ll drop the Brute Plasma Rifle, which is a variant of the standard Plasma Rifle with a higher rate of fire and double damage per shot at the expense of overheating and burning through its battery faster.

  • Master Chief’s only goal is to search for the Index, which is with the Prophet of Truth. Along the way, captured marines are found, and Master Chief will witness the beginning of a Covenant Civil War. The infighting is helpful for players, since it allows one to get through some areas more easily: the Elites, Grunts and Hunters take one side, while the Prophets, Brutes, Drones and Jackals are at the other. However, for now, all Covenant are still hostile to Master Chief, and so, while exploiting the in-fighting, players should still be careful. Gravemind also marks the first time players pick up the Brute Shot, a grenade launcher with a large blade.

  • The interior of High Charity in Halo 2 looks far crisper and more detailed: from this vantage point, it is clear that Master Chief is fighting through the edges of this city, and therefore, there won’t be a chance to explore the actual city seen in the distance. Being set in the heart of Covenant turf, there are no human weapons available in this mission, and overall, I found that for a standard play-through, the Covenant Carbine works the most effectively, in conjunction with use of the Brute Shot or Energy Sword as a secondary weapon.

  • Firing an 8 mm radioactive projectile, the Covenant Carbine functions similarly to the DMR from Halo: Reach in that it is a low-recoil, semi-automatic weapon. Halo 2 had it function as the Covenant counterpart to the Battle Rifle, although in practise, the weapon is slightly less accurate than the Battle Rifle at extreme long ranges. Together with the Brute Shot, one has enough firepower to make it through the mission, and occasionally, one will need to switch over to the Beam Rifle for long-range sniping, or dual Plasma Rifles to handle Drone swarms. Of the enemies in Halo 2, I find the Drones and Jackals to be the most infuriating to fight because despite being individually weak, they use a gimmick that makes them require a disproportionate amount of ammunition to neutralise.

  • In order to allow Cortana to track Truth better, master Chief leaves her connected to High Charity’s central computer. Later in the mission, the In Amber Clad arrives in High Charity, but Cortana reports that there are no human signals on board. After defeating the last of the Covenant forces, the mission draws to a close. The situation in Halo 2 rapidly deteriorates as the Flood begins to spread throughout the city. The Prophet of Mercy is killed by an infection form during the chaos, and Truth shows his true colours, intent on starting the Great Journey at any cost.

  • At the start of Uprising, The Arbiter is only armed with a Plasma Rifle. The first few moments of this mission were showcased back in December 2019 during a development update, back when Halo: Reach had released and Halo: Combat Evolved was still a few months away from release. Compared to the in-game screenshot back then, Halo 2‘s anniversary build looks even sharper than it did then. Overall, I’ve had no trouble at all running the game on enhanced settings, save a few areas where the game does stutter.

  • As the Covenant Civil War rages on, The Arbiter will fight Brutes, Jackals and Drones. Despite lacking energy shields, the Brutes are immensely tough and resilient enemies, and further pose the threat that the last surviving Brute will always fly into a rage, making them deadly opponents to face off against. I’ve found that use of the Carbine, in conjunction with the Brute Shot or Energy Sword, and plasma grenades is most effective against these beasts.

  • Uprising sees a segment where The Arbiter must traverse a narrow canyon in order to reach Allied forces. During these driving segments, there will always be spare vehicles around in the event that one’s current vehicle sustains too much damage: the levels themselves are walkable, but having a vehicle is essential for speedy transport between two points. With the Covenant Civil War now in full force, and the Elites stripped of their duties, contempt for the Prophets’ rule begins growing.

  • After reaching the end of the canyon, a group of Wraiths and Brutes await the Arbiter. From reading supplementary materials, it turns out that the Brutes are fond of some human weapons and will occasionally be seen wielding shotguns. This could be an indicator of their barbaric nature: when American soldiers began using the Winchester Model 1897 in World War One against German forces, the Germans protested on the grounds that shotguns could cause “unnecessary suffering” and resolved to harshly punish any POW using a shotgun, with the Americans countering that similar punishment could be expected against German soldiers found in the possession of flame-throwers and serrated bayonets.

  • The Elites’ hatred of the Brutes and dissatisfaction with the Covenant is such that they reluctantly form an alliance with Sergeant Johnson, who had been captured by the Brutes: when The Arbiter and his forces arrive, Johnson and Keyes take advantage of the distraction to commandeer the Scarab. These vehicles were originally used in a mining function and were covered with armour that rendered them impervious to human weapons.

  • The level dubbed “High Charity” is actually the second of the missions set in High Charity and marks the first time Master Chief squares off against the Flood in Halo 2. The first part of the mission had originally been set to feature the Flood juggernaut, a powerful tank-like combat form that is equivalent to the Enforcer in power. They are not present in the final Halo 2, although all of their assets are present, so modders can spawn them in and fight them. Upon defeating them, the juggernauts simply freeze in place, lacking a death animation.

  • As Master Chief proceeds deeper into High Charity, the Flood’s presence is already felt: a noxious haze of Flood spores permeates every environment, and Flood biomass begins accumulating in what were once immaculately clean hallways. More so in the anniversary edition, the Master Chief’s flashlight becomes an indispensable tool here, helping to illuminate corridors and aid in navigation. Master Chief initially starts the weapon with the carbine and a Plasma Pistol, but can pick a shotgun off a combat form. The shotgun is the second most effective weapon against the Flood, and will be useful until acquiring an Energy Sword.

  • If memory serves, I pushed through Halo 2 Vista‘s campaign during final summer break before university started, having decided to not open Halo 2 Vista until the standardised high school exams had finished. I was immensely relieved to receive my results during the summer, as they gave me the requisite grades needed to be admitted to the Bachelor of Health Sciences honours programme, and without much else on my plate that summer, I spent the latter portion of it going through the Halo 2 campaign and writing about my experiences on an older website that is now decommissioned.

  • I believe it was August when I finally had a chance to repel the Covenant boarders for the first time (having spent all my time in the multiplayer when I’d previously played Halo 2 at LAN parties), and I reached High Charity on a hot Saturday afternoon. I would go on to finish the campaign before university began, and subsequently, Halo 2 Vista‘s multiplayer would replace Ragnarok Online and World of Warcraft as my Friday night game of choice: since I was in middle school, I had the routine of never doing any schoolwork past seven in the evening, and instead, took my Friday evenings to relax. Where possible, I would finish as much of my work as I could before six, and if needed, I would continue on Saturday.

  • This approach carried over to university and graduate school right through to the present: while I’m happy to partake in events on Friday evenings, on an ordinary Friday night, I prefer taking the time off for myself, whether that be catching up with various anime, or going through a game of some sort. Having a guaranteed point in the week to relax in a manner of my choosing is what helps me to remain focused during the rest of the week, and in general, while I count gaming as one of my hobbies, I’m actually very casual compared to many out there: I  average of two to four hours on a given week. Back in Halo 2, Master Chief boards the lift just in time to enter the Forerunner vessel, which Truth has taken with the aim of reactivating Halo.

  • Halo 2‘s final mission has player returning to The Arbiter and his quest in stopping Tatarus from activating Halo. Players will get to operate the Wraith, a Covenant tank that’s made numerous appearances throughout Halo 2 already: on most missions, the Wraith is encountered as an enemy and, while players can board it, destroying them is usually the more typical course of action. Compared to the Scorpion, the Wraith is more manoeuvrable thanks to its speed boost, but has inferior firepower: the plasma mortar is powerful against both infantry and armour, but is slow-moving and has limited range.

  • Having the Hunters allied with the player was such a nice feeling: while they have their weak points and can be killed by berserking Brutes, the immense firepower and their ability to absorb damage makes them an incredible asset to have. In no time at all, the facility where the Scarab is docked is cleared, and subsequently, players take to the skies in a Banshee to provide cover for the Scarab as it makes its way to the Control Room. Enemy Banshees will join the fight, along with a handful of Wraiths and plasma turrets. As with previous missions, should The Arbiter’s Banshee sustain too much damage, there are a few spares on the canyon floor.

  • Once Johnson fires the Scarab’s main gun and burns through the door to the control room, the Arbiter will need to fly a Banshee to this platform, which begins the final act of Halo 2Halo 2 lacks a lengthy vehicle sequence as its final mission, and instead, features a boss fight against Tatarus. I’ve heard that High Charity was supposed to have Master Chief embark on a drive through a central shaft in High Charity to reach the Forerunner ship, but this was scrapped, and the Master Chief’s means of entry into the Forerunner ship became much more simplified.

  • The fight against Tatarus is a rather simple one: he will escape onto a central platform and activate a powerful energy shield capable of absorbing almost anything. Armed with a gravity hammer, Tatarus will effortlessly kill the Elites trying to attack him, and here, the energy sword is useless against him. Instead, The Arbiter must wait for Johnson to fire his beam rifle, which will remove the shields and render him susceptible to damage. I found that dual Brute Plasma Rifles was the most efficient way of defeating Tatarus: his shields will restore right as the Plasma Rifles overheat, and by the time they cool down, Johnson will have gotten another shot off.

  • After repeating the process a few times, Tatarus will fall, and the final cut-scenes begin to play. Both Master Chief and The Arbiter’s stories will resume in Halo 3, and I am left with an immensely satisfactory revisit of the Halo 2 campaign, as though I had played it for the first time. With Halo 2‘s campaign in the books, and the month of June upon us shortly, I will spend the final moments of my this post considering the near future. Before this month is out, I am aiming to do two more posts: the next one will be for my Halo 2 anniversary multiplayer experiences, and the last post is for Heya Camp△‘s OVA, which will accompany the BDs and release tomorrow. As for Tenki no Ko, with the film becoming available later today, my main goal will be to give it a watch and then begin setting up a post for it.

Halo 2 Anniversary is a direct port of the original Halo 2, and received a complete overhaul of the visuals, as well as audio. While handling identically to the original Halo 2, Halo 2 Anniversary looks like a contemporary shooter, with crisp visuals and improved audio. However, it preserves the original’s game-play, and with a fresh coat of paint offered by new graphics and sound, it becomes clear that the game-play has aged very gracefully. Weapons feel powerful and effective, and hit detection in the campaign feels solid: Halo 2 handles as well as any modern title, attesting to the incredible technical excellence that went into the game. Old areas that seemed quite dull and lifeless in the original Halo 2 are given new life, looking remarkable, and areas that looked amazing in the original are now awe-inspiring. For the most part, Halo 2 Anniversary is a straight upgrade, although there are a few areas where the original version does things better. The energy sword of the original Halo 2 sounded more like the distinct snap-hiss of a lightsabre when drawn, making it sound more lethal than the digital sound of the Anniversary energy sword. Lighting effects in the Anniversary version are also more vivid, and this can create situations where visibility is dramatically lowered: with its more primitive rendering engine, Halo 2‘s classic iteration has superior visibility in some areas, whereas in Anniversary, the same areas concealed enemies more effectively. These are, however, relatively minor complaints, and overall, revisiting Halo 2‘s campaign in the Anniversary Edition was to revisit an old friend that has withstood the test of time very well. With Halo 2‘s campaign in the books, I can now turn my attention towards Halo 2‘s multiplayer, which the game is best known for: between now and when Halo 3 joins the Master Chief Collection, I look forwards to spending a bit of time in reacquainting myself with an old friend, the first multiplayer shooter I’ve ever played and became somewhat skillful in.

3 responses to “Review and Reflections on The Master Chief Collection: Halo 2 Anniversary

  1. Tpaul Homdrom May 26, 2020 at 11:27

    Oh, this was such a fun ride back in the day. I played the entire campaign on co-op with my brother on the Xbox, and we ended up playing through it multiple times over the years. One vivid memory is when we decided on a re-play to take on the huge bridge in the New Mombasa section not in a Scorpion, or a Warthog… but on foot. “Why don’t we just run across it? See how long it takes.” That was a terrible and hilarious decision at the same time. It took forever, as one might expect, and there were plenty of very difficult moments for two Spartans without a vehicle. But it was also a moment I’ll never forget, and a really fantastic example of the flexibility of Halo 2’s missions, following on from the first game. While the game expects you to play a certain way, it rarely, if ever, forces that upon you. And while I’m a big JRPG player who loves linear, story-driven experiences, games like Halo 2 are a fantastic change of pace and show off a whole different way of constructing a gaming experience.

    Like

    • infinitezenith May 26, 2020 at 14:52

      Going through the whole of Metropolis without taking a vehicle, on Heroic or Legendary, would earn you an achievement these days: it sounds like it would be a bit of fun, if challenging, to make that happen! The nature of Halo makes it a considerable departure from even contemporary shooters; the game is a lot more flexible and inviting of just doing stuff: things like the giant soccer ball and Scarab Gun are examples of the game encouraging players to have fun and explore.

      The PC edition of Halo 2 brought back a lot of memories, and while I’ve never been a console gamer, I am glad that 343 Industries has undertaken this project to bring back what was probably the second biggest game of my halcyon days 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

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