I Hardly Knew Thee…

Snow flakes dance and glisten as they silently fall through the dense, thick air landing mutely on cold, faded surfaces. The salty water ebbs and flows rhythmically on beaches no longer stained by bloodshed. The war has moved on new theatres leaving older battlefields to live on in the memories of the soldiers that fought across them.

An online era primarily defined by the release of Halo 2 has ended. Everyone has had a chance to say goodbye and pay their respects.

Communities reformed and met up once again in Halo 2’s lobbies and jumped back into the thick of the action. Bungie encouraged the fans by promising players something to remember their times from Halo 2 when they finally get their hands on Halo: Reach and some staff members jumped online to face the community one last time.

Celebrations abound of the friendships formed, battles lost and won and the huge impact one single game made on hundreds of thousands, if not millions, with gaming fans in different corners of the globe.

I sat down in front of my Xbox 360, put in the Halo 3 disc and proceeded to download the various map packs Halo 2 had to offer. I was getting ready to join in on the farewell activities that practically everyone on my friend’s list was set on doing for Halo 2’s final night.

With my original black Xbox console now gathering dust in some forgotten part of the world, I was aware that by playing this game on my 360 that some of the original magic would be absent. No over sized “Duke” controller for me. I was fully prepared for this as I was also lacking another important factor shared by many of my fellow Halo fans – nostalgia.

When Halo 2 was released all those years ago, I wasn’t a fan. I didn’t even own an Xbox and I hadn’t the means to join in on the fun. I didn’t know what I was missing out back then as I clutched my GameCube controller and waited patiently for the next Nintendo release.

One day, around the time after the Xbox 360 launched, I decided to purchase an original Xbox second hand with a copy of Halo CE. From that moment I became a fan.

Without the internet I was restricted to single and co-operative play. I dived in deep with Halo CE’s Campaign both alone and with a friend and jumped straight into Halo 2’s Campaign shortly thereafter. Fun times were plentiful as hours were lost fighting against the Flood and the Covenant. There was one area that remained untouched, competitive multiplayer. I was unfortunate to have friends with a lopsided interest; they liked Campaign but not the proper multiplayer. I never had the chance to try out Halo CE or Halo 2’s main multiplayer components even though I had a healthy number of friends and controllers. I was never able to convince them.

The release of Halo 3 drew near and after a friend had brought his 360 to my home so that I could experience a few games in the Halo 3 beta, I was sold on the new generation of Xbox and Halo 3. I happily purchased my 360 just before the release of Halo 3. Many of my nights were spent playing other games including Halo CE’s Campaign in anticipation of Halo 3’s release. When Halo 3 released, the Campaign was hungrily digested and I finally went to try out the multiplayer component properly in the online corridors and fields of Halo 3. Days, weeks, months and years would pass and I would return constantly to Halo 3’s online multiplayer.

Then I had an itch to scratch. Halo 2. Out of curiosity, I had convinced a friend to hop online with me on Halo 2. Around this time my online multiplayer was almost exclusively split screen with my friend, I still hadn’t gained independence – I was having too much fun tethered with my friends to care.

Going back to Halo 2 from Halo 3 was a total shock. Vertical split screen(I couldn’t remember how to change it)? No AR? Dark and unfamiliar levels? My first Halo 2 experience was poor. I was so shocked by how much more poorly it played compared to Halo 3. I guess I couldn’t handle it and I wasn’t willing or able to give it the time it needed in the proper context to appreciate it.
So I turned my back on Halo 2 online. I was almost glad to never touch it again.

Time changes people and their habits. I’ve moved home once or twice and my gaming habits have changed. I went from almost exclusively playing with at least one other person in real life via split screen to playing one by myself with online parties. This was a pretty big change as it allowed me to get a better feel for the game types, strategies and other applications that were relevant to me across various games, particularly Halo 3.

After years of play, I can confidently say I have an idea of the flow of an average game on pretty much any Halo 3 map and match. I can spot certain behaviours in players across various game types. It’s less academic and more instinctive and it’s something you gain from just playing a lot over time. It’s not some exclusive skill that I have; lots of other players will also develop a “feel” for any game they play over a long period of time.

A friend approached me a few months back and proposed to show me around Halo 2 online after I had confessed to be more or less ignorant with just one really bad previous experience to go on. I had the screen to myself this time and he showed me around a few maps in a private custom game including some of the common cheats that players had discovered like the “super bounce”. After a few minutes of jumping dozens of feet into the air I told my friend that I was bored. Cheating like this is pointless and I couldn’t really see myself attempting to employ such a tactic in a proper game. My friend was also quick to regale me with tales of cheating and standing that pervaded his Halo 2 online games. Again, I shunned away from Halo 2 online. It seemed as if I’d never give the game a proper chance.
A few months ago it was announced that Halo 2’s online component was going to be shut down with the end of Microsoft’s support for original Xbox titles over Xbox Live. I decided that I would give Halo 2 its final chance. However my previous experiences and the lack of interest from my online friends pretty much ensured that it wouldn’t be any time soon. It wasn’t, I waited until the last few days of Halo 2’s online life to give it a last try. I almost missed the boat.

My pre-existing bias against the game lasted much longer than I thought it would. A few games here and there but I quitted out of the lobbies shortly after a few games not wanting to put up with it. The clock was ticking down and here I was squandering my final chances.

I jumped back into Halo 3 and immediately fell victim to the change in controller options – I have my Halo 3 controls configured in the “Bumper Jumper” layout and after a few games of Halo 2 I was pressing the wrong buttons at the wrong moments on Halo 3.

The countdown continued, the window of opportunity got smaller and smaller so I jumped back into the fray with my Halo 2 disc ready to play my final games.

It was then something inside me clicked. I played some Customs with little joy and less enthusiasm. I was all but ready to give up and put away the disc for good. I decided I’d play one more game, some matchmaking. It was then that my perspective changed.

I was running around a level, Desolation, like I knew it from some place before. It was familiar, the geometry, the jumps, the general layout – I had played Customs matches on a Sandbox remake of this very map on Halo 3 very recently. Looking back, it was by no means a perfect reconstruction but it served as a fantastic template for learning the layout and the general flow for the original Halo 2 map. The match was BR starts in a simple arena environment, it felt familiar and I was actually holding my own with confidence. It was fun, I was dying infrequently and each kill painted a faint smile across my face as I clutched my controller in a firm but determined grip. I was so late to the Halo 2 party. Not only was it over but the venue itself was hours away from demolition. I put on my party hat and started dancing – better late than never.

I finally got to experience the thrill of running around Lockout with a BR blazing, jumping around Midship like a crazy fool processed and making a flag run from the passenger seat on a Warthog under heavy fire and my shields flaring out on Coagulation. It was exhilarating and so very typical Halo.

My established Halo 3 bias allowed me to see how certain maps defied or fulfilled certain expectations. Lockout played so differently than Blackout – its Halo 3 remake. The flow of a game on the map was startling different. Midship played almost identically and I felt at home immediately running around the recognizable violaceous walkways.
A topic that has been brought up numerous times over the years in some of the discussion forums I frequent is the BR, specially the function of the weapon and how it was changed from Halo 2 to Halo 3. Many folks had verbally lamented the loss of hitscan time and time again; it was a function of the Halo 2 sandbox that I had never truly looked at before. Here was my chance.

As I was enjoying my time playing Halo 2 online during its dying hours I took the last chance I had to look at this beloved function – which I felt was going to be increasingly relevant to me as a Halo player. Bungie had been discussing the Halo: Reach sandbox over the past few weeks and had confirmed the return of the hitscan with most of the human arsenal available in the game.

In Halo a player quickly learns to properly use the available weapons. The BR is one of the most versatile weapons but also one of the most hotly discussed. A player wishing to engage another in Halo 3 must usually lead his shots when aiming with the BR – meaning that the player must try to predict where the other player is going to be a split second ahead of time and aim there instead to compensate for the time it takes for the BR’s projectiles to reach its target. Couple this with a wide fire spread, the three bullets in each BR burst hit an approximate area in the direction that a player aims and not all bullets may connect, you begin to see how difficult it is to use the weapon. When online latency, lag and hosting issues creep into the equation, the results don’t always add up the same way.

Armed with this knowledge, I took at closer look at the Halo 2 BR. It uses hitscan, a specifically designed function that means that when a target is directly in the line of fire when the weapon is triggered, it immediately registers a hit. There is no travel time for a fired projectile and the spread is limited and identical each time.

Some habits are hard to forget and I attempted to lead my shots each time with my BR even though I knew that it was incorrect to do so. Some mental effort later and my BR would only fire when the reticle lit up red – a certain hit each time. That was how it was suppose to work. It did work, most of the time. There was one thing stopping it from working flawlessly and I seen it coming – lag.

Lag, latency and hosting issues are no strangers to the average Halo player. With my short time with Halo 2 it was these issues which stood out many times for me.

Overall I found that my BR skills in Halo 2 were about more or less the same as Halo 3 but I think there were some other issues at play. Despite my familiarity with Halo, I am and will forever be a “noob” Halo 2 online player. I’ll never know each map inside out. Never be equal with similarly skilled Halo 2 online players. Halo 2 has a slightly more generous auto-aim than Halo 3. I could feel it when aiming with the BR or Sniper Rifle. Whilst no Halo game has full auto-aim, each of them has a bit of auto-aim to some degree. I believe Halo 2’s auto-aim is a lot more forgiving than Halo 3’s. Even with my unfamiliarity and slight twitchiness, I was mostly successful in tracking players and lining up shots.

One thing I found was that strafing when using a BR, ducking and weaving, was a lot more useful and I survived quite a number of encounters thanks to the precision needed to land some BR shots; I was lucky or maybe even skilful enough to survive whereas in Halo 3 and the increased spread I probably would have died.

My Halo 2 experience certainly wasn’t limited to holding a BR most of the time (although honestly I felt much safer when I did have one). I had the absolute pleasure to experience the wonderfully celebrated SMG starts that have been recalled countless times as people’s favourite memories of Halo 2 (Well, no, not at all!). I also had fun times driving around in a Ghost (with real boarding action!), flying a Banshee or two and hopping into a Warthog or seven. It was the vehicle play that drew my attention back once again to latency, connections and lag though.

I could forgive the poor animations in the game as I was coming from one console generation with Halo 3 to another on Halo 2 but the connection issues presented some interesting and frustrating encounters. The warthog was host to several of these issues. When a player’s connection differed to mine, they would be out of sync with me in a Warthog and I’d see a passenger or gunner move very poorly, jerking around violently. When using the Gauss or turret on the back of a Warthog my shots usually failed to register correctly even when everything appeared as it should on my screen.

These issues served to highlight the fantastic jump in quality in the netcode that Bungie made from Halo 2 to Halo 3. Although the same old problems can never truly go away until we’re in some kind of super LAN future, Halo 3 does a better job of compensating masking these issues. But they had to start somewhere and overall the Halo 2 online connections issues held up well for their age.

I enjoyed my brief fling with Halo 2, it was short and sweet and a long time coming. I finally got the chance to understand some of the critical comments from fans when they compared online Halo titles. I was finally able to appreciate the wonderful, flowing level design and the tight corridor firefights. It looks like I avoided getting “standby’d”, I encountered no cheaters. Some of the spawns were really bad, often enough I’d spawn facing an enemy already opening fire on me or I’d spawn facing a wall for no particular reason. Occasionally in Big Team Battles not everyone would spawn at the same time at the start of the match, I’d have to wait a few seconds staring at the list of players in each team. I tried out a few button glitches and insane mad lunges and jumps. I broke out of maps with effort and sometimes I glitched and clipped through geometry.

It was undeniable fun. A part of me is sad that I missed out on the years of fun this game gave its players but another part of me is happy that my online Halo antics started with the game that came after – a game that was built on the hard lessons that must have been learnt developing Halo 2.

My hand was raised; glass in hand, to toast the end of Halo 2. I may not be one of the many drunk with years of pleasant memories but I celebrated the end of Halo 2 with everyone else. Grateful that Halo 2 came to be in the form and time that it did, to shape the games I play today and games I’ll be playing years from now.

Slightly Live


  1. Natonator
    April 20, 2010

    Believe it or not, I’m in the same boat: missing out on Halo 2’s glory days while exploring the beautiful locales of Tallon IV, running the deathstar trench and rescuing Hyrule again and again. I also found Halo 2 unfimiliar and a bit unfriendly, and to be honest I’m almost glad I don’t have to play it anymore.

  2. Seenoht
    April 20, 2010

    Great article. My experience was much the same. I played Halo 2 campaign from the day the game came out and only played MP on the final day of Live service for it.

  3. MrSqueegy
    April 20, 2010

    Great Article , truley depicted the good about Halo 2 for it’s time , and Bungie’s Massive improvement since then.

  4. Lawrence
    April 20, 2010

    Really good article! I think it’s too bad it took you so long to actually try Halo 2 online, it’s a completely different, but fun experience aside from the 3rd game’s online. I started playing Halo 2 online in early 2007, so I didn’t have too many problems going back to Halo 2 online last week, by a few matches I was back to form on Halo 2. I will always stand by this: The Halo 2 maps are FAR AND AWAY better than Halo 3’s, and always will be. But hey, at least you got to experience how matches on fun maps like Zanzibar, Tombstone, Relic, etc. really could be. Once again, great article, and I’m glad you did get to try Halo 2’s online before it went offline last week; it sure brought back awesome memories from when I was playing it online all the way back in 8th grade.

  5. Cheesey p00fs
    April 20, 2010

    Halo 2 will be heavily missed. I only regret not playing it more over the past few years. Though, it does contain some very fond childhood memories.

  6. Mike Ster
    April 21, 2010

    Good article– but you were a little too late.
    You missed some truly spectacular game play, especially between 06-07.
    After playing 7000 games online, I’m not that upset that the game is gone. It had been dead for a while. To be honest, I secretly despise every player who had abandoned Halo 2 until the last week, then decide to call himself a diehard Halo 2 player and boast that he played during its final hours. Give me a break. Since you only played the last week, and even though your article was mainly positive, you did not give justice to the great game itself. A mere analysis of a 2 day spurt can not match to years of experience.

    • April 21, 2010

      @Mike Star – I agree that I missed out on the huge, exciting main lifetime of Halo 2 online. This is why our Halo 2 retrospective has three parts, each of the staff members has had different perspectives with their time on Halo 2. Check out Part Two and Part Three (from tomorrow) to see our other perspectives. =)

  7. YoungPhoenix
    April 21, 2010

    Halo 2………..Nuff said

  8. Kakesubime
    April 21, 2010

    Hold up… Desolation was not an original Halo 2 map, it was a remake of “Derelict” from Halo 1.

  9. CABarnett
    April 21, 2010

    Honestly this article sums up my experience to the letter. I too missed halo 2 and started out with halo 3’s online multiplayer…I was able to log in and play a few games during its last few days online with some close friends who were halo 2 vets…I felt totally lost but I still had a ton of fun…dual wielding needlers!!!?? OMG! O_o LOL Goodbye Halo 2…I wish I could have known you better.

  10. Kris Tribal
    April 21, 2010

    It makes me really sad and confused that little to none of your friends wanted to play Halo 2 multiplayer. :/

  11. CJ
    April 21, 2010

    To bad they made everything worse from Halo 2 to Halo 3. If you played thousands of games of Halo 2, you’d realize that almost everything in Halo 3 is flawed and much worse than Halo 2. Halo 2 has ruined my gaming experience because nothing can compare to it. I will not buy anything Bungie makes after there complete obliteration of the Halo franchise with Halo 3.

  12. Juggernautical
    April 21, 2010

    Actually, Desolation is a remake of Halo 1’s Derelict, which is slightly different. The main difference being that in place of gravity lifts, there are teleporters for quick movement between levels in Derelict. Is it possible the differences of the sandbox remake were due to beig more closely based on derelict? Or did you just mean the sandbox remake was poorly done?

  13. fenderlegends
    April 21, 2010

    i played Halo 2 since it came out in 04 online all the way to 07 right before Halo 3, and some more in o8 09 and the last hours this year. Halo 2 not only redefined FPS it was the best, only bested by graphics by other games. Halo3 feels more like The Godfather3 after seeing Godfather2! These new kids on H3 dont know what its like to be in a losing br battle only to come out victorious with a double shot at the last moment!! or to kill a guy have no shields, have his buddy come from behind to assassinate U as U reload, quickly turn around and BXR the guy and T-bag him as you yell and mock both of them!!!Or my favorite, grab both snipes and super bounce and pick heads like zeus himself as they helplessly look up at u. H3 feels like an empty bar you go to at 3am after a HUGE WILD PARTY that swat had to stop. H2 being the wild party. and the new H3 players are like young kids showing up at the bar trying to convince you to buy them some beer and smokes for there little party! to quote “FEAR ITS SELF” a pro when asked by “PUCKET” “ok last question Fear HALO3 or HALO2?” he said “Oh HALO2!” without a moments hesitation!

  14. xD415H0x
    April 21, 2010

    Hopped on the halo 2 bandwagon at the last second also, borrowed a friends disc on last day… I got pwned.

  15. nuke117101
    April 21, 2010

    I am sorry i did not play halo 2 multiplayer. after my Xbox 360 died on me, I did not keep up on news of Bungie and Microsoft. When i learned about the shut-off, I was in an airport on the 13th, looking at an OXM magazine. I couldn’t stay as my flight would leave without me, and my vacation would go down the drain. Noting that i never played h2 multiplayer, I lost my last chance to do so. thanks for opening my eyes about the TRUE halo, halo 2

  16. April 22, 2010

    halo 2, that first level on legendary was the hardest. damn cario station, the rest of the game was awesome though. I have to say as well i didn’t even touch the online mp because i didn’t understand it. then my friend had gotten it online and it changed my outlook on what games could do. i was hooked all over again. unfortunately i was only able to play this at my friends house because we still didn’t have internet. i really didn’t get hardcore into the online thing until halo 3 came out. can’t wait for reach.

  17. LEPRICON999
    April 23, 2010

    Sucks you never got to experience the glory days, I bought xbox & xbox live very shortly after halo 2 came out and experienced it’s awesomeness with almost 9000 games under my belt..and I played it up all the way till the end…

    Good that you got to experience it before it died though, goddamn Halo 2 kicked ass..I’m not a fanboy of anything by any means, but Halo 2 is one of the few games I will fight to defend.

  18. Speedy Assassin
    April 24, 2010

    I’ve played Halo 2 since ’05. It is, without doubt, the best FPS of all time and totally re-designed how FPS’s play. I’ve got over 50,000 kills and about 10,000 games played, and I’m really gonna miss Halo 2 – H3 just seems too loose to me, I can’t play it.

    To all you fags who played for a couple of days at the end – go f*ck yourselves, you’re nothing but nerds who want a bit of recognition for playing at the finish.

  19. Tom The Wookie
    May 9, 2010

    I agree with speedy assassin and proudly say i’ve been with halo 2 since the beginning. their is without a doubt no game to match halo 2 and the years of experience i have with it.

    Oh and don’t feel bad. i cant play halo 3 very good either.

  20. Yo mamma
    May 16, 2010

    Wish they would just go ahead and invent a time machine. I didn’t even know about the end until AFTER it finished, but I did play for quite a bit while our Halo 3 disk got screwed over in ’08-’09.

  21. Wyatt
    May 23, 2010

    @CJ – Nuff said.

    “To bad they made everything worse from Halo 2 to Halo 3. If you played thousands of games of Halo 2, you’d realize that almost everything in Halo 3 is flawed and much worse than Halo 2. Halo 2 has ruined my gaming experience because nothing can compare to it. I will not buy anything Bungie makes after there complete obliteration of the Halo franchise with Halo 3.”

  22. Dennis
    October 1, 2010

    Halo 2 is the only video game I’ve spent countless hours on. Playing into the early hours of the morning even on school days, and missing school because of it.

    H2 had an amazing community (largely thanks to Clans which I really wish they had in H3). There were games where you try out glitches and try to get out the map or just explore the map; hacked gametypes where people who’ve customized levels show you crazy things such as shooting sniper bullets from a BR; jumping games where you try to find super bounces and tactical jumps; leisure games like cops & robbers, cat & mouse, and zombies; matchmaking, competitive games (MLG); and more. So much fun.

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