|Publisher(s)||Microsoft Game Studios|
Halo 2 is a 2004 first-person shooter game developed by Bungie and published by Microsoft Game Studios for the Xbox console. Halo 2 is the second installment in the Halo franchise and the sequel to 2001's critically acclaimed Halo: Combat Evolved. The game features new weapons, enemies, and vehicles, and shipped with online multiplayer via Microsoft's Xbox Live service. In Halo 2's story mode, the player assumes the roles of the human Master Chief and the alien Arbiter in a 26th-century conflict between the human United Nations Space Command, the genocidal Covenant, and the alien parasite Flood.
After the success of Halo: Combat Evolved, a sequel was expected and highly anticipated. Bungie found inspiration in plot points and gameplay elements that had been left out of their first game, including online multiplayer. A troubled development and time constraints forced cuts to the scope of the game, including the wholesale removal of a more ambitious multiplayer mode, and necessitated a cliffhanger ending to the game's story. Among Halo 2's marketing was an early alternate reality game called "I Love Bees" that involved players solving real-world puzzles. Bungie supported the game after release with new multiplayer maps and updates to address cheating and glitches. Halo 2 was followed by a sequel, Halo 3, in September 2007.
Halo 2 was a commercial and critical success and is often listed as one of the greatest video games of all time. The game became the most popular title on Xbox Live, holding that rank until the release of Gears of War for the Xbox 360 nearly two years later. Halo 2 is the best-selling first-generation Xbox game, with more than 8 million copies sold worldwide. The game received critical acclaim; the multiplayer and gameplay were lauded, while the campaign and its ending were divisive. The game's online component was highly influential and cemented many features as standard in future games and online services, including matchmaking, lobbies, and clans. Halo 2's marketing heralded the beginnings of video games as blockbuster media. A port of the game for Windows Vista was released in 2007, followed by a high-definition remaster as part of Halo: The Master Chief Collection in 2014.
Halo 2 is a shooter game. Players primarily experience gameplay from a first-person perspective, with the viewpoint shifting to third-person for vehicle segments. Players use a combination of human and alien weaponry and vehicles to defeat enemies. Certain weapons can be dual-wielded; this allows the player to trade accuracy, the use of grenades, and melee attacks in exchange for raw firepower. The player can carry two weapons at a time (or three if dual-wielding, with one weapon remaining holstered), with each weapon having strengths in different combat situations. Most alien Covenant weapons, for example, eschew disposable ammo magazines for a contained battery, which cannot be replaced once depleted. However, these weapons overheat if fired continuously. Human weapons are less effective at penetrating shields and require reloading ammunition, but cannot overheat due to prolonged fire. Players can hijack enemy vehicles and quickly assume control of them. The player is equipped with a damage-absorbing shield that regenerates when not taking fire; their health bar is not visible.
The game's Campaign mode offers options for single-player and cooperative multiplayer participation. In campaign, the player completes a series of levels that encompass Halo 2's storyline. The player alternates between assuming the role of the human Master Chief and a Covenant Elite called the Arbiter, who occupy diametrically opposed roles in the story's conflict. In gameplay, the Arbiter differs from Master Chief only in that his armor trades a flashlight for active camouflage that disappears when the player attacks or takes damage. There are four difficulty levels in campaign mode: Easy, Normal, Heroic, and Legendary. An increase in difficulty will result in an increase in the number, rank, health, damage, and accuracy of enemies; a reduction of duration and an increase in recharge time for the Arbiter's active camouflage; a decrease in the player's health and shields; and occasional changes in dialogue. Enemy and friendly artificial intelligence is dynamic, and replaying the same encounters repeatedly will demonstrate different behavior.
Like Halo: Combat Evolved, the Xbox version of Halo 2 features a multiplayer system that allows players to compete with each other in split-screen and system link modes; in addition, it added support for online multiplayer via Xbox Live. The Xbox Live multiplayer and downloadable content features of the Xbox version of Halo 2 were supported until the discontinuation of the service in April 2010, with the final multiplayer session concluding May 10, almost a month after the service was officially terminated. Multiplayer for the PC version of the game used Games for Windows – Live. PC multiplayer servers were taken offline in June 2013.
Instead of implementing multiplayer by having players manually join lobbies, as was common in games at the time, Halo 2 used matchmaking. Players chose the general type of match they want to play, and the game selected the map and gametype and automatically found other players. This "playlist" system automated the process of finding matches to keep a steady flow of games available at all times, and combined a skill-ranking system on top for fairer teams.
Halo 2 takes place in the 26th century. Humans, under the auspices of the United Nations Space Command or UNSC, have developed faster-than-light slipspace travel and colonized numerous worlds. Human worlds come under attack by a collective of alien races known as the Covenant. Declaring humanity an affront to their gods, the Forerunners, the Covenant begin to obliterate the humans with their superior numbers and technology. After the human planet Reach is destroyed, a single ship, The Pillar of Autumn, follows protocol and initiates a slipspace jump to lead the Covenant away from Earth. The crew discovers a Forerunner ringworld called Halo. Though the Covenant believe Halo's activation will lead to divine salvation, the humans discover that the rings are actually weapons, built to contain a parasite called the Flood. The human supersoldier Master Chief Petty Officer John-117 and his AI companion Cortana learn from Halo's AI monitor, 343 Guilty Spark, that activation of the Halos will destroy all sentient life in the galaxy to prevent the Flood's spread. Instead of activating the ring, Master Chief and Cortana detonate the Pillar of Autumn's engines, destroying the installation and preventing the escape of the Flood. Master Chief and Cortana race back to Earth to warn of an impending invasion by Covenant forces.
Halo 2 opens with the trial of a Covenant commander aboard the Covenant's capital city-ship High Charity. For his failure to stop Halo's destruction, the Elite is stripped of his rank, branded a heretic, and tortured by Tartarus, the Chieftain of the Covenant Brutes. Spared execution, the Covenant leadership—the High Prophets Truth, Regret, and Mercy—give the Elite the chance to become an Arbiter, a rank given to Elites in times of great crisis or turmoil. The new Arbiter quells a rebellion and recovers 343 Guilty Spark. Meanwhile, the Prophet of Regret prepares an attack on Earth, having found its location from a Forerunner device.
On Earth, Fleet Admiral Hood commends the Master Chief and Sergeant Avery Johnson for their actions at the first Halo, with Commander Miranda Keyes accepting a medal on behalf of her deceased father. A Covenant fleet appears near Earth. In the ensuing battle, a single ship carrying the Prophet of Regret slips through Earth's defenses and besieges the African city of New Mombasa. Master Chief assists in defending the city. With his fleet destroyed, Regret makes a hasty slipspace jump, and Keyes, Johnson, Cortana, and the Master Chief follow aboard the UNSC ship In Amber Clad. The crew discovers another Halo installation; realizing the danger the ring presents, Keyes sends Master Chief to kill Regret while she and Johnson search for the Index, Halo's activation key.
Responding to Regret's distress call, High Charity and the Covenant fleet arrive at the Halo. After Master Chief kills Regret, the Covenant bombard his location; he falls into a lake, where he is dragged away by tentacles. Regret's death triggers discord among the races of the Covenant, as the Prophets give the Brutes the Elites' traditional role as their honor guard. The Arbiter subdues Johnson and Keyes and retrieves the Index. Tartarus appears and reveals that the Prophets have ordered the annihilation of the Elites, and sends the Arbiter falling down a deep chasm.
The Arbiter meets the Master Chief in the bowels of the Halo, brought together by a Flood creature called the Gravemind. The Gravemind reveals the truth of the rings to the Arbiter, and sends the two soldiers to different places to stop Halo's activation. The Master Chief is teleported to High Charity as the Covenant falls into civil war. The Flood-infested In Amber Clad crashes into the city, and Cortana realizes that the Gravemind used them as a distraction. As the parasite overruns the city, the Prophet of Mercy is consumed. The Prophet of Truth sends Tartarus to Halo with Keyes, Johnson, and Guilty Spark to activate the ring. Master Chief follows Truth aboard a Forerunner ship leaving the city; Cortana remains behind to destroy High Charity and Halo if Tartarus succeeds in activating the ring.
On the surface of Halo, the Arbiter joins forces with Johnson and confronts Tartarus in Halo's control room. When the Arbiter tries to convince Tartarus that the Prophets have betrayed them, Tartarus instead activates the ring. The Arbiter and Johnson kill Tartarus in the ensuing battle while Keyes removes the Index; the unexpected deactivation sets Halo and all the other rings on standby for remote activation from a place 343 Guilty Spark calls "the Ark." Meanwhile, Truth's ship arrives at Earth, and Master Chief informs Admiral Hood that he is "finishing this fight."
In a post-credits scene, Gravemind assumes control of High Charity. Cortana agrees to answer the Flood intelligence's questions.
Halo had never been planned as a trilogy, but the critical and commercial success of Combat Evolved—selling more than five million copies in three years—made a sequel expected. Xbox general manager J Allard confirmed Halo 2 was in production at Electronic Entertainment Expo 2002, with a planned release in time for Holiday 2003.
Many at Bungie wanted to make a sequel, building on cut ideas from Combat Evolved with a more ambitious follow-up. The added publisher support for a sequel allowed greater leeway and the ability to return to more ambitious ideas lost during Combat Evolved's development. Not satisfied with merely adding back cut content to the sequel, designer Jaime Griesemer recalled that the team "tripled everything," rebuilding the game engine, changing the physics engine, and prototyping a system for stencil shadow volumes. The game's development would suffer from a lack of clear leadership. Early development discussions happened in small, unconnected teams that did not talk with each other. Jason Jones, who had been exhausted shipping Combat Evolved, similarly burned out during Halo 2's production. Jones left the project to work on another Bungie game, Phoenix, leaving fewer people to work on Halo 2. Bungie cofounder Alex Seropian left Bungie in 2002, causing additional friction and politics in the workplace where Seropian had once mediated tensions. Writer Joseph Staten described the team's ambitions thusly:
Then we just plowed ahead, much like we'd done with Halo, with one notable exception. We ordered ourselves a giant sandwich, took a bite but didn't realize exactly how big it was before we started in. And we did that across the board, technically, artistically, and story wise. But of course, we didn't figure that out until way too late.
Griesemer put it more bluntly: "What's the phrase? Putting ten pounds of crap into a five-pound bag? We really tried to cram it too full, and we paid the price."
An important feature for Halo 2 was multiplayer using Xbox Live. Multiplayer in Combat Evolved was accomplished via System Link and had nearly been scrapped altogether in the rush to complete the game. Most players never played large maps, while a subset connected consoles together with network cables for 16-person group play. "We looked at the small set of fans who were able to do this," said engineering lead Chris Butcher, "and just how much they were enjoying themselves, and asked ourselves if we could bring that to everybody. That would be something really special, really unique." Initially, Combat Evolved's multiplayer was supposed to involve larger maps and player counts than what shipped, and members of the team wanted to resurrect those plans for Halo 2. The smaller multiplayer modes and local split-screen capabilities of the first game would have been removed. Designer Max Hoberman successfully argued against wholesale removal of a successful component from the previous game. He was put in charge of a small team to further develop the small-scale arena multiplayer, while the rest of the team developed a larger "Warfare" mode. Bungie promised in previews that the core of this multiplayer would be squad-based online battles between human Spartans and Covenant Elites, with players able to call in airstrikes.:52 Hoberman's pitch for Halo 2's arena multiplayer was to bring the fun of couch multiplayer online. As Hoberman was not an excellent video game player, he wanted to make sure the game remained fun for even lower-skilled players, rather than catering to the very competitive ones. The system of playlist matchmaking and allowing friends to "party up" to play games together were crucial to creating a global community of players.
The story for Halo 2 grew out of all the elements that were not seen in Combat Evolved. Jason Jones organized his core ideas for the sequel's story and approached Staten for input. According to Staten, among the elements that did not make it to the finished game was a "horrible scene of betrayal" where Miranda Keyes straps a bomb to the Master Chief's back and throws him into a hole in revenge for her fathers' death; "Jason was going through a rather difficult breakup at the time and I think that had something to do with it," he said. Staten and Jaime Griesemer discussed seeing the war from the Covenant perspective, forming the idea to have part of the game told from the perspective of a Covenant warrior known as the Dervish. Late in development, the Dervish became the Arbiter, after legal teams at Microsoft were afraid the game set up comparisons with current events and Islamic terrorism.
In February 2003, Bungie began developing a gameplay demonstration for E3 2003. The demo, which was the first gameplay seen by the public, showcased new enemies and abilities. Many elements of the trailer, however, were not game-ready; the entire graphics engine used in the footage had to be discarded, and the trailer's environment never appeared in the final game due to limitations on how big the game environments could be. Elements like vehicle hijacking were entirely scripted, and in order to keep performance at an acceptable level, a Bungie staff member deleted objects from the game after the player passed them. The restructuring of the engine meant that there was no playable build of Halo 2 for nearly a year, and assets and environments produced by art and design teams could not be prototyped, bottlenecking development. Griesemer recalled that development was "moving backwards", and after E3 the team realized that much of what the team had worked on for the past two years would have to be scrapped.
In order to ship the game, Bungie began paring back their ambitions for the single- and multiplayer parts of the game. All other Bungie projects, including Phoenix, were cancelled, with their teams folded into Halo 2 to complete the game. The campaign was completely rethought and remained unplayable for more than a year while the multiplayer was being developed. Ultimately, a third act of the game where Master Chief and Arbiter came together on Earth to defeat the Prophets was cut entirely. Staten hoped the resulting cliffhanger would be treated like the end of The Empire Strikes Back. Planned vehicles, such as variants of the Warthog and an all terrain vehicle, were scrapped.:49
With the single-player mode in trouble, very little had been done with the large Warfare multiplayer mode. Eventually, the entire warfare mode was cut, and Hoberman's small team project became the shipping multiplayer suite. Engineer Chris Butcher commented, "For Halo 2 we had our sights set very high on networking. Going from having no internet multiplayer to developing a completely new online model was a big challenge to tackle all at once, and as a result we had to leave a lot of things undone in order to meet the ship date commitment that we made to our fans."
As one of Microsoft's tentpole games, the publisher had two full-time user experience researchers managing a team of game testers working on the title. The researchers used playtests, surveys, and usability testing to provide Bungie with input on how the game would be received. Feedback of the game's matchmaking system was very unfavorable, with the testers preferring the control offered by traditional servers. Researcher John Hopson recalled that while they suggested to Bungie they should change the matchmaking system, the developers remained steadfast their new approach would be better in the real world; Hopson later agreed with their choice, saying that his team had only narrowly avoided ruining the game. To test real-world network conditions, Bungie ran a closed alpha of the multiplayer with 1000 Microsoft employees for five weeks.:4
Outside of Bungie, Combat Evolved's success had become a problem for Halo 2's development, as the success of the Xbox platform was riding on Halo. Microsoft originally pressured Bungie to have the game ready as a launch title for Xbox Live in November 2002, which Bungie employees told them was impossible. At one point, Microsoft executives had a vote over whether to force Bungie to ship the incomplete game, or give them another year of development time. Microsoft Studios head Ed Fries walked out of the vote and threatened to resign to get Bungie the extra time.
Missing the Xbox's last holiday season before its successor console, the Xbox 360, shipped was not an option. To hit its new November 9, 2004 release date, Bungie went into the "mother of all crunches" in order to finish the game. "A lot of people sacrificed themselves in ways that you should never have to for your job," design lead Paul Bertone recalled; he kenneled his dog for nearly two months and slept in the office for the final days of development. Griesemer said that this lack of a "polish" period near the end of the development cycle was the main reason for Halo 2's shortcomings. Butcher retrospectively described Halo 2's multiplayer mode as "a pale shadow of what it could and should have been" due to the tight schedule.
Halo 2's soundtrack was composed primarily by Martin O'Donnell and his musical partner Michael Salvatori, the team that had composed the critically acclaimed music of Halo. O'Donnell noted in composing the music for Halo 2 that "making a sequel is never a simple proposition. You want to make everything that was cool even better, and leave out all the stuff that was weak." O'Donnell made sure that no part of the game would be completely silent, noting the power of ambient sound in affecting mood; "a dark room is spooky, but add a creaking floorboard and rats skittering in the walls and it becomes really creepy." Halo 2, unlike its predecessor, was mixed to take full advantage of Dolby 5.1 Digital surround sound.
In the summer of 2004, producer Nile Rodgers and O'Donnell decided to release the music from Halo 2 on two separate CDs; the first (Volume One) would contain all the themes present in the game as well as music "inspired" by the game; the second would contain the rest of the music from the game, much of which was incomplete, as the first CD was shipped before the game was released. The first CD was released on November 9, 2004, and featured guitar backing by Steve Vai. Additional tracks included various outside musicians, including Steve Vai, Incubus, Breaking Benjamin, and Hoobastank. The Halo 2 Original Soundtrack: Volume Two CD, containing the game music organized in suite form, was released on April 25, 2006.
Halo 2 was officially announced in September 2002 with a cinematic trailer, scheduled for a Holiday 2003 release. The first major look at the game came with the E3 2003 demo in May; Halo 2 was Microsoft's strongest showing at the event, and some journalists believed the game looked too good to be live gameplay and must have been a scripted cutscene. After delays, the game was shifted to a first-quarter 2004 release, then to Holiday 2004. The final November 9 release date was confirmed at E3 2004, where the game's multiplayer was playable on the show floor. Microsoft executive Peter Moore rolled up his sleeve to reveal the date tattooed on his bicep.
Microsoft intended to market Halo 2 not just as a video game, but as a cultural event. Part of its widespread appeal would come from the social nature of the game's multiplayer, but Microsoft also heavily promoted and marketed the game. A trailer for the game was shown in movie theaters, making Halo 2 the first video game so advertised. Hype for the title was fueled by the press, with Microsoft telling one journalist that their Halo 2 review would be the most consequential of their career. The marketing heavily focused on Master Chief and the defense of earth, leaving the reveal of the Arbiter as a playable character a surprise.
Halo 2's release was preceded with promotions and product tie-ins. There was a Halo 2 Celebrity Pre-Release Party at E3 2004, in which a private home was transformed to replicate the world of Halo, complete with camouflaged Marines and roaming Cortanas. The French version of the game leaked on the internet in October, and circulated widely.
In addition to more traditional forms of promotion, Halo 2 also featured an elaborate Alternate Reality Game project titled I Love Bees. Microsoft approached 42 Entertainment's Elan Lee, who had helped launch the Xbox with Microsoft, on producing a tie-in game. I Love Bees cost an estimated one million dollars. The game centered on a hacked website, supposedly a site about beekeeping, where an AI from the future was residing. The project garnered significant attention, drawing attention away from the ongoing 2004 Presidential Election. The game won an award for creativity at the 5th annual Game Developers Choice Awards and was nominated for a Webby award. Ultimately, nearly 3 million people participated in the game.
Halo 2 was sold in a standard edition and "Limited Collector's Edition". The Collector's Edition includes the game, packaged in a metal case. It also includes bonus content on an extra DVD, such as a making-of documentary, art gallery, and audio tests. The instructional booklet is also written from the Covenant point of view rather than from the UNSC point of view used in the regular edition.
Halo 2 first released on November 9, 2004 in Canada, Australia, New Zealand and the United States. Anticipation for the game was high; a record 1.5 million copies were pre-ordered three weeks before release. Massive lines formed at midnight releases of the game at more than 7000 stores across North America; In Times Square, New York City, players waited for hours in a line that stretched two blocks. This was followed by releases on November 10 in France and parts of Europe, and November 11 in the UK, Japan, and elsewhere; the game released in eight languages and 27 countries.
The game sold 2.4 million copies and earned up to US$125 million in its first 24 hours on store shelves, outgrossing the film Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest as the highest-grossing release in entertainment history. The game sold 260,000 units in the United Kingdom in its first week, making it the third fastest-selling title in that territory. It ultimately received a "Double Platinum" sales award from the Entertainment and Leisure Software Publishers Association (ELSPA), indicating sales of at least 600,000 copies in the United Kingdom. It was the second best-selling game of 2004 in the United States (after Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas), where it sold 4.2 million copies that year.
On release, Halo 2 was the most popular video game on Xbox Live, holding that rank until the release of Gears of War for the Xbox 360 nearly two years later. By June 2006, more than 500 million games of Halo 2 had been played and more than 710 million hours spent playing it on Xbox Live; by May 2007, the number of unique players had risen to over five million. Halo 2 is the best-selling first-generation Xbox game with at least 6.3 million copies sold in the United States and 8.46 million copies in total.
Halo 2 received critical acclaim upon release. On review aggregate site Metacritic, the Xbox version has an overall score of 95 out of 100. Critics judged it a worthy successor to the acclaimed Combat Evolved, and called it one of the best action games or console shooters yet.
Reviews generally noted that Halo 2's core gameplay did not differ dramatically from its predecessor, opting for minor refinements and iteration rather than major change. Edge's review concluded that Halo 2 could be summed up with a line from its script: "It's not a new plan. But we know it'll work." Among improvements reviewers found from Combat Evolved was less repetitive environments, gameplay, and weapons. Other improvements noted were more responsive and improved artificial intelligence, although Eurogamer's Kristan Reed disagreed with many assessments by voicing disappointment the enemies would often stay in place rather than aggressively pursue the player. Other reviews noted that the AI would sometimes glitch and behave unexpectedly.
The game's audiovisual presentation was generally praised. G4tv felt that while the graphics were better, the improvements were often subtle. Perry and Tuttle noted texture pop-in was an occasional blemish on the game's otherwise excellent visual presentation. GamePro and the Detroit Free Press' Jim Schaefer highlighted the game's audio as immersing you in the action, and 1Up.com's Matt Leone pointed to Halo 2 as an example of how much good music and sound elevates a game.
Critics such as IGN's Douglass Perry and GameSpy's Will Tuttle called Halo 2' campaign far more ambitious than that of Combat Evolved's, comparing it to films such as Aliens and The Godfather Part II. In contrast, some critics felt the campaign mode was too short. The game's cliffhanger ending was conflictingly received, described as a divisive choice players would either love or hate. GameSpot noted that although the story's switching between the Covenant and human factions made the plot more intricate, it distracted the player from Earth's survival and the main point of the game; while Edge labeled the plot "a confusing mess of fan-fiction sci-fi and bemusing Episode-II-style politics."
Reviews highlighted the game's multiplayer. Praising its customization options, Game Informer's AndyMcNamara and Tuttle predicted the mode would boost the game's longevity. Perry went so far as to call Halo 2's multiplayer offering the best console offering available. While Leone praised the addictive quality of multiplayer, he also felt that the new game modes did not significantly add to the experience.
Halo 2 won multiple awards from the Interactive Achievement Awards, including "Console Game of the Year", "Console First Person Action Game of the Year", "Outstanding Achievement in Online Gameplay" and "Outstanding Achievement in Sound Design", as well as a nomination for "Game of the Year". The game received more than 38 individual awards. It received runner-up placements in GameSpot's 2004 "Best Shooter", "Best Sound Effects" and "Best Original Music" categories across all platforms. The game was listed in Electronic Gaming Monthly’s "The Greatest 200 Video Games of Their Time” in 2006.
Updates and DLC
Halo 2's multiplayer suffered from widespread cheating on release. Some players used "standbying" or "lag killing" to cheat, where the player hosting the game intentionally pressed the standby button on his or her modem. This resulted in all other players freezing in place and allowed the cheater to kill other players or capture objectives.:115 Another exploit called "BXR" allowed players to cancel melee animations and quickly attack for an instant kill. Rather than rely solely on user reports of misbehavior, Bungie leveraged its game statistics collection to proactively find cheating players, creating an automated banning system.
Bungie released several map packs for Halo 2, adding new environments for multiplayer matches. The Multiplayer Map Pack, released July 5, 2005, made Xbox Live content and updates available to offline players. The disc contains the game's software update, nine new multiplayer maps, a making-of documentary, and a bonus cinematic called "Another Day on the Beach", among other features. The Blastacular Map Pack contained two additional maps and released April 2007. On July 7 Bungie made the Blastacular Map Pack free.
Halo 2 was one of the Xbox games that was backwards-compatible on the Xbox 360. On the newer console, the game runs at high-definition 720p with scene-wide anti-aliasing. The online services of Halo 2 were discontinued alongside other original Xbox console games in 2010.
Ports and rereleases
In February 2006, Microsoft announced a PC port of Halo 2, exclusively for the Windows Vista operating system. Like the Xbox version, the release of Halo 2 Vista was repeatedly delayed. The May 22, 2007 release date was pushed to May 31 after the discovery of partial nudity in the game's map editor—a photograph of Charlie Gough, one of the Lead Engineers, mooning Steve Ballmer during his visit to the studio, was presented as part of the ".ass" error message. Microsoft offered patches to remove the nude content and revised the box ratings. The game could be enabled to play on Windows XP through an unauthorized third-party patch. Halo 2 Vista was ported by a small team at Microsoft Game Studios (codenamed Hired Gun) who worked closely with Bungie. As one of the launch titles of Games for Windows – Live, the game offered Live features not available in the Xbox version, such as Guide support and Achievements. The Windows port also added two exclusive multiplayer maps and a map editor. Halo 2 Vista received mixed reviews and a lower Metacritic aggregate score of 72 out of 100. Criticism included dated graphics and the delayed release.
A high-definition remastered version of Halo 2 titled Halo 2 Anniversary was released as part of Halo: The Master Chief Collection in November 2014 for the Xbox One. Master Chief Collection later came to Steam and Windows Store in May 2020.
Halo 2's release was part of a shift towards blockbuster gaming releases. In 2004, the video game industry was estimated to gross $7.76 billion in the United States, behind the $9.4 billion gross of the domestic box office. Halo 2's success was seen by the press as evidence of a generational shift in entertainment. The CBC's Greg Bolton remarked that prior to Halo 2's splashy release, "the video-game industry hadn’t yet found a recognizable public face, a universally acclaimed megastar." The Ringer called Halo 2 "the birth of the video game as we know it today: a mass shared experience," and credited it with birthing modern multiplayer infrastructure and popularizing American esports.
Halo 2's matchmaking technology was one of the turning points in the gaming industry during the 2000s, setting a new standard for other games. G4's Sterling McGarvey wrote that "Bungie's sequel was a shot in the arm for Xbox Live subscriptions and previewed many of the features that would set the standard for Microsoft's online service on the next machine". Critics credited the game with bringing online multiplayer to the console masses, and as serving as Xbox Live's killer app. The Province's Paul Chapman wrote that games like Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 would not be enjoyable if not for the ground Halo 2 broke.
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