Making a Halo Killer

A funny thing happened while playing the ultra-cool Unreal Championship 2 demo on Xbox Live the other day. One very zealous player was raving about how he couldn’t wait for UC 2 to be released because, “This game is gonna kill Halo 2”. I was somewhat taken aback by this considering how amazing a game Halo 2 is and that it was released just a mere four months ago. Then I turn the pages of my March Official Xbox Magazine and read a quote from a Ubisoft producer saying, “We want to beat Halo 2” in regards to the upcoming sure fire hit Splinter Cell: Chaos Theory (“If It Ain’t Broke, Rebuild It”, McCaffrey, Issue #42, Pg. 54). Developers, as well as gamers, have acknowledged that Halo 2 is the king of the Xbox library, and as the king, many others will attempt to overthrow it. Saying that any game at this point though would topple Xbox’s benchmark title just seems a little premature, especially after just playing demos and reading previews. Now I know that there are those out there who don’t like Halo 2 and typically bash it every chance they get, but when I heard several other players say that when UC 2 or Chaos Theory is released their copy of Halo 2 will be collecting dust I thought that one day it might be true. We might actually play the game that knocks Halo 2 off its mighty throne.

So what makes a “Halo Killer”? Well for starters a game has to have a huge fan base and marketing campaign. The original Halo was and still is one of the best selling, most popular Xbox games available. When you create an astonishing game the hype and fever for the series’ next iteration can make one insane with anticipation. Halo 2’s wildly huge success has a lot to do with how popular the original Halo was as well as the amount of TV commercials and movie trailers we saw prior to release. It just wouldn’t have been so outrageously prosperous without it. The same goes any series that is a console leader. PS2 has their breadwinning Grand Theft Auto series and Nintendo has been milking Mario Kart and Metroid for years now. When a title catches the gaming public’s imagination, console makers need to make sure that the sequels will be more powerful than the original if they expect to continue selling console units.

It also depends on how you’re looking to beat Halo 2. Is it based on industry review scores, sales numbers, and public reaction? If a game is trying to outsell Halo 2 then I say forget it. You’ll have better luck finishing a Legendary campaign with a Bowie knife. I think if a developer is going to beat Halo 2 it would have to do it by review scores, those of the press and the public. Halo 2 is not a perfect 10, no game I’ve every played is. They all have faults somewhere. Halo 2 is however the closest thing we’ve seen to a perfect game on the Xbox, at least in the majority opinion. That being said, it’s not impossible for a game to achieve higher critical acclaim than Halo 2, it’s just pretty difficult. With Halo 2 getting consistent scores of 9.6, 9.7, and 9.8 a game would have to score mostly 9.9’s and 10’s to do the job; again, difficult yet not impossible.

As for the game itself, it would basically have to be stellar in just about every facet. You’d have to push the console to its limits. Graphics would have to be crisp and detailed while eliminating choppiness and clipping. The audio has to be encompassing and able to deliver the goods when heard through a surround sound system. The online component should have innovative new play modes and full web support. Overall though the work should show the polish and craftsmanship that comes from many a hard days (and nights) work at the development table. Thus hopefully creating an immersive gaming experience that will stun the senses and makes you dream about it at night.

So are there any games out there that have the package to take out Halo 2? Several high quality titles are set to be released before the summer; several of which make the cut as possible Halo killers. Here’s the rundown in no particular order:

Splinter Cell: Chaos Theory

If there is a series that is possibly more popular than Halo, and a character that is more beloved than Master Chief, it would have to be Tom Clancy’s Splinter Cell games and their stealthy action hero Sam Fisher. If any game fits the checklist of what a Halo killer should be, it’s Chaos Theory. First, it’s building on two critically acclaimed games that have seen great improvements from one game to the next and have never disappointed on the Xbox. There is a huge fan base already drooling over what surprises Chaos Theory will offer, and the improvements are many. Beefed up graphics are the most beautiful the Xbox has seen, and possibly will ever see. The AI has been improved to give a more realistic sense of enemy movements and actions. The spectacularly original online mode has been improved by adding new gadgets, more interactive maps, and more balanced gameplay. The biggest addition may be the one that Halo 2 left out: online co-op. With four additional co-op missions separate yet parallel to the single player campaign you and a buddy can snap necks together online for the first time in the Splinter Cell series. The addition of this mode could put Chaos Theory over the top.

Breakdown: When it’s all said and done you’ll think of two games in regards to the Xbox, Halo 2 and Chaos Theory.


Unreal Championship 2: The Liandri Conflict

If you’ve been living in oblivion the past couple years then you may not know that the game that may have changed the face of video games more than any other title is Unreal. Not because the futuristic shooter plays at a hyperactive pace, but because the engine that powers it is used by such a large percentage of games that we play today. You can’t pick up a magazine today without seeing the words “powered by the Unreal engine” in it. That being said it was unfortunate that the first Unreal Championship was a disappointment after it was ported over to the Xbox from the PC. Not so this time. UC 2 is being developed solely for the Xbox and introduces a new wrinkle into the Unreal series; melee combat. This isn’t just the normal whack ‘em with your gun melee like Halo2, it’s actually a formidable system that is worked into the fabric of the game, and it works well. Each character has a melee weapon, usually some sort of staff or sword that can be used to dice enemies, reflect incoming ballistics, and even perform fantastic finishing moves called Coup-de-gras. While purists might feel that this new melee combat strays Unreal too far from its roots, developer Epic games has successfully fused the fraggin’ action of a shooter with a useful melee system to create a gaming experience unlike anything else, all the while keeping the frantic feel of an Unreal game. In addition to revolutionary gameplay, the game boasts a new story mode; over 40 vibrantly colored and well designed maps, and 14 characters each with their own attributes and weaknesses. The improved adrenaline system also seamlessly integrates within the games framework. Playing this game you just get the sense that everything seems to have its advantage and disadvantages, making for very well balanced gameplay, something lacking a bit in Halo 2 (i.e. he who has the sword/rocket launcher, wins). While it might not have the fan base on Xbox that Halo 2 does, Unreal promises to make a big splash in the Xbox pool when released.

Breakdown: While this game doesn’t have everything it needs to topple Halo 2, it’s wonderfully addictive multiplayer system will create shock and awe throughout the Xbox Live community and possibly give Halo 2’s online component a run for it’s money.

Brothers in Arms: Road to Hill 30

While many games attach a ‘sim’ moniker to their description, few outside of sports games are truly ‘sim’ in nature. That will change when you play Gearbox software’s Brothers in Arms. This is not just another WWII shooter, quite the contrary. In Brothers you will be taking up arms in real WWII battles, in real WWII locales, and with real WWII soldiers. No game has put you in the thick of it like Brothers has. The guys at Gearbox actually researched historical documents, visited authentic battle sites, and did all the research necessary to make as real a WWII experience as a game can get. That’s all fine and good, but what about the stuff that matters? Well the gameplay will recreate actual WWII battles so immersion looks at this point to be a strong suit. Graphics and sound are solid with authentic sounding weapons and explosions as well as some scary real character models and animations. You get the feeling that playing this game you will actually care about your AI counterparts and their well being. Online Brothers boasts a unique experienced separate from other shooters. Instead of just running amuck shooting any enemy in site, you actually are in control of a squad of four (yourself and 3 AI buddies) in a two-on-two objective based match. How this plays out online is still yet to be seen, but having to strategize for an entire team rather than just run around looking for something to shoot sounds refreshing.

Breakdown: While nobody expects Brothers in Arms to take the Xbox reigns, this is one of those titles that look like it will be a sleeper hit that helps define the Xbox as a console system. Plus, you may never play a more immersive single player campaign as you will in this game.


Rainbow Six Lockdown

Before Halo 2 was released the Xbox Live world was ruled by Tom Clancy’s Rainbow Six and its stand alone add-on Rainbow Six: Black Arrow. Now, with the upcoming release of Rainbow Six Lockdown, Team Rainbow looks to reclaim the top spot on Xbox Live. New to this year’s game is the Persistent Elite Creation that acts as an online career mode in which you will choose a class (i.e. demolitions, medic, commando, etc.) then earn credits to buy better weapons and gear as well as upgrade your attributes. This type of individual customization is sorely lacking on Xbox Live and is a welcome feature. Other notable improvements are the new mask style HUD, which will show fog, mud, and other types of visual impairments to make the game more realistic, tighter controls, smoother frame rates, and new sniper missions that have you picking off terrorists as your fire team moves towards an objective. It sounds like Ubisoft has taken what we all loved about the original Rainbow games and tightened everything up, which is what we would expect from a top notch sequel.

Breakdown: While Rainbow Six had its moment in the spotlight, it looks as though it’s time may have passed. That’s not to say that Lockdown won’t be a huge success, I’m sure it will. It’s just that there are other games that have set the bar so high that Rainbow Six might not be able to reach it. We’ll see when the game is released within the next month or so.

Honorable Mentions

Star Wars: Republic Commando – This looks to be one of the best Star Wars games yet. Stunning graphics, smart AI, an easy to use squad interface, online play; looks like everything is in tact.

Now there are people out there who will buy anything with the Star Wars name on it so this game will at the very least have some solid sales numbers, but sales numbers a game doesn’t make. Though the game is fun to play and has a lot of what we like to see in an Xbox game, there’s just nothing really there to separate it from all the other shooters that are available.

Pariah

At first glance Pariah may look like another first person shooter with some futuristic weapons and cool vehicles to wreak havoc in. However it’s when you realize you can make and share your own multiplayer maps over Xbox Live is where you’ll begin to take notice. The map editor feature means that this game may never get old. There will always be new areas to play and new ways to play them. With so many games steering towards online customization, Pariah’s map editor promises to be a feature that will possibly revolutionize Xbox Live games.

Forza Motorsport

Who said the best game on Xbox has to be a shooter? Forza Motorsport promises to deliver the sim racing goods with a ton of cars, circuits, and online modes to keep you racing for months. Comparisons to Gran Turismo 4 aside, Forza should be one of the greatest racers the Xbox will ever see and should sell very well; but a Halo killer it is not.

As you can see, making a Halo killer looks darn near impossible. To do so a developer has to leave no stone unturned and no detail left out. Even after all that, there may be no way to topple the almighty Halo 2. That being said means that Halo 2 has received the ultimate in compliments. Anytime someone compares a game to Halo 2 they are basically placing Bungie’s masterpiece as the marker that all other Xbox games will be judged by.

Did we leave anything out? Any games you think should be considered a “Halo Killer”? Let us know by posting your thoughts below.