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Sequels deliver few surprises

By Derek Lazzaro

Nov. 22, 2004 9:00 p.m.

College is supposed to be about learning, hard work and a social
life. But if you are a gamer, you probably set aside some time this
week to check out two new mega-blockbuster video games ““
“Halo 2″ and “Half-Life 2.” But as long as
you didn’t sleep through your mid-terms or forget to call
your friends back, that’s OK.

Like most things, video games are fine in moderation, especially
when they are good video games. And for those of you who
don’t keep up with games, “Halo 2″ and
“Half-Life 2″ are about as highly anticipated as they
get.

“Halo 2″ debuted Nov. 10 for Xbox to the tune of
$125 million dollars on the first day ““ that’s more
than any movie in history. Then, just eight days later,
“Half-Life 2″ arrived for the PC after five years of
promises and delays.

But as big as these games are, both of them are only
evolutionary steps forward ““ and they have the same pros and
cons as their respective predecessors, the original
“Halo” and “Half-Life.”

Considering that these games are expensive ““ over $50 each
““ their creators haven’t made many ground-breaking
improvements. Still, both games are entertaining, and the millions
of copies sold indicate gamers are willing to pay the price.

Just don’t try to pirate these games ““ they include
sophisticated “phone-home” anti-piracy measures.

I haven’t played much of the single-player campaigns of
either game, but I will comment on what I’ve observed so far,
including the online multi-player mode.

Between the two games, the single-player campaign of “Halo
2″ has changed more. There are several new guns, the ability
to dual-wield weapons and the opportunity to play as an alien
Covenant officer.

The new guns include a rapid-firing sub-machine gun, a
rocket-propelled grenade launcher and an energy beam weapon.

But despite all these differences, the single-player mode is not
radically different from the original. You fight in familiar
locations and environments, alternating between indoor mazes where
you hack through caverns and outdoor landscapes dotted with random
elements of cover.

The multi-player mode is a more dramatic improvement. The new
online version allows up to four people on a single Xbox to connect
to games with two to 16 players. There are also a lot of different
multi-player modes available, including Capture the Flag, Slayer
and Racing. New for “Halo 2″ are a capture-and-hold
“territory mode” and an assault mode, where the aim is
to destroy a specific target.

There are only three real problems I had with the new
multi-player mode, and two of them are really a matter of
preference. First, Microsoft allows only one Xbox Live account to
be used on a given Xbox.

Second, the combat shielding system has changed. Unlike the in
the original “Halo,” a character in “Halo
2″ does not have “armor” underneath the energy
shield. This means that a person who is not killed outright can
simply regenerate back to 100 percent strength.

Finally, the Xbox controls work the same way as they did in the
original “Halo.” That means gamers who prefer a
computer mouse and keyboard will continue to find the Xbox controls
unwieldy and imprecise. (I know some people prefer to use a
controller, but I’m not one of them.)

For those who find Xbox controls to be a dealbreaker ““ or
for anyone who liked the original “Half-Life” ““
there is “Half-Life 2.” Like the Xbox title,
“Half-Life 2″ is very similar to its predecessor. You
play the character Gordon Freeman, a scientist-turned-commando who
has to save the world from a mysterious alien invasion.

The single-player game looks stunning and, aside from
“Doom 3,” is the most photo-realistic game I have ever
seen.

The gameplay itself is remarkably similar to the original
“Half-Life.” You spend your time blasting face-hugger
crabs, zombies and soldiers who want to stop you from saving the
world.

Some might find it too similar to the original game because not
much of it feels “new.” But the game focuses on the
fundamentals, and does it well. If you liked the original,
you’ll like the replay.

When it comes to the multi-player mode, the creators of
“Half-Life” decided to drop their own multi-player mode
and rely completely on an updated version of the wildly popular
“Counter-Strike.”

“Counter-Strike” is a modification of the
“Half-Life 2″ game where dozens of players fight
against each other simultaneously, assuming the role of either a
terrorist or a counter-terrorist.

But here’s the catch ““ “Counter-Strike
2″ is almost identical to the original. The graphics have
been updated, but the maps, weapons and gameplay are exactly the
same.

This makes for a perfectly balanced game, with intense fights
between terrorists and soldiers, which I found entertaining. But
the lack of anything novel to explore means I probably won’t
play the game for long.

Considering how busy college students are, and that these games
are over $50 each, not everyone will be enticed to buy them. While
visually stunning and generally fun, they do not change any gaming
genres.

Lazzaro is a fourth-year political science and psychology
student and editorial development director for the Daily Bruin.
E-mail him at [email protected]

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