by Patrick Kennedy

It’s ten o’clock, Monday evening, November 8th, 2004. A dozen or so teenage boys begin to cluster in the electronics department of the Galesburg Wal-Mart. A line begins to form and restlessness takes over the group. The wait will last for another two hours in anticipation of a product three years in the making. What could instigate a crowding of otherwise normal teenagers to wait for two hours in Wal-Mart, a.k.a. "The Ninth Gate to Hell," on a weeknight? This product could be none other than the sequel to what is widely considered not only the best first person shooter of all time, but one of the best games ever, Halo. The sequel is creatively titled Halo 2. They are the product of Bungie, a subsidiary of a struggling little software company known as Microsoft.

I was one of those few, proud teenagers waiting in line to purchase my copy of Halo 2. Wal-Mart sales associates were not pleased with the anxious gamers clogging their aisles. We would have gone somewhere else but there were no other stores open at midnight on a Monday. Staff ordered the line to disperse several times. We persisted.

We were joined by gamers from Macomb whose local Super Wal-Mart only had nine copies and more people than that were already queued up. We were assured Galesburg’s store had 42 as we patiently waited by the magazines to make sure nobody sneaked in ahead of us. We were dutifully informed over the store’s p.a. that if we didn’t quit destroying things, they weren’t going to take our money. I didn’t see anybody destroying anything.

Eventually, they let us organize ourselves into the grade school students’ natural formation: a single-file line. At the stroke of midnight, Wal-Mart’s cash registers promptly shut down so they could be reset for the new day. The clock seemed to move backwards. A few minutes later, they ceremoniously brought out the long-awaited corrugated box filled with the holy grail: copies of Halo 2. I was the seventh person in Galesburg to trade my $50 for a metallic box containing the game.

And if you think I didn’t sprint out of the store and to my car with three of my friends (who also waited in line), then you’re wrong. Yes, the hype for this game easily rivaled that of any Star Wars movie. In mere seconds, we were all playing it on four TVs on four Xboxes in one home.

The four of us played the game into the wee hours and then the real hours of the morning – three of us playing through the entire single player campaign by lunch time. School be damned!

I can safely say the game lived up to the hype, maybe even surpassed it. The same Halo game play is there – massive levels pitting you against armies of the main enemy of the game, an alien race known as The Covenant. This time, however, there are no repetitive levels, and enough new features have been added to warrant anyone who considers themselves a gamer to check them out. New vehicles, new weapons, and several new enemies including a giant ape-like abomination known as a Brute are a few of the additions.

The storyline, however, left a slightly bitter taste in the mouth. While it was well-written and has a few twists, to say the end of the game was a cliffhanger is the understatement of the year, and all but announces another sequel.

Many gamers, well, most gamers, did not truly buy the game for the single player story. The multi-player is where the fun lives on. With over ten new maps and a few of the old classics, several new vehicles, and all new game types, Halo 2’s multiplayer is everything Halo’s was and much more. The system link option is still available for you and your friends (or enemies) to link up Xboxes in the same house to battle each other across different TVs, for up to 16 players.

The real catch for Halo 2, though, is multiplayer through Xbox Live, Microsoft’s online Xbox network. Not only can a player play 15 people from all over the country in various game types, but with the use of Microsoft’s ingenious Xbox Communicator, which is a headset/microphone peripheral, the player can communicate with those 15 players simultaneously. The online system has clan support as well, so you and your friends can form a clan, which will have its stats tracked on Single players also have their stats tracked, and through an ELO-like (a system invented for ranking chess players) system, players will only be put in matches with players of their skill level.

Yes, Halo 2 has been out for around a week now, and the thrill of playing online has not passed, and will not for the foreseeable future. Halo 2’s multiplayer is the equivalent of electronic cocaine, only you won’t need to steal money from your friends and relatives in order to keep the addiction going (that is, unless you quit your job or drop out of school in order to play). This review barely scratches the surface of this game, which will most definitely be named Game of the Year by most, if not all of the video game award judges. I just hope the game can keep gamers from revolting until Halo 3 is released.