Tonight at Microsoft's pre-E3 press event in Los Angeles, Microsoft's Ed Fries debuted gameplay of the long-awaited Halo 2. Fries welcomed a Bungie representative onto the stage to play through a bit of the game, and the eager crowd was treated to a lengthy presentation that gave us a good idea of the development path Bungie is taking with the game. Of course, you can trust our impressions of what we saw or you can see the footage for yourself.
As the demo opened, we saw Master Chief aboard a dropship as he descended into the East African Protectorate city of New Mombasa. Radio transmissions clued us in to the fact that the city was under heavy siege by Covenant forces. As the dropship landed and Master Chief hit the ground, the opening cinematic ended and the gameplay began. We saw an extraordinary level of scripted sequences and environmental effects as the player approached the battlefield. All around, there were limping soldiers helping others walk, medics tending to wounded troops, and dialogue occurring about the conflict at hand. Farther off, we could hear gunfire, explosions, and radio chatter--in short, the game was doing its best to give the impression that Master Chief was involved in a large-scale conflict.
As the player advanced toward the action, soldiers were seen running back and forth and firing out the open windows of the humans' fortified position. The player approached the ledge and used the scope on his machine gun to zoom in and take potshots at the Covenant troops on the ground below. At one point, Master Chief threw a grenade over the ledge into a crowd of enemies milling around on the ground, and the resulting explosion showed off the game's extensive use of physics as it blew not only the Covenant troops but also pieces of debris in every direction. The player then jumped onto a mounted heavy machine gun and started laying waste to enemies on the ground who were returning serious fire. All this time, a giant Covenant cannon far off in the distance had been firing on the buildings the humans were using for cover, but a radio strike came in informing us that an air strike would be dealing with the problem presently. Indeed, two human bombers promptly appeared and strafed the cannon, annihilating it with a precision bombing run.
At this point, Master Chief borrowed a submachine gun from an injured soldier and descended down to meet Covenant forces at street level, leading with his dual-fisted, John Woo-style weapons. After using this firepower to dispatch a number of enemies, Master Chief climbed onto the back of a Warthog and manned the cannon while an AI comrade drove. The player used the cannon to fire on and destroy several large Covenant ground and air vehicles before an enemy soldier leaped onto the Warthog and forced him off. The game then switched to an external camera angle, and in a dramatic move Master Chief knocked an enemy off an oncoming Ghost hover vehicle and took to the skies himself, using the vehicle's weapons to attack enemy forces. What followed was a cinematic chase sequence in which Master Chief barely made it through a large closing door at the end of a tunnel; pursuing Covenant forces, however, were not so lucky. Master Chief finally came to a stop just in time to see a huge number of drop pods falling from the sky and embedding themselves all over the city. Several of the pods opened all around him, and armored Covenant soldiers with energy blades stepped out. Master Chief armed a grenade in preparation for another encounter, and with a flippant remark, the demo ended.
It's clear from the footage we saw tonight that Bungie is amplifying the most positive aspects of Halo in its sequel. The demo featured an extremely impressive mixture of dynamic combat, ambient environmental effects, and scripted sequences that occurred as the player moved around, and all this contributed to the feeling that the gameworld was truly alive. The game's graphics are also considerably improved over its predecessor; highly detailed models and superb lighting effects highlighted the visual aspect of the demo. In short, the brief clip we saw tonight of Halo 2 has left us very excited to see more on the game, and of course as soon as we do, we'll bring it to you. Stay tuned.