Sometimes I have the distinct impression that game publishers think that we, the paying customers, are idiots. If that’s not the case, I can’t explain the stupidity of some of the decisions made by big name developers over the years. This year sees a new entry to this list, that of possibly the most beloved company on Earth, Microsoft. Because, sarcasm aside, I can’t fathom what exactly the guys from the Redmond marketing department were thinking when they came up with the marketing campaign for the PC version of Halo 2. Even if you’re a gamer who doesn’t own an Xbox, it’s highly unlikely that you haven’t heard, at least in passing, about the Halo franchise. The first Halo turned the Xbox into a success story while Halo 2 took the notion of online multiplayer for console gamers to a whole new level. Even today, three years after its release, it’s still one of the most popular online games, with only Gears of War being able to dethrone the de facto king. Unfortunately for us, the PC loving gamers, we had to wait two years for the first Halo to grace us with its presence while Halo 2 took an even longer trip of almost three years in order to finally arrive on our favorite gaming platform.
Since such a long wait can raise expectations, Microsoft, in their unrivalled intelligence, thought of some nice “bonuses” for the PC fans. The first of these is that Halo 2 only runs on Windows Vista. Why is this, you might ask? Because The One Whose Name Shall Not Be Mentioned said so. Oh, you might say, if it’s a Windows Vista exclusive then it must support DirectX 10 and all those fancy graphic effects, right? Right – in an alternate universe perhaps, because in this one, the PC version of Halo 2 has graphics which literally scream “Made for Xbox” with all its pixels, even though you’ll run the game in 1900×1200 on a SLI 8800GTX powered rig. You really want to know the reason why Halo 2 is Windows Vista exclusive? Repeat after me: MAR-KE-TING DE-CI-SION.
After they concluded that their new operating system would make a fine (unique) home for a port of a three year old game, Microsoft had yet another bright idea: let’s introduce the Live! system on the PC as well. But, let’s keep the membership levels: Silver will be free while the Gold one will have to be paid for. Why is this a bad idea? Because if you have the Silver level you won’t be able to use voice chat, host Live! in-game servers and get multiplayer achievements to boast in front of your friends. Yes, you read it right, in the year 2007 Microsoft is asking us to pay for the ability to host an in-game server and use voice-chat, in an era when TeamSpeak or Ventrillo have become standard for every self-respecting gaming clan in the world. Oh yeah, you can host a dedicated server for Halo 2 if you want, the install kit is on the DVD… that is, if you have the patience to read the Readme file.
Halo 2’s DVD autorun menu also has two additional options: the Map Editor and the “Instant Play”. The latter tries to emulate the console style of play, where you insert the game disc and start to play immediately, with no installation hassle. This is a nice touch, but only in theory, but practically, the game’s performance will suffer, since you’ll be running Halo 2 straight off the DVD while the game files are simultaneously copied in the background to your hard-drive. The map editor on the other hand will prove a very useful and extremely powerful tool for the modding community. I strongly recommend you go through the documentation first, since the learning curve for the editor can be a little steep; especially if this is your first foray into the wonderful world of modding. Afterwards, however, you will have an excellent level of control over the assets of the game for creating your own maps which you can then share with the rest of the Halo 2 PC community.