For Xbox fans all over the world the wait is finally over. The reason for buying the Xbox in the first place has a sequel and if the hype has anything to do with it, this is a game that you won't be waiting until Chirstmas to buy. But can it really be this good? Should it really have made more money than Spider-Man on its opening day in America? We've managed to tear ourselves away from the Xbox to write this review.

Power it on and it's just like old days, you're on a spaceship that's under attack, and just like the first game it's all tight corridors, invading aliens and explosions here there and everywhere. The bad guys are still the same, as are for the most part the weapons. If you've played the original title then you'll feel right at home straight away.

There are of course minor differences. Your suit has been upgraded, meaning that while it recharges more quickly, you don't have the four bars of life to deplete before you die. This could be a problem for those who were happy with the balance of the old system. However, with checkpoints seeming closer together this time around, it's not as bad as it sounds.

The other major difference is the ability to wield two weapons, John-Woo style, and using the left and right triggers to fire in a true movie-styled, gun-toting moment of classic gaming. While enough to subdued any major attack annoyingly you can't use your grenades at the same time. The experience has clearly been borrowed from Unreal Tournament, however it also makes for great gaming in single player mode.

Get past the first level and the action takes you to Earth and the surface, here the graphic elements come into their own and large cityscapes and vistas open up before you. Like the first, the levels interlace with open landscapes and interiors, although so far, some 15 levels into the game, the focus seems to be on interiors rather than exteriors.

I can hear what you're thinking, this sounds almost identical to the first version, and we have to admit for the first couple of levels we thought the same, then another cut scene started and our mind was changed.

It was changed because rather than playing the Master Chief (the hero on the human side) we were tasked with taking out a heretic within the covenant (the bad guys). No sub machine guns, no sniper rifles, just a large alien sword, and alien weapons to master. As a way of bringing new life into the game, it's great and certainly breaks up the story as you switch between parallel storylines.

Graphics and sound are just as good as before, as long as you can cope with guitar riffs to induce you into a hack and slash running frenzy.

It's not just the single player levels that make this game what it is, but the online multiplayer action too. The first version, pre-Xbox Live!, never had online play and for many it was the game's weakest point (and in fact, the sole bonus of the PC version). Now with Live! fully established, Halo 2 allows you to play against others in the usual array of deathmatches, capture the flag and other similar gems. The game supports the microphone chat system so you can talk to (or more likely, ridicule) others in game as well as more in depth elements of multiplayer gaming such as clans.

But one word of advice to fans looking to go online; if you've got a hacked/chipped or modded Xbox, Microsoft is likely to ban you from the service for good with no comeback. Official warning over with, just buy another one to stay legit and carry on playing great games like these.

Verdict

Like a great sequel to a movie, Halo 2 manages to not only keep up the pace, but also add to the depth of the storyline without coming across as a mindless cash-in. Yes, for the most part it is more of the same as before, with tweaks, more weapons and more vehicles to master.

Bungie hasn't opted for a different take on the classic in the same vein that Aliens upped the tempo on the original film. What it has done is play it safe, not trashed the original yet not made this version come across as just another mission pack. Had it not been for the online element, we doubt this game would have sold so well. Either way, free of the necessity to establish the platform, the franchise starts here.