Halo 2 is much more than I ever made of it. By all accounts, this game's release really jumpstarted Xbox Live into the multiplayer behemoth it became. I, however, didn't have Xbox live back in the days where credit cards were mandatory and broadband connections few and far between. Regardless, I loved it, despite its flaws.
Bungie's hype machine worked itself into a self-destructive frenzy in the lead up to the game's release - I recall fondly the massive excitement of the hands-on 'playable demo' trailer that did the rounds. It was years before I found out that the trailer was smoke and mirrors, and that the sheen of sweat on the forehead of the compere had nothing to do with faulty air conditioning and everything to do with his premonition of a share-price-shattering Blue Screen Of Death. Almost nothing from the trailer made it into the final game.
Halo 2 was the first game I ever pre-ordered. The day of release, it arrived, shiny and steel-clad on my doormat, and I'd finished the campaign in a matter of hours. I enjoyed it, and wasn't fazed by the length of the game, though the cliffhanger was irksome. More importantly, unlike most, I rather loved playing as the Arbiter; it felt like a reasonable and natural expansion of the Halo universe to get that second point of view, even if it was damn near impossible to tell the good Grunts from the bad Grunts in a pinch (good news! They're all cannon fodder! Nobody cares!).
In my rerun of the series, Halo 2 was always going to be a tricky one - the only true original Xbox title amongst them, with no shiny graphical upgrades to take the edge off the slow march of exponentially increasing processing power. That being said, the game holds up reasonably well: gameplay is pretty solid, the score and sound design are strong. The first thing that leapt out at me is how fragile the vehicles feel. To go from from Halo 1's Indestructible Hogs of Doom to these papier-mache pretenders is rather jarring, and the sound of an overloading Ghost engine may be the single most annoying sound effect ever recorded.
Just like Halo 1, the sequel got a lot of system-link play amongst my nerds. In these heady days some of the most inappropriate gametypes ever conceived were spawned and immediately hidden from polite society (Jimmyguns and low gravity were involved. I will say no more.) I admit to having a particular fondness for the Banshee, and as this was before the fateful summer where Jason shacked up with Halo 3 in a darkened room for weeks on end, things usually worked out pretty well for me; of the dark times to come, I knew little (as did Jason, who was consistently bloody terrible).
The long and the short of it: Halo 1 is still the better game, but 2 was and is a respectable successor. Blowing up Grunts is still satisfying: the Flood are still annoying as hell: and the Brutes are sloppily designed damaged sponges. Let's be thankful they got taken up a notch later in the series. Nostalgia grade: A-. At least in part due to remembering how terrible Jason was.
Halo three? I suppose I could be persuaded.