Second Comings 

Hype drives the interest for Halo 2 and Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas—but are they any good?

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Like film studios, video game companies love to make money on sequels to blockbuster hits. If a company is lucky enough to string together a popular franchise, it’s money in the bank for them, and a major event for its customers when a new title arrives.

In the past two weeks, two of the most anticipated sequels in video game history were released. Rockstar Games’ Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas and Microsoft’s Halo 2 hit stores with the anticipation of a new Star Wars film. For more than six months, the games have generated an unparalleled word-of-mouth buzz.

But when the games finally hit shelves, it’s time for them to live or die on their merits. No amount of corporate hype can propel a mediocre game to legend status. However, in the case of the science fiction tale Halo 2, I think the hype makes you afraid to think of it as anything less than the second coming of Super Mario. On the flip side, thinking of GTA: San Andreas as nothing more than a violent urban exploitation game means you miss the best parts of a great game.

With GTA, you have a simple, violent, free-roaming third-person actioner that features celebrity voices (James Woods and Samuel Jackson to name a few), some Sims-like game play, a fast and loose storyline and pure fun to make it a great addition to a legendary franchise. It’s not a complicated story, but its execution is what makes this an incredible title. Carl Johnson returns to the streets of Los Santos, San Andreas, after his mother is killed. The objective is simple: Find who killed her, get revenge and create havoc on the way.

But this game’s innovations lie in the realism of your character. You must eat to stay alive—eat too much, you’re overweight, not enough and you’re scrawny. You can earn money to buy new clothes, hairstyles and tattoos. Rockstar made Carl Johnson a “real person,” and that makes this game really fantastic.

Long before it hit the streets Nov. 9, Halo 2 was touted as the greatest video game ever. And on some levels, it most certainly is, immediately sucking you in with a well-crafted, intricate storyline involving the evil Covenant’s second attempt to destroy the human race. Much to the chagrin of the Master Chief, his base is infiltrated, beginning the new battle.

What’s great about Halo 2 is the flawless storytelling, awesome graphics and fluid, cerebral game motions. This is a video gamer’s dream. It’s challenging and it’s beautiful, with extremely slick play. It’s almost too perfect.

It’s also too serious, and even a little pretentious. And there’s a major flaw in the game’s playability—completing tasks, meeting objectives. You set off in this game with little to no guidance, not even a simple objective map. It’s easy both to get lost and to get frustrated.

Now, of course, the hard-core gamers who’ve already beaten the thing are calling me nasty names. But I get bothered when a game is marketed toward a mass audience, yet that mass audience probably won’t get their money’s worth out of it. That, to me, is a major flaw. A game can be challenging and cerebral without disenfranchising the majority of gamers. Microsoft’s Fable is a perfect example of a smart, exciting game that all gamers can play and have a chance to succeed in.

That said, if you have the skills, Halo 2 is fantastic—but it’s not for everyone. While GTA: San Andreas also isn’t for everyone because of its violence and language, from a pure entertainment, playability and marketability standpoint, it has done more for its franchise than Halo 2. While Master Chief would kick Carl’s keester into the middle of next week, GTA wins the street fight between anticipated sequels in a drive-by.

HALO 2 Xbox Rated M $49.99

GRAND THEFT AUTO: SAN ANDREAS PlayStation 2 Rated M $49.99

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