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Prerelease:Halo 2

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This page details prerelease information and/or media for Halo 2.

Halo 2 is the blockbuster sequel to Halo: Combat Evolved, the classic first-person shooter that legitimized Microsoft's entry into the console space with the Xbox. It would be one of the most anticipated games ever made and despite extreme difficulties during development, essentially met the exceedingly high expectations put upon it.

Early Development

Bungie began work on Halo 2 about 6 weeks after they put the finishing touches on the original game. They had ambitious plans for the sequel. A massive campaign, with fully half of it taking place from the perspective of a member of the enemy Covenant named the Dervish and a brand-new, large-scale multiplayer mode all running on a state-of-the-art engine. The game was revealed to the public at Microsoft's X02 event in New York City in August 2002 with a 2-minute in-engine trailer. The trailer featured a cinematic from near the beginning of the game and showcased the engine improvements like stencil shadows, and extensive use of normal maps.

The scene happens in the final game with numerous small changes, though none substantial aside from the existence of the Covenant "space pickle" bomb. The bomb was added to wallpaper over a level being cut that would have seen the Master Chief board the Covenant cruiser glimpsed at the end of the trailer and destroy it from the inside.

To coincide with the trailer's release, Bungie invited journalists from three different gaming magazines, Electronic Gaming Monthly (EGM) from the US, EDGE from the UK, and Super Play from Sweden, to visit their Redmond, Washington studio for region exclusive previews of the game. Each preview included details about the game that wouldn't make it into the final product. The EGM article, from issue #160 for November 2002, detailed several things that did not make it into the shipped game:

  • Sprinting.
  • Lights could be shot out.
  • AI would dynamically decide to create cover for themselves by, for example, flipping tables over.
  • Areas with reduced gravity.
  • Melee combos.
  • Leaning from behind cover.
  • A UNSC "shield ship".

The EDGE issue, #115, talked a little about the new multiplayer mode saying it would be "Human Spartans versus Covenant Elites and will attempt to capture the oneplayer Halo experience in an online setting. Instead of the gametypes of Halo, the online game will be a real battle with real objectives, supporting events such as airstrikes, and lots of carnage." The final game has no airstrikes and no ability to lock teams to Humans vs. Spartans. Super Play's September 2002 issue mentioned upgradeable weapons, which did not make the cut. All three of the magazine previews talked about new vehicles being added. There were concepts of three new Warthogs, renders of an ATV, and concept art of a Covenant Shadow, which was their answer to the Warthog. Neither the Warthog variants nor the ATV made the final game, and the Shadow went through major revisions, eventually becoming the Spectre. The Shadow name would be moved over to a much bigger Covenant troop transport.

Bungie would go quiet until May the following year when they came in force to E3. They showed off a new, 9-minute, real-time demo from the campaign being played by a Bungie employee.

Almost as soon as the "away team" return to the studio, the company realized that the game needed a drastic reset. That demo was nearly all they had and it had taken hell to get it to run. The game would need to undergo sweeping changes.

Soft Reboot

While most of the gameplay additions the demo showed off did make their way into the final game (like dual-wielding, hijacking vehicles, and friendly AI drivers), there's also a ton that ended up missing in action. The Battle Rifle fired single shots when zoomed in, which would change to the same three-shot burst as unzoomed in the final game. The entire level was heavily modified in the final game. The beginning cutscene was changed and the ending cutscene was dropped entirely. Melee Combos were cut as was the ability for Jackals to align in formation. The giant Covenant mortar seen in the demo was meant to be controllable by the player, but this was cut, although it's still possible through hacking to control their equivalents in the final game. And the graphics engine it all ran on would essentially be thrown out because Bungie could never have shipped the game with it. They went back to the Halo: Combat Evolved engine as leadership frantically redid the campaign in an attempt to get the game out the door, cutting several whole levels. The big, ambitious new multiplayer mode, which Bungie had been calling Warfare, was cut, though little work had been done on it. The multiplayer suite carried over from Halo: Combat Evolved was essentially the only thing that survived the restructuring relatively intact. There would be an alpha test of this multiplayer component in January 2004 with 1000 lucky Microsoft employees picked to be able to play it. Bungie was crunching hard and the game was in a state of flux, so the studio essentially went quiet again. From E3 2003 to E3 2004 they said very little and showed even less. The campaign was still in dire straits, so the multiplayer team was asked to put something together for the convention. They designed a new map, Zanzibar, showed it off during Microsoft's press briefing, and let people get their hands on it on the show floor.

This demo was much closer to the final game than the one from the year prior, but there were still differences between it and the game that shipped on November 9th, as foretold on Peter Moore's arm. The Battle Rifle still fired in single shots when zoomed in. Vehicle damage was said to affect how they handled, which is absent from the final game. The Rocket Launcher lock-on was different. It appears the player just had to see the reticule turn red before the rocket would be able to track its target. In the final game, the player has to manually track the target and wait for a lock-on animation to finish around the reticule. Its spawn point is also different, on the building with the flag instead of on the structure sticking out from the fan. The shield display in the E3 demo UI is also different from the final game. Another test was done after E3, this time with any Microsoft employee who wanted to participate. The name of the Covenant playable character was changed from the Dervish to the Arbiter due to concerns over the former's ties to Islam. Microsoft was nervous about a member of the enemy faction having a connection to the religion.

Cut Levels

Several campaign levels are known to have been cut before release.

Covenant Ship

This level would have taken place between Cairo Station and Outskirts and as revealed on Halo 3 Legendary Edition's bonus disc, would have involved Master Chief boarding and destroying the Covenant vessel that attacked Cairo Station before heading to Earth. It was replaced by a cutscene where Master Chief bombs the ship from the outside. The numbering of the files for the levels in the final game conspicuously jumps over "02" which might indicate that this level was cut fairly late.

Alpha Moon

Originally intended to be part of the level pair that introduced the Arbiter, this mission would have taken place on a moon of the gas giant Threshold. The Halo from the first game, dubbed Alpha Halo, had orbited that planet and its moon and this level would have taken place on the moon amongst the debris of the destroyed Forerunner installation. Some of the geometry was modified and moved to the level Quarantine Zone. The multiplayer map Burial Mounds is set on the moon and features wreckage from Alpha Halo. During a stream in 2018, Frank O'Connor and Brian Jarrard of 343 Industries briefly showed an in-development version of the level from September 2003.

Forerunner Tank

This level would have taken place after Quarantine Zone when The Arbiter and Master Chief fall into the Gravemind's pit. It would have involved escaping from the Gravemind's quick-moving tentacles while speeding along in the titular Forerunner tank, but was replaced with cutscenes. The main reason this level was cut was because of a large amount of moving geometry, which breaks the AI about 50% of the time. It's possible the gondolas in Quarantine Zone are derived from this level.

Earth Ark

The original ending of the game. Had it been finished, it might have comprised three distinct levels in the final game. The Master Chief and the Arbiter would have met on Earth and chased the Prophet of Truth into the Ark, which was a Forerunner installation on the planet. Inside, the Arbiter would have killed Truth, then he and the Chief would deactivate the entire Halo array, which would cause the Ark to collapse, with both of them narrowly escaping. The game would end with each character being celebrated on a space platform, mirroring the beginning of the game. This was revealed through storyboards released by Bungie storyboard artist Lee Wilson.