Bungie gives Halo 2 online overhaul

Bungie has announced it plans to release an auto-update for Halo 2 today, via the Xbox Live service, in order to rectify minor bugs and completely readdress the balance of the game.

In its third auto-update of Halo 2, Bungie will make the biggest changes to the weapons balance in an effort to nullify any unfair advantages certain weapons may have, and ensure gameplay is kept as varied as possible.

"The scale of the auto-update gave us a unique opportunity - a chance to implement balance changes on certain weapons to smooth out the Xbox Live and System Link experience and, in a couple of cases, to subtly improve the overall feel of the game," explained Bungie's Frank O'Connor.

The biggest change in the update is the effectiveness of melee attacks. Now jumping attacks will result in instant kills, the Brute Shot's melee attack will be more lethal due to the massive scythe on its barrel, and using the butt of any gun will result in more damage - a measure designed to reduce the advantage given to dual-wielding players in close combat.

"Now if someone charges too closely with dual sub-machine guns, you can melee them and actually kill them faster than they can kill you," explained designer Jaime Griesemer. "You have viable options again."

The second biggest change comes to plasma and frag grenades. Both now inflict more damage and will apparently lessen the gap between those who choose to dual-wield and those who use grenades.

"A common complaint among critics was that grenades felt very weak and often simply ensured that a player would be hurt rather than killed," said O'Connor.

The fuses on both grenades have been shortened, making it more likely that last-second attempts to take people out are more successful.

Plasma grenades in particular have been given a massive boost. Players who see the signifying blue aura of the grenade can expect to leave this scenario with more than a few minor burns.

Not all weapons can have a boost though, with some guns and dual-wielding combinations being reduced, such as the Magnum and the plasma rifle/SMG combo.

"With these changes, the stories get a lot more interesting and varied," explains Griesemer. "Now it's, 'He came up behind me and started shooting. So I ducked around the corner and dropped a grenade, and he ran right into it!' or, 'He jumped down at me just as I was reloading, but he got in too close and I beat him to death with my battle rifle.' The fights last longer, and each player has several options."

As well as the weapons realignment, expect to see the end of the modem standby cheat, flag bouncing, the grab-a-flag-through-walls quirk and sword flying. Also, the red team will no longer automatically win tied games and the game will feature a less cluttered heads-up display.

For those gamers not on Xbox Live, this update will also be available via the retail version of the additional multiplayer maps currently due for release in the latter half of June.