Halo 2

In terms of balancing, there appears to be no fatal flaw. The dual-weapon wielding is fantastically cathartic, but the inability to use grenades and the reduced accuracy (pressing both triggers simultaneously causes your aim to move upwards) can be a bitter pill to swallow. Discovering powerful weapon combinations is half the fun. A charged blast of the Covenant pulse pistol followed by unloading a full clip from the new sub-machinegun into an enemy is absolutely devastating, but just as you're getting cocky a rival will annihilate you with one slice from the plasma sword that has featured so prominently in Bungie's hype.

Noticeably, the shield recharges much quicker than in Halo, and the needle gun fires at almost twice the rate. Alterations such as these encourage confrontation rather than camping. On the levels we played weapon sets and game types were locked, but none of the maps became even the slightest bit tedious. A greater emphasis on environmental damage - even the coconuts can be shot to the ground - made for more tactile and engrossing playgrounds to fight in. In short, despite playing these levels on Slayer over and over again, they felt like a mere taste of what's to come.

One of Halo's greatest strengths was the ability to customise and tweak almost every facet in the multiplayer setup. It's the aspect that's kept it fresh where every other console multiplayer mode has gone stale after a few months. Bungie not only promises that the rich level of customisation seen in Halo is to return, but also that completely new game types will be introduced. Parsons believes Oddball will seem tame by comparison.

"We're going to give gamers some crazy shit online," he adds excitedly. "If I have one message, it's get yourself a good router. We're going to support fans by adjusting playlists and keeping them informed about exactly how well they're doing." Bungie hopes to build a community by encouraging people to view a breakdown of their stats at its own website. It's a clever way to highlight the brand, sure, but there should be a genuine pleasure derived from poring over your game statistics in fine detail - who you played against, on what map at what time, and cross-referencing with those of rivals.

Only when it comes to balancing does Parsons sound a note of panic: "It's a mammoth job, and every time I look at the calendar that November release date jumps out." Changing to dual-weapon wielding is one thing, but introducing vehicle damage must have been an agonising decision. "Oh, it was, but I think we made the right choice. You know, when you have a game and one person is using a ghost as a lawnmower for the entire match it can get annoying. You now have to use vehicles much more tactically and being able to board them adds yet another dimension."

Although the office is less than half-empty during our visit (it's also a Saturday) Parsons is keen to stress how much work is going in to the game during the final phase: "It's flat out and people are putting in very long days. Everyone is fully committed to the game." Parsons is not your typical PR man, as his enthusiasm to play the game testifies. "When we finish we're all going to take a long nap," he concludes. "We'll have some kind of party, but, actually, we're looking forward to playing online with gamers."

We went to Bungie hoping to discover what made it special. Cue visions of creative meetings held in rooms lined with beanbags, or conversely, an authoritarian regime complete with workers' cells and a strict chain of command. But, prosaic as it sounds, Bungie, despite the absence of employees during the visit, is just like any every other developer. Except every other developer wasn't responsible for Halo. But is Bungie in danger of being known for one game alone? "No way," Parsons finishes adamantly. Does it have other games in development? "You just wait and see."