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Virtual intensity

Video | Terminology in the Halo games ­borrows liberally from Christian themes, but the plot lines are what you would expect from Hollywood

Issue: "Iraq: Fallujah's fallen," Nov. 27, 2004

Halo 2 by Microsoft's Bungie Studios sold more than 2.38 million units in North America on Nov. 9, its first day of release. With Microsoft claiming opening-day sales in excess of $125 ­million, Halo 2's debut surpassed three-day sales for the opening weekend of Pixar's The Incredibles.

One of 2004's most anticipated game titles, Halo 2 is the sequel to the popular Halo: Combat Evolved, which introduced us to Master Chief and an alien empire known as the Covenant. The Covenant is united by a religion whose main precept calls for the ­annihilation of the entire human race. Having now discovered Earth, only the United Nation Space Command and supersoldier Master Chief stand in the way of the Covenant's religious ­mission.

Terminology in the Halo games ­borrows liberally from Christian themes, but playing the game reveals the same plot lines you would expect to find in a typical Hollywood blockbuster-right down to the cliffhanger ending. To the credit of Bungie Studios, the profanity and sexual themes so common in movies are noticeably absent in this game.

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But, rated "M" for mature audiences of 17 or older, Halo 2 is not suitable for young children. Playing the game is an intense and often violent experience. It features a detailed "campaign mode" and also includes a multiplayer component that allows up to 16 gamers to play against each other online using Microsoft's Xbox Live service.

Success in Halo 2 is determined more by aggressive button mashing than by problem solving. That said, Halo 2 is not nearly as violent as competing "first-person shooter" games such as the recently released Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas. It also lacks the demonic imagery so common to the genre. What you do get is an immersive combat experience with a compelling storyline and outstanding multiplayer features.

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