David Cross's little one-liners throughout the first couple Earth levels in Halo 2 kept cracking me up, sometimes resulting in violent death. I don't know how he got involved - I know he's talked about the PS2 (he's also got a role in GTA:SA) but I'm not aware of him being a Halo fan - but I feel like Bungie gave him maybe 10 lines to say and let him do the rest. Ultimately, those first few Earth levels really made me feel like I was playing it in co-op with David Cross - he has all the best lines in those segments, and he has quite a few of them, too.
Now, back to the actual game. I will keep this as spoiler-free as possible, although I'm probably only about halfway through it so there's not that much I could give away. After roughly 4 hours into the single player, I've got to admit that I'm not really that blown away. I'm a bit disappointed in the repetitive level design, considering how much development time has passed since the first game; quite a few areas so far have a cut-and-paste feel to them. The much-hyped story hasn't really sucked me in yet, either - I've been to a few places I wasn't necessarily expecting to go, and I've seen some things I wasn't necessarily expecting to see (including, um, from a certain "perspective"), but I haven't seen anything that knocked me on my ass - and if there was anything I really wanted out of this single-player experience, it was to get knocked out by the story. There's obviously a lot left, though, so I'm still hopeful.
What else, what else - well, the graphics are a mixed bag. I'm surprised at how rough some of the cut-scenes are, but I'm also really impressed at how stable and smooth the game runs, even when there's a ton of enemies and explosions on screen. The original Halo was certainly a pretty game, and showed what a next-gen system could do, but I don't think you could ever call its engine "revolutionary", and the same is true of Halo 2. The music, which has been getting almost as much hype as the game, is pretty good, although there's quite a bit of 80's hair-metal cheese in certain spots - which, I must say, still sorta works. The weapons are all pretty badass - I've not yet used either pistol, and I generally stick with the needler/SMG combo - but in a pinch, anything I've used has been effective and fun to use. I've not yet hijacked an enemy vehicle, but I've loved driving the Warthog, Ghost and Banshee. The subtle use of physics is also nice, and it's been really cool to actually see it affect gameplay. And, of course, certain sections of the game are an absolute blast - the "bridge" level in particular is really, really awesome.
Now, as for multiplayer - I only played about 5 or 6 rounds last night, so I'm clearly not really ready to talk about the overall experience; for example, I didn't know that some original Halo maps made it into Halo 2 (are all the maps there? I already know about Blood Gulch v.2, and I played Rocketball on a Halo 1 map). What I can tell you is that, from what I've seen, the multiplayer is AMAZING. Even though I suck, I still had a lot of fun; the maps are beautiful, I never encountered any lag, and - coolest of all - the stat tracking, both in-game and ESPECIALLY on bungie.net, is jaw-droppingly intense. I almost can't wait to finish the single-player so I can focus exclusively on the online play; if straight-up Slayer is this fun, I can't imagine how good the other modes are.
Is Halo 2 perfect? No, not by a long shot. Is it awesome? Yes, absolutely, and it was worth the wait. Finally, there's nothing cooler than seeing my XBL friends list explode with activity; before yesterday, at most I'd have 3 people online, but last night I had at least 10 friends on, all of whom were playing Halo 2, most of whom were in my party the whole time I was playing.