Score: 10 / 10
Not everyone will like Half-Life 2 – instead they’ll love every second of it. That is, apart from an agonizing conclusion, which practically guarantees you’ll be counting down the years until the next Half-Life.
2 (HL2) opens with a quick (and pretty ambiguous) monologue from the
mysterious G-man – the suitcase-carrying gentleman from the first game
that made an offer that just couldn’t be refused.
As Gordon Freeman, you’re taken by train to City 17, under the
control of the alien Combine, and the mysteries start to boil from
The story itself is played out entirely from Freeman’s point of
view so any transition scenes or plot points are seen through his eyes.
And you’re only getting half the story if you don’t take the
time to absorb the incredible ambience and clues within the game world
that fill in some of the blanks that the scripted “cutscenes” make.
Even taking my time – listening to the pervasive radio
broadcasts, paying attention to conversations – as the game progressed
I still couldn’t piece together exactly what the Combine Overwatch
was/is planning for Earth.
There are glimpses near the end of the game of units that remain
tantalizing out of reach or close enough to really describe.
There’s the distinct impression that there’s a whole lot more
going on here than meets the eye.
speaking of eyes, this is an easy game to look at.
True, the “flashlight physics” may not be as advanced as Doom
III – shadows only get cast from fixed light sources – but the sense
of actually being in the game world has never been this good.
Even on the minimum hardware specs HL2 manages to shine.
Inseparable from this world is a physics engine, which is nothing less than groundbreaking. Do you spend a ton of ammo trying to takedown a bridge full of Combine soldiers? Or just put a couple of slugs into the pile of explosive barrels underneath the bridge and watch the whole thing blast into the sky? I got into the habit very quickly of looking for environmental advantages or “things to fling” when the Gravity Gun is acquired. (More on the weapons later.) There are a few instances of questionable physics during some of the vehicle portions of the game, like miraculously remaining seated after a flip, but mostly you’ll be impressed. Things float, you have to adjust sniping shots for distance and so on. There’s one part of the game that features an electromagnetic crane and I spent at least 30 minutes reloading a quicksave just so I could play around with heaving shipping containers around!
enemy AI isn’t as impressive but it still manages to present a
Most times you have to deal with numbers rather than intelligent
At least it feels like that during some of the more heated
Enemies still take cover or will flush you out with a grenade but
there are a lot of instances of Combine forces rushing toward rather
than away from Freeman’s bullets.
However, even the headcrab zombies will use objects in the
environment – hurling barrels and the like.
Basically, you never know exactly how an enemy is going to
enemy variety is great.
The headcrabs return (along with a few frightening variants that
can spell instant death if you’re not paying attention) but most of
the opposition is new.
The massive Blue Behemoth from the first game is nowhere to be
found and the energy expelling Vortigons are working with the humans in
a non-combat role but the new enemies, particularly the manatee-shaped
gunship, the awe-inspiring striders, and the pesky whirling-blade
headhunters more than make up for any void the original baddies left.
Then there are the ant lions…
One tool you get to use actually controls the sand-dwelling ant lions. But until that tool is acquired, the sight of open sand should be enough to send shivers up your spine. Another tool is the ultra-gimmicky and ultra-cool Gravity Gun, which quickly become my weapon on choice. Yes, walking around with a metal barrel does obscure your view but next to the crossbow (which shoots red hot pieces of rebar) and a double blast from the shotgun, nothing takes down a Combine
faster than a barrel to the head.
And enemy grenades suddenly become useful instead of dreadful
since they can be fired back at the enemy with the Gravity Gun (as long
as you’re quick on the draw).
Everyone will develop their own preferences and style but some
areas require certain weapons to be used.
For example, when facing off against a pair of striders
you want to use the rocket launcher, because as cool as the .57 Magnum
is it just won’t do the job.
Freeman’s complement of weapons, at times he has limited command over
a squad of fighters.
The commands are the very basic “Go there, come back” and
they tend to get in the way a lot but having some back-up makes the game
world that much more believable (and provides other targets for the
help to creating a believable world are the varied locations that
Freeman travels through.
Unlike the first game where Freeman spent most of his time
indoors with the occasional sprint across a minefield or billy-goat
cliffing-jumping, Half-Life 2 has Freeman going from dusty depressing
cityscapes, to ocean beaches, stretches of highway, an abandoned prison,
underneath a massive bridge, and buildings in-between to the final
confrontation in the citadel that dominates the skyline of City 17.
There also a nightmarish excursion an area called Ravenholm
that’s a clear nod to Neil Manke’s They Hunger Half-Life mods.
it may not be.
In this writer’s opinion there’s plenty here for fans of the previous game to appreciate. Characters from Black Mesa return including Barney in a more heroic role and Dr. Kleiner with a very odd pet. New characters include Alyx Vance and her hilariously loyal protector, Dog. All the characters are animated believably; the facial features in particular and are many light-years beyond the original Half-Life.
audio design truly adds another level of immersion to the experience.
Although there are many, many examples (like the banshee scream
of the Combine manatee gunship or the tht-tht-tht-tht of an ant lion in
flight), maybe the best one is what happens when a grenade goes off
close to Freeman.
You’ll hear half a bang then a high-pitched whine to simulate
ringing in your ears.
Often this is accompanied by a blinding flash.
Flailing around blind and deaf is almost a guarantee you’ll be
hitting the quickload key.
has to one weakness present – something that can flaw the overall
And from the other reviews I’ve read multiplayer seemed to be
Instead of a Half-Life 2 themed multiplayer or Team Fortress 2.0,
Valve gives us Counter-Strike Source, an engine update of a game I’ve
probably dropped 1,000 hours into over the last three years.
If you were anticipating a wildly new multiplayer experience
you’ll be a tad disappointed, but for me, I’m well on my way to
2,000 hours of Counter-Strike.
So no complaints on the multiplayer side and the mod community is
certain to churn out more variety.
(I’m hoping for a version of soccer or basketball using Gravity
Guns.) (NOTE: Very recently, Half-Life 2 Deathmatch was been added --
downloads automatically with Steam.)
2 isn’t flawless, just like any great work of art, but that doesn’t
make it any less of a masterpiece.
And you just know it will be updated endlessly: mods, niggling
with the details over time, an expansion pack or two.
So not only is it a masterpiece you’ll also be playing it for a
long, long time.
(December 5, 2004)
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