When I first played the original Half-Life I was floored. The leaps and strides taken really put the game ahead of its time. I believe Half-Life 2 not only accomplishes the same feat, but goes even further with better graphics, intense sound effects, and a well written story line really put this game at the top. Added into HL2 is the ability to affect your surroundings by picking up objects as well as a real physics engine.
You start out in a similar fashion to HL, riding on a tram. Only this time, you are being placed into City 17, which is controlled and policed by the government. The city is essentially a prison with screens on most available surfaces spewing propaganda in an effort to stifle any freethinking or rebellious actions against the government. Even during your processing as you enter the city, you are able to interact with things such as gates, cans, and guards. Tossing an object at a security patrol or guard tends to get you beaten.
Assuming the role of Gordon Freeman, you are immediately discovered by rebels who take you into their underground facility and attempt to teleport you to safety. Much like the first game, things go bad from the very beginning and you are plunged into the chaos of shooting bad guys, ducking helicopters, and a new found friendship with the aliens you were mowing down in the first game. If you didn’t play the original Half-Life, that’s not a problem because the story, while apparently related to the original, isn’t really all that reliant on your game play. This is still a point and shoot game folks.
The storyline is only somewhat compelling compared to the original HL. I don’t know many gamers who weren’t on the edge of their seat when playing the original. With HL2 however, Valve doesn’t break any new ground, oftentimes reusing old “we’ve seen it before” events, such as the head crab that jumps out of you from the dark room. The game gets pretty fast-paced, especially during the levels where you hurtle your way through assorted water canals in what I can only describe as an air motorcycle with pontoons. Eventually you get a machine gun put on it in order to protect yourself.
The sequences with the vehicles are designed to be fast-paced action driven events that when played properly (read: fast) usually work out for the better. Hang around a little too long and that helicopter that is chasing you tends to kill you pretty quick. The action-packed sequences are delayed on occasion when you must stop to kill bad guys in order to get past an obstacle or door. I noted also that your vehicle does not take damage but if you hit a wall hard enough, you personally take damage. Maybe this is Valve’s way of making sure you don’t go blowing up your airboat thus guaranteeing your ability to progress to the next level.
The graphics for HL2 are breathtaking and stunning. With each new game that comes out, it seems that water effects get better and better. Valve easily ups the ante in the graphics race. The best part of the new Source engine is the physics aspect of the game. If you pick up and drop a box, it falls in front of you. If you toss a can or tire at something, it knocks them back. A lot of work went into making the game act like the real world should. It’s a novel idea though as you rarely get to spend much time playing with objects because you need to be shooting the bad guys in front of you.
Characters within game look awesome. Facial graphics are pretty life like and fun to look at. Since Gordon never really talks, you’ll spend most of your time just listening and looking at the characters as they start preparing you for your next step within the game. During these sequences I found myself somewhat bored and I would start checking out my immediate surroundings for any hidden treasures, e.g.: ammo, weapons, etc.
Interfacing with the world within HL2 is pretty easy. In fact, the game itself is surprisingly easy. Firing and running your way through each level is not very difficult and will allow an experienced gamer to charge right through to the end game. However, doing so will cause you to miss out on many of the great features of the game, such as the physics and eye candy throughout.
There is nothing particularly noteworthy about the controls in the game. You have the ability map the keys any which way you prefer. Most prefer the W-A-S-D and comes as your default controls. Sticking to the normal theme, weapons are accessed via your number keys but can be remapped for better shortcuts.
HL2 comes packaged with the new Counter-Strike: Source. If you don’t know what Counter-Strike is, then you’ve either been in a coma or hiding in a third world country. The Source engine breathes new life into CS and its loyal following. While a new engine would tend to change how a game looks and feels, the Source engine accomplishes the change in look while keeping the feel of the game absolutely the same. Despite not playing much CS in the last couple of years, I found CS: Source to be fun and well balanced. Most of the old multiplayer maps have been remade into their Source versions and so rather than learning how to play a new game with new maps you are simply given the same game with extraordinary improvements.
Out of box HL2 lacked any Deathmatch mods which brought down my score for the multiplayer aspect of the game. This was quite a blow to those who enjoyed the multiplayer aspects of the original HL that were based on the single player characters and weapons. Later, either due to the uproar from the multiplayer community or just poor planning on Valve’s part, a Deathmatch mod that I have not taken the time to look at or confirm has been released.
I did not find Half-Life 2 to be as compelling as the original thus my short review. In fact, just reviewing this game took some effort on my part because it’s not a game that takes over your life. However, HL2 gives you the very best technology that Valve has to offer even if some of the gameplay is old hat. They do it with style and improvements in graphics that is unmatched. The physics aspect of the game is likely to be one of the biggest attractions for experienced FPS gamers. Experienced players, as well as newcomers, will find the environment breath taking and definitely not lacking in eye candy.
« Back to Game Reviews