Review: Half-Life 2 (PC)

Posted in Action,PC,Reviews by Shawn Wallace on 24 2004f August 2004

In 1998 the planet was graced with what would be considered the great single player FPS experience ever played. It was called Half-Life. From the cinematic-style action to the solid level design to the innovative story, Half-Life had it all and left the gaming community not only rattled but clamoring for more.Fast forward to November 2004. Every gamer’s wish comes true; Half-Life 2 is released to the masses. Valve’s infernal hype machine did it’s best over the previous two months to gear gamers up for what was anticipated to be the next greatest ‘thing’ in PC gaming.So, how did it do? Read on!

Valve has spent six years developing Half-Life 2 and, guess what? It shows. Valve has worked to implement a fantastic physics engine along with the same style of gameplay and feel that was present in the first game. For the most part, they deliver.Delivered on Valve’s Source engine, Half-Life 2 pushes the limits of creating a near-real environment for gamers to play in. Most everything can be manipulated in some fashion and, during some key points in the game, it’s crucial that you employ the game’s fantastic physics engine to proceed. During these moments I felt that Valve used them to actually just tout how great their game engine was as they really had no bearing on the game’s story. Buckets roll, bodies fall realistically (the ragdoll physics in the Source engine are the best to date) and everything reacts just as it should.

To drive one more nail in the coffin Valve decides to include the gravity gun. That’s right; a weapon designed to further convince you that Source should bare your next child. With it you can pick up pretty much anything and hurl it pretty much anywhere. There’s very little that’s more satisfying than to use the gravity gun to pick up a washing machine and fling it from 50 feet only to smash a enemy soldier in the head and watch him crumple. Valve also made sure to litter your environments with a ton of fun things to pick up and throw. Tables, filing cabinets, crates, and my personal favorites, gas canisters (full ones, mind you). More than once I found myself lingering in certain areas long after my opponents were finished off simply playing with the gravity gun. It really helps to make the whole game.

The Source engine is also very pretty… most of the time. A handful of times I found myself in environments that barely looked better than locations from the original Half-Life. Granted, these moments were few and very far between but it happened. There were also moments where I was totally astonished at the sheer beauty of the game. Much like my experiences with the gravity gun, I found myself just looking around and enjoying the scenery. Now, if only I’d had a picnic with me…Valve has also implemented a facial animation system that is probably Pixar worthy. Your counterparts emote as they discuss, argue and become disappointed during various portions of the game. This facet of the game alone helps tremendously to draw the player in and actually care about the characters in the story. You almost need to see the facial animations to believe they’re occurring on your own PC. My only niggle to all of this is that we didn’t get to see enough of this wonderful system as your interactions seem few and far between.

I have heard more than one caveat concerning the game’s story (or lack thereof) but, personally, I think I know exactly was Valve’s intentions were. They were using a rather basic story to provide you with fun encounters. We’re playing a first person shooter here, not an adventure game. The story works well enough to propel the game forward with pinache. Think of the best action movies out there; they’re not the best because of their story… they’re the best because the story set up a ton of fun moments for audiences to share. Half-Life 2 does the exact same.

Overall the gameplay is fairly standard with plenty of gameplay and some simple puzzle solving. Combat takes place in many varied environments against a plethora of enemies. I didn’t find the AI to be too complicated but it seemed to serve its purpose of providing gamers with moving targets. Your enemies didn’t duck, swivel or jump but they sure know how to rush.

Valve has also done a great job of creating some fine sounds in Half-Life 2. From the screams of the burning undead to the satisfying thump of your weapons, sound plays a key role in immersing you in the game. I found the surround sound properly utilizes the various channels and seemed smooth throughout the whole game.

At press time Half-Life 2 suffers from a stuttering sound problems but by the time you read this a fix will most likely have been issued for the game.

Half-Life 2’s multiplayer is an update of the highly popular Counter-Strike mod from the original game. Called Counter-Strike: Source (since it’s now running on the Source engine) Half-Life 2’s multiplayer has been done before but it’s never looked this good. CS:S is basically an update to the original Counter-Strike and, therefore, plays almost identically to the original save for the new physics (which have been limited in the multiplayer component). I actually found this a bit disappointing as I was looking forward to playing some Deathmatch or Capture the Flag using some of the new fun weapons from Half-Life 2. Um, *cough*mod makers*cough*… ahem, anyway…All in all, I feel that Half-Life 2 is a fine sequel to Half-Life and definitely carries on the feel and style of the first game. Although Half-Life 2 hasn’t revolutionized the FPS genre it has definitely set a precedent for future endeavors by not only Valve but other FPS developers. If you’re looking for a solid single player experience that truly delivers look no further than Half-Life 2.



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