reviews\ Dec 5, 2004 at 7:00 pm

Half-Life 2 - PC - Review

Gordon Freeman has finally returned!  It’s been a long time coming for gamers but the game is definitely worth the wait. Gamers that have been following the history of Half-Life understand that there are two stories surrounding the release of Half-Life 2: the game’s story and the story behind the development. Sure there is a story in Half-Life 2, but the story surrounding the development of the game is just as fascinating as the game.


To try and summarize what happened during development is a task that I will leave to others but what gamers need to know is that Half-Life 2 was supposed to be released in 2003.  So why the delay in releasing the game? The story behind that can be compared to the story in the first Half-Life game, a story that is full of twists and turns that can leave you scratching your head. Lawsuits, corporate hacking and broken promises are just some of the details as to why the game wasn’t released in 2003. But after waiting almost five years, gamers have the glorious opportunity to play the sequel to the game that has been called the greatest First-Person Shooter ever made. The wait was worth it.


The story of Half-Life 2 revolves around the return of Gordon Freeman to Earth. After the incidents at the Black Mesa facility Gordon is awakened by the mysterious G-Man to discover that Earth is in shambles. The alien race from the first game has taken control of Earth, which has left the human race decimated. Gone is the government control and democracy. In its place is an almost-dictatorship control by the alien race. If you step out of line then you will be punished, or even worse, killed. But the name Gordon Freeman, even 10 years after Black Mesa, is still a name uttered by the Aliens (Free Man) and the humans. It’s up to Gordon (and you) to find out what happened over the past 10 years and hopefully stop the alien race. Along the way you will meet some familiar characters from the first game and become acquainted with some new characters.



For fans of the first game, Half-Life 2 is a worthy successor. The same amazing gameplay, intuitive level designs and excellent story line are all back in the sequel. The ingredients that made the first game so amazing are back but turned up to 10. The game controls similar to the first game but with some new tricks that weren’t included in the first game, specifically vehicles and the much-hyped physics engine. The storyline in this game is just as important as it was in first Half-Life. In fact during the first few minutes of the game you get to experience the world around you and understand just how removed the human race has become.



The look of sadness and despair is everywhere in the game and the game even touches on issues that our current population faces within the game. One of the fascinating parts of the first game was how the game explained and told the story of Gordon Freeman without having Gordon actually talk. Since Gordon was the protagonist in the first game, the second game has everyone explaining to Gordon just how important he is. The amount of respect given to Gordon in Half-Life 2 is impressive because the story reflects on Gordon trying to save the world but still being a scientist first. Most of the characters in the game have their own unique dialog, which will repeat occasionally. One interesting aspect that everyone should try when playing the game is to talk to the aliens that have befriended the humans. They offer some very interesting and fascinating tidbits regarding Gordon and story in the game. The storyline will suck you in and make you believe that you are Gordon Freeman. You will never miss not being able to create your own character.


The graphics in the game are amazing and the physics engine is extraordinary. One of the first attention grabbers of the graphics is the facial animation of the characters. The lips of the characters move and are in sync with the spoken dialog in the game. The characters can show emotions that you can understand just by the look on their face. This helps in creating an emotional attachment to the characters that further impacts the story. All of the locations in the game look spectacular with striking detail for each area. Only when you get close to a wall or floor tile wills you notice an occasional blandness to the textures. There was a minor issue with the frame rate skipping from time to time but the majority of the game ran smoothly.



The in-game physics is the other shining star in the game. The physics in the game allows you to interact with the world inside of Half-Life 2. Now this doesn’t free up everything in the game, but it gives you options that you will probably discover over and over again. How each item interacts with another item in the game is very important and can help you or hurt you in the game.  The one item that showcases the physics is the gravity gun. I will say that the gravity gun is one of the best weapons I have ever used in a game. Just as the name implies, the gravity gun allows you to control gravity surrounding an item. When you’re near an item you can use the gravity gun to pick up the item and use it as a projectile/weapon. Or if you need to, the gravity gun can be used to move items to solve puzzles as well.



Each time you use the gravity gun the item reacts almost naturally to how the item is used. Let’s say you use the gravity gun to pick up a cardboard box. When you let go of the box, the box will react accordingly depending on where it lands and how it lands. This also applies when you use the gravity gun to pick up an item as a weapon. If you pick up a barrel and shoot it across the screen, the enemies, barrel and surrounding items will respond naturally. Soon you start to learn that the gravity gun can effect more than just one enemy. The gravity gun can effect an entire area of enemies. But you don’t need a degree in physics to really enjoy the gravity gun or the physics in the game. There are so many “wow” moments in the game that result from the physics that it soon becomes just another fun and fascinating part of the game.


The level designs are also unique and challenging in Half-Life 2, but some the stages can be repetitive. A focal point of a level/area that you need to complete revolves around making it to the next part in the game. This is accomplished by making your way through the stage, taking out the bad guys, solving a puzzle and then backtracking through the stage again to move on to the next area. Now this isn’t to say that the levels aren’t challenging, fun or intuitive, but some of the areas follow this repetitive concept. The puzzles in the game will remind some players of areas from the first Half-Life while other puzzles require some serious tinkering on the player’s end. Even though the game plays amazing it will give Half-Life veterans a strong sense of deja vu in some areas. But isn’t this the case with most sequels?


The first Half-Life was heralded as a marvelous creation that changed the shape of gaming. Half-Life 2 is a game that truly lives up to it predecessor but adds even more to the heritage that is Half-Life. The incredible graphics, amazing gameplay, fascinating storyline and incredible physics engine create a game that could become another standard bearer for the industry. However, since this is a sequel you do get the sense of “been there, done that” during some parts of the game. This isn’t necessarily a bad aspect, but it’s something that should be mentioned. If you’ve been a serious player of Half-Life, then you will probably find a ton you enjoy in the game but a few areas that under-deliver. Some of the stages do drag a little during some parts and will have some players begging for the level to end. But these are all minor quibbles that are just a small blemish on a fascinating game.


Review Scoring Details for Half-Life 2


Gameplay 9.5
Being the sequel to a masterpiece is never an easy task but Half-Life 2 delivers in almost every way. The game controls wonderfully and the physics engine adds a ton of options to the game. An amazing storyline is once again the true center of the game since you discover what happened to Gordon Freeman and just why he is so important to Earth. Establishing a connection between the player and the character is never an easy task for a game, but in Half-Life 2 you will soon believe you are Gordon Freeman. The vehicles and gravity gun are some new additions to Half-Life 2, and they are a blast. The level designs are really the only shortcoming of the game since the stages can become repetitive - having to clear the area and then back track to move on to the next stage.


Graphics 9.2
The graphics in Half-Life 2 are simply breathtaking in the majority of the game. There is a ton of detail in all of the stages, ranging from spraypaint and blood on the walls to large metropolitan cityscapes. The frame-rate is smooth and consistent throughout the majority of the game, but there can be a slight lag when the action gets intense. The animation of the characters is spectacular as well, due to the facial animations and the physics engine. As mentioned earlier, the voice acting in the game mimics the lip movements on the characters almost perfectly. Now I should point out that the score for the graphics is slightly lower because of a known glitch in the game. The game’s engine will stutter when loading from one area to another area. An update was released that should have corrected this stuttering but even after the update I still experienced the stuttering problem. If you don’t experience this problem then you can add an extra .5 to the graphics score.


Sound 9.6
The sound effects, music and voice acting in the game are marvelous. The explosions, gunfire and rest of the sound effects come across loud and clear. The music in the game creates an excellent ambiance for every stage and area. The voice acting in the game is top notch with some Hollywood stars lending their talents to some of the characters. The voice acting is also benefited by the facial animations that are synced up almost perfectly the dialog. Having an excellent story line also helps the voice-acting rise above some of standard set by some other games.


Difficulty: Medium
Die-hard first-person shooter fans won’t have a problem with Half-Life 2’s difficulty. The layout of the game might be different than the first HL but the styles of the games are similar. Taking it slow and easy is probably the best bet for survival. Making a mad dash through an area will leave you with less than desirable results. Fortunately there is an option to select from three difficulty levels: easy, medium and hard. Many FPS fanatics enjoy replaying a FPS through a harder difficulty setting and that option is available in HL2.

Concept 9.5
The game Half-Life 2 is essentially the same game as Half-Life. This isn’t a bad thing but it’s something that needs to be mentioned. However this is something that every sequel has to deal with, “how do you top the first game?” For die-hard gamers the question is “is Half-Life 2 better than Half-Life 1?” Well Half-Life 2 is better because of multiple reasons: improved graphics, the physics engine and multiplayer. The graphics, along with the physics engine, creates an engaging and intricate world that you have to explore. Also, the standard package version of Half-Life 2 also includes an updated version of Counter Strike (a multiplayer mod that was originally developed based on the first Half-Life).  However, the game will remind many players of the first game which could result in some gamers being a little disappointed (but hopefully just a tiny little bit).


Multiplayer 9.5
The multiplayer part of Half-Life 2 is broken up into two parts. One is Counter Strike, which was originally a fan-based mod developed using the first Half-Life engine. But Counter Strike: Source (CS:S) is running on the same game engine as Half-Life 2, which has resulted in a improved graphics' and the physics' engine being incorporated into CS:S.  For those that have never played Counter Strike the game is based on a simple premise of terrorists versus counter-terrorists. The side that accomplishes their task first (which varies depending on which side you choose) wins the game. But the beauty of Counter Strike was how fast-paced the battles would get during a game. Most of the games would only last for just a few minutes before the game starts over. It was very possible to jump right into a game that would only last a minute but then start another game that would last for a couple of minutes. Counter Strike quickly became one of the most popular games played online. Counter Strike: Source recreates all of the same knuckle-blistering action as the original, but with a fresh coat of paint and a new engine.


Counter Strike: Source isn’t the only multiplayer mode available in Half-Life 2. A new update was recently released that offers gamers a deathmatch mode based in the Half-Life 2 world. Counter Strike: Source doesn’t use any of the stages or areas from Half-Life 2, so the new deathmatch mode was a pleasant surprise for HL2 owners. But the deathmatch mode for HL2 blew me away because it has all of the players equipped with a gravity gun. Players can take each other out with toilets, engine blocks, chairs and cabinets all with a click of single mouse button. I’ve never had so much fun during a deathmatch as I had with the HL2 gravity gun deathmatch.


Both games played great online depending on the server connection you get. I recommend sticking with a server close to your area in order to establish a steady connection. Oh, and be careful during the Counter Strike: Source games. There are players that live, breath and sleep Counter Strike, which can make getting into the game rather tough.


Overall 9.5
Half-Life 2 doesn’t disappoint. In fact why are you still reading this review when you should have already purchased the game and played it by now? The great graphics, incredible physics' engine, impressive sound/music and engaging story line all add up to a classic game. Gamers that are new to the Half-Life universe will be blown away but veterans might be a little disappointed. This isn’t a revolutionary product that changes water to gasoline; it’s just a game. Hardcore HL fans will no doubt pick apart every little details in the game, which is fine. As they try to find something else to critique I’ll be playing the game using the gravity gun and having a great time.   



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