Half-Life 2 PC Review
With the release of Half-Life 2’s first expansion, Half-Life 2: Episode One, we take a look back at the former for the benefit of all those poor misguided souls who have yet to play one of the true gaming masterpieces of recent times.
Gordon Freeman is a lonely man. Granted, being a messiah to the remnants of humanity – a small resistance movement who look in his eyes and see their liberation from enslavement personified – is enough to dissociate anyone from the rest of the crowd, but this is a much less authoritative form of isolation. In Freeman’s eyes, he is no greater or more important than any of his allies, but somewhat unco sensually accepts what has been thrown upon him. He realises that the human race needs hope more than anything else, so hope is what he gives them.
Hope. Such a small word for such a powerful sentiment, and it isn’t just confined to the game itself, as it happens. Indeed, Half-Life 2 gives hope to fans of FPS games throughout the world, proving that lying within the multitudes of Rising Suns and Rogue Agents will always be those few treasures that show off the true potential of such a traditionally powerful genre.
Here we have a game where hitting barrels is fun. Perhaps not the same kind of fun as you’d have speeding through beautifully rendered canals and waterways whilst being shot at from all sides by Combine soldiers, with explosive barrels blowing up all around you as you smash through wooden bridge supports, leaving the now toppling bridges and plummeting troops to collapse into the water and fester in your wake… But fun nonetheless. Then again, that’s all in the game, too, so you can try out both and make up your own mind. If barrels aren’t your thing though, there are boxes to smash, swings to push and even a roundabout to turn. Valve like their new physics engine and seem determined to show it off at every opportunity, not that there’s anything wrong with that. In fact, these physical demonstrations provide a welcome distraction from the more action-orientated sections, allowing you to, while away from a larger part of your life, whack things about with your trusty crowbar and marvelling at the realism of the interactions you’ve created.
That isn’t to say that physics is all about relaxation though, oh no. Fire enough machine gun shots into a suitably unfriendly foe when they’re on a ledge and they’ll dangle over the edge, before dropping down to the ground below with a strangely captivating fluidity unmatched in any other game to date. Likewise, firing a rocket into a group of enemies causes them to fly off in all directions with equally pleasing realism, if being hit by a rocket can be considered pleasing in the first place.
The AI, so often one of the ‘make or break’ aspects of a first person shooter, is surprisingly not all that impressive; not surprising in the sense that it reduces the quality of the rest of the game as would normally be the case, but rather because it doesn’t matter one bit. The highly adaptive and creative routines witnessed in Halo, a game 3 years its predecessor, are nowhere to be seen, but instead the highly scripted nature of Half-Life 2’s set pieces make up for this admirably. Getting caught in the middle of an ambush is a truly nerve-inducing experience, and the preset locations that adversaries run to are picked with care, leading to intense and heated fire fights.
Though a hell of a lot of ammo will be used up throughout the game, and an uncomfortable amount of health will be lost, there is always a sympathetically placed med pack and a satiating supply of ammunition positioned in just the right location to keep you going when you need it most. You could argue that this makes the game too easy, but that would be silly. Having watched a friend struggle with the normal difficulty setting and subsequently switch to easy mode, his enjoyment of the game increased to no end, making me realise just how welcoming Valve have been. Being forced to repeat a section over and over again due to difficulty lessens the overall enjoyment of the experience, and by making the game more forgiving than most the player, no matter their skill level, is able to discover one of HL2’s most impressive and distinctive aspects – a unity of perception.
Like the original Half-Life, every event in the game is seen through the eyes of Gordon Freeman. From start to finish, a continuous journey is laid out for you to traverse, with no cut scenes breaking up the gameplay. All plot advancement and character development is achieved via conversations and other subtle hints – such as newspaper clippings and carefully implemented location details – leaving it up to you whether you want to fully immerse yourself in the goings on or rather prance about merrily throwing boxes at people’s faces and jumping off cliffs. I’d recommend the former, for the first play through at least. Something also worth pointing out is the fact that Freeman never mutters a word, something the characters you converse with make a point of picking fun at, but even with such an impediment the character interactions are exemplary, thanks in no small part to the consistently fantastic voice acting gifted upon everyone else.
Talking of character development, there are some really beautiful moments worked expertly into the proceedings that truly succeed in enriching the player’s relationship with the major characters, one of the most prominent occasions being a game of fetch with DOG, a mechanical canine who will continually impress and amaze you during the times you’re with him. The fact that so much life has been created in a non-living creature shows the kind of skill the developers are working with; the kind of skill that also created possibly the most entertaining item ever to grace the genre – the Gravity Gun.
The Gravity Gun – or Zero-Point Energy Gun to give it its proper and customarily less eloquent name – allows you to pull objects normally too heavy to carry towards you and suspend them in front of your face to do with as you please. The amount of freedom this blesses you with is enormous, allowing you to, say, grab a filing cabinet and hurl it towards an unsuspecting enemy, thus knocking him for six, or alternatively and more restrainedly laying out a bunch of metal sheets together to create a makeshift pathway. Admittedly, the game in general is rather linear, but the wealth of different options available with which to tackle each new situation means no play through will be the same as the last.
As if the magnificent single-player story isn’t enough, an outstanding online multiplayer mode has also been included. The brilliant controls and subtly ingenious map design make for lengthy deathmatch sessions that seem to pass in minutes rather than hours, and the continuously outstanding graphical flair is still present throughout. The range of weapons available means there are no shortages of ways to kill and be killed, and the inclusion of the gravity gun on top of that is a stroke of genius; running out of ammo is no longer as big a concern as usual, as any nearby explosive barrels can be used as rather large grenades, and any other bits and bobs lying around make surprisingly formidable projectiles. Plus, not many games allow you to kill someone by blasting a toilet in their face now do they.
Right, well, by now you should have an idea of just how stunning this game is. Seriously, it’s the crème de la crème, best of the best, top of the… err… pops. It is the pure essence of enjoyment from start to finish, and a more than worthy successor to the game that started it all off. Just get it. Trust me, you won’t regret it.
9.6 out of 10