Half Life 2 Xbox Review

I’m sure I’m not the only one who’s woken up on a train not knowing where I’m going or where I came from, so that’s one thing I have in common with Gordon Freeman. Unfortunately for him, his predicament wasn’t the result of a drunken night out with the lads, and he’s got far more serious problems to contend with than a surly ticket inspector. But that’s just the thing you have to expect when you’re mankind’s last big hope in the face of alien oppression.

Graphics

In the wake of the PC original’s outstanding graphics, this port has a hell of a lot to live up to on the visual front, and thankfully it doesn’t disappoint. Considering the lower screen resolution and comparative lack of processing power, Valve has worked a miracle bringing the game to the Xbox with no significant loss on the visual side of things. There is the occasional bit of slowdown when there’s a lot going on, but it doesn’t detract from the game. Everything about this game is a joy to behold, from the excellent character models to the breathtaking scenery, excellent lighting and effects just add to it all. Some of the texture work is a little rough in places, and there is the odd bit of slowdown that I mentioned earlier, but sacrifices have to be made when you’re squeezing such a monumental game into the limited hardware of the Xbox. On the whole this is one of the best looking games that has hit the Xbox, even surpassing such masterpieces as Doom 3 and Chronicles of Riddick.

Gameplay

In its life there has been a fair few first person shooters for the Xbox that have neglected the single player side of things in favour of a strong online game (Halo 2 being the major offender), but Half Life 2 takes the opposite approach to things abandoning any sort of multiplayer experience in favour of a strong single player game – quite possibly the strongest the Xbox has seen to date. Personally I’m happy to see this as a lot of FPS titles are lacking in both departments and the developers think they can pass off a mediocre game by bolting on a bog standard multiplayer.

The gameplay is quite story-driven in Half Life 2, and there are plenty of non-player characters that can be interacted with at points throughout the game – all of which fill you in on what’s going on in Gordon Freeman’s world. These mainly happen around the start and endings of levels, but from time to time you’ll bump into some midway through a level. This all helps make the game more of an organic experience – as if you are in a real world environment, rather than the standard mission type scenario you get with most games of this type. Another thing that helps in this respect is the game’s physics engine. Before playing the game I didn’t think it’d be much more than destructible environments, but I was very happy to be proven wrong – bridges can be raised by weighting down the other end with a see saw effect, ramps can be raised in the water by placing empty oil drums beneath them, and if you come to an impassable point there’s the good old gravity gun which can be used to either lift obstacles out of your way, or just blast them out of the way. This is especially useful when it comes to the vehicle sections, as you’ll often come to large pile-ups of abandoned vehicles blocking your path. But it’s no worry – you can either clear yourself a path, or if you so choose, just blast your own vehicle over the top of the obstacles.

Speaking of the vehicles, they are a pleasure to drive as they handle easily and the controls are intuitive and work really well without the need to go into third person view. Some of the vehicles are equipped with guns, and unlike most vehicles in first person shooters, you can actually drive and man the guns at the same time rather than having to switch between driving and shooting like Farcry Instincts, or relying on computer controlled team mates to fire or drive for you. Certainly makes things easier when you’ve got all the bad guys after you on your long country drives.

And when it comes to bad guys, there are plenty of different ones for you to slaughter – from the humanoid soldiers of the combine and their robotic drones, to the various different alien menaces taking in the alien controlled zombies along the way. Enemy AI is good, with the soldiers of the combine fighting tactically, taking cover when needed and the like. Other enemies don’t act so intelligently, but then again you wouldn’t expect too many smarts from zombies and alien parasites.

For taking out the myriad of bad guys you’re going to need a suitably devastating selection of weapons, but that’s not what you get to start with at the very beginning – you’re completely unarmed, but luckily no-one’s out to get you just yet. Shortly afterwards you pick up Gordon’s trademark crowbar, and from then on in you pick up guns along the way, starting with pistols, then machine guns, shotguns, crossbows, rocket launchers, and not forgetting that handy gravity gun. You’ll be using that gun a lot more than you think too as there are several areas when you’ll find ammo pick-ups nowhere to be seen and you’ll find yourself exhausting those supplies in no time when faced with large packs of zombies. Each weapon has primary and more devastating secondary firing modes, but you’ll probably be sticking with primary firing most of the time, as secondary ammo is in shorter supply than primary.

All these elements mesh together to make the finest single player first person shooter you will find this generation, and they’re going to have to go some to surpass it next generation too.

Sound

Keeping to the standards set by the game’s other elements, the sound is outstanding. There’s some top notch voice acting, and the sound effects are suitably atmospheric. There’s not a great deal of music to accompany things, but during some particularly frantic combat pieces you’ll find some suitably frenetic music kicking in which while sometimes inducing panic, does help you to get into the swing of things in a big firefight. All this is done in Dolby Surround Sound and just adds to the all round absorbing experience.

Lifespan

Sadly with the lack of multiplayer options, the game’s lifespan is not going to be immense. You get about 12 to 15 hours of gameplay out of the game, and there is a little replay value as the game’s environment allows for several different ways around situations, and there are areas that can be revisited and explored more thoroughly should you wish. The gameplay is so much fun and very satisfying, so you will find yourself going back to it and trying things out different ways, just to see what can be done in certain situations. But there could have been so much more there if they had incorporated all the multiplayer options of the PC game.

Overall

Without a doubt this the finest single player game of any type available on any console for the time being. It would be a crime for you to miss out on this excellent game. Even if it’s not your favourite genre of games you’d be doing yourself a major disservice by overlooking this or pigeon holing it as just another first person shooter. Go buy it now, you won’t regret it.

9.4 out of 10

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