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Half-Life 2 (PC) artwork

Half-Life 2 (PC) review

"Letís get this one straight, if you play PC games and havenít heard of Half Life then you must have been wearing a blindfold each time you were in the game store, and held under house arrest otherwise. The original Half Life was released in 1998, a success in its own right and also supplied a game engine used as a basis for many popular mods, such as Counter-Strike and Day of Defeat being the most popular plus two official expansions released, Opposing Force and Blue Shift in 1999 and 2001 respe..."

Letís get this one straight, if you play PC games and havenít heard of Half Life then you must have been wearing a blindfold each time you were in the game store, and held under house arrest otherwise. The original Half Life was released in 1998, a success in its own right and also supplied a game engine used as a basis for many popular mods, such as Counter-Strike and Day of Defeat being the most popular plus two official expansions released, Opposing Force and Blue Shift in 1999 and 2001 respectively.

So six years later after the release of the original, how does it compare? Half Life 2 is simply a mind blowing experience, a complete revolutionary change to the original, but yet still manages to keep the fundamental layout of the original intact that made the game great in the first place. The environments, levels and the plot itself is radically different, there is no running around endless red and grey scenes in Black mesa, thereís no mini-quest to find out from the many Barneyís who is the real Barney Couhan nor conversations with generic scientists, the story of Half Life 2 or at least the characters are far more meaningful than before. It may sound like Iím shredding the original to bits, where I said in my HL review that it still remains a classic, it still is a respectable game today but once having played this sequel, it seems a bit boring in comparison when thinking about the horrible traipsing around grey corridors trying to find the next switch to activate especially against a game that screams action.

The original Half Life story was never going to trounce the likes of Final Fantasy and Dragon Quest for itís deepening story lines, but was told very well in the sense it was always first person and never interrupted for cutscenes and the like, although I never paid much attention to the story out of all honesty. HL2 pretty much does the same, all kinds of characters speaking to you but not replying, simply because Gordon is you. The story-line in fairness, is rather subtle and not very easy to follow, even if you put on the subtitles to gain a better understanding of the story you wonít really grasp it unless you find out elsewhere. Who are the Combine, and why are they nasty and why does Barney Couhan dress in a combine suit, and what is Gordon Freeman actually meant to be doing, we wonít know.

The plot (when I did find out) in HL2 occurs ten years after the original Half Life. Aft the end of Half Life 1, G-man takes Freeman after Freeman defeats Nihilanth, and gives him the option of facing an unbeatable battle or ďworkingĒ for G-man. Half-Life 2 assumes the role that you worked for G-man who puts Gordon into stasis, who is then put out of stasis at the start of HL2, has hallucinations of G-man and wakes up on a train in the Eastern European City 17. Gordon is instructed to meet Alyx Vance, who tries to teleport Gordon to meet Dr. Kleiner at the Black Mesa East compound (NOT the HL1 Black Mesa) but it all goes wrong and Gordon ends up notifying the Combine of his presence, who try to chase him while Gordon gets to Black Mesa East by foot through canals. Much occurs after that of course, which you have to play the game to find out. Who are the combine I hear you ask again? Theyíre actually evil alien forces who have taken over the planet and most of your enemies are combine soldiers.

While the plot in HL2 does lack a sense of coherency and is hard to follow, Half Life 2 delivers an evolution in the shooting genre like no other, the significance of the story pales into the abyss. HL2 is powered by the highly versatile Source engine used as a basis for the remakes of CS and Dod also, gameplay-wise featuring brilliant usage of physics, although the ragdoll physics does accentuate certain movements of people especially when theyíre dead, making a bit too rag-doll like. In comparison to the original HL, HL2 is so much more varied in comparison. For a good 9 chapters in the original you were very much stuck in the facility trying to make yourself a way out, and it wasnít until the tenth chapter you reached the surface, an then went onto alien planets. While on HL2 you start at a station, youíre not hanging around there for long and soon youíre outside to briefly be dazzled by the realism of City 17, until youíre racing along the roof-tops running away from the pesky combine.

Sooner than later youíre running along a whole series of partially dried up canals before you have control of a hover boat over a network of reservoirs, while other notable areas include the infamous town of Ravenholme; a zombie striken Resi style town where youíre sent through as a nasty diversion, scarce of ammunition and you have to set up various traps scattered around to kill zombies; the gloomy, damp prison compound of Nova Prospect which is showered with combine and evil monsters, while later on in the game a showdown entertains you blowing up, well, everything but objectively gunships and giant four legged robots. HL2 simply gives you masses of variation of action, it hardly ever feels boring.

The earlier stages of HL1 were more about puzzle action, running around trying to flick switches and using some logic to solve the simple yet taxing puzzles throughout the game, while simultaneously keeping a flock of headcrabs at bay. HL2 focuses more on action, with endless streams of combine, headcrabs and other nasty monsters, there are a few physics based puzzles but are relatively simple to solve, it isnít exactly rocket science to figure out that you need to put a few bricks on a plank to gain height to jump on another platform, but moving objects around plays an integral part for finding cover in certain situations and to accommodate the physics puzzle solving, you get the rather cool gravity gun.

The endless jumping puzzles of HL1 are significantly less, good in the sense that my spacebar key is horribly insensitive and generally, it was a little brainless, while the difficulty level in HL2 (comparing medium difficulty anyway) is slightly easier than the original HL1, but thatís really down to the trimming of hit and miss jumping action from HL1 and slightly less grenade explosions that come your way, but the enemies still provide more than a fight, meaning you have to save frequently in case thereís a massive ambush of combine lurking in that dark tunnel. Half-life 2ís AI is rather effective also, although it seems as if the combine are put in their masses to justify their slightly limited ability. You can also have civilian team allies to fight alongside you, who are reasonably effective but end up being throwaway allies, and have a tendency to obstruct when in corridors.

Despite the obvious differences between its predecessor, HL2 remains close to its roots in terms of presentation in other words a linear series of chapters that you have to work through to until the end of the game, made from many sections that load bit by bit throughout the game, where there are brief (or if your PC is that bad, beard-growing long) pauses when the next section loads. Whereas linear game progress may sound a bit dull, the game in reality feels nothing of the sort, the environments are widely spaced out and hardly matters really seeing as the game is, ultimately, fun. Keeping close to itís roots can be said about the weapons also, many of the old favourites are present, from the revolver, the bow and arrow and the omnipotent crowbar to the sub-machine gun and the gause cannon (albeit now built onto the dune buggy as opposed to a standalone weapon) all being flashed up with Source engine graphics. The new weapons consist of an antlion pherophod which allows you to control antlions after enduring scrams through sandy beaches dodging them, whilst the combine pulse rifle is eventually yours which is one of the games best weapons, plus the ďhereís a good plan to rub in how ace the Source physics engine isĒ gravity gun, an essential for completing the many physics based puzzles but is actually good fun.

The atmosphere set throughout the game is simply stunning, be it the background hum that occurs in the city 17 station and the chatter, or the dripping water in Nova prospect, the atmosphere for a fight an the situation simply feels right. Ravenholme at first impressions can feel like your playing Silent Hill again, but the magic is simple from the general happenings in the background. City 17 at first impression feels like a hustle-bustly place, thereís the constant whir of machinery and that morning sunlight that dazzles over you sets the scene for a long day ahead. When youíre driving the air-boat for instance, there is a slight sense of tranquillity but as soon as you hear the click of the combine radioís about to come on, you can tell itís time for another fight. The sound effects and the music make significantly for the atmosphere in HL2, with perfectly recreated sound-effects, while the music subtly makes an entrance and just does that extra bit to enhance the mood.

HL2ís graphics are nothing short of amazing, powered by the almighty Source engine, particularly with the facial animations being something to gauge at. Body movement is horribly realistic and human-like, a far cry from the robotic half step animations from HL1, and full facial animations from the movement of the eyes to the lip-synching has been done brilliantly. The water-effects are enough to dazzle anyone and brilliant lighting effects plus the bump-mapping adds an extra-depth of realism to textures. From a distance, the textures look really detailed but when right in front of them, they are slightly blocky, which doesnít look amazingly attractive when on a ladder, but that is inevitable of course. To get the best from the graphics, you do need a DirectX 9 card, especially with the water-effects, but HL2 will run even with a Geforce 2. Just donít be expecting top-notch graphics!

Half life 2: Deathmatch comes with most Half Life 2 bundles, which is what it says, endless everyone vs. everyone fighting using whatever Half Life 2 weapons there are, in arenas loosely base on the game, which is good fun for the most part. Half life Source is also included with most bundles as well, but is just a port of the original Half Life, with Source engine physics and slightly more detailed textures. In other words, itís pretty pointless. HL2: Lost coast comes with HL2 also, which was a deleted level but demonstrates the HDR effects in it, lasting about 15 minutes play-time.

Be warned though, you need access to the internet to play HL2 so you can get the Steam client up-and-running, but once updated the game can be played offline although I advise you donít rely solely on this as the offline function does mess up. The Steam client basically launches all the Valve games (as well as third-party ones), such as Half life and Counter-Strike, keeps them updated and is the hub for their online servers. Games can either be bought through Steam or a retail CD-Key can be activated, a cunning way of preventing piracy. Thereís some decent bundles of HL2 available for purchase through Steam, some that to date include its Episode One expansion and Counter-Strike Source, so keep your eyes peeled.

Half ĖLife 2 is simply a stunning sequel to a classic game. Itís now over 2 years from itís release and the king it still is. The plot may be muddled, a tad linear but while there are things Half-Life 2 couldíve been, it doesnít matter simply because there are a lot of fantastic things HL2 is. From zombie towns and gunship blasting to highway cruising (kinda) and prison bashing, HL2 never feels repetitive, the AIís great and great fun to play. It may be more of an evolution than revolution, it ainít completely perfect, but itís close enough. If you have never played HL2, then simply you have no right to play computer games at all. It is de facto that you have played Half Life to be a PC gamer, so if you havenít then you better buy it before anyone finds out. 10/10

bigcj34's avatar
Community review by bigcj34 (July 03, 2007)

Cormac Murray is a freelance contributor for HG and is a fanboy of Sega and older Sony consoles. For modern games though he pledges allegiance to the PC Master Race, by virtue of a MacBook running Windows.

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