Half-Life 2 (PC) review
"The decrepit city of Ravenholm is home to many a fell beast. No longer are headcrabs and zombies your typical foe. There are far worse breeds. A hiss and a screech announce the arrival of the infamous venom crab as it launches at your face. A flash of sickly green obscures your vision and you’re suddenly inches from death. Muscles tense, heart pounding, you pray that there aren’t any other monsters crawling around because if there are, you know your chances of survival are slim."
In the original Half-Life, we saw what happens when science goes wrong. Through the eyes of Gordon Freeman, we experienced the plot’s unfolding first-hand. Only when the physicist stumbled across a group of chattering scientists did we learn of the unfortunate fates of his comrades. Only the warnings of a frantic security guard told us of the dangers that lay behind a door. Only stumbling through the maze of a ruined facility revealed the truth behind the sudden alien invasion and its purpose.
This same provocative method that set the first Half-Life apart from the rest of the genre characterizes the second in the series.
Through Gordon’s eyes, you discover the truth.
You awaken from a long sleep to the voice of the insidious G-Man. He tells you nothing of use, except “your services are needed once again.” You’re left alone to discover what has happened to the planet since your activities on Xen and Black Mesa. From your surroundings, you know it’s been a long time, but how long, you can’t be sure. Ignorant and confused, you watch through the window of the train in which you suddenly appeared.
Answers come in bits and pieces. Imposing masked soldiers order Gordon off the train once it pulls into City 17’s main station. You silently follow along, not wishing to raise any trouble. The registration process seems easy, but disturbing sights greet you along the way. A man beaten for little reason at all. The masses of huddling people wandering around aimlessly, scared. Questions arise, but remain unanswered. Even so, these shocking events slowly begin building a picture. It soon becomes clear: the planet has been overrun by a race of oppressive alien super-soldiers: the Combine.
Questions still linger: How did this happen and why? What is the Combine’s purpose? How do we stop it? These will all be answered in time, but for the moment, your main concern is linking up with the underground resistance movement led by former comrade Barney and assisted by former colleague Dr. Kleiner.
Because Half-Life 2 is all about atmosphere.
Whether you’re fleeing for your life from a group of Combine or leading the resistance in its final push to overthrow their oppressors, there’s always danger. Enemies abound, and while they may not be quite as diverse as the original, they’re still deadly, especially early on when you’re armed with nothing but your trusty crowbar and a pistol.
Through Gordon’s eyes, you will learn fear.
The decrepit city of Ravenholm is home to many a fell beast. No longer are headcrabs and zombies your typical foe. There are far worse breeds. A hiss and a screech announce the arrival of the infamous venom crab as it launches at your face. A flash of sickly green obscures your vision and you’re suddenly inches from death. Muscles tense, heart pounding, you pray that there aren’t any other monsters crawling around because if there are, you know your chances of survival are slim.
If that weren’t enough, you soon learn that your fortune doesn't last. Where there is one crab, there are many, and sometimes they have a host. The toxic zombie may be slow, but he’s very strong and takes a good few blasts with the powerful shotgun to knock down. Furthermore, he serves as a walking pack mule for venom crabs, which he will lovingly throw at you until you’re dead. If you toss in some of this beast’s faster and wildly aggressive cousins, you’ll really have a fight on your hands.
Fortunately, Half-Life 2 is not testing the waters of survival horror with this installment. While it is true that your ammunition reserves are sometimes significantly smaller than the previous game, you’ll discover plenty just lying around. And even if you run out, the addition of the wonderfully unique gravity gun can do much of your work for you on its own. In fact, its christening comes within the walls of that dilapidated town, turning series’ first attempt at survivor horror into one giant action-packed slaughter fest.
Through Gordon’s eyes, you will know excitement.
Cruising along Highway 17 is no joyride. Combine outposts, traps, and swarms of oversized insects called antlions halt your progress. But you’ll always prevail. The Combine are weak, the traps easy to avoid, and antlions stagger and trip in the wake of giant hydraulic hammers that cause the ground to shake.
About halfway through the level, you’ll encounter a rather large Combine base, complete with a ground destabilizer for warding off those pesky bugs. Here, amid the danger, you’ll have to leave your handy vehicle. There’s only one way to continue along this road: and that’s to hoist your car onto the upper levels of the base. At your disposal, a crane.
This crane can pick up anything in its reach, including massive naval loading crates. This is great because once you activate the crane, a swarm of soldiers spews forth from the surrounding buildings. Obviously the most appropriate – and satisfying – way to deal with them is to drop a ten-ton iron crate on top of the lot of them, killing them instantly. Safely tucked inside the crane, you receive little – if any – damage from their shots. It’s a happy day for everyone. Except them, of course.
Much later, after ditching the buggy for its conspicuousness, you must traverse a desert where the antlions roam wild. And they’re very angry. Stepping in the sand triggers any number of them to come flying at you, but the only way to avoid this is to carefully step and leap around the various rocks, platforms, and outcroppings. Until that point, puzzle-jumping was quite lacking, with the exception of a few cases where you had to use the gravity gun in order to overcome an obstacle, so the break from the incessant action is a relief.
It doesn’t last.
A large chasm stretches before you, one you must cross to reach your next objective, one covered in sand. Dropping down, you expect to be assaulted by a horde of raving insects, but instead something worse bursts forth. It’s their queen, and she’s very angry. She may be wingless, and therefore considerably slower than her children, but she’s still about as fast as you are, and her strength is incredible. She’s also about three times larger than anything else you’ve fought.
Her methods of attack are basic, but frightening in intensity. She’ll ram you at a middle distance, forcing you to strafe in order to dodge a rather painful blow. Or she’ll just follow you trying to strike you with her massive legs. But most of the time, especially if you’re at a distance, she’ll slowly advance towards you throwing any object that crosses her path towards you. That heavy metal grate lying there hurts a lot when it strikes with the same force as your gravity gun.
The queen takes a lot of force to finish off, but once you do, a surge of excitement and adrenaline involuntarily rushes through you. After all, you’ve just slain one of the baddest things in the game; it’s fun! But this great triumph comes with yet another reward: her pherapods become yours, allowing you to control her children wherever they can be found. With antlions as your friends, you no longer have that threat to worry about, but once you leave their territory, the new alien weapon becomes utterly useless.
Through Gordon’s eyes, you will experience victory.
Returning to City 17, you lead a revitalized and eager resistance force against Combine headquarters. Avoiding snipers and dodging artillery fire, you and your squad of anxious men infiltrate the museum that has become their main base. Inside, you sabotage their operations, disabling the three generators that supply energy to the huge plasma artillery cannon on the roof. The going is difficult – one room sees you fighting pretty much alone with swarms of enemy soldiers attacking you from both sides – but once you succeed, you can’t help but cheer along with your new friends. Sure, the fight isn’t quite over yet, but you’ve just accomplished something huge. It’s exhilarating.
Fresh off that previous success, you don’t allow the towering three-legged alien robots dampen your mood. It doesn’t matter that there’s four of them or that they take four rockets each to destroy or that they’re slaughtering your men with ease. You’re still hyped up from before; you know you can do it. And once you do, once you’re inside the enemy’s true stronghold, you can go through smiling. Because you know that you’ve just done something no normal human has. The news of your victory will spread across the planet like wildfire. Gordon Freeman has saved the planet. Again.
Welcome back, Freeman.
Featured community review by wolfqueen001 (September 05, 2009)
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