Written by  :  Matt Neuteboom (989)
Written on  :  Aug 26, 2006
Platform  :  Windows
Rating  :  4.86 Stars4.86 Stars4.86 Stars4.86 Stars4.86 Stars

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Not just a game, an experience

The Good

I will be sincere and frank. Half-life 2 is one of the greatest, most inspiring games I have ever played. HL2 simply has a way of making you feel inside the game, working your way through the desolate and ruined streets of City 17. It has the power to make it seem like Half-Life 2 is so much more than a video game, that it really is you who is dodging the bullets of the combine as you escape through the city canals. Half-life 2 doesn’t make you feel like your sitting at your computer desk with the TV droning a rerun of the Simpsons. It brings you the atmosphere and the storytelling of a Hollywood masterpiece.

Half-life 2 gets its strength from how well it makes players feel part of the game, how it makes players feel immersed into the game play. Half-life 2’s ingenious storytelling is clearly visible through the game’s heavy sci-fi atmosphere and its life-like feeling. HL2 has the feeling of a good Hollywood masterpiece: it is able to make you feel as though you are sitting right there in the game, just as a good movie does. The sights and sounds of City 17 literally make the city come alive. All around HL2 has that utter feeling of deep drama, even without using much dialogue or even traditional cut-scenes. It has the ability to make you feel that something is going on and the game has a huge back-story even though it doesn’t tell you in cut scenes or through dialogue. All real dialogues are completely played in-game, and the camera never leaves your body, to give the narrative a more personal feeling and “silent” feeling. You can feel the post-apocalyptic, Orwellian air as you step into City 17. The narrative chosen by Valve makes the game feel much deeper and allow the player to be drawn in more than a game with a traditional narrative.

HL2 also owes much of its immersion to the masterful Source engine, which in my honest opinion is the most realistic engine ever created. The atmospheric feel to HL2 would not have been possible if it did not have such a realistic environment to work in. And of course, I would have never chosen a better engine. Source delivers such a realistic environment, filled with life-like graphics and physics.

The physics are one of the highest points in this game. Everything in the game bounces and rolls in the way you would expect it too in real life. Barrels roll smoothly downhill, and boxes tip precariously as you begin to stack them. You can pick up almost everything you would be able to in real life, from boards and boxes, to the tiniest insignificant items like paper cups, bricks, paint cans, and milk cartons. The effect of this is that Gordon Freeman’s hands feel like your magical hands into the digital world.

The best part about this though is that the game incorporates it into the game play. For example you can pick up boards and use them to cross dangerous gaps, or you must use the physics to solve puzzles to advance. Of course, the environments feel much more interactive with these grandiose physics, and during firefights you will be shooting down objects which will react to your movements and your bullets. Telephone lines will sway in the breeze as an enemy helicopter flies overhead. But of course nothing would be complete without the game’s ingenious Gravity Gun! The GG allows you to manipulate the area around by allowing to pick up items of almost any size and to move them around or punt them at people. Not only can it be used to manipulate the environment to reach unexplored areas, but it can be used to attack people. This is a gun where the ammo is literally the area around you. With how much detail the developers pore into the game, there is almost a constant supply of ammo for you to play with. Anything from tires to sinks to TV’s can be used, and it ends up being one of the most fun parts of the game. What you do with it is up to you! These are just a few of the things HL2 can bring to you through its ingenious physics. It is so much so, that physics are literally part of the game.

But of course, the physics would be nothing without beautiful and realistic graphics to complement the physics. The Source engine delivers just like it delivers its physics: superbly. The graphics of HL2 could not be more well-defined and realistic. Both landscapes and indoor levels have an unprecedented amount of detail in them. Textures and lighting are absolutely top-notch, all of which look gorgeous on a computer screen. On a higher end computer, the graphics look photorealistic. The character models are highly developed, with Valve paying special attention to the ability to render detailed facial expressions, which allows for better storytelling through actions rather than words. All of the environments in HL2 are littered with detail and small items to make the areas seem more realistic. All of the areas in HL2 are ingeniously varied yet all contain a mind-boggling amount of detail. Every item is littered with items like couches, cans, boxes, frying pans and everything else you can think of. Any game can make an abandoned seaside village, but litter it with cartons, boards, paint cans, food, clocks, and pictures and it makes the ghost town feel as though someone has actually once dwelled there before you. The environments are wide and open, and make you really feel like there really are parts of the city that you simply haven’t seen yet. The lighting effects of the game are brilliant, with a realistic “iris” effect for outdoors. When you go from a dark indoor place to a bright outdoor area, the game temporarily blinds you to act as though your iris needs to get used to the new light. And if you’re sitting here thinking “yeah, its will have great graphics if I had a mega computer likes yours.” Well I must say you have it a bit wrong. HL2 will even play on some of the worst systems. You see the screenshots we have here at MobyGames? Well you can get that to run at a smooth frame rate with a 64 MB graphics card at 512 MB RAM. No kidding! Trust me, I should know, because those were my settings when I had my first run through this game!

And of course, after all of this you simply must have the ambient sounds to complete the package. As with many cases, ambient sounds can often make or break a scene. Sounds tell the player if the scene is peaceful and isolated from combat, or the player is in the middle of a war zone. A chase seems slow and boring when it feels like there is nothing that makes the scene feel urgent or that anything is chasing you. But add the droning Combine Tower alarm and helicopter blades overhead and it seems like the entire city is after you. The Striders seem much more big and powerful when you hear their howling war cries from over the rooftops. Danger seems close to your back when you hear the ticking of bullets flying to the brick wall behind you. A peaceful breeze combined with the graphically beautiful sunsets subconsciously tells a player that the area is safe and isolated from combat. Each sound tells a different story, and HL2’s sounds must be heard to be believed.

All of these things combine and the result is the world of HL2 feels all too real. From physics to graphics and sound, HL2 provides an eerie, life-like atmosphere and drama. And of course, Valve grants us the privilege of being able to play in this fantastic environment. The FPS sections of the game are utterly top-notch. The game allows a right amount of balance between weapons and enemies, and varies the environments enough to not make the game feel repetitive, but gives you enough time there to make it feel realistic. You will often find yourself shooting from rooftops, cliff sides, and more. Action-packed sections of the game are adrenaline pumping and extremely fast-paced, and this applies to the driving sections of the game, which are speedy and filled with high-speed chases. The enemy AI is highly advanced in my opinion, with enemies shouting commands on the battlefield, and actually DOING them. Enemies naturally shape their tactics around the battle, and you will often find yourself being outflanked by enemy troops. The gut-wrenching action of Half-life 2 will not stop until the very end.

The Bad

Like a Hollywood movie again, Half-Life 2’s biggest flaw is that it is the same thing through every time, usually with very little variation. Often there’s only one way to get through sections of the game, and while it is extremely fun it is in the most sense, it is the same way through every time. To do it any other way, I think, would be to destroy the gamer’s sense of immersion. But some players will find this point annoying, especially with big sand box games out there such as the Grand Theft Auto series.

LOAD TIMES. I hate load times. In the beginning of the game, there is also a number of load times that severely hinders the immersion. If you don’t know this game, then I must warn you that the load times can be outrageously long. All of the Half-life 2 files are on Steam’s servers, so that you don’t have to keep the huge amount of files n your computer. But uploading these files to your computer can take quite long. The only time this will hinder game play is the beginning, where because you are being chased it makes you feel as though you should rush through the areas. You may encounter a new load screen every few minutes, a bad flaw for this portion of the game.

And while the enemy AI is fine tuned and polished, the same cannot be said for your allies AI. Squad mates may often crowd around you, or run straight into the path of a strider. Can no game make good AI for friendly units? Is it an attempt to put the burden of work on to you? I can mention a number of games which suffer from this same problem, however a good potion of them have good to decent enemy AI.

But of course, these flaws are quite easy to overlook in the face of what it does well, so much to the point where the flaws become almost negligible.

The Bottom Line

There’s simply no other way to put it. Half-Life 2 is easily one of the most (if not THE most) atmospheric and immersive games out there. Through its sheer perfection of physics, graphics, sound, and AI, it has the uncanny ability to make you feel like you are standing there in the middle of each of your battles. The game has a few outstanding flaws but it is massively overshadowed by the feeling this game has to offer. This game will definitely be one of the most memorable ones of the current era, and sets a new standard for FPS games. Game Informer was right; nothing will ever be the same. Half-Life 2 is not just a game, it’s an experience that must be felt to be believed.

Buyworthy: You bet it is! Worth double of what they sell it for now!
Rentworthy N/A