Who needs a serious relationship if you can have a great one-night-stand?
Imagine that you meet a really hot girl and have sex with her. She does it really well. You are having great pleasure. She looks so great and she tells you that she really loves you and that she would like to become your girlfriend.
And then you discover that she lied. She just wanted to have a good time. She is just an empty-headed girl who doesn't need anything serious. All she thinks about is pure physical pleasure.
You get angry. Your feelings are hurt. You were really falling in love with that girl. You wanted to be with her. She promised you things, but she never kept the promise! You begin hating her.
But after a while, you calm down. You realize that she never actually promised you anything. Sure, she told you some stuff, but you are old enough to know that you can't trust words. And besides... let's face it, it was great while it lasted! You've rarely had such good sex in your life. You want to experience it again. This time, no expectations, no hopes. You know what she can give you and what she can't. You know what you want, too. To be entertained. To have great fun. So you pick up the phone and call her.
I hope you forgive me the sexual analogy, because I can't come up with a better one. "Half-Life 2" is not a very serious game. It doesn't have much content, either story- or gameplay-wise. But for what it's worth, it's one of the best action games around. It's a blast to play through, it's a fantastic ride through intense, action-packed, entertaining levels, with movie-like presentation, scripted events, and loads of atmosphere. All this is set in a very interesting, stylish environment, and looks absolutely gorgeous. There is nothing more to find in "Half-Life 2", no deep meaning, emotions, or intellectual challenge. One-night-stand, indeed. But what a night it is!
One of the things that makes "Half-Life 2" such a fun experience is the variety of the gameplay, which always stays true to its first-person shooter roots, but never feels stale, never gets repetitive. Most shooters (actually, most game in general) suffer from that; the developers find a good idea, and then simply abuse it. Not so in "Half-Life 2". It is a generous game. It wants to entertain you no matter what. That's why it switches locations, scenarios, situations, levels, weapons, tactics needed to kill the enemies; it is always in motion, it never stops. Being chased by soldiers, traveling through sewers, fighting for your life in a creepy village, riding boats and buggies, shooting down helicopters, fighting alongside team members - all the various forms of a shooter are there. It is fun all the way through, and it never gets boring.
But that's far from being it. The trademark Half-Life interactivity is of course present in this sequel, and it is better than ever. Basically, everything that looks like it can be picked up can indeed be picked up in this game. Everything can be pushed, kicked, and thrown. This is perhaps even more fun than the adrenaline-pumping action gameplay. It's so cool to fool around with stuff. The game cleverly satisfies the gamer's most profound instincts - to grab and to break. See that bottle? Pick it up! And now toss it at somebody! It will break! How cool! Silly? Maybe, but sometimes gaming is about doing silly things.
However, this interactivity is more than just a small harmless gimmick. It is effectively used in the gameplay, culminating in the coolest of all weapons ever created for a game - the gravity gun. You gotta see this baby to understand what I'm talking about. Throw cans of white paint at zombies to have a good laugh; or just pick up a saw and cut them in half!
The game's puzzles might be contrived, but I still liked them. They break the monotony of shooting, and most of them are quite fun. I much prefer physical, environmental puzzles to any other kind; and with a physics like here, the puzzles feel realistic even when they are anything but.
Like its predecessor, "Half-Life 2" has plenty of scripted events. Things would constantly happen in the game, but not as cut scenes; you'll always have control over your character, being able to move and act no matter what. So everything happens, so to say, right in front of your eyes. It is a relatively simple trick, but it works marvels. It raises the level of immersion and turns the game into intense, highly atmospheric, movie-like experience, at the same time never turning into a bunch of cut scenes. "Half-Life 2" is extremely tight. I can't help thinking how amazing it would be if only it had a better story.
Because it surely seems to promise one. The beginning of "Half-Life 2" is nearly awe-inspiring. You are invited to an "Orwellian" setting; a city under a control of a totalitarian regime, complete with a "Big Brother" on screens who keeps telling you how great the city is, while all you see are desolate streets and evil-looking soldiers bullying confused people with electric clubs. After you emerge in City 17, you see an immaculate reproduction of a typical Soviet town. Depressing architecture, carcasses of old cars, abandoned facilities - everything looks so authentic, not just because of the quality of the graphics, but because of their style. This setting is undeniably one of the game's best parts, and with a little imagination, you can even forgive the game's predictable, thin plot, and just surrender to its magical atmosphere.
Concluding our sexual analogy: was the girl pretty? You bet she was. She was gorgeous. Perfectly shaped body and a face of an angel. And she didn't even put much make-up.
"Half-Life 2" is a beautiful game; every level is designed with care and attention to detail, and the "Soviet" style comes to life with those graphics. What's more, "Half-Life 2" is technically a nearly impeccable game. I haven't encountered any bugs, crashes, or unexpected slowdowns. It ran immaculately on my rather outdated machine at moderately high settings.
It really took me a long while to calm down and to judge the game for what it is; blame it on my stomach, but the hype around "Half-Life 2" was too much for me to digest.
To be honest, the game itself doesn't try too hard to be more than it eventually turned out to be: a fun, atmospheric shooter. But you can't help expecting more when the developers proudly promise a 29834 pages long script, when they talk about likable characters, and when fanboys from all over the globe rave over the game's amazing dramatic story line, while in reality they have been shown a couple of smart tricks.
So yeah, I got angry, and I couldn't enjoy the game properly. It is my fault - I shouldn't have been influenced by the hype. Same thing happened with Fable
- too many expectations led to disappointment. But I still feel irritated when I think of those people who call the story of "Half-Life 2" great. I wonder if they have played games with good story lines. Say what you want about other aspects of "Half-Life 2", but its story is just an excuse for location changes. It is paper-thin, it is generic, and for the most part it is simply not there.
Even worse are the characters: they don't even reach the level of a good cliché. They are woefully underdeveloped and are just so eager to display their total lack of personality. The obligatory female side-kick Alyx is the most disappointing one. And she is not even sexy.
I was also angry because I was fooled by the game. I was drooling over the smart puzzles until I realized that all of them must be solved exactly the way the designers wanted you to. Each puzzle has only one solution, and sometimes it is really artificial. You could swear another solution would be simpler and more effective, but the game won't let you try it. Even though it mostly takes place outdoors, the levels are linear and are full of annoying artificial borders.
It's a sly game, almost a cheat, actually something like a magician in a circus. It uses its tricks a lot, and it is damn good at it. But in the end, those are just tricks. Scripted events, illusion of freedom, promises of a story that never comes - all that is just a facade. You'll find a really entertaining game behind it, but don't be fooled into thinking that "Half-Life 2" is a masterpiece of fiction with innovative gameplay, because it isn't.
The Bottom LineContent
Make no mistake: there is no great story here, no complex gameplay, no deep meaning. "Half-Life 2" has about as much content as Mr. Bones
. It does score some points here for the cool setting, but that's about it.Fun
: very high
The only thing that prevents an "outstanding" rating here is the artificial nature of some scripted events and puzzles. Otherwise, this is action gaming at its best, with great interactivity, pace, balance, variety, and occasional mild work for the brain to prevent the whole thing from being too mindless. It's so fun that it becomes genuinely addictive, which is a great achievement for a linear shooter. Add to that flawless technical execution - it looks marvelous and it still runs smoothly even on weak computers.Personality
"Half-Life 2" is very similar to its predecessor; which, as far as all those cool scripted events and interactivity go, is not at all a bad thing. Thanks to that, "Half-Life 2" manages to feel different, but we mustn't forget it owes that entirely to the first game. The interesting "Orwellian" setting, however, is its own work. Bland characterization and failed attempts to create a truly unique world prevent a higher rating.Sensual Appeal
: very high
Again, nearly "outstanding"; It would be so with better music. But even so, it has plenty of atmosphere and is pretty as a picture. The interactivity makes sure that those beautiful graphics are more than just eye candy.
"Half-Life 2" is a pretty girl wearing an expensive mini-skirt. If you want to discuss profound matters with her, she'll just give you a silly look from under her cute eyelashes. She also has her own talk show on TV, in which she tries to make people believe that she'll make a great spouse. Well, she won't. But if you don't take her too seriously, she'll still give you one hell of a ride.
I was annoyed by the hype surrounding "Half-Life 2". I was irritated when its silly story was described as a masterpiece of fiction. I was angry when it was proclaimed to be the best game ever. And then I realized that I was making the same mistake as all those who have over-hyped the game. I wasn't taking the game for what it was. "Half-Life 2" is not an amazing adventure with a gripping plot. But it doesn't really pretend to be one, if we ignore all the hype around it. It strives to be a great action game, and that's exactly what it is.