Half-Life 2 Review

Half-Life 2 Review

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Well, it's been almost one full week since I purchased Half-Life 2, and in that time, I've managed to set aside around 18 total hours to play this game from start to finish. Valve has truly created an interactive masterpiece...one that will no-doubt set the bar for other first-person games for quite some time. In the process, they've created a top-notch game engine that renders stunning environments that put both Doom 3 and FarCry to shame. I'm very much looking forward to future games that leverage the power of the Source engine.

Like many people, I spent about 40 minutes Tuesday night trying to connect to Valve's Steam internet service to activate my copy of Half-Life 2. I received various arcane errors that made it obvious to me that Valve hadn't planned very well for the onslaught of traffic they received on the first day. Needless to say, I was quite frustrated. Not only had I been waiting for 5+ years, but the box and DVD were in my hands! It surprises me that Valve doesn't have a 30-day grace period like Windows XP product activation. Anyway, after a bit of persistence, I was finally able to activate and fire up the game.

I was elated to discover that I could configure the game to run at 1,920 x 1,200, the native resolution of my recently purchased 23" Sony LCD monitor. I was also pleasantly surprised to learn that the game recommended setting everything to "high" for my dual Opteron workstation. Running the video performance benchmark that's included with Counter-Strike: Source reveals that my system is capable of around 70fps at these settings...more than enough for smooth game play. I guess I made the right decision to delay my computer purchase until this release.

Unlike the original Half-Life, Half-Life 2 doesn't include a separate training level. Instead, it introduces new concepts as you play the game. When you encounter a situation that warrants the use of a new feature, the system displays a short message on the screen telling you which key to press to access the functionality. They really did a good job with this, because the situations don't seem contrived, and they provide just enough to get you used to the new feature.

There is a very deep sense of immersion into the environment. As I mentioned, the graphics are downright stunning. Even my wife (who isn't a game player at all) was impressed with the quality and watched me play for a little while. The shadows, light, and surface reflectivity all lend an air of realism to the scenery, and there are some scenes that are nearly photographic. The audio is also extremely good. I was immediately thrown back to the original Half-Life game when I heard some of the very familiar sounds. Also, the weapon effects have a satisfying depth that I found missing in Doom 3.

On top of all that, the game physics add even more to the realism (courtesy of the Havok engine). For example, you can push and lift many of the boxes and barrels in the game world, and this capability is used for some very clever puzzles. You eventually get a "gravity gun" that allows you to pick up or push much heavier items like refrigerators, televisions, and rusted-out cars. There's nothing like "throwing" an old car at a group of approaching enemies and watching the ensuing rag doll physics. Priceless.

Unfortunately, I frequently encountered the nefarious stuttering problem that has plagued so many players. But, unlike many of them, I decided to continue playing despite the fact that it tends to jar you away from the storyline. The only other negative that I can think of is the simplicity of game play on even the medium difficulty level. Although I had to replay a few areas many times, for the most part, it was nothing like my experience with Doom 3 or FarCry. This is a minor complaint, since it's still a fantastic journey.

Overall, Half-Life 2 is an excellent title. If you're a fan of first-person shooters, or if you like interactive fiction, this is a worthwhile purchase. It's smarter and brighter than Doom 3, more moody and beautiful than FarCry, and miles ahead of Halo 2 (which isn't a totally fair comparison, since Halo 2 is limited by the aging Xbox hardware). This is truly one of the best games I've ever played, and as a matter of fact, it might become the first game that I play through a second time. Kudos to Valve for a very polished and immersive experience.

If you'd like to read another perspective, I found Scott Hanselman's review to be both unique and insightful.

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  • Preach it brother! I too was damn frustrated Tuesday night, but that all went away when I got around to playing it.

    I snagged an ACD 23" a few months ago and was able to play @ 1920x1200 also with everything cranked up. That's pretty impressive for any game. Other games like Splinter Cell 2 and Jedi Knight: JA can't handle that resolution as smoothly as HL2 did. This was on a 9700Pro w/ 1GB dual channe PPC3700 OCed.

    Nice rig BTW. Have you OCed the Opterons?
  • I did try to overclock the Opterons, but I had little success. From what I've read, they're more difficult to successfully overclock than something like the FX chips. I'll probably try it again when I can follow a more rigorous process.
  • Quite a good overview and evaluation of Half Life 2 and the Source engine. I have been a first-person shooter player for quite a while. The graphics and movie like immersion aspects of the game is very impressive. The combination of visual and audio effects are amazing.
    After riding the jet boat for 2 hours I had to take a break as I was feeling a little weezy (sea-sick). There is very little wrong or bad with this product.

    There are a few areas where I hope patches and other game extensions will improve. (some jerkiness in the game through tunnels, the AI was a little poor at times, the game seemed to provide only one solution in many/most situations) At times this game was likened to the very first arcade game where they had this sword wielding individual (Dragon's Lair http://www.hut.fi/~eye/videogames/arcade.html) running through an interactive animated film.

    Also, another big short coming was the lack of multiplayer experience. How can you release a first person shooter without the mplayer aspect of the game. I enjoy at the end of the day a good fight out with 30 other individuals online. Hopefully this will come though add-ons.

    Overall however, one excellent game that does set the standard for the rest.

  • Loved the game... AI sucked... doom 2 had better AI .. The ending???????? WTF?? Ok when i buy a game i expect a compeated product.. not a movie .. Why do i keep seeing referances to the matrix in every review/ post i have read about this game. I just finished this game about 15 min ago.. (on hard) it took me about 18 hours to do. No multi , Manditory registration..... (i feal this is a invasion of my privacy) etc..

    For those of you thinkin of buying the game i would wait a few months untill some mods have come out and definitly Multi has been reliesed.... Over all i enjoyed the game , but the fact that they took 6 years to make it and still didnt compleat a (FINISHED) game ... kinda sucks.

    why do i say its not finished? the ending leaves you in total bewilderment on wtf is going on.. It took them 6 years to make this? man how long is it goin to take them to make the next? The thing is the game leaves you asking a lot of questions ..

    love it or leave it ..
  • I'm puzzled. I have limited experience with video games. Because I like a challenge, right off I played Half-Life 2 at its most difficult level. No BS, I walked right through the game, dying only once (cuz I was experimenting in the room with all the automatic guns and picture-paintings on the wall). I walked right through the game until the ending with few problems. The ending was surprisingly easy. I walked right through it and simply accomplished it. Frankly, I'm dissapointed. I didn't walk easily through Half-life 1. It took me hours/days (and many deaths) to complete it. Yes, HL2 is a beautiful looking game, fun effects, and vehicle. But I completed it very quickly, and it was not challenging at all.


  • Well Dave Half-life 3 is already planned sorry for the spolier, and its gonna be another clifhanger
  • A very good review and I agree with most aspects of it, great gameplay, graphics, good AI, but what impress' me the most is the real world physics with objects, people etc very cool. Played it on hard difficulty and completed it in around 19 hours. Best chapter was Nova Prospect for me. Anyway... seems I was not the only 1 alittle dissapointed with the ending, execting a momentous battle of alien proportions, what we got was a fairly unthrilling and simple one, "ending" seems to be the wrong word. But even though ending was very questionable I enjoyed playing HL2 alot, will become the basic of every other game in its genre from now on!
  • First of all graphics were done very well, the physics of objects are amazing, vehicules are fun, plot keeps you on the edge, But WTF is the ending all about. It didn't make any sense to me what so ever. This pissed me off the most. You don't know what is going on in the end. What happens to the plot of the rebels vs. power tripping cops? The ending killed it for me when I had great hopes of seeing the conflict unravel. WTF does the ending mean?
  • Dude, the gameplay ruled 'em all. The day before I started playing HL2, I got a copy of HALO2. Played it once, and sold it to a friend. Did not even finish the game. Like you said, it's unfair to compare the two games, being two different platforms (PC & d aging XBOX). I'd rather wait for HALO2 PC version if there's one coming. Anyway, I run HL2 in a 30" Sharp AQUOS LCD-TV, ATI 9800XT, 1G DDR, 1024x768 res, 4xAA, everything set on high....Man....if u don't have a copy of this game, you're wrong. I love those bugs by the way (Nova Prospect). Hated 'em
    when I first encountered 'em. Can't wait to see how the game HL2 will perform with my new PNY Geforce 6800 GT 256mb.......sorry ATI...NVIDIA chipsets are cheaper nowadays, I guess. We'll see. Happy Gaming and Semper Fidelis!!!
  • Half-Life sucks. A lonely trip down dimly-lit corridors being attacked by the alien un-dead...what an original concept.

    And the end!!? What was that all about?

    Far Cry was a better game.
  • Whats the deal with video games these days and not having a definate ending. I finished Halo 2 three days ago and was pissed that there was no 'real' ending. I was expecting a huge covenent battle but nothing. Then I just finished Half Life 2, and the same fucking thing. This is really starting to get on my nerves, leaving everything open at the end so one day they can make another sequal to fit in really easily because the story lines are being written by 12 year old kids, no imagination. If i want to listen to a good story and not hear the end of it ill talk to a drunk homeless person. Anyway, before the ending, awsome game, worth the money.
  • Hl2 was quite interesting(took me about 10-15 hours of gameplay to finish it). The gameplay was entertaining, tho it has a lot of bugs and glitches. Graphics still could not come even close to what doom 3 can offer. Overall not a bad game kinda like Red Faction.
  • I'm surprised that you think that Doom 3 has better graphics. I'd definitely put Half-Life 2 above Doom 3 in that category. There are scenes in Half-Life 2 that could almost be photographic. There's nothing like that in Doom 3.
  • yeah Just completed HL2 was really pissed with the "ending" , the ai of your team mates generally sucked , even the enemy werent that smart , the jungle troops in farcry were better .the game engine is nice at best ,but no multiplayer ....?

    overall the games been a big disappointment
    considering the wait the game sucked balls

    and Doom 3 does have better graphics !!!
  • You guys bitching about the ending just have to remember that Valve wants you to buy the next game in 35 years. And you know you will after witnessing that ending. Just enjoy the game! And the AI doesnt suck if you play on anything other than easy. The graphics were great when you consider that entire landscapes were created. Not just detailed indoors like doom3 I thought the game was really fun.
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