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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  • I'm a late getter, I guess.  This game was really cool.  First game I was actually able to complete without cheating lol.  The AI was great, and the people talking -- their mouths articulating -- that was just way too impressive.  What got me though was the fear / suspense factor.  I wanted to see someone get turned into a Combine though (see the three images at Nova Prospekt?  Apparently the Combine is an evolved species...hmm)but I don't think I ever did during the final chapter.  Did I miss it?  Anyway, looking forward to three!!!
  • First, HL2 and Doom 3 focused on different graphics approaches: HL2 with superior shaders, fluid effects, and Doom 3 with better lighting and shadows.  I played Quake 4 (on DOOM 3 engine), and the lighting looked nice, but it seemed that the engine was designed for indoor, cramped, and dark spaces.  HL2, especially with  HDR level Lost Coast, looked just amazing, and the facial animations are the best in any game.  Farcry's AI was good, but it also had the luxury of large spaces that allowed the mercs to flank you easily.  When playing HL2 on Garry's mod, you can observe some very sophisticated AI behavior.
    What alot of people think of as plot holes (like why only certain aliens attack you) failed to realize the actions in HL1 affected the HL2 world, and the only aliens that attack you are xen animals without low intelligence.  They will attack everyone, including the Combine.  Gordon saved the vortigaunts, and they are of course grateful to your cause.  The ending was designed to be an cliffhanger, as they can't make HL3 or the expansion episodes if HL2 ended properly.
    I can't wait till episode one come out, the focus on people and HDR will make it an interesting experience.
  • I found HL to be a terrible game. It's the exact gameplay we saw 6 years ago. The addition of vehicles did good for the game. They control like a pile of junk when compared to other games that also use vehicles such as Halo(2) and UT2004.

    The game is linear all the way to the end. No explorations, no secret passage ways. Nothing.

    When released, it had no multiplayer either. As mentioned above, it was a very unfinished product. Later they added the multiplayer to it, but nobody truly cared. CS-Source looks and play just like the old one with a fancier physics. That's pretty much it. Same cheaters and innacurate(random) weapons as always. If anything, it now helps not only cheaters, but n00bs as well.

    Stuttering is still a problem for many gamers, even though a lot of patches has already come out.

    The graphics are nice at first, but it's repetitive to death. If you look carefully, only the NPC faces are detailed. Legs and arms are pretty much the same for every character.

    Steam is a pile of garbage too. I still play Diablo 1. Can you say that in 10 years you will be able to play HL2? No. If Steam goes down you can throw your game away. It just does not feel like you bought anything the way it feels like any other game.

    When I buy a single player game I want to be able to play it whatever the heck I want. This aint a massive RPG, for crying out loud. Asking you to connect to their buggy servers to play a single-player game is the worst thing invented since I play games, EVER.

    It also came without a descent presentation. 50 bucks and all you get is a useless DVD (you can download the game through Steam, since only the DVD won't do any good without Internet connection) and a cheap, horrible orange piece of paper with my key on it. Lame at best.

    The puzzles are boring too. You see a couple of boxes and the first thing you think is: "Oh look, another puzzle to show off the physics of the game".

    I still don't get the story. You move from A to B, everybody seems to know Freeman but Freeman can't say a word the whole damn game. Doom had at least a sound when you tried to press the open-door key in a wall or were getting hit. Freeman is voiceless.

    If you want to play a good game, go with Doom 3, Quake 4, Unreal 2004, Battlefield 2 or Call of Duty 2. Let HL2 for Windows/DirectX/ATI lovers and the multiplayer for cheaters and newbiews to do headshots.

    And for everybody saying that Xbox is old and crappy, HL2 is out for the Xbox and it looks and plays great. But who should care to play such a bad game in a console when you have Doom 3 and a lot of great shooters on the same platform?

    And HL2's end sucked too... Simply because there was no actually plot all the game long. It's difficult to finish something so inconsistent as HL2's storyline.
  • I have to agree with Loki here. HL2 is one of those games that you play once. There's apparently no differences between the difficulty levels you can choose from, reducing the replay value. Except for mods, this game should be dead by now.

    I recommend getting the Xbox version though. At least you don't have to install crappyware as Steam on your PC. I also noticed that the Xbox version does not have stutteting problems. It lags in some places though, but usually, when it happens, it happens in places without much importance, while in the PC version it can happen anytime, even in the middle of fire fight...
  • Oh my. I was searching the web for a way to get rid of steam and I came across this blog. Pretty bad review dude. More like an overview.

    When, unlike some of you, I simply loved Half-Life 2.

    I just can't stand Steam. Why on Earth do I have to install that garbage in order to play a Single play, off-line game. In order to protect their software against piracy, they have to annoy the peoples who are actually paying for the game? There're some torrents by Vengeance flying the net and even though they require Steam to play HL2, you don't have to start Steam every time you want to play the game.

    And Steam is slow and sucky as well. If the program just sits there on my taskbar (note: not playing anything), it can take up to 50 MB of RAM. Doing what? I've seen virus that do less harm then Steam...

    I'm not buying any game which is Steam powered anymore. I'm going to get from the Internet instead. And I never pirate games, but Valve and Steam really deserve to get hit on the head with the HL2 retails box.

    P.S: I bought the collectors edition.
  • I personally hated HL2. Half of the game I was either driving an ugly car or a boring boat and solving brainless puzzles to show Havoc's engine. The other half I was fire-fighting the same enemies over and over and over again with very innacurate and boring weapons. The gravity gun was just okey, but not all the fun. Just usuful at the horrible designed map "Sandtraps".

    There's basically no challenge either. Not once I had my energy low or was scared to run out of ammo. There's either too much health packs everywhere or too much ammo (in the case of the G-Gun you can throw anything at the enemy).

    I really didn't care about Steam though. This is the kind of game you run once and shelf it or try to play the Online mods with cheaters or noobies winning all the time when you spray them. But then again, HL1 was not that great anyway. Quake 2 was better then HL1 and today Quake 4 is still better then HL2...
  • Honestly, the only intelligent, well thought out comment worth reading on this page is from "I have gone insane over hl2's ending".  I don't agree with it all, but that's some pretty decent philosophical deduction there - dude.  
  • Man, at the level "Ravenholm" when I first saw the fast zombie running towards me I freaked out and turned off my game...

  • I dont understand why people say HL2 sucks.

    Unlike most games,it isn't in the same damn enviroment!You get to go through a City,Kanals,a zombie-infested Town,a Coast,a Prison and a alien mega-stracture.

    Half-Life 2 does NOT have traditional gameplay.It's puzzles use realistic physics,in the antlion levels you cant stand on the ground without antlions attacking you,etc,etc.

    The story's great and I loved the ending.Plus we DO know why only some aliens attack you,what happened inbetween HL1 and HL2 and we do know what the Combine are.

    The level design was some of the best I've ever seen.And with HL2's graphics...

    Episode One was great too.Everything HL2 was,but better.Yeah,it was short,but it's a friggin' episode!

    Episode Two looks like it's gonna be amazing.The trailers roXX0rd my soXX0rs and I dare not try to find any flaws.And when I imagine playing it...

    HL2 does NOT suck.It's one of the best games I played and I still sometiomes play the SP.

  • i loved the game and it kept me on the edge of your seet your review describes the game perfectly but can someone tell me wtf does the ending mean and why was it such a let down and does alyx ever make out with gorden freeman

  • Half-Life is a legend. No other game can steal it's place, as Half-Life 1 was the first FPS game I really played. Legend's descendant is also legendary,

    Here are HL2's stats:

    Music - 10, Kelly Bailey is my favorite artist

    Sounds - 9, great voice acting

    Story - 10, no other game can get a better story, some of you though do not understand it

    Graphics - 9, outstanding but sometimes low resolution

    AI - 9, it doesn't need anything and quite realsitic sometimes

    ...

    Actually those are useless, as HALF-LIFE IS THE BEST

    I also wonder why people have troubles with Steam. Click the site, download, install, ready. Also why you would need to play off-line all the time, as I think that all developed countries mostly have people with internet.

    Also, Steam has benefits:

    - Anti-Piracy

    - Anti-Cheat

    - Preserves your saved games if you lose them

    - Friends

    - Clans community

    - Achievements

    - Easy selection system

    - Store

    - If you lose your disc, "No problem!"

    - sometimes you get cheaper/free games

    - easy updating

    - Messenger/voice chat

    - some extra crap

    I will always (at least try to) purchase all Valve's games.

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