Half-Life 2 Review

Half-Life 2 Review

Reviewed by Magnus Mørkøre Johannesen

It’s been said that the gaming industry is an industry largely based on sequels. This may or may not be true, but most succesful games spawn at least one sequel. And now it’s time for one of the most succesful games of all time to get one. That game is Half-Life and the sequel is the aptly named Half-Life 2. CatBoris has played the game and is here to let the world know what he thinks.

Genre: FPS (First Person Shooter)
Developer: Valve Software
Official Site: www.half-life2.com

Before we start I might as well say that this review contains some spoilers.

Another quick note – the final score is not an average of all the others combined, but more like what I (the author) feel the game deserves.

Just like many other around the world, I both bought and played the original award winning Half-Life 1. And, again as many others around the world, I thoroughly enjoyed it. Therefore it was with great enthusiasm that I pressed that magical icon on my desktop that would transport me into the grim and stylish world of Half-Life 2. A world that our hero Gordon Freeman, scientist, alien killer, loving father of three and intergalactic scourge of evil, has been thrust into. For he has indeed left the oh so familiar surroundings of the American Black Mesa facility and has been hurled some years into the future, further deposited into a bleak, grisly and depressing environment that just screams “Stalin! You have not been forgotten!”. Not that there are a bunch of Marxists who sing subversive ditties in the streets, but more in the way of pigs (that’s police for all you young’ins!) with guns on every corner, public loudspeakers glorifying the commie… eh, alien regime, and the general rundown look of the city you end up in.

Being the true born, democracy-loving American hero that you are, you soon get into trouble with the oppressive regime currently in place, and so the action begins! By now I bet I’ve got all of you readers on the edge of your seats, just begging me to tell you more, but nay gentle reader. I have told far too much, spoiled some things that you were to find out yourself, and bored myself to tears, and so I shall begin my methodical and callous dissection of the game itself. Yes folks, exposition time is over. We’ve got a review on our hands now.

Something has to come first, and why not sound? It such a nice thing anyway, and requires delightfully little of a person. The first one up is also the one most sorely lacking – music. Don’t get me wrong, I have nothing against music, but there was distressingly little of it to hear. This was a shame, since the few times it was heard it wasn’t half bad. This is a problem that Half-Life 1 also suffered from, though to a far lesser degree. I wish there was more I could say about this subject, but there simply isn’t more than maybe 15 minutes of music in total. If there’s more, it’s bloody well hidden.

Music & Sound: (7/10) The sound effects were all right. The guns sounded like guns, foot steps were heard and were appropriate for their surroundings, i.e. clanging when on metal and such, explosions were very explosive-y, and that’s about it. They didn’t suck, and for me, that’s pretty much what counts. The voice actors were good, and as far as I remember, never over the top. Well, maybe that crazy priest dude later on in the game was a bit over the top. And maybe our lovable little stud muffin, the G-Man, a bit as well, but I do believe he’s supposed to be that way. If he isn’t, I say he should be. He sounded like some insane old pervert, and that’s appropriate for all government officials. But otherwise it was all hunkey dorey. Barney sounded like Barney, the professor sounded just the same as last time. The rest of the cast was new, so they didn’t have any prior work to measure up to. Have I forgotten anything? Nope, I don’t think so, so it’s on to the score! And being such a gracious person, I shall bestow the game seven stars for the sound aspect. It would have been six, had it not been for G-Man.

Graphics: (9/10) What’s next on the menu? Graphics, you say? Pah! When I was young, all that mattered was how good the game was. ‘Course, we had to code the games ourselves back then, and lemme tell ya, punching all those holes was dreadful hard work. Boy howdy. Whaddaya mean, get to the point? Fine then, the graphics of Half-Life 2. One word? Wonderful. The facial animations on the characters that do have faces are eerily lifelike, the lip-synch is truly a wonder to behold, the textures were pretty and most important of all – it was super-slick, even on my computational hunk of junk. Which begs the question: How come VTM: Bloodlines, that used the same engine, had worse graphics yet ran several orders of magnitude worse? Hell, I don’t know. You’re going to have to ask Tim Cain or Leonard Boyarski of Troika about that. Back to the matter at hand though, I don’t think there is anything bad I can say about the graphical aspect of the game, save that the load times could be pretty annoying. Damn it, they were very long and annoying, but that’s it. But honestly folks, isn’t this true for each and every first person shooter out there? The one great thing all FPSs have in common is kick ass visuals. Hence, a slick nine stars. Would have been ten, but those long loading times have made me surly.

Interface: (5/10)

Up next, I discuss interface, the world slips a little further down the slope of chaos, and Great Cthulhu takes a head-dive into a tub of lard! Only on Winterwind Radio, 101 FM!

I promised I’d talk about the interface, didn’t I? Sigh… Well, better get it over with. It’s OK. You see your health, measured from, your armour (or suit energy), the amount of ammunition in your gun and how much you’re otherwise carrying. When you select guns, you get a little dropdown menu in the top of the screen, and the screen flashes faintly when you take damage, but that’s about it. As for the other out-of-game menus, they’re pretty much stripped down to what’s absolutely necessary. Well, there is one frivolous bit involved with the menus, and that’s a nice little in-game screen. Looks pretty, but it gets really annoying, really soon. Even worse, it takes freaking ages to load.

I don’t know if this was a bug or not, but the way the save files are structured makes no sense at all. It was a terrible jumble of saves, one as likely to be the one you want as the other, and just about the only way to tell them apart was to memorise the screen you saved at beforehand. I’ll also stick in level design here; since I don’t know where else it should go. It really bugs me – sometimes it’s great, as in the first general area you get to (City 17, which oozes atmosphere), whilst other times you swear and curse at the level builders! Especially when you get outdoors on the hovercraft… You really want to tear off a few heads. Others are just confusing, leaving you with a strange swimming sensation in your head, not really knowing what you’re supposed to go. All in all, five not impressive stars. Oh, and sorry about Cthulhu, but he/she/it just phoned in sick.

Gameplay: (5/10)

We’re starting to run out of subjects to cover, here. Up next should be gameplay and replay value, and if it isn’t, I’ll do it anyway. About the gameplay itself, what’s there to say? Go from point A to B, shoot all enemies, go from point B to C, shoot other more enemies, and so on and so forth. Same procedure as every year, James. Admitted, in the case of Half-Life 2, I’ve over simplified it. Indeed, we actually have two rail shooter sequences. Are your juices simmering? Mine are. Yes folks, the mind-blowing tedium of the rail shooter has come to haunt us in all its misery, though the second one isn’t as bad as the first, and the first doesn’t become a shooter until after a bit. But trust me, they become boring quite soon.

To be fair, Half-Life 2 has a few fun puzzles that involve the rather excellent physics system in the game, but they are sadly few and *very* far between. From the top of my head, I can remember three; four if you figure in the soda can from the intro. The artificial stupidity has been scripted well enough. The enemy soldiers are still frontally assaulting numbskulls, available in seemingly unending quantities. Which, to tell the truth, seems to be their only quality. The “friendlies” AI is a disaster, on the other hand. Rarely have so many sprites been so bloody stupid. They’re even worse than lemmings! You can tell them to stay out of sight, so that they won’t get shot to pieces. All right, they do so. Problem is, they seem to have the memory of a goldfish, and the survival instinct of a moth in burning house. Three seconds after you give your order, your support troops run bravely into their deaths, leaving you without backup. This is very annoying, especially when you are low on ammo and actually need their help for a change. Maybe this was Valve’s vengeance against the hackers who nabbed the source code.

The storyline was OK. It didn’t have me peeing my pants or anything, but I was eager to see what was going to happen next. It does have a twist or two, but trust me; you’ll see them coming miles away. What else, ho-hum… Oh yes, the weapons! Half-Life 2 has a rather pathetic selection of guns, compared to the first game, but there are a few quite interesting ones – the famed gravity gun and the bug bait, both of which aren’t guns per se. The gravity gun is hilarious when you first get it, and you get to launch saw blades, **pressure bottles**, and other improvised weapons at the various baddies. It’s just too bad that not all the levels have saw blades. Once you get the upgraded gravity gun (sadly far too late, but there are “ways” to remedy that), it becomes disgustingly funny. Darth Vader’s force grip is nothing compared to this, pal. The bug bait lets you control bugs and is, on a whole, very satisfying to use against your various foes. You only get to use it in one chapter though. I was sad to see that my little playthings did not make the crossover between levels. Apart from those two guns it’s the usual – pistols, revolvers, submachine guns, shotguns, grenades, rocket launchers and regular machine guns. Whee.

However, all these guns are useless if you don’t have anything to use them on and whilst there are enemies aplenty, there are only a few types. Your average soldier/cop, the beloved headcrab (headcrap?) from the first game, its black cousin that like to chatter, headcrab zombies, crazed headcrab skellingtons, a blackcrab carrier zombie and the ant lions, or “my little playthings”. Add to that some vehicles and “boss” versions of other monsters and you’ve pretty much seen the menagerie. Not many of them, but I have to admit they look pretty damn cool. And as for replay value, I can’t say that you’ll never want to play this game ever again after you’ve finished it, but I predict it’ll stand on your shelf for a good number of months before you feel the urge to clear Eastern Europe of headcrabs again. Though I did play the first chapter again, since my speakers were busted, and I didn’t get proper ones until after.

So what’s the verdict? I don’t know really. The game was fun, but as many shooters do, Half-Life 2 often felt more like a super cool tech demo with a lot of atmosphere than a really cool game. The atmosphere bit is a very hit and miss affair. Some levels, like when you just arrive in City 17, just ooze atmosphere out of every corner whilst the level Ravenholm was little more than an ultra violent shooting gallery (this is where you get to play with the gravity gun, by the way). I don’t think I can bestow more than six stars. Sorry Gordon, but that’s the way it has to be.

Overall: (7/10) So now the time has come to close the final chapter in this epic review of Half-Life 2. We went through a lot, Gordon and I, and finally we did drive the hell spawn back through their infernal gate… Sorry, wrong game. What I meant to say was that Gordon and I had a little fun shooting our way through endless zombie hordes and solving fun puzzles along the way, but ultimately I have to say that whilst Gordon and I became friends, I won’t be assigning him a quick-dial spot on my phone. Seven stars out of ten possible.

Note – This review was originally published on the old Winterwind Productions site in April, 2005, prior to our switch to WordPress in 2020.

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