Half-Life 2 is impressive. Really impressive. It delivered everything it promised, and didn't suffer too badly from the hype. Which is incredibly surprising, because no other game has ever lived up to six years of hype and then left gamers so glued to their PCs that 24 hours later, barely anyone had voiced their opinions about it on the available forums.
Half-Life 2 opens up onto a quasi-apocalyptic setting, where the atmosphere is depressed and foreboding as you step off a train and into a city under oppression. Gordon Freeman has no memory since the Black Mesa incident in the original game, and when you head towards what should be normality, everything turns out to be completely twisted. It's a great way of letting the player know that Half-Life was just a stroll in the garden compared to what's about to happen next. And that's about as much of the story that can be given away without spoiling the narrative!
Suffice to say that the sense of desolation has been done incredibly well. NPCs behave more realistically than anything seen in any other game, and their voice-acted dialogue is flawless. The actual narrative and dialogue itself is genuinely compelling, often even witty and amusing. The sequence scripting is done in a way which is slightly less linear than usual - for example, if an NPC happens to die, you don't get to hear what he/she had to say.
HL2's gameplay is virtually identical to the original, which basically entailed fighting for survival by solving common sense puzzles, working with others caught in the mess, and doing a hell of a lot of killing. Only this has been made a hundred times better, thanks to HL2's extremely versatile engine.
It's HL2's main attraction, and where Doom 3 failed in terms of environmental interactivity, HL2 gives us an unprecedented amount of it. We're happy to report that many of the E3 shows that had rooms full of journalists gasping out loud were genuine representations of HL2's physics. The physics, combined with the dynamic lighting and shadowing, give us the most realistic game of all time.
|"Yes, yes, but will it run on my amstrad?"
|Now for the next big question that everyone's asking - "What kind of monstrous supercomputer will I need to sell my lungs for just to play this?". Well, the good news is that HL2 isn't anywhere near as taxing as Doom 3 in terms of system requirements. In fact, despite its mind-blowing physics engine, dynamic lighting and shadows, and the other frills, reports are already surfacing that HL2 can actually run tolerably on low-end PCs, even those below the minimum specs originally anticipated by Valve. You'll have to cut-down on the eye-candy, however. The bad news is that the "preferred" system specs (2.4Ghz CPU; 512Mb RAM; 256Mb Video Card) that were advertised are... artfully understated, shall we say? Or rather, one large porky pie, with extra sauce, extra pie, and extra porky. For optimum viewing pleasure, you'll want at least a 3Ghz CPU, 1Gb of RAM, and a 256Mb Video Card. At least. Oh, and no - you won't be able to run it on your Amstrad.
But now for the bad. It's far from perfect and there are some obvious seams in the game world, like those rather nice looking fires which are just flat 2D animations.But the main cause for concern is the AI. The original was renowned for having enemy soldiers that actually behaved like trained soldiers. They took cover behind objects, they gave each other covering fire, and they ran like hell when they realised you meant business. After six years, the AI isn't looking that much better - in fact, the soldiers in some scripted sequences behave like terribly pathetic actors in a B-grade action flick. And they still can't climb ladders or other obstructions, and if you use HL2's physics to barricade yourself from their attacks, there's not a lot they can do about it.
HL2 has some serious rivals, and declaring it as better or worse than Far Cry or Doom 3 would be an oversimplification. All three have made trade-offs in certain areas, and HL2 is no exception. It's fairer to say that the design decisions by Valve have made the better playing experience, but that depends a lot on taste.
Doom 3 focussed on astonishing atmosphere, narrative, and graphics, at the expense of player freedoms, and wide open spaces. Conversely, HL2 has negated a bit of the eye-candy (not much) for versatility. It's the difference between a playing experience that takes you by the hand for a great show, and one which at least gives the player a more freedom in overcoming the various challenges. It's still linear, but even Far Cry's wide open spaces couldn't hide the fact that ultimately, there was only one way through the game.
Many are already declaring it as the best game of all time. As far as the GamePro scoring system goes, it qualifies for a perfect score with flying colours, by being the best game of its type, of its day, with more than the necessary creative brilliance. If you're into FPSs, and could only have one PC title, you'd have to be an absolute lunatic not to make it HL2. With the sheer volume of free modifications that will be released for it, plus the inclusion of Counter-Strike, Day of Defeat, the original Half-Life, all converted into HL2's engine, and then Valve's entire back catalogue (with the Silver or Gold packages), HL2 is literally a one-stop purchase for yet another six years of gaming bliss.
|A significant milestone in gaming history. Half-Life 2 alone more than warrants purchase, but the inclusion of Counter-Strike, Day of Defeat and the original Half-Life remade in the new engine make this an unbeatable package.
|Pros: Far too numerous to summarise.
|Cons: AI didn't live up to hype. Having to wait for the sequel!!
Score = 10/10
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Scoring scale: 1-5
Publisher: Vivendi /
Developer: Valve /
/ Release date: 15/11/2004 /
OFLC Rating: MA (15+)