developed and published by Valve
originally released for PC; later ported to Xbox, Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, and Macintosh
I’m still relatively inexperienced in the world of first-person shooters, or even first-person perspective games, period. In fact, prior to Half-Life 2, I had beaten a total of seven: GoldenEye 007, Perfect Dark, Metroid Prime, Metroid Prime 2, Metroid Prime 3, King Kong, and BioShock. The first five games in that list were all published/distributed by Nintendo and are not really considered representative of the conventions of the genre. So if I say something silly about FPS games, cut me a little slack.
In Half-Life 2, the player takes control of some nerd named Gordon Freeman that seems to be really, really good with guns. The story is set in a post-societal collapse type world that has been ruined by something or other, I guess explained in the previous game. To be honest, it doesn’t matter. While the story that is present is well done, this isn’t some dialogue-heavy RPG. Unlike most of the other FPS’s I have played, there is very little exploration, backtracking, or item acquisition in this outing.
Freeman is always moving forward, usually by foot but sometimes by air boat or dune buggy. However, there is a great deal of puzzle-type gameplay, presented more naturally than in any other game I’ve played. Most of the games I’ve beaten were developed in Japan, and I’m used to the Zelda, Metroid, and – much worse – Resident Evil types of puzzles. These puzzles always seem to have been set up by some unseen individual with the intent to challenge the hero. In Half-Life 2, most of the puzzling circumstances involve blockages in Freeman’s path. The solutions are usually reasonable and sensible. For example, if you can’t reach a high point, you might need to use a fulcrum and pile a bunch of weight on one end to allow you to climb up. There is usually only one path forward, which is a bit unrealistic, but these paths are always more natural than those found in games like the recent Prince of Persia releases.
The weapons are fairly diverse but the arsenal isn’t huge. The most interesting item is the gravity gun, an experimental weapon that can lift and fling some pretty heavy objects. This weapon becomes totally crucial as the game progresses. One complaint I have is that I had no idea that I could use the laser on the missile launcher to guide the missiles. I read somewhere online that this is a standard weapon in FPS’s but, yep, I haven’t played many. So that was a drawback that hampered me until I looked up an FAQ in desperation.
Most of the game takes place amid rubble or in unwelcoming landscapes. Toward the end, the artists really got to take over and create an otherworldly, visually arresting environment, creating a finale area that is imposing and awesome. There are some conversations and some voice acting but never any crappy FMV cut scenes. All of the conversations are natural and the voice acting is always at least a B, sometimes in the A range.
It took me about 15 hours to complete Half-Life 2, but I could see more experienced and clever players only needing 13, even on a first playthrough. Some of that time was spent being exasperated by my missiles but much of it was spent trying to figure out puzzles. I would certainly recommend Half-Life 2, especially if you like horror and post-apocalyptic themes in your games. Actually, I’m glad all games are not as dark as this one is, or video games would be an overwhelmingly depressing affair. The version I played was included in the Orange Box compilation, which also contains two expansions (mini-sequels) to this game that I will play in the near future.