Half-Life 2

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2004 has been one crap-filled year for gaming. There hasn’t been a single game so far this year that surpassed the hype, which is tragic to any gamer who sees games as an art form. Now that the sequel to one of the biggest PC games ever has been released, does this game break the trend? Surprisingly, Valve somehow pulls it off by producing a game that is even better than its predecessor.

For a game as big as this, it is helpful to understand why so many people loved the original Half-Life. Sadly, I missed out on this game when it first came out (I didn’t get to play it until 2003). An addictive single player, it was very cinematic for its time (still is, actually), and a plethora of fun mods. Half-Life 2 builds on all three of those points to the extent where the vast majority of recent games can’t even compete.

First off, you play as the legendary Gordon Freeman. Taking a six-year vacation from Earth, you readily see that you have a lot of work on your hands. The aliens that attacked you at Black Mesa seemed to have won the war, destroying most of human species. Don’t worry if you didn’t play the original Half-Life, considering most of the story can be easily inferred (reading certain storyline summaries online also can prove to be a big help).

You see the world through Gordon’s eyes. There are not cut-scenes, each level starts directly after the previous one, and you don’t get to hear Gordon speak. You understand what happens in the storyline by observing what is in the environment and by what the other characters are doing.

If you took decent English classes, then you know that there are different styles of literature. Whether it be naturalism (where the characters are controlled by forces out of their control), romanticism (basically good versus evil), or idealism (where one or more important objects in the plot meet an ideal standard), books are considered an art because of such styles. Identifying the gameplay’s style is a recent thing to games (we happen to be one of the only sites to think this way about games). I’d say Half-Life 2 uses realism. In literature, realism means showing how things really are. A gaming translation would be of this would mean doing what you are told without any demoralizing or idolizing involved. The humans don’t get moralized, while the aliens don’t get demoralized.

Now that we have all the background information out of the way, we can get on to the good stuff. Valve successfully made an addictive single player mode. The improved combat and physics engine raises the bar of perfection, all while keeping a basic gameplay scheme. You still have an assortment of real and unreal weapons, the auto-save feature is still there, and you can still kill some of your non-important allies (it never gets old). One of the biggest improvements has to be with the AI of the non-playable characters (NPC’s), regardless of whether they are friend or foe. They acted intelligently, and the enemies actually put up a real fight. There is a vast amount of gameplay variety, which makes me love this game even more than I should.

Is this game still cinematic? You betcha. Like in the first game, the beginning introduction is cinematic and memorable. Every time you fight a horde of enemies, it feels like a movie. Much of this cinematic feel is a result of the graphics, which is explained later on.

How is the mod community and the multiplayer features? The only real mod I played was CS: Source, which was a great improvement over the original CS, with improved graphics, physics, more players can play at once, as well as a lot of other improvements. I also heard great things about Day of Defeat: Source, but remember that the mod community just recently got the source engine. Give them a couple of more months and I’m sure that we will have some great new mods. Sadly, unlike the original Half-Life, there is no Half-Life multiplayer mode on the CD other than CS: Source.

The graphics really add to the realism of the game. The graphics remain neutral; they don’t purposely make one species look good, while making one look “evil” and are pretty sweet. Not only are the landscapes beautifully detailed, the character models are top notch. What’s better is that these graphics don’t require the best hardware or graphics card (unlike Doom 3). As for audio, the voice actors vividly portray how the characters act and are a big plus.

It is hard for me to predict how many hours you can get out of this game, considering I don’t know what mods will come out in the future. If you only had the single player and CS: Source to go on, then I still think you can easily get over 30 hours of gameplay out of Half-Life 2.

Like I said, this year has been terrible for gaming. What is even worse is that the critics gladly overrate any popular game out there. If you trust most popular gaming publications, I am sure that because of them, you bought a game that you really don’t like. However, this time, this game surpasses the hype, partially because, the hype was more limited. I urge you to buy this game, especially when the price comes down and more mods are released. This game is obviously not going to be another Beyond Good and Evil or Grim Fadango (superb games but poor sales), but if you do play it, it does bring gaming closer to an art form.

Replay Value/Game Length:9.5