This review was first published at www.fappin.com (www.unreality.com) in November 2004
I feel I should start this review where the story began for me, November 1998; Valve Software released a landmark in gaming history. The title I’m talking about is obviously Half-Life. I saw it in a local retailer and thought it may be the kind of thing I’d like. I paid for it and went home to install and play. I soon found myself in the shoes of Gordon Freeman, a blameless scientist, working at The Black Mesa Research Facility. When a laboratory experiment goes disastrously wrong, scores of aliens and mutants are released into the area. As luck would have it, the Special Forces are deployed to alleviate the situation. Upon arrival it becomes apparent to me that no witnesses can survive, not even me. I was highly appreciative when Gordon took the only option available. He pulled out the shotgun.
Half Life proceeds to be accredited with over 50 “Game of The Year” awards. I cherished the game; the modifications and expansion packs seriously gave a sense of value and depth. Half-Life redefined the whole gaming community, inspiring an online revolution with it. Like a true hero, it seems Mr Freeman has returned to us in our time of need. Half-Life 2 has been in development for several years. The hype since its release was enormous. The few limited screenshots were drooled over by the gaming populace. Soon there were spectacularly beautiful videos and screenshots in abundance.
When November 16th 2004 finally arrived, grown men cried. At the start of the game will you find yourself on the train pulling in to City 17. It this point I was keenly checking out the windows at the fresh world before me. I also felt compelled to interact with the two civilian passengers. I don’t think I made a good impression, however. The train stopped and I stepped out into the station. Here I found those who liked me even less; The Combine. These militants are the brutal law enforcers of City 17. Clad in leather body armour and carrying stun batons to pacify the suffering civilians. Their police radios sound ultra realistic and you can hear them from quite some distance. On several occasions I picked up small objects and threw them at their heads. This made The Combine irritated and often led to a chase. On the occasion I was unfortunate enough to get caught, I received an unsympathetic thrashing that shook my screen aggressively. I decided to leave the constabulary and aggravated civilians instead. By the time I made it outside, I was by now clearly impressed with the lighting, design and overall smooth, interactive game play. The great outdoors was even more remarkable. I found City 17 to be in a distressing and insolvent situation. Ruined buildings and police roadblocks besieged the streets. Flying mechanised spy craft observed my every movement, blinding me with the bursts from their camera flash. High above a projection screen numbs the minds of the weary populace.
Not only did I think this game had admirable graphics, sound and game play, but I also found the actual ambience impressive too. As I progressed through the game, I was amazed at the rate of which the game play accelerated. Every time things began to get the slightest bit repetitive, something would change. When new weapons and vehicles appear, it certainly changes the plot to say the least. The puzzles got harder too. Not too difficult but hard enough to make you think every few minutes. The choice of maps Valve decided upon is wholeheartedly diverse. I enjoyed every map because they were always striking, practical and filled with masses of hostiles. From the toxic swamp to the city ruins, I was wholly impressed with everything.
I’ve heard a few people complain that the game was too short. The game does leave you feeling a little empty once you have completed it. The closest thing I can compare it to would be the end credits of a movie you just enjoyed watching. It was good, but it had to finish somewhere. This is where most games play their multiplayer card. I was a little disappointed that Half-Life 2 didn’t have a multiplayer option, but I can understand why it didn’t. The environments are beautiful without question, but strain even the highest specification machines. I’m certain that twenty players with shadows, flares and reflections in those environments would humble even the fastest PC. You also have to appreciate Half-Life2 does indeed ship with Counter Strike Source after all. Multiplayer has been rumoured, so we’ll have to be patient.
I’ve also seen people posting about technical problems with the game. You only have to glance at The Steam Forums to see masses of posts regarding errors. I found myself reading posts from individuals who where posting about crashes and hang-ups. Most that I could see weren’t even issues with the game, user errors and software issues mainly. I’ve had no technical issues whatsoever with the game, which pleases me greatly as I don’t own an ATI card. This, in turn brings me to the “Nvidia cards run on DirectX 8.1” complaint. I’m happy that Valve chose to do this myself. There’s not a great difference of image quality, but a sizable performance increase between the two. The game still runs smoother and looks nicer than most FPS that I play. This made plenty of gamers consider further hardware upgrades so close to Christmas, I’m certain.
To summarise, this game is obviously the best single player, first person shooter to date. The graphics, sound and game play are all fine examples of superior craftsmanship. Every microscopic object and detail has been thoroughly checked to ensure the authenticity is never compromised. A good example of the depth would be throwing paint pots at the mutants, which covers them with healthy amounts of Teflon white. The environments are littered with countless objects which are all interactive to some extent. When my ammunition depleted, I never hesitated to throw furniture at the hungry hordes.
I was continually excited by every split second of interactive game play. The path I was following rarely felt like the projected route to take. I unquestionably felt quite free and at ease to progress at the pace of my choosing. If there’s anyone out there who hasn’t bought it yet, I’d wonder what they were waiting for. The lifetime spent in development has matured Half-Life 2 to be the unequalled game that it has become.
I’d like to say an extra special thanks to Valve, who made this review possible!