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Half-Life 2 Review

Half-Life 2 box art
Genre:First person shooter
Official Site:Half-Life 2
Release Date:November 16th 2004.
Reviewer:Daniel Scott (Junks)
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The most eagerly awaited game of all time? Possibly. Probably. Definitely the longest to actually be released that's for sure. After a spell without a games-worthy PC I went out and bought one almost purely because of its imminent release. Half-Life is critically acclaimed as the best PC game of all time, and a sequel to such a game needs to be similarly outstanding or risk wide-scale outrage because everyone wants it to be better than before.

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Half-Life 2, in short, does not disappoint. This time we begin with Gordon arriving on a train at the creepily-realistic City 17, a place where its citizens are brutalised mercilessly by the rather nasty Combine soldiers. What I like particularly (throughout the game in fact) were the added touches to make the player really feel like they are there. The bloodstains on the walls, the chopper buzzing overhead, the downtrodden inhabitants, and the soldiers on every street corner only to happy to give you a clout with his truncheon and tell you to 'move along!'

Graphically the game is excellent. It did not push my Radeon 9800pro to its limits like Doom3 does, but personally I prefer Half life's attention to detail, realistic appearance and subtlety rather than over-the-top-sci-fi-graphics (although they are totally different games it has to be said). It really makes the game look polished. The prison of Nova Prospekt is especially worth a mention, with its pockmarked, dirty walls and moody lighting, it actually gets the player thinking 'now that's somewhere I'd really not want to go...' And as for Ravenholm, I think if it wasn't for the trusty flashlight I probably would have had several heart attacks. If you didn't flinch nervously when you auxillary power ran out of your flashlight in the middle of a bunch of them spider-crab nasties, then your made of sterner stuff than me.

It would be remiss not to mention the facial animation system in Half Life 2, in short, it's incredible. Coupled with the excellent voice acting and a generally quite witty and amusing script, it gives you a genuine feeling that the games characters are much more than a bunch of polygons. Half Life 2 truly stands out in this area, perhaps more than others, unless your a heartless bastard, you will truly care what happens to some of them by games' end.

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The sound is probably my favourite part of this game, especially the ambient sounds. I remember being in some sort of pipe room with puddles of water about and some electrical wires scattered around. There was nothing really to do in this room apart from walking through it but I found myself stopping just to listen to the five or six different background sounds that really brought the place to life, really made me feel I was actually standing there.

I will however have a little bit of a whinge about the music, for me it just seemed random and mostly out of place, that's possibly because I just didn't like much of it. However, it's not much of a complaint as there isn't that much music to worry about and frankly more just isn't needed. The next time I replay the game, I'll play without music, the game is that enthralling, I doubt I'll even notice.

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The enemy AI is my first real criticism of the game. I played it on the hard setting yet this seemed simply add more bad guys with probably slightly better aim, but did nothing for their intelligence when fighting me. Numerous times I ducked behind a crate or wall to reload only for the enemy to happily remain motionless and calmly wait until I was ready to fight again. On occasion I found it easy to evade Combine soldiers on walkways by standing underneath them and out of their line of sight, they could not see me directly anymore but didn't have a clue where I was. Even when I was shooting them up the backside from underneath still they did not seem to grasp where the fire was coming from. A minor complaint however, the AI is by no means stupid, but it's no breakthrough either.

Several times dring the later missions you have a squad following you, and quite frankly the squad AI is annoying. Again, it's a minor inconvenience that your squad basically follows you, and for the most part just get in the way. By no means are they as bad as the hostages in Counter-Strike, but you get the picture. They are on occasion more of a hindrance than a help. Having said that, towards the end of the game when the rebels start to take to the streets, the addition of the squad allies really makes you feel like there's a revolution brewing.

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Another one of the main reason Half-Life2 is so good, is the superb physics engine. Corpses have an extremely satisfactory way of flopping over or crumpling into a heap in a very realistic manner (he says 'realistic' like he's shot a hundred people in real life your probably thinking). The whole behaviour of inanimate objects is really impressive, astounding in fact. Still, back on my watchtower, I eventually got up to the walkway myself and shot a soldier who was close to the edge. He fell with his top half over the edge, and the weight of him slowly pulled the lower half of his body over until he toppled to the ground below in a most life-like fashion. Good stuff.

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The game plays in a very similar way to the original. From the small things such as the health and suit-power stations using exactly the same sounds when powering up to the overall style of play itself. Another criticism here: During the first half of Halflife 2 I did get the feeling many times that I was reading Half-Life 2 rather than playing it. Of course its an interactive game, and a very good one, but I couldn't shake the irritation that the game was a one-direction story. There is always only one way to go, you can never actually get lost, not really. You move onto the next bit, you shoot some bad guys, you solve a fairly predictable puzzle and then you move on, shoot a few bad guys etc etc...

It did get a little repetetive, but the game is so damn good you have to forgive them, it is an action game after all, and not rocket science.

But then during the latter half of the game it really gets going. Stormtrooper-looking soldiers appear to add some mettle to the Combine, then the awesome looking 3-legged Striders ravage the city and its rebellious inhabitants, climaxing in our hero breaking into the Citadel, a giant skyscraper in the center of town. I won't spoil it for those that haven't played it, but there's definitely going to be a Halflife 3, that's for sure.

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Above may sound like I'm in two minds about the game, and I'm not. It really is excellent, its just that its so good you can't help but think, 'if they'd have done that if would have been even better.' It is very, very good; put it this way, it makes playing other games in the current FPS genre seem outdated and dull. Enough said.

In summary: Is this game worth buying? Definitely.

Does this game live up to its expectations? Yes, and even exceeds them in certain areas.

Is this game the best PC game I've ever played? Yes.

Is it perfect? No, however its better than anything else so far, head and shoulders.

Quite simply, Half Life 2 is the best first person shooter yet made, on any platform.

Good stuff

  • A worthy sequel
  • Great graphics and sound
  • Very realistic and atmospheric
  • Genuinely scary in places
  • Long enough to satisfy most gamers
  • The vehicles are just great
  • Superb physics engine
  • The new benchmark all others will be compared to

Not so good stuff

  • Enemy AI and Squad AI could be better
  • Music feels a little out of place
  • A little repetetive during the early stages

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