Review: Half Life 2

Half Life 2

Platform: PC
Developer: Valve
Publisher: Vivendi
Players: 1 (+ HLDeathmatch / Counter-strike)

It’s been a long time coming – six years, to be exact. Six years ago, Valve developed Half Life, a single player game for the PC, at a then-huge cost of $830,000, which ended up selling millions of copies worldwide and spawned eight other spin-off titles from the game engine (the ‘brain’ of Half Life). Now, after six years of waiting, a $40 million budget and battles with software pirates (a early copy of the game was leaked onto the internet), we are finally blessed with Half Life 2.

The original Half Life starts you off as Gordon Freeman, a scientist for the Black Mesa Research Facility, a private research lab located underground in New Mexico. The year is 1995, and your work is involved primarily in teleportation, later learning that the experiments conducted have been bringing samples from a planet called Xen, which is currently being enslaved by the Combine, a ‘assimilation’ type of intelligent species (think StarTrek’s Borg race). The Combine bribe Black Mesa’s administrator, Wallace Green, with money and power in exchange for opening a portal between Earth and Xen, allowing the Combine to enter and take control of our planet. Naturally, Green complies, and all hell breaks loose. You spend most of the game avoiding death and fighting the current alien invasion. At the end of the game, Black Mesa is destroyed via nuclear detonation, but not before Gordon accidentally sends a special satellite into Earth’s orbit, allowing huge portals to open between Earth and Xen. You are then greeted by the mysterious G-Man, a human in appearance who always wears a suit and carries a briefcase. While bringing time itself to a standstill, he thanks you for fighting against the Combine and gives you a choice: death, or a job continuing the resistance. The game ends. Half Life 2 picks up immediately after that, with the G-Man himself announcing that you are back in action, and you ‘wake up’ in a seat on a moving train, ten years later. Earth is now under the complete control of the Combine. And so the Half Life story continues.

While the original Half Life came on a single CD, the game distribution for the PC version has changed. For the average gamer, you can spend $49 for the DVD w/box, or pay the fee on the internet for a completely digital copy. For uber-nerds, there are pricier, limited-edition packages that include posters, shirts and fancy tin boxes. Yay!

Talk about eye candy… the environments, characters, weapons and enemies are hugely detailed, and hands-down, the best currently available. Although you’d expect the graphical demand to choke out all but the most expensive computer systems, ala games like Doom 3, Half Life 2 runs pretty smooth on most systems. Most backgrounds are tightly designed and layered, giving a ‘this is the apocalypse’ feel. Lots of stuff laying around that you can mess with, but doesn’t do anything to help you progress in the game. Buildings you enter are all unique and in varying states of decay, and while some events are scripted (i.e. stairs collapsing after you’ve ventured across them), you don’t feel as guided as in other first person shooters. Enemies, on the other hand, aren’t as intelligent as you’d like them to be; while they will hide and call for backup if you start really kicking their ass, they still die easily, even on hard (where it takes three shots to the head to kill an enemy, instead of just one). Most of the creature and enemy sounds are decent, and the background music, while usually quite passive, increases and intensifies during heightened scenes, very similar to sci-fi movies.

As there is no real guide, you are left to discover what’s happened since Half Life 1 mostly on your own, with some help from the sexy Alyx, and occasionally, the G-Man himself. The pace to the game is definitely a bit quicker then it’s predecessor, and takes about, oh, thirty hours to complete, depending on your skill. It took me a few more just because I was being ninja (taking my time, playing with stuff) about it. Even with the shorter time in game completion, I loved it and can’t wait to play more chapters in the Half Life saga (HL3 is already in pre-production). Something that most reviews gloss over but is worth mentioning is the multiplayer. HL2, out of the box, comes with two online multiplayer modes, Deathmatch and Counter-Strike: Source. Deathmatch is your basic ‘run around and kill anyone you see’ type of game. Kill, respawn, get killed, respawn, etc. My personal favorite, Counter-Strike: Source, is the original Counter-Strike game (which was a mod for the first Half Life) updated and upgraded to Half Life 2 physics. Instead of mindless killing of anything breathing, Counter-Strike: Source involves team play. The principle task is to kill the other team while ‘accomplishing’ a mission, either by (as a counter-terrorist) rescuing hostages or preventing and/or defusing a bomb, or (as a terrorist) preventing hostage rescue and planting a bomb. Good times. All in all, out of ANY of the other FPS games out there, Half Life 2 is the best and completely worth the $49. Get it and prove me wrong.