Half-Life 2 Review
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Half-Life 2 faithfully captures the excellent single-player gameplay found in last year's hit PC game, but it also suffers from an erratic frame rate and there's no multiplayer.
- Epic single-player campaign
- Strong visual style with cool environments and cooler enemies
- Physics engine lets you manipulate the environment in cool ways
- Top-notch voice acting and storytelling
- A highly immersive experience from start to finish.
- No multiplayer gameplay whatsoever
- The frame rate struggles most of the time, and downright dies on occasion
- Nothing to differentiate the Xbox game from its PC counterpart, save for its flaws.
Half-Life 2 for the Xbox is here, and somehow, Valve managed to squeeze in every little ounce of gameplay that appeared in last year's hit PC game...barely. And let's get this out of the way now: Half-Life 2 for the Xbox is, in terms of content, exactly the same as the PC version's single-player game, so if you played it on the PC, there's nothing new for you here. And note that we did say single-player game, because the Xbox version lacks Counter-Strike: Source, the latest version of the hugely popular online action game that came with Half-Life 2 on the PC. So, when you get down to it, Half-Life 2 for the Xbox is basically just the acclaimed single-player campaign for Half-Life 2. And that's why Half-Life 2 for the Xbox comes off as a bit underwhelming. Yes, it's a fairly solid translation of one of the better first-person shooters of recent years, but it also lacks the extensive multiplayer and mod-making features of its PC cousin.
So why all the hubbub over an average-length single-player first-person shooter? Keep in mind that Half-Life 2 is the sequel to arguably one of the greatest action games ever made. The original Half-Life single-handedly reinvented the first-person shooter, putting the emphasis on cinematic pacing and complete immersion in the experience. Pretty much every modern-day shooter owes a lot to the original Half-Life. In many ways, this big-budget sequel does what it sets out to do: Half-Life 2 is a technically amazing, sharply honed first-person shooter that pulls all the tricks that made Half-Life such a beloved experience.
In Half-Life 2, you once again assume the role of Gordon Freeman, the theoretical physicist and dimension-hopping commando who saved the world from an alien invasion at the end of Half-Life. Or did he? Half-Life 2 starts you off facing the infamous G-Man, the mysterious blue-suited character from the original. At the end of Half-Life, the G-Man offered you a choice: work for him or die. Since there would be no sequel if you chose the latter, Half-Life 2 assumes you chose the former, and so you start the game on a train entering City 17 for your introduction into this new world.
City 17 is a run-down urban center that's the equivalent of the Warsaw ghettos during World War II; instead of Jews being rounded up to live in City 17, it's all the remnants of a defeated humanity. Half-Life 2 takes place an untold number of years after the Black Mesa incident, but it's clear that much has changed. A mysterious enemy known as the Combine has conquered the planet and installed a human puppet government to carry out its rule. Black-clad security forces patrol the streets, while propaganda blares endlessly from omnipresent video screens. If there's one thing that Valve does extremely well, it's capturing a sense of atmosphere, as this vision of a dystopian police state is chillingly effective. But you won't spend a lot of time soaking in the scene before you're thrust into the struggle to defeat the Combine and free humanity.
As soon as the shooting begins you'll join an essentially nonstop battle that will last the remainder of the game. Like the original Half-Life, Half-Life 2 is presented as a nearly seamless experience. You play entirely from Gordon Freeman's perspective, without cutscenes, perspective changes to take you out of the moment, or narrative jumps that skip ahead in time (at least, there are none from your perspective). Surprisingly, the Xbox version is broken up into the same pieces as the PC game, which means that Valve was able to squeeze in the same-sized levels on the Xbox as there are in the PC version. If you played the PC game, then you know that levels are broken up into sections, and it takes about 10 seconds to load in the next section before you can transition from one part of a level to another. When you're killed, you simply load back at the last checkpoint or level save, or the last manual save, as the Xbox lets you keep up to 30 saved games on the hard drive. This sounds like a lot, but you'll probably want to save quite a bit in order to cut down on having to play sections over and over again. And yes, while the load times in the Xbox version are a bit longer than on the PC, they're not frustratingly long, at least. Even with the slightly longer loading times, you're still looking at between 10 to 15 hours of gameplay, depending on your skill level.
The original Half-Life was highly cinematic in nature--the virtual equivalent of starring in your own blockbuster sci-fi action movie. Who could ever forget the first time a headcrab leapt out at you from a dark corner? Or the moment when the commando tossed a satchel charge into the sewer pipe you were hiding in? The movie analogy is apt, not only because Half-Life 2 packs a few cinematic moments of its own, but also because, like most movie sequels, it plays it safe and doesn't deviate much from its storied predecessor. Half-Life 2 doesn't revolutionize the genre. Instead, it sticks with the familiar formula of run-and-gun action, occasional puzzle-solving, and scripted sequences established by Half-Life. And it's an effective formula, for the most part. The action begins with a rousing start, as the opening levels combine these three ingredients masterfully. You start off on the lam from the Combine, armed with only a pistol and your wits, and you embark on a chase through a train yard and tunnel system that's filled with all sorts of hairbreadth escapes.
- Player Reviews: 444
- Game Universe:
- Half-Life (PC, DC, PS2, UNIX, MAC),
- Half-Life 2 (XBOX, PC, MAC),
- The Orange Box (PC, X360, PS3, MAC),
- Half-Life 2: Episode One (PC, MAC),
- Half-Life 2: Episode Two (PC, MAC),
- Team Fortress 2 (PC, MAC, UNIX),
- Counter-Strike: Source (PC, MAC, UNIX),
- Day of Defeat: Source (PC, MAC),
- Half-Life 2: Episode Three (PC),
- Half-Life 2: Episode Pack (PC)
- Number of Players: