Let me start with the negative, (notice singular form here), because there is really only one flaw with this game that I have experienced. The install. You have to have or set up a Steam account to run this game. The good news is, once you have done this & registered the game, you do not have to connect to the Steam servers thereafter, you can just choose to play offline & avoid all that unpleasantness. I know they did this to counterract pirates, but it took me 3 hours to get the game running. Now, everything that's great! The graphics are amazing, easily better than Far Cry, Doom3 & Halo2, (all games that I love). I have a K6 with 512 RAM & a GeForce4Ti4600 which really isn't a totally buff system & this game runs like butter! The bump mapping is laid on thick, the real time lighting & shadow effects are excellent, the vistas are vast & gorgeous & the framerate is rock solid. The indoor environments feel reminiscent of Far Cry's indoor environs, (meaning gorgeously detailed), & the outdoor environments are the best I have seen in any game, period. The outdoor environments make me think of Chernobyl meets George Orwell's 1984, mass housing tracts, rubble, debris & fires everywhere. Everything just has a post-apocalyptic blasted look to it. Easily the best graphics in a game to date. The audio is mind-blowing, especially in 5.1 & the positional sound, (best reason yet to get SS), is as good as anything I've heard yet. I've experienced a few audio hiccups here & there, but the sound is here to immerse you & make you feel like you are right in the you-know-what. When choppers are flying by & trying to blast you while troopers are firing from all around, you'll understand what truly great audio can do for a game of this sort. Voice acting is terrific & never feels "phoned in". And of course, the best part, gameplay. This game really is a FPS fan's wet dream. You get excellent real world weapons with incredibly realistic physics & some not so real world weapons that will blow your fragile little mind. Two words, gravity gun. I swear, this has got to be the greatest gun in any FPS ever. At first, I thought of it more as a novelty weapon, but when I realized all of the absolutely insane things you can do with this gun, the game took on a whole new quality. The reason this gun is so awesome to use is because of the real-world physics & kinetics engine built into this game. Everything has real weight & mass & even bouyncy is taken into account to solve some puzzles. You're thinking, "Oooohhh, never seen ragdoll physics before". Well, sure you have, but you've never seen anything close to the physics in this game. Got 5 or 6 troopers shooting at you? Roll an exploding barrel down the steps to them & detonate it with a few well place pistol shots. Or better yet, see that giant metal girder hanging in the air? Shoot the cable holding one end & it will swing down & crush all the guys at once & smash through a wall to reveal a new level section. Getting attacked in a narrow hallway by lots of baddies with no corners to duck behind? No problemo, use your gravity gun to pull a heat radiator from the wall & hold it in front of you for a shield, then toss it at the enemies to knock them all down at once. Got some big bad meanies coming at you in packs? Run into a room & barricade the door with tables, chairs & anything else you can find. They'll bust in eventually, but it will give you time to regroup. The vehicles, (yes, vehicles), in the game also seem to be governed by these same rules, which makes them all the more fun to use. There are so many incredible moments like this in the game that it simply outshines anything I have seen to date. And last but definitely not least, the AI. Overall, I think this is some of the smartest AI I have seen in a game. It's so realistic that it's occasionally scary. Sometimes the AI will do something that just totally floors me, but when I think about it later, I realize that if I was going to try to route someone out of a hiding spot, that's exactly how I would do it. It seems almost more like the AI is adapting, as opposed to simply reacting. This goes for teammate AI as well as enemy AI. On the normal difficulty setting, enemies will regroup, sweep & clear & do everything in their power to flush you out if you are cowering in a cubby hole whimpering like a child. You teammate AI will duck behind crates, lean out & shoot from corners, & sometimes simply run in fear when the real nasties start stomping around. You even get a chance to have some non-human teammates, but I don't want to spoil the surprise. Let's just say it will bug you out! The game in & of itself is not overly difficult on the default setting, but this is not because the enemies do not put up a fight, but more because everything is so smooth & natural & laid out in such an intuituve way that you never have to fight the interface & can simply concentrate on the next super cool way you are going to take out the next group of chumps. The story is pretty good, but people who have waited this long for HL2 & were hoping to get more answers may be slightly dissapointed. I'm still not sure what was going on with Freeman during the 6 years proceeding the first game leading up to the beginning of part 2. Some things are hinted at, other things are alluded to, but by the end credits, you may still be unclear as to what exactly transpired. Note that if you are not the type of gamer who simply speed-races through a game, then you can pick up more info by listening in on character conversations & being aware of what is going on around you. Although I still have unanswered questions, I was drawn in from the first level, (there are no cut-scenes at all in this game, everything happens in real time around you), & didn't lose interest until the bitter end. The game is pretty long for a FPS on normal difficulty, it took me approx 17 hours to beat. I will not hesitate to increase the difficulty & run through it again. Again, although I loved Far Cry, Doom3 & Halo2, I feel that HL2 is the game that truly lives up to the hype, (surprisingly the media hype was kept to a dull roar, but those of us who played the original & saw the trailers for part 2 were simply foaming at the mouth to get our hands on this gem), and absolutely raises the bar for every other developer thinking about taking our hard earned money for their FPS. Was it worth the wait? Betcha! Is this the game that will make you rethink what you want out of an FPS? Yeah, it's that too. Will having to create a steam account just to play the game tick you off? It will. But when it comes down to it, this is the game that any true FPS fan must play, right now, this very minute!!! Savor every last hardcore bite!
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