An incredibly exciting and entertaining adventure!
This is an older game, of course, and if you're reading this, you're likely only interested in getting one more take on the game, so I won't go into great detail about the plot and story. Either way, Half-Life 2 is a great science-fiction adventure, and everything you'll do along the way makes sense. You're never taken out of the action (except during load times), and progression through the story feels real and exhilarating.
It took less than five minutes into the game for me to begin feeling sympathy for HL2's non-playable characters, as well as feel a sense of hopelessness from the surroundings I found myself in. The game doesn't hold your hand, but you'll often be tasked with doing simple things that introduce the game's basic mechanics. I'm one of the few folks who actually prefers playing an FPS on a console, and the Xbox port of this game was ingeniously crafted.
You move Freeman (the main character) with the left-analog stick and look and aim with the right stick. You've got a primary fire, which is executed with the right trigger, and the secondary fire is executed with the left trigger. The D-pad lets you select weapons, and Freeman can also sprint, jump and swim.
There is a great selection of weapons, and they, too, make sense within the context of the story. Shooting is incredibly satisfying, and the sound effects that accompany them lend a deeply visceral quality to the experience. Perhaps the most noteworthy weapon/tool Freeman will acquire is the gravity gun. It plays heavily into level progression and opens up all sorts of crazy fun ways to eliminate enemies. You'll often have to make clever use of both the gravity gun and the environment around you in order to progress through a given area.
You're constantly doing new things and experiencing new environments. There are elements that are reminiscent of Resident Evil and other parts that feel like Call of Duty. But more importantly, the game is so incredibly well balanced and paced, you just won't find a more polished and refined game anywhere.
The story in Half-Life 2 isn't told, it's experienced, and to that end, it's of a caliber unmatched in video games. Everything you'll learn about the world and its characters is transmitted to you in real-time – you're never taken out of Freeman's shoes. You will inevitably grow to love some of the main characters, as well as be fascinated by the predicament of humanity. Freeman, himself, plays an odd role in the story, yet it's never quite revealed to you. Hopefully, as the series continues, we'll learn the true nature of the "G-man" and his relationship to Freeman. The ending is completely open-ended, yet it somehow feels right.
I could go on and on, but there's likely little point. Again, the game's been out for a good while now; it's old news. But in the off chance you haven't yet tried it, do so. If you own a next-gen system, check out The Orange Box, which now retails for $20 – an absolutely insane value. If you're like me, though, and are still making due with last-gen wares, the Xbox version is great, too. I had a chance to compare it to the PC version, and yes, the PC version is more crisp and certain, minor elements in the environment have a higher fidelity, but where it counts, there aren't that many differences, especially if your PC isn't a high-end gaming machine.
There are a few issues worth noting, though. For one, there are load times when moving from one large portion of the game to another. I can't say they had any real negative impact on my experience, but they're there. If you have to reload because you died, doing so multiple times can make the 10-second wait a bit frustrating. Additionally, I did, on occasion, accidentally engage the zoom-in trigger (R3) during firefights, and it goes without saying, it wasn't cool. This was due entirely to me pushing too hard on the trigger and not any sort of issue with the controls, but it's something you'll have to contend with if you get too nervous during an enemy engagement. Lastly, there was one occurrence in the latter part of the game where I was forced to reload from my last save because I had inadvertently caused a door to lock shut. I was unable to progress, and it was just one of those trial & error moments. It was the only moment in the game like that, actually.
No matter, it can't be overstated just how amazing Half-Life 2 is. If you're not into first-person shooters, I sympathize. However, if you're into really exciting gameplay and/or experiencing a great story, you'll do well to make an exception here. Any and every mature gamer owes it to themselves to put on the hazard suit and fight the good fight. Humanity depends upon it!