Half-Life 2 Review

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Graphics: 9.5
Sound : 9.5
Gameplay : 10
Multiplayer : 9.0
Overall : 9.6
Review by Kurt Knudsen
Half Life 2, where do I begin? First off if you haven’t heard of the game then you probably have no reason to read the review so be gone heathen! I have been following this game since I saw that crowbar magazine scan. With an original release date of 9/31/2003 I was overcome with joy that one of the greatest First Person Shooters of all time was coming out. Then the delays came and people got upset and figured it would turn into another Duke Nukem Forever. Finally a few days ago Half Life 2 hit the shelves and proved that it is an actual existing game, and not a myth.

Graphics:
The graphics of HL2 far outweigh its competitors. Far Cry had some very nice outdoor graphics but the models in HL2 are far better than those of Far Cry. To me the graphics in HL2 are more realistic than those of Doom3, which I feel look fake and plasticy. Don’t get me wrong the graphics of Doom3 are phenomenal, but HL2 has more realistic looking visuals and it runs so much better on mid- to low-end computers. That and Doom 3 is pitch black, but that’s a different story for a different day.

The models in the game are insanely detailed. Their facial expression are unmatched by any game. Their animations are flawless and are linked together incredibly well. Also there are a bunch of different characters to look at, unlike the first one where everyone looked the same. A few key characters have returned such as Barney and Dr. K. Eli, Alyx’s father also returns.

My favorite graphical feature of the game has got to be the facial expressions. The models can show various emotions and expressions on their face. This feature alone adds to the depth of the game. It really makes you feel like you are there. No other game has done this type of facial rendering in real time.

The alien models have returned and received a huge visual upgrade. We also see some new alien creatures return that scared the piss out of me when we first met. The Combine, or your main adversary, looks mostly the same. They too received a face-lift since the first Half Life, even though we are talking about different types of people. There are a few variations of the Combine that you encounter, but the blood stains on the wall all look the same if you know what I mean.

Rag doll effects on every living object bring even more reality to the game. This technology is nothing new, but it is certainly a must have for First Person Shooters these days. To be able to shoot a guy in the face with a shotgun and watch him do a few back flips brings some kind of twisted joy to me. The rag doll effect comes into play at the end of the game. I won’t spoil anything but it becomes a rather big part. It’s also fun to shoot an enemy with the cross bow and watch him stick to the wall. Or shoot an enemy down from a building and see his body plummet to the ground. There are all sorts of ways to have fun with the rag doll physics, it just looks so damn cool.

Lighting in the game is almost as good if not as good as the lighting in Doom3. The shadows cast on the model’s faces creates a very surrealistic look. There are moments in the game where I just stare at the screen in awe, because the faces look so realistic. There are a few moments when Alyx walks backwards and you can see various shadows cast on her face. This would just be a precursor of the graphical prowess that follows.

The detail on the world level is great. The textures look fantastic and if you have DX9 graphics card you can see the special effects in all their splendor. The detail that you see and the performance that you get are incredible. The engine runs smoothly across the board.

Weapon models and effects are great. They look fabulous and aren’t your generic models. They offer something new to the table. A lot of the old favorites have returned such as the rocket launcher, crossbow, and several others. We also see a lot of new weapons that off a great look and a unique use.

The indoor and outdoor scenes are great. I loved the smooth transitions between going inside and outside. The frames per second held steady as I entered the outside world. The huge buildings and various people walked around seemed to have no adverse affect on my performance.

The water effects that we see throughout the game rival those of Far Cry. When under water the objects around you skew as they do in real life. This also some form of liquid glass that acts as a shield. This shield flows and adds a really cool visual affect when you look through it.

Graphically the game is on spot. It has the best visuals with the best performance. Nothing of this caliber has been done before in any game. Throughout the entire game the graphics never fail. They just keep getting better and better until the very end.

Audio:
Oh dear me the voice acting is the best I’ve ever heard. No game even compares to the level of quality obtained in Half Life 2. The actress that does Alyx has the greatest voice of them all. Her voice shows emotion and the stresses of battle. If you put headphones on and closed your eyes you would think she was right there talking to you. I’m not saying the rest of the voice acting wasn’t as good. It’s just that we hear her talk more than any other character. The remaining characters are phenomenally done.

The voices line up perfectly with the lips. There isn’t a single spot where the mouth just moves on its own independent of the voice. It’s so nice finally to see technology offer us this kind of feature. There are so many games where the mouth moves but it doesn’t line up to the voice, so it kind of ruins it.

The Combine even has their own unique voices. It’s funny when you toss a grenade at them and they can’t run away. They scream, 'Shit!’ and then they cease to exist. They also communicate to each other vocally saying, 'He’s over here!’ and various other phrases. G-Man returns with his, well, weird voice. His voice is as good as it gets. I couldn’t have asked for any other person to do the voice for him.

The sound effects for the guns are great. Nothing sounds weak or over powered. Shooting wood never sounded so good. There are noises for everything. Shooting wood, metal, stone, etc all offer a variety of sounds. There is plenty of ambient noise as well. Never a dull moment in this game, your ears are constantly pounded by a variety of sounds.

The music in the game is great. It picks up when the heat is turned on and the action starts. It is some pretty innovative music; I really haven’t heard anything like it in a game before. The music fits the surroundings to a tee.

Gameplay:
If I could give the game play anything higher than a 10 I would. It captivated me for 20 hours and 19 minutes until I finished it. The game’s story is the best I’ve ever encountered in any game that I’ve ever played. I can’t remember the last time I’ve played a game this good.

I don’t want to ruin any of the story by saying how it starts or anything. As you know you return to the game as Gordon Freeman. We are no longer in the confines of a huge facility. We are free to roam a gigantic city. The game takes you from one place to the next seamlessly. It’s pretty incredible to watch how all of the maps link together to form a single area of play.

The first thing many people will notice are the load times. They are pretty frequent but come at obvious times, such as long tunnels or hallways. They aren’t annoying to the point that it interferes with the gameplay, which is a good thing. As a friend of mine said, 'I’d rather have a lot of load times and smoother gameplay than few load times and stuttering gameplay.’

I think he put it the best. The load times do not come at parts where the gameplay is intense. Obviously you won’t be running for your life and hit a load screen. If Valve sees the need to come out with a patch to cut down on the load times so be it, but as it is out of the box it is fine with me.

The interaction with the characters and the world objects is unparalleled. The story flows so well, the action never stops. There is never a dull moment in the game. There is never a place where I wish I wasn’t at or I wish would be over with as soon as possible. There are times where the enemy keeps on coming, but the story keeps developing as this is going on.

We also get to interact with our own squad of people. You have people that will fight with you, although I don’t think you can control them. If you have a medic with you he will give you a medkit to use if you get hit. He also heals his teammates as well. This is a pretty important feature when you are fighting 30 of those flying buzz saws, or fending off a rush from the Combine.

The level design plays a big part in the game as well. You go from hunting around in tunnels to driving boats and buggies around. There is also a scary level that rivals Doom3’s spookiness. Those damn headcrabs are everywhere and pop out with their freakish screams. As I said going from one place to another is pretty seamless. I can’t even fathom the thought process that went into the level design.

The AI is possibly the most important factor in developing great gameplay. If the AI just plain sucks the game will suffer. Fortunately Valve has done a great job in creating some fantastic AI. They will work together to ambush and attack you. They also use world objects to hide behind to gain an advantage. If you throw a grenade at them they might kick it back or run away. You really need to catch them off guard in order to kill them with a grenade.

AI in Half Life 2 is better than most games. They don’t fumble behind each other and they don’t get in each other’s way. They also attack the aliens and that gives you an advantage in killing them before they see you. The AI is constantly looking around for a threat and will not hesitate to take it out.

Half Life 2 has the best game play in any game that I’ve played. It will take a lot of effort to pull off what Valve did. Despite all of their losses and delays they still came out with a great game. It is definitely a milestone in gaming. PC Gamer said, 'Doom3 is a master piece of the art form.’ I think they should replace Doom3 with Half Life 2.

Multiplayer:
The multiplayer aspect of HL2 is Counter-Strike: Source. While a lot of people are disappointed that there is no basic HL:DM I am indifferent. I enjoyed CS back before 1.4, back before all the cheaters and back before all the changes. CS:S offers up the same game with a lot of improvements. The maps are the same great style but with physics and way better graphics.

They added the rag doll physics to the models in CS:S. There is also a lot more interaction with the world objects. There’s a PC in CS Office that you can shoot and see all the insides including an ATI card and a SB Audigy. This is neat and I’m sure there are lot more things like this.

But the most important factor about HL2’s multiplayer aspect is derived from HL1’s community. HL1 has one of the biggest modding communities on the net. I figure within days or weeks we will see maps and mods galore for HL2. This community that HL1 built will continue through to HL2 because HL2 is one hell of a game.

There are already maps for you to download and play. My favorite, Rats, is even released and it looks great.

Conclusion:
Game of the Year. Simple as that. If this doesn’t win GOTY I will riot outside of, wherever they riot at. This game is simply the best gaming I’ve ever had in a very long time.

Even if you are a casual gamer you should play this title. It will be the topic of discussion for quite some time. The mods that will be developed with the Source engine will be some of the best games that we will play. Only the future holds what Half Life 2 can bring us. Half Life 1 did great things; Half Life 2 will do greater things.