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Games. Tech. Musings.

Games offline and online. Technology. Random stuff.

Tuesday, January 04, 2005

Half-Life 2 review

So. Half-Life 2. I did get around to finishing it before Christmas but hadn't written anything more about it.

Firstly, if you haven't played it and you're at all serious about PC games, you really should. It's a genre-defining game that sets new bars in a couple of areas and will be referred to countless times in comparison with other games. My own computer is a few years old now and could still run it (bravo to Valve on coping with slightly older hardware) so you probably don't have a good excuse not to get it.

Ok, that said, so what was the big deal? From a technical viewpoint, the advances over the competition were physics integration and facial animation. Graphics were very shiny too but (arguably) no more so than Doom 3. AI wasn't a leap forward as per the previous Half-Life.

Speaking of the previous HL, Valve stuck to their guns in a large number of ways. Their religious dedication to F in FPS (no cutscenes, interactive throughout, etc.) continued. Story was there but understated - definitely show, not tell. You felt somewhat like you were seeing flashes of grey and imagining the rest of the elephant. Atmosphere and immersion were top-notch. The thematic "On A Rail" section from HL1 was continued with the new vehicles.

The game is really a succession of set-pieces. The difference is that in most games there are a few memorable set-pieces and a lot of "wander down corridor, open door"-type sections which you forget instantly, but HL2's set-pieces are uniformly superb and stay with you.

Ok, so that's the good stuff. The bad points are really quibbles. Level load time could have been faster although save time was very fast. The end section's supergun needed a little writing to prop it up - e.g. Alyx turning up and delivering a present - as is, just handing it over to the player felt very strange and was the only point where my suspension of disbelief was shaken.

Personally, I wasn't that big on Ravenholm. I know it was necessary as a showcase for the Gravity Gun - you need slow-moving, stupid enemies for it to be useful and zombies fit the bill - but I've done the zombie game more than one too many times.

In conclusion, my favourite moments.
  • Emerging into the plaza. Spectacular and Orwellian.
  • Setting up defenses in Nova Prospekt against the seemingly unending swarms of enemies. Tactical and action-packed.
  • Marvelling at the facial animation in the first conversation with Barney.

I'm not likely to give out a bigger recommendation on a game any time soon.