Half Life 2
Developer: Valve
Publisher: Vivendi Universal
Release Date: Out Now
Players: 1
Words By:

Game of the year…. Not an easy award to get but Half-Life managed to get it from 50 publications around the world. Naturally there was bound to be a sequel, and naturally it’s one of the most anticipated games ever (seems to be a trend this autumn). So it’s finally here after years of waiting. And it was definitely worth the wait.

You once again play the role of scientist of few words, Gordon Freeman, who awakens on a train inbound to the mysterious European city known only as City 17; a city under the control of a group called the 'Combine' who run the city like a prison. Gordon soon finds himself joining the resistance... and that's where I will stop as I really think that each person should have the right to enjoy every morsel of the game by themselves – suffice to say that it’s a great story. Like Half-Life, the story is told entirely by the events around you as you play, with no cut scenes stopping the gameplay - it’s a simple thing to do but immerses you into the world so much better.

On your travels through City 17 you’ll travel through streets, sewers, prisons and even an old part of town invested by zombies. You’ll also travel the outskirts of the city on beaches, highways and cliffs. City 17 has been brought to life superbly by Valve – although large sections of the city are like a ghost town, there is a vast amount of detail in every location which enforces the sense that people really did live there until something happened. In the populated sections you will see video screens of 'The Administrator', who talks about how wonderful the city is in a spookily sincere way (somewhat like your Dad sitting you down and telling you that he doesn't mind it if you're gay, or support Man U), not to mention... no, I'll stop there – there's so many things that could be mentioned, but you should see it, hear it, feel it all for yourself.

I say that you should ‘feel’ what happens in the game, because it's not just what happens in the game, it's the way it happens – people in the game really emote – the acting is excellent and backed up by the groundbreaking facial expression system – groundbreaking not just in games, but for computer software in general – happiness, sadness, panic, fear are all shown by characters in HL2 like no piece of consumer software has ever done before. Whereas Gordon was an accidental hero in Half-Life, the others around him see him more as a talisman – a 'real life' action hero that represents their greatest hope for freedom. Many characters are resurrected in some form from Half-Life - you’ll bump into to scientists you knew from Black Mesa, another surprising person and the notorious suited G-Man. There are also some new faces - one of them being Alyx, the daughter of one of the scientists.

Many of the weapons also return from Half-Life: Ol' faithful (the now iconic crowbar), pistols, machine guns, a shotgun, a sniping bow, a rocket launcher, with the addition of the almighty Gravity Gun which allows you go pick up objects and launch them at high speeds. This brings me to one of the many impressive points of HL2: The physics, provided by the industry leading Havok engine, make almost everything in the environment move and react realistically: Rocks; Bottles; Cars; Barrels, you name it, it'll fall/bounce/float exactly as you think it would - it’s the best use of physics seen in gaming. Puzzles such as making a bridge using floating barrels make use of it through the game, and it's quite evident that the developers had as much fun with the idea as you'd think - you can also pick items up with the Gravity Gun and use them as a shield or launch them at your enemies which is very very handy and extremely cool. It's a lot of fun to just pick up random junk and lob it at a zombie – a radiator (heavy = good), a chair (not so good), a bed (surprisingly effective), a cardboard box (throw enough and Mr Zombie might die of papercuts, although probably never going to happen). The physics also play a cosmetic part in combat by making firefights look more amazing, with rubble etc flying around after explosions.

There’s a varied number of enemies you’ll fight along the way; Combine soldiers, helicopter gunships, head crabs, zombies, ant lions (that look like those bugs from Starship Troopers) and the HUGE striders that smash everything in their path and take a lot of fighting to bring down.

Vehicles also make an appearance in the form of an Air Boat and a Dirt Buggy (NB: Some people have complained of motion sickness while using these vehicles, I wasn’t affected though).

A quick note on the technical side of things. Half-Life 2 has had a few problems here and there – a lot of people have experienced the game 'stuttering' regularly - a bizarre problem that doesn't seem to be related to the spec of the user's PC. Others have had trouble with Valve's distribution/anti-piracy system, 'Steam'. Steam is installed with the game, and the game is from then on run from Steam. You have to 'activate' the game online first of all, and log into Steam at least once before you can play HL2. If you don't have an internet connection on your PC that you can activate HL2 from, then you will not be able to play HL2. Steam does download any patches/fixes automatically for you, not to mention giving you access to a whole load of other Half-Life/Half-Life 2 'mods', so it's not all bad, but quite a lot of people have had problems with it.

There is no HL2 multiplayer; instead the multiplayer provided with the game is the new instalment of the number one online game Counter-Strike which we will have a separate review of in the near future.

Graphically the game is right at the top of the class, there have been some good looking shooters this year with the likes of Doom 3 and Far Cry, but HL2 beats them both hands down. Using Valve’s own Source engine the world is brought to life with amazing effects, which add so much believability to City 17. Astonishing looking smoke, sparks, explosions and the most realistic water yet seen. The engine also utilises all the latest Direct X 9 shaders, allowing for bumpy shiny surfaces that look incredible. Valve have done a lot of work to make sure the game runs on a range of system specs. The system I used was AMD 2500xp, 756mb Ram and a Radeon 128mb 9800 Pro, the game ran excellently with all graphical settings on high.

The sound quality is also incredible and creates a great atmosphere. You hear loudspeakers telling people not to help you, overhead helicopters, birds, incoming scanners (hovering surveillance droids coming to take your picture) and distant gunfire. Just every sound effect is top notch, as is the voice acting. The reactive music also gets you pumped up, as soon as it cuts in you sit up and get in the zone.

Overall… well… it’s my game of the year for sure. You can really tell the development time was so worth it, everything just oozes quality. And as soon as I finished it, I fired up a new game…

Best Bits

- The looks, the sounds, the quality.
Worst Bits

- It’s ruined a lot of future FPS by being so good.

by: SteMacD

Copyright © Gamecell 2004