The crowbar has returned ! Well, actually it isn’t the crowbar but the man that handles it, Gordon Freeman. Half-Life 2 is finally upon us and we’ve checked it out to see whether it’s worth the long wait and seemingly endless delays we’ve had to endure.
Gordon Freeman wakes up in a metro station after having a weird dream. He’s unarmed and doesn’t really know what to do so he just goes with the flow until he meets up with Barney who’s working under cover. Black Mesa is history but Gordon isn’t and within minutes he’s back in his powersuit, ready to kick ass and chew bubblegum… oops, sorry that was someone else. Anyway, you get the picture.
This year, two shooters were highly expected, Half-Life 2 and Doom 3. We reviewed Doom 3 a while ago and said that although things were good on the technical side, there wasn’t any “feeling” present. It was a plain shooter without much background and you didn’t get the idea you were part of something bigger. That’s exactly the difference with Half-Life 2. Here, you also go around, shooting (almost) anything that moves and pulling switches when necessary, but the storyline is gripping and you get the feeling you’re really IN the game, not just playing it. Valve has made a fantastic story that grabs you by the balls and doesn’t let go until you’ve finished the game.
Of course, the storyline alone couldn’t bring over such an effect and the AI is one of the things that helps. The enemy AI that is. Opponents will start shooting at you when you’re in range, run away or take cover when you’re killing them and you’ll almost get the impression you’re fighting real players. Badly skilled players, but real ones nonetheless.
You can notice that certain events are scripted but overall, it has been done quite alright and it doesn’t get too predictable in such a way you’ll get bored with it (like it can happen with Serious Sam). The friendly AI is a different thing however. They manage to be in your way and you’ll often feel the need to kick their butt just to make sure they don’t block the entrance to the door. Fortunately, this doesn’t ruin the fun of the game.
One of the most important things when you talk about Half-Life 2 is the graphics. People have been waiting for years for this game and the graphics have been hyped since the very beginning. Finally someone would be able to beat ID Software when it comes to creating an engine. In fact, when it comes to outdoors sceneries, I must agree in full force. Half-Life 2 creates a scenery that looks extremely realistic and although you won’t have the feeling you’re playing in a movie by the graphics alone, together with the storyline and AI, you won’t be far off.
The characters are nicely modelled and look humanoid, something a lot of games still can’t manage to achieve. Compared with Doom 3 I would say they are equal in quality on this part. When it comes to indoor, Doom 3 shines a bit more but that isn’t really a problem with Half-Life 2 as Valve has set things up in such a way that you’ll constantly have the feeling you’re roaming around in a huge world and indoor scenes are limited.
Talking about a huge world: the path you have to follow is clearly set and there’s no true freedom available but Valve has set everything up so nicely that you feel free and not like you’re just walking a pre-set path. A touch that Doom 3 didn’t really have because there you would be walking around constantly in-doors.
One of the reason you get this feeling of freedom is how Valve has implemented the vehicles. During the game you’ll have several vehicles that you can use and you’ll be wandering around a lot with them, shooting at opponents and making the occasional stop to refill your health or get some extra ammo.
The weaponry at your disposal is also nice and original. Of course the standard guns, rifles and bazooka’s are available but price for originality definitely goes to the anti-gravity gun. With that you can pick up large object and throw them at your opponents. Walking around in a house and need to get rid of some zombie ? Just throw a closet at him ! Going through a scrapyard and a bunch of opponents are stalking you ? Try to get them aligned and swirl that circle saw at them so they’ll get chopped in two with only one saw ! Great fun to use and it even comes in handy when you want to get somewhere out of reach as you can also build staples that you can mount on afterwards to reach for things that are too high.
The possibilities are almost unlimited and this shows how much care has been taken in the creation of the physics engine.
The sound is something the fans of the original Half-Life will certainly appreciate. It’s been upgraded but all the original sounds are integrated (and updated) which makes things very familiar. Again a nice detail that will appeal to people.
If everything fantastic with Half-Life 2 then ? Aren’t there any downpoints ? One would almost dare to say yes but that would not be the truth. I was really angry with the installation procedure.
First of all, if you don’t have an internet connection, forget about playing HL2. Even if you only want to do singleplayer, you’ll still need the internet to register and without that you won’t be able to play. Steam is integrated in the game and no Steam means no HL2.
This of course means you need to install both the game aswell as Valve’s Steam and that takes a LONG time. At least, on my system with Athlon64 3000+ and 1GB of RAM.
Also the registration part is a bit of a pain as you not only have to register for Steam but also Vivendi wants you to register at their site. The funny part here is to select which game you’ve bought and Half-Life 2 isn’t in the list of available titles you can select.
The specs necessary for running the game are a bit less than with Doom 3 though. With Doom 3 I would get occasional times where the screen would tamper while playing in 1024*768 in medium quality. With HL2 everything went smooth with almost all details on. My Radeon 9800 Pro managed to display everything without a problem.
The original release did contain an irritating bug that would cause the sound to jitter but fortunately, Valve has resolved this problem pretty quickly and you shouldn’t experience this anymore. That’s of course the advantage of Steam: patches are pushed onto your client the moment they get released. Also the “disadvantage” of only having a singleplayer game (ok, CS: Source is included but I don’t count that as HL2 multiplayer) is gone as Valve has released a Deathmatch mode for Half-Life 2.
I could go on and on about just how great Half-Life 2 is but it would all come down to the same thing: if you like first person shooters, you just have to go out and buy Half-Life 2. There’s nothing better than this game.