In 1998, Valve revolutionized the first-person shooter genre by releasing a game that combined strong cinematic elements with deep story-driven action sequences. “Half-Life” became an instant classic and gamers soon started asking for more. Six years later, after the release of a series of expansion packs and community-driven mods, Valve finally delivered the official sequel to their best-selling title.
Penned by renowned sci-fi writer Marc Laidlaw, “Half-Life 2” kicks off with lead character Gordon Freeman being awoken by the mysterious G-man who informs him that “the right man in the wrong place can make all the difference in the world”, which quickly follows-up with Gordon being transported into a train on route to City 17. Upon arrival, Freeman is greeted with a video transmission by former Black Mesa (Half-Life 1 local) scientist Doctor Wallace Breen welcoming him to the city. But things aren’t as friendly as they seem as you’re quickly trusted into an oppressed city controlled by Breen and his allies, the alien race known as the Combine.
Half-Life 2 looks absolutely stunning. Sure, maybe id Software’s “Doom 3” engine looks better, but Half-Life 2’s visual style and animations are unmatched. The facial expressions in the game are lifelike and give you a sense of the wide range of emotions cast by the various characters in the game. The locals in the game are also gorgeous and reminiscent of various modern day European cities.
The game features some of the best voice acting seen in modern gaming. Valve commissioned some well known actors to portray the lead roles in Half-Life 2. The voice talent includes Robert Guillaume (as Doctor Eli Vance), Robert Culp (as Doctor Wallace Breen), Michelle Forbes (as Doctor Judith Mossman) and Lou Gossett Jr. (as the Vortigaunts). Also, fan favourite Michael Shapiro returns to replay his infamous G-man character. Thanks to this pool of talent, you have a group of characters in a game that you actually care about.
In this latest adventure, our hero has access to an arsenal of seven weapons, including three new items that were not featured in the original title: the Pulse Riffle, the Pheropod and the Gravity Gun. Out of all the weapons, the Gravity Gun has to be the most unique of them all. With the Gravity Gun, you’re able to take solid objects and hurl them towards unsuspecting foes. The gun can also be used to manipulate items in order to progress in a particular situation in the game. For example, one might need to gain access to a ledge that’s out of reach, by using the Gravity Gun you could take crates that are positioned nearby and pile them up in order to gain access to that previously unsurmountable area.
The game does have a few negative aspects to it. First off, the load times in the game are horrendous as they really slow down the game’s pacing. One minute you’re racing on a speed boat, the next you’re waiting for the game to load-up. This is unacceptable for a title of this caliber when a game like Halo 2 managed to have almost no load times whatsoever. Lets hope Valve releases a patch someday that will reduce the game’s atrocious load times. It’s been done before, so why couldn’t they do it for Half-Life 2?
Another well-documented issue is the game’s stuttering problem. Users hit with this issue experience audio that cuts and stutters during dialog sequences in the game. Valve hasn’t officially released a patch for the bug yet, but they’ve issued configuration runarounds that solve the problem. Now will your average gamers be able to configure their systems to get the issue disposed of?
It might have taken six years, but Half-Life 2 developer Valve delivered what is considered by many as the the best first-person shooter of all time. The game is an absolute blast and provides gamers with a first-rate first-person shooter that conveys a sense of cinematic realism. Expect many gaming publications to name Half-Life 2 as one of the best titles of 2004.
Andre Barriault lives in Dieppe and is co-editor at the gaming website www.XGR.com – Originally published in [here] magazine in Dec. 2004