Published/Developed by Valve
Platform(s): Windows, Linux & Mac
Retails via Digital Download
Steam for $10.99 (CDN)
Consider also Half Life Complete for $43.99
High Definition Version: Half Life 2: Update (Free)
Let’s get this out of the way: The Half-Life series is an unfinished story for which its players are in understandable want of its continuation: Half Life 3, whether episode or whole sequel. Whatever they want to do, we’re eager to see the next scene, but this is a landmark title hailed by players around the world as a pinnacle of story rich first person shooters.
Nearly an hour (intended) resulted in an interesting correlation between this fact an the current state of the title in question. HL2 is an First Person Shooter that proudly boasts its single player pedigree with millions of sales to date. Yes, there is HL2: Deathmatch, best suited for LAN parties and large scale online competition, but our focus on the immersive single player experience of Half-Life 2 by Valve.
You are, for better and worse, Gordan Freeman, MIT graduate-turned rebel leader against the invasion of the Combine. Earth has been submerged in the faceless grip of its new Benefactors, much worse than any imaginable political force. Even procreation is at the behest of these overlords whose will is communicated by the formidable Dr. Breen, former Administrator of Black Mesa and Gordon’s ex-boss. Whether or not he was responsible for the destruction of the facility, is it evident he took full advantage of his authority and station.
Technically: Released in 2004, regular–if inconsistent–updates have aided its ailing code by adding modern shader support, advanced texture scaling and performance optimization. While HL2 is not demanding for modern hardware, and HSL rendering has improved its ascetic, lighting and texture quality show their limitations ten years hence. As resolutions increase, HL2 looks nice at 1080p, but antialiasing tricks are going to run their course quickly at 4K/Super HD and beyond.
Load times have long been a sticking point for some players, but this reflects design choice, not engine restrictions. Other, minor sticking points continue to be addressed as HL2 has been ported to Linux and Mac, receiving bug fixes and patches.
In 2015, nearly a decade after its release, a group of fans released a major graphical overall which brings HL2 forward into the modern era of photographic FPS titles with tweaks to the presentation with the existing assets and design. Updated shaders, improved textures,
I play HL2 with subtitles on because the writing entertains me and doesn’t distract too much after many completions and 196+ hours of play time. This particular Source Engine title enables me to crank all video settings to maximum on my GeForce GT 650, which locks my framerate in hardware to 60fps. It’s plenty smooth. An unfortunate reality of this engine’s age is backend loading that produces occasional halts as though it has crashed in addition to notable game breaking glitches, one of which I’ll go into detail about later.
I love a good beginning, and HL2 delivers in spades. Getting into the action requires only twenty minutes, fifteen if you’re impatient. Game mechanics are introduced at your comfort level without condescending. Run around, throw pop cans at Combine police, escape and be rescued by Alex Vance. Gotta love the poetic justice of that. She’s just the sort of confident, capable woman Gordan needs as company, stick in the swill artist he is.
Gordan is constantly up to his neck in the grist, and while there are some technical ticks in her presentation, she is valuable companion and guide. For those who don’t enjoy babysitting, she packs a semi-auto pistol, and shotgun in later episodes. Alex sets a good example for the industry; she’s healthy, caring, intelligent, vulnerable, and not the neighborly sexpot. In a relationship that is more than implied, we’re still brooding about the progression of this thick as thunder romance.
Does Gordan get a first date, or have they been courting for the entire rebellion already?
This brings me to the glitch that prematurely ended this experience. Route Kanal is where you get to stretch your legs and practice your aim. The crowbar is a singularly satisfying tool, but physics fun with recklessly stored gasoline barrels serves to acquaint you with HL2 signature combat style.
You may empty your clips into the enemy, or you can preserve bullets and use destructible bridges and constructs to clear your path whilst eliminating the Combine. Don’t worry, they won’t run out of bullets, or forces to throw at you. Balance has been carefully planned, and you have enough time to think your way through most situations as you attune your reflexes to situational demands.
Difficulty scales in a linear fashion: Easy, normal and difficult. At the low end enemies drop after fewer bullets and have laughable aim, whereas the high end turns them into bullet sponges that require sharp reflexes and a few veteran-style grey hairs. Accomplished FPS players will be comfortable, even on the toughest degree of challenge.
Yes, you will die, but in the long run, you will win.
While I have in past completed HL2, several times, this session did not fare so well, as the second of two trains proved the perfect foil for Gordon Freeman. Just think, if this had run to plan, the rebellion would indeed have ended. Forum searches advised me the glitch can be bypassed, but nothing could avail the trapped hero, this time. Note that this has since been patched by Valve and the community in their capacities.
Standing in the wrong area at the wrong time causes a train track to become totally impassable, and the rest of the game unplayable, unless you have played before and can skip the entire chapter. You know, this doesn’t happen to a well maintained book or movie. Stories do not always age well due to factual mistakes or ignorance, but they can still be appreciated as works of art.
Valve’s history of bug fixes is erratic, leaving related classics like Half Life: Source in a nearly unplayable state, and this one with occasional game breaking bugs. As mentioned before, the community mod Half Life 2: Update has done more to address these issues and even improve performance in the wake of current gen high performance hardware. An unfortunate reality of PC gaming, but a wonderful testament to the dedication of hard working, passionate fans.
What’s fun: Gordan is the everyman-rebel-champion, and the narrative neutral approach allows you to add your own ‘voice’ without breaking Valve’s heavily detailed story and sprawling, rich environment. Weapons range from the expected pistols, shotgun, semi-and-full auto guns to the now classic ‘Zero Point Energy Manipulator’ aka Gravity Gun. Alex continues to be good company.
What’s not: Engine related technical throwbacks such as load times, blurry textures, ‘dumb’ opponents and less-then-effective environment lighting.
Recommendation: As an FPS fan, buy it, but wait for an inevitable sale on Steam. Christmas is usually the best time to pick it up. This is arguably the most mod-rich title in the entire industry. Endless player created mods have cemented this as one of the most influential in gaming history.