What can be said about Half-Life that hasn’t already been said. Back when it came out in 2004, it arrived with a big splash, nay, a TSUNAMI, to much critical acclaim and financial success. Nearly everyone at least played this game, and almost all loved it, and not for stupid reasons, either. They loved it because as with all Valve games, it took it’s time during development. Like a fine wine, the more it sat and improved upon itself, the better it got. Every detail of this game was crafted with the utmost care. The designers, artists, programmers, everyone that worked on this game, are artisans. They settled for nothing but the best, and it shows.
The game revolves around traveling from one combat encounter to the next, with little bits of filler in between. The game was obviously built with a focus of satisfying and rewarding shooting sections, and levels showing off themselves. The guns feel punchy, thick, and powerful, and killing an enemy always feels good, and the noises reinforces that. The levels vary themselves tremendously, from progression through them, to color scheme, to ways of the environment acting with the combat. So, I suppose we should focus on the former point of interest, shooting and enemy encounters, first.
The enemies in the game stem from 2 types of enemies, the Combine and organic enemies. Potential spoilers from this point. The Combine start from the civil protection units in the beginning of the game (with assault rifles), to soldiers with blue eyes (pulse rifles), to soldiers with red eyes (shotguns), to elites(pulse rifles w/ alt fire). 11 vehicles, things that move, and Combine. With the organics, there are ant-lions, headcrab zombies, fast zombies, regular headcrabs, and a few others. So the number of all enemies combined is fairly high. The Combine often come with numerous soldiers, mostly blue eyes with a few red eyes. Late game you get blue eyes and white colored Combine. Organics often don’t associate with each other. Whenever you see ant-lions, there will be no other organics around. Headcrab zombies come in large packs with some fast zombies.
The shooting works very, very well with these enemies. The sounds, handling, and power of the numerous weapons makes you feel not only powerful, but also that you have many options for taking down your adversaries. And one of the many areas that this game shines in, is in that statement, that you can do things in a bunch of different ways. This interfaces a lot with the level design, but because the weapons can each apply themselves to broad or specific situations, you never feel completely hopeless and you can play to your liking. If you enjoy being cautious and staying a little ways away from those that you face, that’s fine. If you’re more like Mr. Jenkins, and like to rush in and deal as much damage as possible, that’s okay too. The shooting and gunplay in this game not only works, but is amazingly polished.
Second point of interest is level design. First to note it that the levels are in such an order, and look in such a way, that things never get repetitive or boring. Throughout the entire campaign are new things, situations, and combat encounters thrown at you, which makes for an engaging experience. The color palate changes from area to area. What you travel around in changes fairly often. The physical location of the environments changes. What weapons you use change, even to the end of the game. It’s really hard to pull even one of these things off, much less all of them. In regards to combat, the places where enemies spawn is placed where you have to look in all directions, especially in levels with no ceiling or a lot of verticality. It never feels like you’re grinding down the same person over and over and over again, like it is in a lot of shooters. The second thing about the level design is that the progression follows the perfect curve of tension and climactic action (if I’m using the right word). From level to level and in the scope of the entire game, the action and exposition follows path such as you’d see in an excellent book. It all works until the very, very end, and then…
Seriously. Major spoilers.
G-man talks to you. The ONE gripe I have of this game is that it could have avoided much of the cliffhanger-y nature of the ending had the G-man not shown up. Sure, in a lot of cases cliffhangers can be used to good effect, but in this case, and in the case of a lot of games, it doesn’t work. Especially with Half-Life, where there may not even BE a Half-Life 3, this is not okay. But I digress.
If you are one of the few who has not played this game, or if you are 12 and all you do is play CoD, educate yourself. Half-Life 2 is a fine, fine work of art that should be enjoyed by everyone. Should my son or daughter be as interested in games as I am, I will direct them here, not only because it is (was, in the timeframe) the best shooter of the last generation, but because it deserves to be recognized among the likes of the Secret of Monkey Island, Banjo-Kazooie, and the Wind Waker.
Do yourself a favor, buy it.
13 Bones/13.7 Italians