Half Life 1 ended with the older one of the men in black (except that he wore a grey suit and had a slow and somewhat weird pronounciation) congratulating you for the job. Somehow (and don't ask me why) this single scene made all my efforts and endurance throughout the whole game worth while. It was the first time I actually enjoyed working for a middle-aged man in a grey suit.
Back to this Half Life 2 review. Half Life 2 starts with this same man, with his same pronounciation, waking you up from a long sleep (so it seems) for a new job. And then you find yourself in a train, just like any ordinary citizen commuting to work, entering the main station of City 17.
I don't want to spoil anything, but it takes some time until you get your first weapon. And some sort of military police try to hunt you down. I really enjoyed escaping through devastated flats to the roof, climbing to the next apartment unit until ... Together with the very realistic looks of an ordinary European city this thrilling flight made me feel alive in a game, an impression I don't have to often.
Half Life 2's graphics is stunning. It lacks the sophistication of a Doom 3 engine with all its dynamic shadow casting, but it depicts a natural environment more real. The degree of immersion is very high. Driving with your buggy boat on some lonely river bendings, seeing the urban cement buildings from a short distance, illuminated by an afternoon sun, you can't get much closer to reality. The Source Engine excels in outside levels. The actors in the game are of course still far away from real actors in a real movie, but Valve has managed to get closer than ever before. One more thing that gets the game closer to virtual reality is that you can deliberately move (that is, grab and throw) most movable objects, like barrels and boxes.