Many have forgotten by now, but the original Half-Life revitalized the FPS with a brand of cinematic immersion that nearly every genre title since owes a debt to. Six years in the making, Half-Life 2 on the PC delivered another atmospheric science fiction masterpiece — but can the Xbox version really live up to that high standard?
Ten years have passed since Gordon Freeman made a deal with the enigmatic G-Man in exchange for his life. During that time, an alien empire known as the Combine was attracted to Earth by massive "portal storms" created in the wake of the Black Mesa Incident. Dr. Wallace Breen — previously the administrator at Black Mesa — now controls an oppressive puppet government. Apparently, he struck a deal that saved humanity at the high cost of enslavement to our new "benefactors."
Like the original Half-Life, Gordon never speaks and all action is viewed through his eyes — making him an empty vessel that players should be able to easily fill. This approach is effective at times, but feels awkward when you're the center of conversation and don't respond to comments made by others. The plot itself is onion-like (not entirely dissimilar to Shadow of the Colossus), rewarding players richly for taking the time to do a little research and peel off a few layers.
In regard to the game play, the addition of the now famous "gravity gun" allows players to mess around with physics to great effect. Though messing with objects provides the most of the entertainment, what plain ol' running-and-gunning there is stands alone in terms of challenge and intensity. (Not to worry, the control scheme translates quite well from keyboard and mouse to controller, despite the lack of precision aiming.) Bottom line is, there's no reason for another run-through if you've already finished the PC version — but if you haven't, HL2 on the Xbox is well worth your time.
Half-Life 2 is rated M (Mature 17+) by the ESRB for Blood and Gore and Intense Violence. This game can also be found on PC.