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.
Though the story seems to have some interesting twists, the basic concept of Half Life 2 is of course “shoot from first person view”. You will encounter some riddles, but your basic move for solving problems is pulling the fire trigger.
Half Life 2 lacks both the lavish monsters and shock effects of a Doom 3. The advantage of this is that you’ll see far more (in-game) sun light, and luckily there is duct tape so you can use flash light and your weapongs simultaneously.
On another topic, I can understand that Valve is interested in pushing their Steam technology. But starting Half Life 2 seems to take much longer than other single player games (Doom 3 starts much faster on my reasonably equipped machine). I guess this is because it asks for permission online every time you want to play, even if it’s single player. I really hope that I can play it when I’m offline too, and that I don’t have to wait 5 minutes for a timeout. What’s in it for me? Does Steam really offer something for the customer? Or does it only benefit Valve?
Half Life 2 is not Doom 3. Both are first person shooters, but they differ wildly in graphics, concept and of course overall look and feel. I enjoyed both, but will enjoy Half Life 2 a little longer, waiting for other games to exploit more of its engine’s capability to render sun light flooded environments. Even killing some terrorists in Counter Strike Source is more fun when there is a sunset