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Published December 11, 2007

Welcome to America: Land of the free and home of the First-Person Shooter. Let’s face it – if you’re an American gamer, you’ve probably played an FPS in your life. You know the deal, grab the gun, go for the headshot, lob the grenade, “Terrorists Win!” At a rudimentary level, the genre seems crude, overly-violent, and twitch-heavy. These are “gun games” made for “gun fans.” Is it really a surprise that we see so many shooters like this, especially living in a country where you can buy a gun at Walmart?

As someone who doesn’t play a lot of FPS (I’m pretty awful at Halo, and haven’t owned one since Goldeneye), I’m kind of sick of seeing one mindless shooter after another being crapped out of western game studios. The angsty inner teenager within me’s“why should I care?” attitude was quickly taking over my thought process. Then a little game called The Orange Box (you might have heard of it by now) came out, and for the first time ever I stepped into City 17.

Perhaps the first thing you’ll notice when you step into the original Half Life 2 is how detailed the face of the mysterious G-Man is. His eyes shift back and forth, you can see every little indentation in the skin on his face, and his lips are perfectly in-sync with his wavering voice, eerily calling you to “wake up.” From the train you first begin on to the climactic enemy Citadel, everything in Half Life 2 looks crisp, detailed, and alive. Although definitely not the best graphics by today’s high-definition standards, the environments you traverse throughout Half Life 2 are still great enough to make you say “wow.”

G-man’s face

“So Wake up, Mr. Freeman. Wake up and smell the ashes.”

But there’s tons of beautiful games out there, let alone FPS (see Crysis). What can Half Life 2 offer in terms of gameplay? Two words: Gravity-Gun. To meet someone who has played Half Life 2 and doesn’t gush about this simple yet incredibly innovative contraption is an extremely rare occurrence. Literally, it’s a gun that lets you pick up items (from a distance, like a high powered vacuum) and then shoot them at extremely high velocity at whatever gets in your path. See that barrel? Send it through the window. How about that piece of wood? Now it’s a spear. And is that a saw blade? Uh oh…

It’s easy to see how creative one can get using the gravity gun, and it’s an excellent medium through which to view the entertainingly realistic Havok engine. But what about the other guns? They behave normally, no qualms there. Unfortunately, the platforming aspect of the game doesn’t hold up quite as well as the shooting portion. Although you have access to sprinting and jumping abilities, getting from one small beam to the next tiny platform can be quite the frustrating affair. Needless to say, you’ll have quite a few unfortunate falls.

So there’s some really nice graphics and solid gameplay. Still kind of sounds like your typical FPS, right? Here’s where that line of thinking falls apart: the story and storytelling techniques used in Half Life 2 are nothing short of incredible. The game begins with a few curious words from the enigmatic “G-man,” and you soon find yourself exiting a train and thrust into an Orwellian city, complete with what seems to be a totalitarian regime and the face of Dr. Breen, (the “Big Brother” if you will) talking at you from monitors as you’re hustled along at gun-point to each new location. But things change quickly, and you soon meet the incredibly charismatic Alyx Vance, Barney, Dr. Kleiner and the rest of the cast and become wrapped up in a struggle bigger than you can imagine. Of particular note is the fantastic character development throughout this relatively short game. If you become attached to the Half Life 2 characters at all (and Valve will pull every trick in the book to get you to that point), you’ll find yourself slightly sad every time you get pulled away from them…and all the more anxious to fight through whatever stands in your path to become reunited. Their voice acting is amazing and their emotions are palpable. Absolutely breathtaking.

But perhaps the most fantastic part of Half Life 2 is the main character, Gordon Freeman. After setting into motion the incident at Black Mesa in the first game, it’s easy to see why fans around the world have come to cherish the thin, goateed man. You see, this MIT Ph.D. is a hero in every sense of the word – he’s brilliant, he’s strong, he’s fearless…but most importantly, he’s you. Half Life 2 does a brilliant job of fulfilling what seems to be the exact purpose of the genre: making you feel like you’re really there. When the amazing characters speak, they don’t speak at you, they speak to you. You’ll be hard pressed to refuse a request from them when they gaze at you with their sad, war-exhausted stares. And they know exactly how much of a legend you are. As the Vortigaunts say, you are “The one free-man.” From the very outset, you’ll feel as if you’ve wandered into something completely epic, but trust me, you’ll never feel more at home than you will in that Hazard Suit.

Gordon walking

You are the legend.

That being said, Half Life 2 is not an incredibly easy game – reaction speed, shooting skills, and puzzle solving capabilities will all be put to the test at some point throughout this 15 hour experience. But don’t despair, the game does an excellent job (at the standard difficulty) of providing you with ample health, bullets, and supplies. The game’s also quite obvious at times; you’ll know exactly when you’re about to run into a boss – you’ll see four health packs, a stack of grenades and 60 shotgun shells in front of you. The only real problem here is that one might be tempted to rely on the game’s “quicksave” system, in which you can literally save the game at any moment, and load exactly from that moment when you die. Imagine saving with 1 percent of health, staring at an enemy with a full clip directly in front of you. Do you really want to reload from that point? I didn’t think so. Overall, Half Life is very fair; although it can be challenging at points (and should be), you never feel powerless. Between the amazing weaponry and the ample supply of health items that you accrue throughout your journey, you’ll stand more than a fair chance against the hordes of enemies out to get you. That, and you’re Gordon Freeman. Better get that crowbar ready.


You’ll need all the help you can get.

Whether or not you’re fine with the FPS-ridden western game market, you’re going to have to face facts – the genre is popular, and it’s here to stay. Thank you God (and Valve), for bestowing upon us such incredible gems of gaming as Half Life-2. The game is not only a shining example of how incredibly immersive an FPS can be, but a masterfully woven narrative that rivals nothing short of the pinnacle of story-telling. To say that I fell in love with this world, its people, and its story would be an understatement – it’s easily classifiable as an experience that will change the way you not only look at the FPS genre, but all the games you’ve ever laid your thumbs on. Valve set the bar extremely high when they originally released Half Life 2 in 2004 – the fact that the game still outshines almost every high-definition, motion-controlled, rumble-enabled game released today is a testament to its’ timelessness. As a gamer you’ll be hard pressed to find a more worthwhile way to spend 15 hours of your life. Welcome to city 17.

Gordon & Alyx


Just. Incredible.



Art Direction: Not the best today, but still great enough to take your breath away. You’ve never been so intimidated by the huge enemies found here.


Sound Design: Awesome. A riveting soundtrack that kicks in *just* at the right moment to get you pumped for battle…or scare you like a little girl. Very well done.


Gameplay: Solid, fast paced, and overall just extremely satisfying. Although the platforming can be a little rough, it’s still absolutely one of the finest First Person Shooters ever made.


Story-telling: This is where I think Half Life 2 shines the brightest – although there are games out there which contain better stories, the way in which Half Life 2 conveys its plot is absolutely incredible. Just wait and see what they have in store for you in Episodes 1 & 2.


Overall: One of the best games I’ve ever played. Cool on about every level you can think of, this is one that you absolutely cannot afford to miss if you want to call yourself a gamer. If you’ve played it, you know exactly what I’m talking about. If you haven’t, you really have no excuse. Find a copy. It’s that worth it.

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