Wednesday, December 29, 2004

Half-Life 2 review

I've been playing the game Half-Life 2 over the past week and it is as good or better than I expected. The mechanics are standard first-person shooter but rather than playing some assassin or commando you play Gordon Freeman a physicist turned freedom fighter. The game features a violent story line strewn with engaging puzzles to solve all rendered with state of the art graphics and sound.

My home system isn't cutting edge so I'm not getting the best from the game but even so the it's great. What has impressed me the most about the graphics is the real quality of the lighting effects. When you move into sun light from a room with artificial light the hues change, things get a richer tone. It's a very immersive effect. The quality of the faces has also improved greatly. They still have a ways to go to be truly realistic but Valve has made great strides in their overall quality.

As with the original game, this is just as much about solving puzzles as it is about blasting bad guys. The puzzle aren't abstract but rather environmental in nature. One of my favorites so far has been a ramp that isn't high enough for you to use to jump your vehicle over an obstacle. If you examine the ramp closely you will see that its front supports are on a submerged raft. The solution to the puzzle then is to gather buoyant objects and place them under the raft so the that ramp rises. It's not rocket science but it's a lot of fun.

To help you solve a lot of these environmental puzzles Valve has supplied the player with a fun tool called the Gravity Gun. The Gravity Gun let's you manipulate objects that would normally be too heavy to move. There are some objects in the game that inexplicably are not influenced by the gun but for the most part everything you see can be grabbed or prodded with its help. Given that Half-Life 2 is so violent and not appropriate for everyone it would be cool if Valve released a game that just featured the puzzles and the gravity gun for a younger audience. I think they would really enjoy it.

I don't play this sort of game for the story lines, and I don't think anyone else does either, but Valve has done a nice job of stringing the puzzles and fighting together in a coherent fashion. Rather than use cut scenes to hammer the plot line in, they've incorporated everything into the natural flow of the game. You never loose the first person perspective of Gordon Freeman. The end effect is of really being a character in the drama that's playing out.

There are a few negatives about the game but not many. My biggest complaint is that the game appears to have been padded with some rather repetitive content just to give it a longer playing time. There were a few times when I found myself doing something very similar to what I had just done before. I would rather have skipped that and just moved onto the next level. I've also witnessed a couple of hangs but nothing that a reboot didn't solve.

Labels are never fair and labeling Half-Life 2 as just a game isn't descriptive enough. Calling it an interactive action movie or first person animated novel would be equally valid. The combination of immersive graphics and engaging story create a unique entertainment experience and something that I imagine will serve as a milestone for this form of media in the future. I know I'm really looking forward to Half-Life 3.

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