Why is the future always dystopic? Am I the only one who wonders this? It seems like no matter what the medium, be it videogames, books or movies, the future is either already screwed or is seemingly perfect but secretly about to be screwed. Am I the only one who thinks the future will probably be as monotonous as it is now? I suppose it appeals to our sense of heroism & helps us think that our current world isn’t really so bad off. Regardless, this week’s dystopic future comes courtesy of Half-Life 2. Yes, I’ve finally gotten around to finishing a game that came out nearly eight years ago. I originally bought the game when it came out for the XBox, but never made it past Ravenholm. But thanks to The Orange Box, I finally finished it. So what did I think of it?
Just in case you’re like me & have a massive case of procrastination, Half-Life 2 continues the story of Half-Life. Some twenty-odd years after the events in the first game, Gordon Freeman is dumped back on Earth to find it’s been taken over by an alien race known as the Combine. The Combine claim, via their puppet Dr. Breen, to be helping humans ascend evolution. In reality they’re oppressing humanity, enacting strict Martial Law, harvesting people to fuel their forces & suppressing human reproduction. Through a series of unexpected but coincidental accidents, Gordon finds himself the leader of a revolutionary movement, being dubbed “The Last Free Man.” With the help of old & new allies, Gordon must confront the Combine forces & overthrow the tyrants.
HL2 controls mostly like your standard FPS. You’ll come across a variety of common & exotic weaponry to help you take down the Combine… & anything else that gets in your way. A key feature of the game is its physics engine, which you’ll make use of for various puzzles & encounters. About halfway through the game, you’ll acquire the Gravity Gun, which allows you to fully manipulate the environment. Just about anything can become a weapon, from saw blades, grenades & explosive barrels. There are also some vehicle sections where you control a boat & later a dune buggy.
Story: I have to admit, even though he comes across as your standard silent protagonist, I really like Gordon. I love stories where the hero is just a normal person who is forced to go through extraordinary circumstances. Gordon is a scientist, not some powered up soldier. He does what’s needed to survive, & because of this people keep looking at him as the leader. It was endlessly amusing listening to people gush about Gordon like he was some Hollywood celebrity. I also found the other main characters to be well-developed. They each have their own personalities. Unfortunately, most of your time is spent wandering around on your own with no communication with anyone. I feel it would’ve been better if they’d been more involved in the story. But I guess this is better than having to escort them everywhere. As for the story itself, I found it pretty standard. Not bad, mind you, but similar to other science fiction plots. I did like the parts where the game really immerses you in the world & makes you feel like you really are Gordon Freeman. For example, in the final part of the game when Breen kept popping up on the monitors to mock me, I usually shot the screens before he could finish his speech. Yeah, I missed out on whatever he was saying, but in real life my reaction would be to cut the idiot off. Score: 4
Gameplay: The combat controls work well. Cycling through the numerous weapons you’ll pick up is fairly easy. I also liked that the weapons aren’t just standard issue. A lot of attention goes to the Gravity Gun, & it is a lot of fun, but my favorite weapons were the crossbow & the antlions. Pining a Combine soldier to the wall from a hundred feet away is a lot of fun. But I was very disappointed that there weren’t more opportunities to summon my antlion legion. I consider that section of the game as the best. I loved watching my antlions swarm the soldiers. They’re kinda cute when it’s not me they’re trying to maul. I also liked that the rocket launcher has guided missiles. The rockets follow whatever your cursor points at. It doesn’t guarantee you’ll always hit your target, but it definitely helps. The vehicle controls are pretty good as well. But an area I wished had been changed was the platforming sections. Jumping is hard when you can’t see your feet. I also had an issue with getting stuck in doorways, though that may be my own ineptitude rather than the game’s fault. I had issues with the ladders in the game as well. Sometimes you automatically stick to them when you walk up to them, but other times you don’t, & I could never figure out if there was a reason for this or not. I also feel that something must be said about the end of the game, where you have a team following you. They are useless! More often than not, they got in the way. You can only command them to go to a point or follow you, & half the time they didn’t listen to either command. And I seriously considered shooting them after the twentieth time I walked into room, discovered there was nothing inside, & couldn’t get back out because they all decided to crowd the doorway. Score: 4
Visuals & Audio: Although the graphics aren’t super flashy in this game, I really liked the look of it. Everything looks realistic, excluding the fictional parts of course. However, I did think that the facial textures were a bit off. I don’t know how to describe it exactly. It’s like the faces have too much texture, if that makes any sense. As for the audio, there isn’t a lot of music in the game, but I think it suits the atmosphere. Most of the soundtrack is sound effects that enhance the levels. It’s very minimalistic, but I liked it. Score: 5
Replayability: Moderate. Although I personally won’t play it again, I can understand how some people would. It helps that you can select the different chapters to play through once you’ve completed it. So, for instance, I could play through the Sandtrap level again & have fun killing the Combine with antlions. Score: 3
Overall Score: 4
Final Word: As an FPS, it was unlikely that this would ever make my Best Game Ever list, but Half-Life 2 is still an enjoyable game. I’ll probably have a better feel for the overall game once I play through Episodes One & Two, but as it stands, I can see how this game has received so much praise.
Title: Half-Life 2 Console: 360, PS3, PC Rating: M Developer: Valve Corporation Publishers: Valve Corporation & Sierra Entertainment Release Date: November 16, 2004