Posted: August 28, 2014
Classic shooter nearly ten years old
It might seem weird to dedicate a review to a game that came out on november 16th, 2004. Still, Half-Life 2
is no "ordinary" game. Even before it's release, it was the most talked about, and surely most anticipated game up till then. Back in 2004, Valve was still primarily a game-developer, Steam had only just been launched in order to streamline the updating-process for the Valve-games (quite an original and ground-breaking idea since back in those day patching one's game could easily turn into a hazardous adventure). Immediately after its release, Half-Life 2
was loaded with critical praise, and almost instantly rose to the top of all lists defining the best games ever. And even today, after ten years, it still tops a lot of those lists.
I played it for the first time only five years ago, messing around with the original Half-Life
up till then. Five years ago, the game struck me as still very good-looking and a blast to play, even being five years old. Quite recently I picked it up again, to be honest in the first place to get some of the achievements I had missed during my first play-through (I only got really interested in the Steam achievements this year). To my surprise, the game immediately got back under my skin, so I decided to give it another play-through, and I enjoyed it immensely, hence this review.
Of course the Source Engine
shows its age: up-close textures get quite blurry, but the wider vistas are still amazingly "alife", and the colours and general atmosphere are still exciting. The physics engine - a novelty back then - now surely feels outdated, even crappy, but playing around with the famous "gravity gun" makes more than up for this, and surely has its funny moments. But in every other respect, this game is a classic and a masterpiece in the true sense of the word. The story is so convincingly told, that I felt myself beeing "Doctor Freeman" again, already during the first chapter (which introduces the gameworld in a very ingenious way which has not been surpassed ever since). The level-design is simply awesome. Compared to modern-day shooters, the interface and the amount of information about the surroundings you get as a player, are minimal. There is no minimap, there are no waypoints, there is no compass, there is no large-scale map. And still, I never ever got lost, thanks to the downright genial way the levels are designed. Still, the amount of freedom you get is great: there are tons of hidden places, byways, or larger spaces to explore, besides the more traditional corridors, but they always manage to lead you in a logical way. This game offers the classic examples on how levels can be optimally designed.
Sound, too, is amazing: there is not much in-game music, but when it appears (mostly in the action-packed scenes), it really delivers to the full. Sounds from the guns, NPC's and ambient sounds are extremely convincing. But what still shines most of all is the actual gameplay and the way this games is "paced". Sneaky, almost stealth-like scenes alternate with extremely violent action-moments, in a very, very clever way, only to be alternated with puzzles and other moments where thinking is required. The choice of the right gun at the right time is essential, and very rewarding. There is a lot of interaction with other characters, but never up till the point where this gets tedious. And best of all: there are countless moments of surprise, when the story takes a turn for the unexpected. So, yes, this is still a classic, and yes, it's still up there among the best games ever (although I personally would grant it a top-five place or so, the top-three spots taken by more recent "classics").
For my scorings, I give them as I conceived the game during my actual playthrough, so not taking into account it's a ten year old game.
Gameplay: 27/30 (there are some frustrating puzzles and some weird moments with the gravity-gun but everything else is sheer genius)
Grahics: 15/20 (the outer vistas are great, the rest is showing its age)
Longelivety: 8/10 (no multiplayer, but the game has tons of singleplayer gameplay)
Steam integration: 10/10 (it comes with trading cards and 33 achievements, most of which really add something to game, if only to explore different ways to achieve things - the way achievements should work imo)
Technical: 9/10 (runs very smoothly and I got no crashes, but sometimes hangs for a couple of seconds on loading screens)
Personal appreciation: 10/10