I recently completed playing Half-Life 2, which was developed by Valve Software. In Half-Life 2 you play the role of research scientist Gordon Freeman and your mission is to save an alien-infested world. Based on the shader intensive Source graphics engine, Half-Life 2 has been touted by many reviewers as the Best Game Ever™.
My two cents may not count for much, but I can describe my experience with Half-Life 2 using the following four words - Effective, Outstanding, Annoying, and Satisfying.
City 17: Home of the Future
The physics engine was effective in defining how the player interacted with the game world. There were a number of occasions when items in the game need to be used in order to complete a task. For instance, a player can interact with boxes, barrels, tables, paint cans, etc. If it's not bolted down, then its fair game to be used any way the player wants.
The gadget I went nuts over was the Gravity Gun. You can pick up just about any item with the Gravity Gun or use it to send out a blast which moves items out of the way. In Highway 17, the buggy I was driving got hung up on a roadblock. The Gravity Gun allowed me to knock the buggy off the roadblock and keep on truckin'. File cabinets and barrels were useful as shields.
I Hope My Insurance Covers This
Another favorite was the crossbow. I smirked the first time I shot a Combine soldier and watched him hang from the wall.
Go Over There and Hang Out
The physics engine was superb, but what about the graphics? Simple - they are outstanding. Compared to other games released this year, the graphics weren't particularly innovative, but they come across very clean. I thought the visuals in the outdoor areas were of higher quality than those in the indoor levels.
Ahh, The Outdoors
Another thing that is outstanding about Half-Life 2 is the level design. The story may not be riveting, but the progression of the levels is a lot of fun. You begin with a crowbar and quickly learn to beat the snot out of things. Then you get to drive an airboat and a buggy, operate a crane, lead a flock of ant lions against the Combine, and take out Striders. Lots of shooting...
By the way, I took a crowbar out in my back yard the other day and tried to destroy a pallet with it. It took way more than 3 hits. I must be
a wimp compared to this Gordon guy.
Ant Lion Army
Some of the solutions to puzzles are very cool. For instance, the Gravity Gun can be used to remove barricades on doors or unplug barrier power cables to shut them down. You also get to position barrels under a floating dock in order to use them as a ramp to the airboat.
Another puzzle requires you to blow up a barrel, which jars a log loose that eventually slams through a barrier. I have to admit, there are some great solutions you can come up with to overcome the situations put forth in the game.
Heavy Machinery. You Know You Need It.
Like many other players, I was plagued with the sound bug. After Valve initially patched it, I still had the bug. Even after workarounds I still had problems. The only fix was to save, exit the game, and restart it. It doesn't sound like a big deal, but the gameplay experience suffered from having to stop and start over, and over, and over, and, well, you get the idea.
Another minor annoyance was using the flashlight. Why does the flashlight drain the power of the suit so fast? We have this great new technology, the Gravity Gun, but we can't seem to keep our flashlight from draining power when we're in dark spots. Why can't we just go all over the place with the light on? I ended up increasing the monitor brightness so I wouldn't have to use the flashlight as often. Of course, the brighter scenes were obscenely bright, but I learned to live with it.
Hey! What's up with the gas masks on the Combine soldiers? Is there some sort of food in City 17 that causes them extreme flatulence? If they were an important part of the game, Gordon would be able to wear a gas mask, right? But he can't. It would be nice if he could pick up something that gives him security clearance to pass through the blue glowing fields like the gas mask wearers. But he can't do that either. In the end, he gets to breathe the stinky air. Gas masks - intimidating, menacing, and unnecessary.
What's That Smell?
While I enjoy blowing up barrels as much as the next guy, I say there's nothing more satisfying than taking down a Strider with rockets. You don't get to see them until late in the game, but the Striders are worth the effort.
A Strider's Natural Habitat
As far as gameplay goes, Half-Life 2 has it all. Sure, it had some sound annoyances, but overall, that didn't take away enough of the experience to consider it a setback. There are too many good things about this game to let a little sound glitch make a difference.
What The Heck Is That?
After waiting this long for Half-Life 2, I realized that it was worth it. Outstanding physics, graphics, and level designs make Half-Life 2 one of the most complete and satisfying games I've played. I sure hope we see more games based on the Source engine.