So after a year and two week delay from the original announced released date, Half-Life 2
has finally hit the shelves and Steam users. It’s been sitting on my hard drive for months waiting to be unlocked. Is it worth the wait? Does it live up to the hype? Is it the best first person shooter ever? Well, let’s take a closer look.
Before we get into the game, I’ve been reading about many problems with Steam. You cannot play Half-Life 2
without being activated via Steam first and this has caused many headaches with the server being overloaded with requests. I unlocked my copy at 6AM EST the day it was released and didn’t experience any problems. Unlocking the files took about ten minutes on my AMD64 3200+ machine with 512MB of ram. I guess I was one of the lucky ones as some users can’t even play the game with the server situation. It’s unfortunate this process will frustrate many who just want to play a game that’s five years in the making. I hope Valve learns from this experience as even with the long delay in the game’s release, Steam still had issues that shouldn’t have appeared with such a long lead time to release.
Now let’s get to the game. You return to the life of Gordon Freeman, now in the services of the man in blue with the suitcase that haunted you in the first game. From the beginning, you can see how much the graphics have evolved with the close-up of the mysterious stranger. The wrinkles, eyes, liver spots, and imperfections that appear in the model are but a taste at how much the graphics have improved by leaps and bounds. The game starts you out just like in the first one as you ride a train to your destination. In this case, it’s not Black Mesa but City 17. And all Hell’s going to break loose in City 17 because, well, because that just seems to follow Gordon wherever he goes.
You’ll meet up with a few of your friends from the first game. Barney appears early on to escort you to temporary safety. Dr. Vance makes an appearance from the first game along with a new character, his daughter, Alyx Vance. Dr. Alex Kleiner, a new character, looks like one of the Black Mesa scientists that you saw in the first game. The special ops soldiers are now replaced by Combine Soldiers featuring a ghost like gas mask. A few of the original monsters also come back to haunt you. All characters are beautifully modeled in the new Source engine and the level of detail is amazing. Combined with rich textures, the models that make a return in Half-Life 2
are amazingly articulate and the lifelike movements create virtual actors that are very convincing.
A big part of what makes Half-Life 2
immersive is the interaction with characters and how they move and react. The facial animation technology really needs seen to be believed and generates very believable and realistic reactions. One thing Valve has always done well was try to create realistic virtual actors via actions and reactions. Valve’s Source engine delivers in spades on having lifelike characters. Watching Alyx react to news and conversing with her father was like watching a movie. The range of emotions displayed by Alyx from surprise to anger throughout the game provide characters that you can relate to, perhaps giving them a more human element. They definitely aren’t portrayed is unemotional robots anymore. Remember in Half-Life
right after things went to Hell and you saw Dr. Vance consoling with one of the scientist? Remember seeing the characters play off of each other with their primitive movements and emotional reactions? Now, take that scene and multiply the complexity of the expressions by about 100 and you’d get what makes the characters in Half-Life 2
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