Half-Life 2

Review

posted 11/22/2004 by Charles Husemann
other articles by Charles Husemann
One Page Platforms: PC
One of the big features of Half-Life 2 is the inclusion of the Havok 2.0 Physics engine. While it would have been fairly unique had it met the original release date, since then several games have included realistic physics as part of the package (Painkiller,Far Cry, and Second Sight are three examples) but in each of these games the physics was more of gloss rather than an integral part of the game. Half-Life 2 makes the physics engine a core part of the game by integrating it completely into the game. This means you’ll be solving a lot of puzzles by moving things around and stacking things. How will you be doing this? By using possibly the best weapon ever put into a game, the gravity gun.

The gravity gun is pure simplicity, by primary fire pushing things away while the alternate fire pulls them toward you/picks them up. You can pick up almost everything in the game (large objects and enemies can not though) and then hurl it at your enemies or be used to access different parts of the map. It’s a real joy to be able to pick up and throw barrels at your enemies…especially the explosive ones. Of course, it wouldn’t be a lot of fun if it was just barrels as you can also use the gravity gun on chairs, boxes, saw blades, tables, desks, wooden planks, pallets, paint buckets, and all manner of things. This allows you to do all kinds of interesting things like creating barricades, accessing parts of the map that you normally can’t get to, and even re-decorate parts of the map (paint cans splatter when they hit a wall). What makes this stand out is that there are times when you can do things that Valve probably didn’t expect you to do or situations where you can work your way around certain puzzles. This lends a different feel to the game.

The rest of the weapons in the game are fairly typical. You have the genre standard machine guns, shotgun, grenades, and crossbow (sniper rifle). The iconic crowbar from the first game returns and serves as your melee weapon (and opener of crates). For one level of the game you get to use the bugbait weapon (or as I call it the “stress ball of doom”). Basically, it allows you to summon a group of Ant Lions (primary fire) or send them to an area to attack (alternate fire). The Ant Lions do a nice job of killing everything in the area as well as serving as advance scouts. Since you get an unlimited number of the little guys, you’ll never feel too guilty about sending them into a room full of sentry guns. It’s a good mix of weapons and while it doesn’t sound like a lot of weapons the sheer variety of what you can do with the gravity gun makes the assortment of weapons work.

The game play is your standard FPS fare turned all the way up to 11. While there is a lot of your typical running and shooting, you have the cool physics puzzles as well as some truly special set pieces. Half-Life 2 really does feel like an interactive movie and you get a sense that there is a lot going on around you. The plot eventually does come down to you saving the world but there are moments where you do feel that there is a massive war going on around you. The game does a great job of switching modes on you as well as you’ll go from fighting the combines in the sewers, to tackling zombies in a burned out city, to close quarters combat in the middle of an uprising. While there are some levels that are a little longer than necessary (especially the hover boat level early on in the game), for the most part, the game changes enough to keep you interested in the game.
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