PlayStation 3 (2004, PS3 port 2007)
The big G-S-G-S-G
General opinion: A pretty impressive FPS game
Story: Not massive, but decently told
Graphics: Pretty good
Sound: Fairly decent, except for occasional glitch (see below)
Gameplay: Pretty smooth and surprisingly varied
Half-Life 2 is undoubtedly one of the most acclaimed first person shooter games. I've never been a huge FPS fan (in fact before this I'd hardly played any major FPS title since, well, Doom), so it took me a long while to get around to playing it, but it turned out to be a pretty entertaining experience.
Some time after the original Half-Life, in a world ruled by aliens from another dimension, doctor Gordon Freeman (enlisted by a mysterious character known only as the 'G-Man' at the end of the first game) mysteriously appears in one of the major cities. He quickly gets entangled in the affairs of a resistance movement. The whole game is viewed from Freeman's perspective and there are basically no 'cutscenes' as such; the plot unfolds through dialogue and events taking place around him. Freeman himself is always silent. We know nothing about his motivations as he's pushed into ever more hazardous and bewildering situations. There's not actually a huge amount of plot, but it's pretty well executed.
For a game originally released in 2004 it still looks pretty good, I think. Musically the game is fairly minimalist, mostly relying on ambient sound and only occasionally accentuating gameplay with electronic music tracks. I'm not sure the voice acting was the best I've heard in a game, but it gets the job done. There's a robust physics engine, which is utilised well in the game's puzzles. Freeman also has a 'gravity gun' that can be used to move objects, or hurl them at enemies. Other than that, the gameplay is fairly standard FPS fare. There's a fairly large variety of weapons, featuring all the FPS standards from shotgun to rocket launcher, and a nice variety of enemies, from the creepy little headcrabs to huge striders.
I found the game quite challenging enough, even though I played on 'easy' setting. Like I said, I'm no FPS veteran, and overall pretty bad at action games. There were levels where I died plenty of times, but none turned out too difficult in the end. The game progresses in a pretty linear fashion, but there's a nice variety of different environments. Individual segments of the game, though, felt a little unnecessarily long, and could begin to feel a little repetitive. In fact, the whole game felt rather long, for an action game, although there was no timer, as far as I could tell. (A fact I find quite annoying, to be honest. I like to know roughly how long I've spent playing a game.) Strangely enough, there's no real boss fights, apart from occasionally having to take down larger vehicles and such.
The PS3 version of the Orange Box seems to have an issue that occasionally causes audio to crackle annoyingly (the same problem occurred when I was playing Portal as well). The load times may be a little on the long side, which was particularly annoying in some difficult spots where I died several times. Other than these, I had few technical complaints.
Overall I think Half-Life 2 was an entertaining game, as well as a pretty good introduction to the world of modern FPS games. It was a pleasing enough experience that I'll probably play the sequels as well.
Ben B. Bainton, 12 July 2012