Chris Sell
14 Dec, 2005

Half-Life 2 Review

Xbox Review | Wake up Mr Freeman…
Turning water into wine. Parting the Red Sea. Landing man on the Moon. Michael Schumacher not winning the F1 Championship. Miracles are few and far between in this world, but Valve just pulled one off one of their own by squeezing Half Life 2 onto the 4+ year old Xbox. With everything here exactly how it was on the PC a year ago, it’s now a perfect reason for Xbox owners to sink their teeth into Valve’s latest masterpiece.

The game follows, once again, Gordon Freeman, a research scientist from Black Mesa in the original Half-Life. To divulge any further into the story would only spoil things, but the plot starts taking place from the very opening scene. The game contains no cutscenes, with the whole story driven within the in game engine as you play. You’ll see TV screens, talk to various people or over hear sound broadcasts containing all sorts of information in regards to what the situation is in City 17; the place your train arrives at.

In terms of control, Half Life 2 fits effortlessly onto the Xbox joypad. Aiming is incredibly smooth and accurate with the analog stick; so moments where you wish you were back on the PC version with a mouse are few and far between. In actual fact, the game probably suits the joypad better given all the platform conversing and vent crawling that Half Life is generally known for. Jumping, reloading and shooting are all where you would expect them to be while weapon selection is handled on the dpad.

Speaking of which, the weaponry on offer is both superb and imaginative. You have a selection of the usual guns you’d expect like a pistol, shotgun, crossbow, magnum, machine gun and, of course, your trusty crowbar. But Half Life 2 offers so much more with the inclusion of one thing – the gravity gun. From the moment the game starts you appreciate the quality of physics Valve’s ‘Source’ engine has. An area at the beginning of the game sets the tone for things to come with a simple children’s playground containing a see saw, a swing and a roundabout. It looks normal enough until you walk up to it. You push the swing and it sways realistically, you drop a brick on the see saw and it falls authentically under the weight. It’s a bit of fun just messing around with these things, but the gravity gun amplifies the enjoyment tenfold.

No FPS is complete without a meaty shotgun, and Half Life 2 doesn’t disappoint.

No FPS is complete without a meaty shotgun, and Half Life 2 doesn’t disappoint.
Pretty much everything in the game, barring larger objects such as wardrobes or cars, can be picked up and thrown about at will with the gravity gun. Given the freedom the physics, combined with the use of the gun, offer you’re free to approach situations in a variety of ways. If you were short of ammo you could attack enemies directly with anything lying around, using them as a projectile. If your health was low you could barricade doorways, or if you were under heavy fire you could use objects as cover. I distinctly recall one part late in the game where two gun turrets were covering a long hallway. By grabbing a nearby barrel with the gravity gun, I used that as protection as I crouched and shuffled my way around them unharmed.

It’s not just the combat that benefits from the gravity gun, the level design throughout the game is geared towards physic-related interaction with the surrounding environment. There’s a section that sticks in the mind where there was a large ramp, but it wasn’t quite angled steep enough to make it to the above platform. Using some surrounding plastic bottles it was possible to place them in the water under the ramp, causing the ramp to lift thus allowing you to proceed to the next area. There are also areas where the two are mixed, Ravenholm especially is packed full of ‘traps’ to torture and maim your enemies with. The spinning blade is especially satisfying as a quick blast with the gravity gun sends it whirling, slicing anything it should come in contact with into peices.

Vehicles are another new addition to the Half Life games. Featuring both a machine gun mounted hoverboat and a buggy, they’re used for sizable chunks of the game. Not only do they offer welcome variety to the usual on foot rambling, they also give Half Life 2 a kind of expansive size that the first game didn’t have. The feel of them spot on and both are suitably different from one another. The buggy hugs the road as expected while the hoverboat floats gracefully over the water. The actual control works well, and while not as intuitive as in the Halo games, they’re easier to handle than the vehicles in Far Cry Instints thanks to some mild auto-aiming for the mounted machine gun.

The Gravity Gun is quite possibly the best thing ever.

The Gravity Gun is quite possibly the best thing ever.
First Person Shooters live and die by a few, of what I call, essentials – a list of major areas in which all the best FPS’s over the years have excelled in. First up are the weapons, something Half Life 2 passes with flying colours. Not only do they control well, the feel of them, the reloading animations, and most importantly, the sound effects that accompany them are beautifully satisfying. AI, which is becoming increasingly important these days, is also strong here. There are times where enemies will stand stupidly in the open, but on the whole they are keen to use cover and move in groups rather than singularly. The enemies themselves are also another area in which Half Life 2 is prominent. Plenty of variety both visually and in terms of how they attack. Humans use smart movement and accurate gun fire, while headcrabs will leap hastily towards you. The game also contains some ‘boss-like’ battles with Gordon coming face to face with large sand creatures and flying machine gun laden choppers on more than one occasion.

With both Half Life 2’s weapon and enemy quality faring rather well, my final test is that of the level design itself. Pleasingly, this is actually Half Life 2 strongest quality. From the moment you step off the train at City 17 the game doesn’t stand still for a moment. You begin traversing empty streets and sewers, then before long you’re flying down rivers on a hoverboat and then cruising along coastal roads in a buggy. This in addition to sampling the haunting delights of Ravenholm, trekking over sand dunes and battling though and abandoned prison. The best thing about being taken on such a vast and varied journey is that you always feel lost, but never are. The game is strictly linear, but never really feels that way. This is helped greatly by the fact that there’s a ton of houses and buildings that you really have no need to visit. But you do out of curiosity. You want to know what’s inside; you don’t want to miss out on a single thing.

This is helped greatly by the fact that Half Life 2 is such a beautiful looking game. Sure, it doesn’t stand up to its PC cousin in any way, but it’s still a rather tasty looking Xbox game as it was always more artistically stunning than it was technically. The character models are up there with anything else on the current batch of consoles, while the textures do retain the general look that the PC version had while the lighting however actually eclipses that of the PC original in places. Each area looks distinctly different, while maintaining the same ‘look’ so that nothing really looks out of place from one another. But while it looks reasonably close to the original, the framerate has certainly taken a hit in some places during the process of trying to squeeze this onto the Xbox. For the most part it runs stable, but when the action hots up things soon get a little choppy. It can be bad, but it somehow doesn’t effect the game anywhere near as much as I expected it to. On the plus side, the game supports widescreen and 480p for those able which is always nice to see give FPS’s benefit from a 16:9 view more so than most other type of game.

The textures hold up to the PC version surprisingly well.

The textures hold up to the PC version surprisingly well.
The sound is always something I tend to neglect when reminiscing about Half Life 2, probably because it lacks a main theme, but it really does deserve a lot of praise. From the instant you begin the game once of the first things you’ll notice is how well voice acted the in game characters are. Things sound believable and rarely forced. The script is strong and each of the main characters has their own highly distinctive voice. Gordon never speaks himself, but you always feel like the characters are actually communicating with you. This is helped by the fact their eyeballs will track you a lot, which helps create that link between the player and character, but there’s no doubt that the top quality voice actors Valve brought in did their job exceedingly well. Music is used sparingly throughout the game, but always seems to kick in at the right time with the right track to fit the situation. High speed hoverboat are accompanied with something suitably pulse racing, while the attacks from the alien aircraft are met with a rather haunting and menacing theme.

As good as Half Life 2 is, it’s not without its faults. The inconsistent framerate, which I’ve touched on already, deserves mentioning as does the slightly annoying team AI you have to deal with in the latter part of the game. You get control over a small group of AI characters, but given the tight corridors of a lot of the games later areas they often end up blocking the way, leading to much frustration at times. But what really holds the game back from true greatness is its long term appeal. While the PC version has Source versions of Counter Strike, Day of Defeat and its very own Half Life 2 multiplayer, the Xbox version has nothing in the way of multiplayer at all. No secrets, no unlockable artworks, no alternate endings, nothing. So while the single player is a decent length at 10-15hrs long first time through, and it is one of the finest 10-15hrs you’re ever likely to find in gaming, that’s all there is.

But there’s no point ending on a sour note as Half Life 2 on the PC was one of the most delightfully brilliant games of recent times. The fact that Xbox owners can now taste its greatness is a reason for celebration. With its spectacular level design, clever puzzles, streamline presentation and an immensely enjoyable weapon set available, Half Life 2 rarely fails to impress as it’s packed with so many stand out moments. The fact that there were many, many things along with a certain weapon that I’ve purposely not even mentioned is a testament to the constant slew of highlights and surprises Half Life 2 throws up. If you missed this one on the PC, don’t miss out this time around as it’s one of the finest games ever created.
The Score
One of the finest games of this generation and one of the best single player FPS’s ever created. If you missed this for the PC make sure you pick this up as games like Half Life 2 are the reason we play games. 9
Looking to buy this game right now? PALGN recommends www.Play-Asia.com.

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8 years ago
So this is just Half-life 2 on PC but with graphics on Mid everything?
8 years ago
Plus theres no deathmatch fun to be found. Thats the worse bit about it.
8 years ago
This is a detailed answer to your question icon_razz.gif
8 years ago
I have chalked up 20 hrs on single player PC version. I'm pretty close to the end though.

Be a damn great player to get HL 2 done in 10 hours. icon_eek.gif
8 years ago
no multiplayer?

well, i guess they can weasel some more money out of non-PC gamers by releasing CSS on xbox now too.
8 years ago
They will probably bring out CS Source and HL: Deathmatch in one pack. Anything to get money, theres no other reason why they would have left it out..

BTW Ive nearly finished it on Xbox.
8 years ago
If only the Xbox version of Half-Life 2 didn't have that annoying red mark in the bottom left hand corner, it would be in my collection.
8 years ago
I literally have a minute or two left in the game (I died on the very last bit and it was late so I just went to bed) and I've loved the game so far. It's certainly one of the prettiest Xbox games I've played, frame rate issues aside.

I'd highly recommend this to anyone who hasn't played it.
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