Home Reviews First Person Games Half-Life 2: Collector's Edition
Half-Life 2: Collector's Edition PDF Print E-mail
Written by Doc_Brown   
Sunday, 26 February 2006 18:00
Developer: Valve
Publisher: Sierra Entertainment
Official Site and Demo
ESRB Mature 17+ (Blood, Intense Violence)
PEGI 16+ (Game contains depictions of violence)

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A Drop of Time
If you’re considering getting the Collector’s Edition of HL2, chances are it’s because of the additional goodies that come with it. The CE includes a DVD version of HL2, HL1: Source, Counter-Strike: Source, a Prima Hint Book, and a T-shirt.  I personally bought the CE to avoid the hassle of the regular six CD version, so no disappointments there. Unless you're a CS fan I'm not sure any of the other materials are worth the cost, especially since HL1: Source is merely the original game with a few minor enhancements.  If you're looking for HL1 built from the ground up in Source, then Black Mesa is what you want.

Ah, Gordon, it's good to see you.
Some years after the events of the original game, entities from another universe called the Combine staged a full-scale invasion of Earth. The mass teleportations that resulted in HL1 between Earth and Xen essentially drew their attention, and seven hours after their arrival the Combine had already won the war. As the game begins, the Combine is stripping the planet of its resources while the survivors are being ground under the oppressive heel of their “Civil Protection” forces. It’s a great premise with a lot of potential, but one that pans out more in the Episodes than it does here.

Thrust into action at the behest of the G-Man, Gordon finds himself in City 17, the Combine's base of operations located somewhere in Eastern Europe.  The first chapter of the game focuses on simply setting the mood, a world of absolute oppression, and utterly nails it. I'm a big fan of "reveals," and one occurs a little ways in when you exit a building and emerge in a plaza.  The Combine Citadel towers in the distance, propaganda is being broadcast from a monitor screen, uniform clad citizens keep their eyes fixed firmly on the ground, and robotic sentinals fly around tracking everyone and everything.  It's incredible.

There’s a lot of scripting in the actions of the characters at this point, of course, but it also gives them a great deal of personality.  Unlike the first game, however, there isn't really a tram ride to ease you into the narrative.  Players are free to explore and take in the details at their leisure, watching the propaganda broadcasts, observing Civil Protection forces raid tenements, and listening in as citizens quietly bemoan their plight.  Which isn't to say there isn't a tram ride, mind you, it just occurs toward the end of the game and is well worth the wait.

I’ll grant you there are game engines out there that are more cutting edge in certain regards than the Source engine, but there are few that come across as balanced as it. Virtually every aspect has been given extensive attention and polished to a shine, especially in the areas of physics and animations. We’ve been dreaming about physics in gaming ever since that grand, failed experiment called Trespasser, and now that it’s finally been done right it’s easy to see why. There are certainly plenty of physics-based puzzles to play with, of course, but more than that the entire game world comes alive in a totally new way.

One of my criticisms of Doom 3 was that its physics system was just there—you didn't really do anything with it.  Not so here, where as soon as the game begins you're encouraged to interact with the world around you.  You’ll see it when you grab an explosive barrel, toss it onto a ramp, and shoot it when it rolls down to some enemies at the bottom. When a grenade is thrown at your feet, if you're quick you can pick it up and throw it back.  When an enemy tumbles off a ledge, he doesn’t bounce off the ground like rubber but hits with a satisfyingly convincing thump.

As for animations, of particular note are is the facial animation system. I cannot recall any other such game where they’re so truly convincing. The first time I saw genuine sorrow in the eyes of an NPC as he watched me head through a Combine checkpoint, I was amazed. The characters emote, and you in turn feel emotions towards them. You’ll care for old pal Barney and resistance fighter Alyx, and you’ll despise the falsely warm expressions of Dr. Breen, Earth’s interim administrator in service to the Combine. There’s no going back from this.

Weapons of Mass
Outside of a couple additions, most of the original Half-Life’s arsenal has made the transition over to HL2. They’ve been updated where appropriate, but all in all you’ll feel right at home with these. Thanks to the physics system, however, the most notable addition is the gravity gun. With it, you’re able to pick up and forcefully throw objects as large as dressers. With the levels realistically populated with everyday items, combat takes on a much more creative slant. Why risk bodily harm when you can use a heater to block gunfire? Why waste ammo when you can hurl said heater into your enemies?

You’ll also get a couple of vehicles to play around with in the larger outdoor segments. The mudskipper, an airboat that works on land and water, will see you through the canals, while the buggy will let you cover a lot of ground out on Highway 17. Neither takes any damage, though you may have to right the buggy from time to time, and both have weapons (eventually if not at first) with which to dish out some damage of your own. While the feel of them doesn't top the genre's undisputed vehicle king Halo, HL2 still does a respectable job at the task.

Combine Nation
The Combine are the most common and varied enemies you’ll encounter in the game, for obvious reasons. There are a handful of different types of soldiers and vehicles, as well as little flying drones such as the ever-so-aptly-named manhacks. They also have hybrid creatures, part organic and part mechanical, such as the towering striders, crab-like dropships, and gunships with a burning hatred of rockets. A few Xen life forms make return appearances as well, such as the vortigaunts (who are now your allies) and the headcrabs (there are three variations this time out, with three respective zombies).

While the AI that powers these creatures is definitely above par, I can’t help but be a little disappointed in it when it comes to squad tactics. Combine soldiers, for instance, will eventually rush your position every time, rather than attempting to pull a flank or flushing you out with grenades. Resistance fighters, allies who will follow your command later in the game, follow too closely and bunch up in doorways you‘re trying to pass through. Who knew the best squad AI after the original Half-Life would come from the likes of Far Cry and Freedom Fighters?

A World of Possibilities
The pulse of gameplay is usually defined by two characteristics: variety and choice. Whereas a game like Thief: Deadly Shadows succeeds by focusing on the latter at the expense of the former, HL2 owes its success to doing the exact opposite. Make no mistake about it, HL2 is a fairly linear game when you come right down to it. The game still attains greatness, however, by always giving you something new to do in each of the fourteen chapters in the game.  One minute you're playing with the physics to solve a puzzle, then you're fighting Civil Protection alongside a squad of teammates, and the next thing you know you're in a car jumping a gap in a freeway.

The only real misstep in the gameplay comes during the commander sections. In addition to the troublesome AI, the system by which you dictate what your squad does need some work. Seriously, everyone needs to just swallow their pride and take a page from Freedom Fighters when it comes to designing simple but effective squad controls. As it is, you’ll rarely be able to get your fellow fighters to do what you want, at least for long. Still, the rest of the chapters are pure varied goodness, and chances are you’ll want to replay most if not all of them multiple times.

It's rare of me to give out a perfect ten, but there are a few games that truly deserve the recognition.  Half-Life 2 is one of them, arguably one of the best sequels ever released.  It's true to its predecessor but leaps and bounds beyond it.  Valve has created a compelling world with some impressive tech, then made sure that we are never bored of our time there.  The story is engrossing, the characters three dimensional, and when it's over you're left wanting more.  It's not perfect, no game ever is, but you'd be hard pressed to find as complete a package as Half-Life 2.

Note: Originally posted at Hangar16.com on 11/23/05

Game Rated 10/10



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