It’s hard to decide where to start with Half-Life 2. Released by Valve Software in 2004, the game has been out for almost 15 years, and had two subsequent releases attached to its name titled Half-Life 2 Episode 1 and Episode 2, released in 2006 and 2007 respectively. Even after all this time, fans eagerly await the conclusion of the series: Half-Life 3.
The game begins with a sequence that will define the tone of the entire series. A mysterious suited figure talks to our protagonist, Gordon Freeman, in the first person perspective. Locations and events from both the original Half-Life and later in the game flash behind him as he tells Gordon his “Time has come again.”
After this sequence, we are thrust weaponless into a train car approaching the dystopian police state known as City 17. A giant monitor hangs in the middle of the station, broadcasting the face of Wallace Breen, Earth’s Human Administrator and main antagonist of the game. Eventually, Gordon exits into a large town square, and the player is then able to explore and find out more about City 17.
This introductory sequence sets the scene for how the people who inhabit the city live. Valve was praised for an outstanding amount of interactivity between the player and the non-player characters who make up the game’s world. Gordon, being a silent protagonist, can listen to what these citizens have to say, but in a way that doesn’t interrupt the flow of gameplay. So, if you get tired of listening to a character, you can simply walk away.
Through observation and accounts from the residents, the player gets an idea of how people are treated in this post-apocalyptic world. You learn that an alien force, known as “The Combine”, have taken over Earth and are mining its resources, leaving humans with little chance to resist. But, of course, Gordon is here to change that.
I don’t want to describe the story any further, just due to the fact that experiencing it yourself is something you shouldn’t miss out on. However, touching on gameplay and design aspects is something I can do relatively spoiler-free.
Half-Life 2 is a First Person Shooter, meaning that you’re experiencing the game from Gordon’s eyes. This allows for a level of immersion something like an RPG or even a Third Person Shooter can’t pull off. The game also introduced the Source Engine, Valve’s own in-house engine that allowed for an unprecedented level of physical interaction with objects in the game’s world.
Half-Life 2 uses its physics as a main selling point and a feature, going so far as to include a weapon, aptly titled the “Gravity Gun”, which allows Gordon to pick up and fling physics objects for puzzles and fighting enemies.
The level design is fairly linear, but still features hidden items and locations that reward player exploration. This gives the game a fair amount of replayability, as you may have missed something on your first way through.
On top of all this, the character design is top notch and is able to convey a true, living world inside of the game that will leave the player immersed and invested for hours. Even characters who do not appear for long will leave a lasting impact.
Overall, Half-Life 2 is a beautifully designed game. The amount of variety and complexity it is able to show in a span of a few hours is something every game should strive to achieve, and I would recommend that anyone who wants an amazing experience should give it a play.