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Half Life | 2 | review | game | Lollipop
(Valve for the PC)
by Eric Chon
Half-Life 2 has been heralded as the next big savior for computer games. It's hard to imagine more hype for a game that's been six years in the making, or how anything could live up to it. Perhaps we've all unfairly predetermined our feelings for the game - either it's going to polish our knob while delivering sweet real-time rendered alien-jacking action, or it'll just blow - with no middle-ground. But either of these reactions would do ourselves and the game disservice. Not surprisingly, it's somewhere between the two.
HL2's first major attraction is its graphics, which are stunning. We've all seen rendered outdoor environments, but I've never seen them in such great detail. Valve cleverly limits your movement through its gorgeous locales without ruining our suspension of disbelief, allowing them to crank up the details to create a truly believable environment. The cityscapes are especially stunning, with trash and detritus strewn about without seeming placed by careful art directors. It's been done before, but never to such a degree.
Of special note are the cut scenes (all rendered in-engine) - what sets them apart are the facial animations. It's the first time I've ever seen a computer game extra display believable emotion. The movements are subtle and gentle, and the lips actually synch to the dialogue. You have to see it to believe it.
Of course, one of the major selling points is the amazing physics engine, which allows you to react and interact with the world like never before. You can pick up cans and other objects and use them as weapons or shields, or blow up wooden support beams to send boxes and weights crashing down on your enemies. You can use floating barrels to prop-up collapsing bridges, and cement blocks to weigh-down scales and lifts. However, I can't help but feel that Valve is giving us the ol' "nudge, nudge, wink, wink" when they set up completely arbitrary physics puzzles to show off the engine. They come off as artificial and yank you out of the engrossing narrative. Maybe try a bit of subtlety next time?
However, these quibbles are small compared to the kick-ass that HL2 delivers. Playing the most badass scientist in the universe, Gordon Freeman, is a thrill, and the oppressive alien-controlled world Valve gives us is rich with texture and detail. Certainly some sequences overstay their welcome (swamp boats anyone?), but the set pieces that are good are spectacular. Trying to cover all the aspects that make this game worth getting (nail-biting action, drivable vehicles, and horrific settings for a few) would extend the length of this review exponentially.
Half-Life 2 is not the end-all, be-all of computer games, but it delivers the complete package of story, atmosphere, graphics, and action. Without reservation, it is the balls.