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Review: Half-Life 2 769

Posted by Zonk
from the please-refrain-from-poking-the-head-crabs dept.
The original Half-Life is regarded widely as a defining moment in the first person shooter genre. The game's use of story and in-game scripted elements changed the expectations of game players and spawned a bevy of imitators. The sequel, Half-Life 2, has been in the works for almost six years and is one of the most hyped and anticipated games of 2004. It was launched last week after delays, a code theft, and lawsuits frustrated the anxious fans waiting for a chance to play. Post-launch the game has received wide praise and, thanks to the unique distribution and authentication system called Steam, many complaints as well. Read on for my impressions of Valve's Half-Life 2.
  • Title: Half-Life 2
  • Developer: Valve
  • Publisher: Vivendi Universal Games
  • Reviewer: Zonk
  • Score: 9/10
The first component of Half-Life 2 that a player is likely to encounter is the massive hype that has surrounded the game for over a year. Advertising, articles, and player expectations have elevated Valve's second game to a level that ensures a certain level of disappointment. Regardless of the actual merits of the game, there are some players who have been waiting for this game since late last century. The game is not a defining moment in civilization. The lame will not be made whole by playing Half-Life 2.

As we've reporting in the past week, many players have experienced difficulties in getting the game running after installation. The initial load on the Steam servers caused by the large number of people attempting to play the game at once caused massive slowdowns in authentication and file downloads. For the most part these problems seem to primarily be reported by individuals who purchased the game in a retail store in a box. I purchased the game via Steam and downloaded it in the space of about three hours. I have experienced no problems in playing the game.

With all those caveats out of the way, Half-Life 2 is an incredibly impressive experience. In playing the game you step again into the role of Gordon Freeman, a scientist who originally worked at the Black Mesa facility. The first chapter of the game finds you arriving via train in the dystopian atmosphere of City 17, a ramshackle series of buildings raised from the remains of a now mostly destroyed civilization. A mysterious organization known as the Combine exerts control through police forces and alien troops. Via televised transmissions the citizenry is controlled mentally, spiritually, and even reproductively. From the first moment you enter the game Valve does an excellent job of imposing a sense of despair and barely contained anger rippling within the populace of City 17. What we are not imparted with is a sense of what has happened to Freeman since the events of the previous game. While clues are unearthed during the course of the game as to what has occurred, there are no firm answers to the many questions players are likely to have. With confirmation already in the news that Valve has begun work on Half-Life 3, the impression that you're left with is that this only part of a larger story. The story stands well on its own, but don't expect to come away from the game with all your questions resolved.

The new graphics engine that Valve created for their second game, Source, is an incredible achievement. The level of detail in the game is nothing short of breathtaking. From the reflectivity of water and tile flooring to the incredible facial animations, the game engine places Gordon Freeman directly into the world and makes exploration a joy. One of the best moments of the early game comes in a lobby. You emerge from the depths of the train station and face one last room before the freedom of open air. It is dusty and decrepit, filled with lost souls looking for nourishment rations handed out by inhuman robotic servants. Light pours into the room from windows set high in the external wall, and these amazing shafts of light fill the room. Motes float inside the light beams, lending an almost reverential air to what is essentially a ruin.

The physics of the game are wonderful to behold as well. The tech demo at E3 last year was quite an eye opener, and Valve allows you several opportunities to enjoy the physicality of the Half-Life world. At two points in the game you take control of vehicles. The wildness of the bouncing white knuckle ride you get with the airboat and dune buggy make for memorable gaming moments. The airboat in particular makes for excellent visuals as you speed across the water in a series of canals, ripples and waves speeding away from your craft and beautiful splashes marking where you hit the water after a jump. The gravity gun displayed in the tech demo is indeed as much fun to use as it is to watch. The weapon allows you to snatch objects from distances and launch them as projectiles. While the uses of the gun are usually more practical than some of the opportunities shown in the tech demo (the number of saw blades lying around in Ravenholme is kind of disturbing), there are a number of creative opportunities scattered periodically throughout the game. Beyond the vehicles and the gravity gun, there are constant reminders of the physics underpinning the game, as enemies push objects aside rushing at you and heavy objects swing like deadly pendulums through obstacles and crush opponents.

Once you step outside the door of the train station, your moments to stop and enjoy the beauty of your surroundings are few and far between. Almost immediately you as Gordon are connected up with the Underground Railroad, populated with peoples not willing to submit peacefully to the Combine. You reconnect with old friends from the previous game and after an experiment accident, you find yourself on the run from Combine forces. The instant the crowbar returns to your hands is truly a sweet moment. From there you move through the urban landscape of City 17, hop an airboat to duke it out with Combine troops in flooded waterways, and explore the Lovecraftian ruins of a small town inhabited by alien hunters and a mad priest. The game keeps you engaged with a constantly changing backdrop of locations and a series of pretty memorable characters. I was particularly impressed by the voice actors, all of whom do an excellent job of getting across what their characters are about. Each of the non-player characters has a nice moment to talk to you and make an impression. Dr. Vance's daughter Alyx is actually the one who introduces you to the gravity gun, and the quirky time spent with her may be the funniest, best written part of the game.

The visuals in the game are astounding, but the auditory experience is fairly impressive as well. The musical moments in the game are few and far between, and are used to accentuate tense or impressive moments. The music tends towards electronic stings and they raise your heart rate by a good deal when they're used. The sound effects range from pretty standard clinks and clunks to the viscerally gripping howls of stalking predators. The atmosphere in the town of Ravenholme, where the predators live, is phenomenally creepy all around, and is conjured by the pervasive sound environment. The weapon sound effects are all very competently executed, with the satisfying blast of the revolver being a personal favorite.

Overall, the game is an incredible accomplishment. Valve has done an excellent job living up to the expectations their first title has prompted in the gaming community. The lack of closure in the game's story is the only real flaw in the plot, which otherwise provides excellent motivation to keep moving and find out what will happen next. Gameplay elements stay true to the previous game, providing action and some simple puzzle solving moments. The visuals and physics of the Source engine make for a beautiful and interactive world to move through. The deep audio environment keeps the player rooted in the moment, while the excellent voice acting makes the non-player characters come to life. The collaboration of individuals who created Half-Life 2 has proven again why video games are a unique art form. I heartily recommend it to anyone who enjoys first person shooters, horror and suspense, or engaging storylines.

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Review: Half-Life 2

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  • by Allen Zadr (767458) * <Allen.Zadr@gmaLISPil.com minus language> on Monday November 22, 2004 @04:47PM (#10891307) Journal

    Damn. I wasn't planning on buying this game, until reading this review.

    I do have a question though. As someone whom has *gasp* never played Half-Life, would I be lost trying to pick it up in it's second incarnation?

    • by FiReaNGeL (312636) <fireang3l@hotma i l .com> on Monday November 22, 2004 @04:51PM (#10891341) Homepage
      Half-life 1 is included with Half-life 2. They even upgraded it to the Source Engine (which means better graphics, prettier effects). Its a great game, you should play it before the second, just for the experience. The story is kind of confusing anyway, and the link between the two even more so, so I think you`ll be as lost as everyone else :)
      • by fobsen (798504) on Monday November 22, 2004 @04:54PM (#10891381)
        Just FYI: Half-Life Source (aka Half-Life 1 using the new engine) is not automatically included in every version of Half-Life 2. You need to get at least the "Silver" Edition from steampowered.com to get HL-Source. It is not included in the boxed version. See http://www.steampowered.com/ [steampowered.com]
        • by Allen Zadr (767458) * <Allen.Zadr@gmaLISPil.com minus language> on Monday November 22, 2004 @05:06PM (#10891498) Journal
          Good information (both of you). The local best buy has a 'Boxed Silver' that I happened to notice the other day - although, based on other user reports - I think I'd probably purchase online, directly through Steam.

          Something else that isn't clear - are there any other on-going costs to this odd "steam" intallation? [ Subscription costs or anything else odd? ]. Can 'steam' be removed after the game is 'activated'?

          • by IKnwThePiecesFt (693955) on Monday November 22, 2004 @05:08PM (#10891530) Homepage
            There is no subscription fee, and no, steam can't be removed without removing HL2 as well. This is for both retail and steam versions. The reason is that Steam is an integral part of the engine (for example, you can access your friends list while playing). However, once activated, you do not need an internet connection.
            • However, once activated, you do not need an internet connection.

              You are supposed to be able to play without an internet connection. This is a very touchy point with some people. I have had the game 5 days and only the last 2 of them have I been able to consistantly run the game without an internet connection. When I am not connected to the net I still have to wait 4 minutes for steam to timeout when I try running HL2. Was not impressed with the first 3 days of wasting the cost of a phone call to connect t

          • Steam also keeps the game updated. I find it to be a great value-add versus the "old way"
      • by Nomihn0 (739701) on Monday November 22, 2004 @05:17PM (#10891629)
        Yes, Half Life 1 was updated with an integration of the Source engine. However, the geometry was not updated. You'll get the same old blocky Gordon man-hands as in the first iteration of the game. Because of this half-complete update, the HAVOK physics engine fails to chagen the game whatoever. It has almost no affect on the environemnt. For example, a barrel in Half Life 1 might be a static object in game, essentially fixed to the ground. The engine does not change any class definitions, obviously, so the game could seem a bit imbalanced to the player. It's like playing Tenebrae Quake [tenebrae2.com]. The graphics simply don't fit the game. They are superfluous and actually serve to break the suspension of disbelief (note that Tenebrae is working on that).

        The Source Engine Half Life 1 update was done as a test of mod compliancy by Valve. It was just a convenient result that it proved releasable with a minimal investment by Valve. . . an extremely lucrative midnight project.
    • You might be a BIT lost in terms of where you-as-main-character got involved in all this, but they acutally run through a bunch of the backstory in the first parts of the game.

      Speaking as someone who played the first one, and is partly through HL2, it's gonna be a touch perplexing either way, and the focus of the story that I've experienced is really on "forget all the 'whys' and 'hows' for the moment, we have things to do here and now."
    • Apparently the silver edition of HL2 (which is like 10 bucks more than the basic one) comes with HL1 remade using the HL2 engine, so you might want to get that.

      I had always planned on playing HL1 when they lowered the price to bargain bin status. They never seemed to do it; years and years after it was released it was still being sold for like 40 bucks, which was annoying.
    • Depending on what version you get, nope. The 'deluxe super version' (I can't remember offhand, sorry) has the original Half Life using the upgraded source engine. MAKE SURE THE BOX SAYS IT COMES WITH IT BEFORE YOU BUY IT.
    • by Zonk (12082) on Monday November 22, 2004 @04:52PM (#10891354) Homepage Journal
      There are no actual *gameplay* elements that you need to have played the first game to understand.

      As far as the plot goes, as other folks have commented here, they don't do a great job of recapping what happened in the first game. If you want to be on board from the first chapter a quick play through the first game would probably be a good idea.

      You can even buy a partial remake via Steam, if you're so inclined. They just reused all the old textures, so it's not terribly pretty, but the added physics and the pretty water are nice touches.
    • buy the $60 ($5 more then retail MSRP) silver edition from steam, and you'll get every valve game ever, so you can at your leisure play thru half-life 1 (in original, or newly created source-engine flavors), and then optionally play the alternative perspective opposing force, before heading into half-life 2.
    • by Nos. (179609)
      Go ahead and pick it up. The story is nice, but you don't NEED to know the story of the original to enjoy this one. If you're that curious about the story, you may want to search around a bit, I'm sure someone has the basic story of the original posted somewhere. I played the first one not long after it first came out and frankly remember very little of it, yet still found the second to be very enjoyable. But even without the story to back you up, the plot line keeps you moving. The puzzles are interes
    • As someone whom has *gasp* never played Half-Life, would I be lost trying to pick it up in it's second incarnation?

      No -- it's still your basic FPS, you'd be fine, though you'd miss a lot of the story. And the story is very good for a FPS ...

      However, if you buy the collector's edition, or the `HL2 Gold' or whatever pack on Steam, you'll get `Half Life Source', which is (I believe) the original Half Life re-released with the new graphics engine. You might want to go that route, and play through the

      • If you do get HL1 to play it, forget about the expansion packs (Opposing Forces, Blue Shift.) They really didn't add anything signifigant to the story.

        While I agree that they don't add anything really significant to the story, they do actually add quite a bit. For example, just off the top of my head, the nuclear device the G-Man reactivates at the end of OpFor. I would recommend at least giving the expansions a shot. Blue Shift isn't so great, but Opposing Forces is quite enjoyable. I'd say it was at

    • by smiley2billion (599641) on Monday November 22, 2004 @04:58PM (#10891412) Homepage
      I do have a question though. As someone whom has *gasp* never played Half-Life, would I be lost trying to pick it up in it's second incarnation?

      The story isn't too hard to follow, you're a scientist with a crowbar. You unleashed hell back at the Black Mesa (old working place). Defeated an army of headcrabs and other such monsters and also a gov. task force sent in to clean up. HL2 picks up *kind of* right after. Some time has passed and the earth is a little changed. You being the hero figure in HL2, must free the people from the "Combine" (not farming equipment). Go get the game, it should be enjoyable even to people who have never played HL1.
      • by SamSim (630795) on Monday November 22, 2004 @09:10PM (#10894053) Homepage Journal

        While you are essentially correct, there's a little more to the story of HL1 than meets the eye. Spoilers ahoy for people who haven't played the original Half-Life:

        At the time of the original accident that Gordon Freeman is present for, Black Mesa has had working teleporters for at least a few months and has been able to go to and from Xen for at least a week. They've captured and domesticated a good few indigenous life-forms - witness the Barnacle weapon and the ecosphere set up for some houndeyes in the Opposing Force expansion. Gradually they've captured more and more fauna until they "start getting collected themselves..." They get as far as Nihilanth's lair and manage to retrieve a mysterious orange crystal.

        Yup. The crystal at the start of the game is the same as the three powering the final boss. Look and you will see a hole in the wall where the fourth crystal was stolen from. No wonder there was resonance cascade. The original accident causes a lot of random teleportations to and from Xen and brings over a whole lot of dangerous animals, but it's only about 12 hours of game time after the original experiment that stronger enemies - the green slaves, and the huge alien grunts - begin appearing spontaneously. This is no longer accidental: this is enemy action by Nihilanth, who is moving to attack Earth... which is something the Administrator, who observes pretty much the whole course of events, has been expecting, indeed, preparing for. Read Alan Shepherd's diary and you know this was actually expected to happen.

        Realising what has gone wrong the grunts are sent in, find it's too difficult a task to take on, are pulled out and replaced with black ops who attempt to nuke the place as a last resort. Shepherd stops the nuke and between them, he and Gordon Freeman block the alien invasion and kill Nihilanth, thus solving the problem in a different manner from what the G-man expected, but successfully.

        The bigger picture - who is the Administrator? Did the G-man trigger the cascade just so he could single out Gordon Freeman for future employment? - is still sketchy at this point, but when I figured all this out I was mightily impressed with Valve's storytelling abilities. The inattentive player would have missed a whole lot. I have high hopes for the story of HL2, which my PC is currently too underpowered to play...

        • Further advice on the depth and food for thought while playing HL2. At the end of HL1 you are given a choice of death or working for the g-man. At the start of HL2 the g-man 'wakes' you up [for work]. Note at the start of HL2 alot of people say "So soon, I expected more warning." And late game in HL2 it is implied that your 'services' can be bought. A question to pose is if the g-man sells you to the highest bidder (although unable to control you). Did the rebels pay the g-man? Do they know what your f
    • by zx75 (304335) on Monday November 22, 2004 @05:08PM (#10891529) Homepage
      I didn't read the review, because I'm still playing and I didn't want to chance upon any spoilers that might not have been warned against.

      I never played Half-Life to any real extent, I started it, shot a few aliens, then went to counter-strike so a lot of things are very new to me.

      Well, let me tell you that Half-life 2 has been a lot like falling down the rabbit-hole. It submerged me in this world and I haven't been up for air since. Its a lot of fun, and more than a little disturbing at times, but there were no issues with holdover information, you will pick up everything you need to know about the story as you go.
  • My Thoughts, 3.5/5 (Score:2, Insightful)

    by PktLoss (647983) *
    For all its praise I'm not too happy with steam. The essence of which boiled down to this for me; pay $50 for a game, then download it at 30-50K/s (on a line capable of 200K/s). To add insult to injury, I have to go through Steam every time I try to play the game, which wastes a few seconds 'Preparing' for an unknown reason (I have heard that it actually connects to the server every time I play... which seems rather redundant)

    In terms of the game itself, I haven't played Half Life (1), so I really don't un
    • Glad you commented on knowing what's going on having not played pt 1. I was wondering about that myself, having never played HL1 and not knowing if I should try out HL2. I'm sure the game is gorgeous and sounds great, but I want to enjoy more about a game this big than how nice it looks.
      • Seriously, I really don't know what's going on. I often progress because it seems like the aprropriate course of action, rather than out of some determination to resolve a problem or something.
    • by fireduck (197000) on Monday November 22, 2004 @05:03PM (#10891467)
      In terms of the game itself, I haven't played Half Life (1), so I really don't understand what is going on, or why.

      basic storyline of half-life: you, as gordan freeman, work in a top secret underground laboratory, Black Mesa, doing god knows what with equipment not meant to be doing what it's doing. Game opens with you showing up to work in the test lab (in probably the absolutely best intro sequence in a game ever, simply because of the awe you have when you realize it is interactive). Something goes horribly wrong with the sample you are analyzing, the whole of Black Mesa basically blows up, and a bunch of aliens start warping in. Your job is to stay alive and get to the surface, whereupon you realize that the government is cleaning up the mess by eliminating everyone, including you. Throughout the story is the mysterious G-man, the guy in the suit, who pops up in the oddest of places to give you consternation by closing doors you just want to go through. At the end of Half-life, he gives you a choice to work with him. hence the intro to HL2.

      As for other tie-ins (and i'm only at the airboat section). The guard you meet, Barney, was the nickname for the lovable loaf from the original HL. The barney's basically run around to get killed in the original, and because fans loved them so much, they got a semi-expansion at one point (blue-shift?). In the original HL, there were 3 scientist models, 2 of them re-appear as characters here (at least thus far in my game); although Robert Guiamme wasn't a voice in the original game.

      In an HL expansion (opposing force), we learn that some of the aliens don't get along, with some xeno slavery being practiced.

      As for the loading issues and telling Valve to talk to Bungie: the original HL was much better in this respect. while there were loading periods, they were much much shorter than HL2. So Valve obviously knows how to do a semi-seamless transition, just perhaps that hasn't been optimized yet (which is frustrating).
    • There have been a few places in a game where I was requird to load a previous save in order to continue (dune buggy was under water, and couldn't be moved, I was surrounded by radioactive slime, and couldnt escape, etc)

      I've played HL1 and it really doesn't make much of a difference. In HL2, Gordon Freeman doesn't really know what's going on either.

      As for reloading, it is never necessary. You can knock your dune buggy out of the water with the grav-gun, and as for being trapped in slime, it sounds like
    • by moonbender (547943) <moonbenderNO@SPAMgmail.com> on Monday November 22, 2004 @05:10PM (#10891553)
      In terms of the game itself, I haven't played Half Life (1), so I really don't understand what is going on, or why. Vague references from the in game charecters hint at what is going on, but I really think I would have needed to play the first game to understand.

      I have played the first game and I don't know what the hell is going on. It's got nothing to do with you, it's just that the story fucking sucks. Yes, HL2's story sucks, even if it's considered treason to say so. That said, I'm only at about 75 to 80% of the game (according to a friend who is done). But up to this point, there was essentially no story, and, what is far worse, no obvious motivation to what I'm doing.
      Don't get me wrong, the game is a lot of fun! I don't care so much for the weapons, but the gameplay itself is top notch, the levels are great, the vehicles more fun than frustrating, and what they call interactivity, namely the ability to throw around stuff is well integrated into most aspects of the game.
      However, the game seems very linear, which is a good thing since it's linearity is really the only thing giving the game direction. Up to now - after seeing $person in the prison - the main objectives were to get from A to B, from B to C, and from C to D, with increasingly more weapons and using various forms of transportation. Or, in other words, the first thing you really do in the game, that is, run away from Combine troopers in the only direction you can run (since all other directions are barred) is basically what you will be doing for the next 70% of the game. Only that it's in a ship or a car and you have to remove obstacles and open doors on your way.
      There is some sort of storyline in the background, but it's fairly irrelevant to the gameplay itself, you could use any number of stories to fabricate the exact same gameplay, down to the buildings, vehicles, allies and enemies.

      Compare this to a story based FPS like Deus Ex, where the story was a key part of the game. Even the original HL as I recall it integrated the story better into the game itself - hell, Doom 3 did. And you certainly were more aware of the story in both games, even if their storylines were cliched and bland.
      • by scribblej (195445)
        Yes, HL2's story sucks, even if it's considered treason to say so. That said, I'm only at about 75 to 80% of the game (according to a friend who is done). But up to this point, there was essentially no story, and, what is far worse, no obvious motivation to what I'm doing.
        -------

        Fair warning: It doesn't get any better. I "rushed" through the game my first time, hoping that I would learn something -- anything -- about what the hell was going on around me.

        You don't.

        What you can do is play though paying c
      • by PhrostyMcByte (589271) <phrosty@gmail.com> on Monday November 22, 2004 @06:07PM (#10892275) Homepage
        Maybe you just dont see it. Or maybe I have an overactive imagination. Either way, I think HL2 is different from other games. All FPS games move you from point A to B, but the way they convey the story is different from HL2. HL2 lets you play the entire epic and make it your own story whereas other games tell you the story then set you on an objective.
    • Nope, you don't need to talk to Steam to play the game (once it's unlocked). Try unplugging your network.
      • by thegrommit (13025)
        Nope, you don't need to talk to Steam to play the game (once it's unlocked). Try unplugging your network.

        You don't even need to do that. Just disable the network connection in your control panel.
    • I haven't yet played HL2, although my experience with its predecessor makes it a pretty sure buy for me (once I have a PC capable of running it. Ahem.) But since you're complaining that you feel a bit lost about the storyline, I thought I'd fill you in on what happened in the first installment of the series. (Note: this is a very brief walkthrough and based on my dim recollections of playing the game years ago.)

      NOTE: It ain't karma whoring if you write the whole thing up yourself. ;)

      ***SPOILERS BEGIN***
    • by Chuckaluphagus (111487) on Monday November 22, 2004 @05:58PM (#10892168)
      Since a lot of people seem to be commenting that you have to be online and connected to Steam to start even the single player Half-Life 2, I thought I'd test this. I don't lose internet connection often, but these things do happen once in a great while, and I'd hate not to be able to play when a backhoe in Ohio cuts through a major trunk.

      So here's what I did:
      1) In the Steam games list, I right-clicked on "Half-Life 2", opened up the options menu and clicked "Add a link to this game to your desktop".

      2) I restarted my computer; I have Steam set to automatically start with Windows, but when it started I immediately right-clicked on the taskbar icon and chose "Exit" from the small list that appears.

      3) I reached around the back of my computer and physically removed the network cable from the plug on the back panel. I have no wireless network card, therefore this meant my computer no longer had any network connection whatsoever.

      4) I then double-clicked on the "Half-Life 2" icon on my desktop.

      5) I got a pop-up that said Steam was loading, and then I got a second one that informed me that Steam was unable to connect to an online server, would I like to play Half-Life 2 in "Offline Mode"? I clicked "Yes", the game booted up and I preceded to have the bejeezus scared out of me by the zombies-on-speed in Ravenholm. (For those of you not there yet, do not play this section late at night, and the gravity gun+sawblade is your new best friend. Save your ammo for emergencies, and you will have those aplenty.)

      So having no network connection didn't impede me from playing at all. I'm pleased to find this out, personally.

      Two more things to note: First, if I go into the Half-Life 2 directory under my Steam install folder and run "hl2.exe" directly, I get an error message and the game does not load. Apparently it does have to go through some local Steam framework even if it doesn't need connectivity, but again this doesn't bother me as long as it doesn't mandate a connection. The desktop link provided through the options menu for Half-Life 2 in Steam does not execute "hl2.exe", but a different executable with a string of operators after the executable.

      Second, there is no difference in my load times whether playing with a network connection or without. If, while online, Steam is re-validating the game files or somesuch, it produces no noticeable delay on my computer.

      For anyone who cares, my computer is:
      an Athlon XP Mobile 2500+ (Barton) oc'd to 2200 MHz on a 400 MHz FSB, so equivalent to an Athlon XP 3200+,
      a half-gig of PC3200,
      a Radeon 9600 Pro AIW,
      Windows 2000 SP 4,

      so nothing special for game-playing these days.

      • Hi there,

        I'm curious to know why this worked. My DSL connection went out yesterday night (bummer, I know) and my working copy of Half-Life 2 turned into a sack of wet mice. Launching HL2 produced the screen that asks to "Retry or use offline mode?" However, no matter what button I pushed, it said "Steam is unable to contact the server. Please visit www.steampowered.com for more information." The suggestion that I should visit their website seemed to be a bit like pouring salt on my wound, but I digres
        • by Chuckaluphagus (111487) on Monday November 22, 2004 @07:14PM (#10892927)
          The only difference I can see so far is that I specifically exited Steam first, and only then did I double-click the HL2 icon (not the Steam icon, obviously) on the desktop. When I did that, I got the message that Steam was launching, and then the screen asking whether I wanted to play in Offline Mode.

          I gather there are two ways to exit Steam, one of which is "Exit" and the other being "Exit and Logoff". From what I've read, if you choose the former you can continue to play games without an internet connection, but if you choose the latter nothing will work again without signing back onto Steam. Don't know why you'd choose to logoff before you exit then, myself.

          Also, and I have no idea whether this might apply to you, if you buy a game through Steam (which I did for HL2) it needs to be fully installed (as in the install bar reads 100%) before you can play it offline.

          I hope some of this helps. If not, good luck and please post anything you find out back in the thread.
    • For all the complaints I've read about Steam on slashdot over the past week, consider this. Now that Valve has proven the concept of widespread distribution of games online (and about time too, considering that what, 50+% of the US is now wired for broadband), other game developers can follow suit. This could take one of three forms:

      1) I'm sure that Valve will be more than happy to expand their overflowing coffers by licensing Steam to third-party developers in exchange for royalties similar to those enjoy
    • by tsvk (624784)

      ...then download it at 30-50K/s...

      Pausing for 3-20seconds in the middle of an action sequence while the game loads the next zone doesn't make any sense and just works to break up the game play.

      Have you defragmented your hard drive after downloading the HL2 content from the Steam server(s)?

      I'd imagine that the Steam download system is somehow load-balanced and that you have downloaded the content from several sources in parallel. This may have resulted in very fragmented game data files, causing t

    • by Karhgath (312043) on Monday November 22, 2004 @06:51PM (#10892717)
      Here's my anecdotal rebutal =)

      For all its praise I'm not too happy with steam. The essence of which boiled down to this for me; pay $50 for a game, then download it at 30-50K/s (on a line capable of 200K/s).

      First, I bought HL2 on steam before it's release, so I already had the whole game on my PC when the game was released, so I only went thru a ~10 minutes 'unlocking' phase. Then I went right in the game. That was a 4 am EST, 1 hour after the game was released(midnight PST).

      My friend bought it this weekend from Steam. He downloaded the game at 600-800KB/s, which is pretty much the max he can get. At first he was a 50KB/s, but after opening the correct Steam ports on his router, he was flying.

      To add insult to injury, I have to go through Steam every time I try to play the game, which wastes a few seconds 'Preparing' for an unknown reason (I have heard that it actually connects to the server every time I play... which seems rather redundant)

      You can play in offline mode, BUT you either have to disconnect yourself from the net or do some non-obvious tweaking. A big 'play offline' button would be nice, I agree. You still need to be connected to the net to authentify the game if you bought it in store.

      On the other hand, I think it's a MUCH better piracy protection that having it on the CD (which results in slow load times, incompatibility problems, etc.) The problem is that Vivendi Universal included a CD-check on the boxed version, which defeats the purpose IMHO, but that's not Valve's fault. I'd rather have no cd-checks but authenticate the game once via the net, than to have a cd-check over and over and having to download 'untrusted' cd fix to bypass it(if you're so inclined).

      In terms of the game itself, I haven't played Half Life (1), so I really don't understand what is going on, or why. Vague references from the in game charecters hint at what is going on, but I really think I would have needed to play the first game to understand

      Well, playing HL1 won't help much. The 'basics' of HL1 and HL2 is this: you are at the wrong place at the wrong time and all hell break lose. The only driving force is survival, but along the way you encounter people that help you or that you help out to survive. It's a 'fugitive' feel in HL2 while you're trapped and need to get out in HL1. I believe no story is needed for those kinds of games, as they suck you right in. Some people might not like that kind of narrative tho, so I can understand you.

      Valve needs to walk over to Bungie with a presents one day, and beg them for education on how this load/save/death thing should work. Pausing for 3-20seconds in the middle of an action sequence while the game loads the next zone doesn't make any sense and just works to break up the game play. Death also requires a reload of the previous checkpoint. This is all stuff that Bungie figgured out for Halo 2, if only Valve could watch and learn.

      Hmmm... You ever loaded in the middle of action? I finished it this weekend and NEVER loaded in middle of action. Might depends on play style, but I rarely pussy-out of combat and run back.

      For the other part, well, you die then load your last save game. I never played Halo 2 but I can't see how different it is. You know you can quicksave with the F6 key, right?

      The physics is fun, I really enjoy the ocasional puzzle with ropes and weights, It adds a little something, especially when most of them are optional for extra ammo or health. You feel like you've accomplished a little something when it's done. There have been a few places in a game where I was requird to load a previous save in order to continue (dune buggy was under water, and couldn't be moved,

      Tried the gravity gun to get it out of water? You shouldn't be stuck often, and in this case it needed creative thinking =) And yeah, physics really adds to this game, it's not just eye candy, which I love.

      I was surrounded by radioactive slime, an
      • by omicronish (750174) on Monday November 22, 2004 @09:31PM (#10894178)

        Great response.

        Even if, technically, the 3d engine is less complex than Doom 3, it adds much more to the game than Doom 3 ever did.

        That's the first thing I noticed playing the game the night it was released (ohhh school suffered greatly the day after). Doom 3 tried to generate atmosphere through the lack of light and the monster placement that was obviously designed to scare you. After a while it degenerated into one big black scare job to me, and wasn't very interesting as a result.

        On the other hand, I felt that HL2 did an awesome job of generating atmosphere, without the darkness. That last part was especially interesting to notice. When was the last time you were scared in a computer game while in broad daylight? Or in a peaceful zone? And to continue onto gameplay, when was the last time you had an idea of killing an enemy in the middle of a firefight, and that creative idea that would've been impossible in older games simply worked? Yes, I'm talking about the physics engine, and I haven't seen gameplay this varied since wielding a cursed blanket in NetHack.

        I'm willing to sacrifice bump mapping everywhere for the ability to throw bladed flying machines at enemies.

  • Fantastic game (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday November 22, 2004 @04:49PM (#10891318)
    But having played FarCry to death, and revelled in the freedom it allows in terms of strategy and movement, especially in the outdoor levels, I feel something is lacking in HL2.

    Don't get me wrong it's a fantastic game, I loved the Prison level and Ravenholme. I just think I was rather spoiled by FarCry.
  • by scribblej (195445) on Monday November 22, 2004 @04:50PM (#10891329)
    I'd like to go go go ahead and go on record as saying that I've not not exper-experienced a single pro-problem with Half Li-Life 2.

  • Mods (Score:5, Interesting)

    by CrazyJim1 (809850) on Monday November 22, 2004 @04:53PM (#10891371) Journal
    I'm interested in the mods.

    http://www.twilightwar.com/ is one I am very interested in

    There needs to be a MMOFPS with more greed involved. Planetside doesn't cut it since you can't power your character up much. We need long term goals of: forming a good clan
    Obtaining vehicles/equipment
    Obtaining stats/levels
    Creating a fortress

    Heavy FPS fighting, and goal oriented tasks would keep your mind off the standard level grind found in current RPGS.

    I'm not sure I have the coding power to pull this off though.

    • Re:Mods (Score:3, Interesting)

      by theclam159 (833616)
      Regarding goal-oriented tasks in a FPS game, I think I've got a recommendation for you.

      If you have the original Half-Life or bought Half-Life 2 Silver Edition, then check out the free mod Natural Selection:
      http://www.naturalselection.com

      Their site is down for today and maybe tomorrow, so here is a description:

      It is a battle between Aliens and Marines, similiar to Starcraft (without the Protoss, though). The interesting thing about the gameplay is that you have an entire team based around incredible spee
  • by American AC in Paris (230456) * on Monday November 22, 2004 @04:55PM (#10891385) Homepage
    ...lemme get this straight--you need to worry about how long your flashlight batteries last?

    I mean, you've got this freakin' gun that can telekinetically heft and fling oil drums over great distances, but you've still gotta worry about flashlight batteries?

    "Good news, Gordon! We've managed to create a palm-sized supergrenade that rends the fabric of space and time in a ten-foot radius! We've also developed a personal digital assistant that can run for over fifteen minutes on a single charge!"

    • by servognome (738846) on Monday November 22, 2004 @05:14PM (#10891600)
      I mean, you've got this freakin' gun that can telekinetically heft and fling oil drums over great distances, but you've still gotta worry about flashlight batteries?
      Flashback 20 years: You mean you have a walkman that can carry 10,000 songs, has as much file storage as 1000PCs, can sychronize contact information, plays games, has an LCD screen, all in a package the size of a deck of cards, and you still gotta worry about the battery wearing out in 8 hours!
    • ...lemme get this straight--you need to worry about how long your flashlight batteries last?

      Actually, in terms of contributing to gaming suspense, I prefer games where flashlights have batteries.

      The original Unreal level called "The Sunspire", where half the level is played in pitch-black spaces with slithery, nasty bug things leaping at you is for me the benchmark by which most light/dark gaming horrors are compared. The permanent flashlight in Doom 3, even though it is probably scientifically accura

  • Quid pro quo (Score:4, Informative)

    by Infinity Salad (657619) on Monday November 22, 2004 @04:56PM (#10891393)
    Quid pro quo is loosely translated as 'this for that.' What was stated above were 'caveats,' that is, 'qualifications or warnings.' -1 Offtopic. /dork.
  • by carcosa30 (235579) on Monday November 22, 2004 @04:57PM (#10891406)
    I have to say, I was floored by HL2.

    I didn't like the first one very much. I wanted to like it, but it gave me severe nausea, worst ever in a shooter except for Kingpin.

    But in halflife2, the engine nausea is gone, and I was very surprised to find that the game pulled me in to an extent I haven't seen since maybe Doom2.

    In Halflife2, it's the storyline that does it. Very dark take on a police-state future, reminding me a bit of science fiction stories like "The Sheep Look Up."

    And the use of the physics engine is nothing short of phenomenal.

    One serious criticism I have of the game is how bloody linear it is. It's almost like a rail shooter at times. Even out in the open, you're limited to a thin strip of land that you can drive on, and there's only one way to go-- tunnels collapse behind you, and the way forward is usually so obvious that it might as well have neon arrows pointing in that direction.

    The climb-and-jump puzzles are back, too, and in my view that's not a good thing. Don't like 'em. I'd much rather have open-ended gameplay and maps that allow you to go anywhere and take any of several routes to the finish rather than extremely linear chutes that funnel you toward the finish.

    Of course, with more open-ended maps, you'd miss out on all kinds of really interesting storyline, like Father Grigory.

    Oh, and like they said, the engine is totally insane-crazy. At times it's almost like you're in a movie. And like the first one, there are numerous ways to skin a cat in many of the tactical puzzles. Once you realize that, the game gets a lot easier.

    I don't see a lot of replay value with this one due to the extreme linearity. I understand people replayed the first one again and again, but that doesn't float my boat, personally.

    Expect the mods on this one to be awesome, though.
    • Well said. I agree with your analysis -- except that the game itself is just so fun that I am enjoying it my second time through, and I expect to have some fun with it in the future as well.

      The interesting thing about the linearity of the game is that it's so natural -- the first time through I didn't really realize I was being led around by the nose.

      As far as climb-and-jump puzzles go, I don't remember a single one. I remember a couple of points that were evidently supposed to be climb-and-jump puzzles
  • by onethumb (4479) on Monday November 22, 2004 @04:57PM (#10891410) Homepage
    I wrote a short entry [onethumb.com] on Steam and why online distribution (or a worse alternative) is inevitable for PC games (console too, eventually). I'd love to hear some commentary on it from fellow /.ers.

    Also, I've heard many complaints about Steam's bandwidth and whatnot. The solution [onethumb.com] is simple, and Valve went so far as to hire Bram Cohen, of BitTorrent fame, at one point to work on Steam. (Note the timestamp on this article before complaining I'm outta date :) No clue why it doesn't intelligently swarm yet...

    Don
    • by onethumb (4479) on Monday November 22, 2004 @05:02PM (#10891455) Homepage
      For those inclined not to click, the short story is thus:

      - Half-Life 2 took tens of millions of $$ to make and 6 years.
      - Valve only makes $5-10 per copy retail.
      - With Steam, they can make closer to $25-30 per copy.

      = We get better games if Steam is a success*
      = If it's not, we'll see retail prices rise to $60-80 in the near future to compensate.

      Long live Steam!

      * If you buy into the more time + more money = better game. Given the right talent, I think it does, but there's always games like Rollercoaster Tycoon to prove us wrong...

      Don
      • by Tackhead (54550) on Monday November 22, 2004 @05:09PM (#10891546)
        > = We get better games if Steam is a success*
        >
        >= If it's not, we'll see retail prices rise to $60-80 in the near future to compensate.

        I'd gladly pay $60-80 for a non-steam version of HL2.

        > Long live Steam!

        Because the day Steam's authentication servers go away, your $40 boxed retail version and your $30 pile of GCF files become worthless.

  • Praise Indeed (Score:5, Informative)

    by CleverNickedName (644160) on Monday November 22, 2004 @04:57PM (#10891411) Journal
    It must also be said that valve did an excellent job on making the game accessable to lower end machines. It runs fine on my 2.7 GHz, 512 Meg laptop with no graphics card to speak of.

    Not great, but "fine"... :)
    • Re:Praise Indeed (Score:4, Insightful)

      by StewedSquirrel (574170) on Monday November 22, 2004 @05:20PM (#10891675)
      Since when is a 2.7GHz laptop a "lower end machine"?

      I understand the lack of substantial video card bein an issue, but most of the peple I know are running sub-1GHz machines....

      Stewey
    • by Anonymous Coward on Monday November 22, 2004 @05:25PM (#10891757)

      "... with no graphics card to speak of ..."

      Really? I once played the entire soundtrack to Grease on my 3.2GHz, 512Meg laptop with no sound card to speak of and it was great!

    • Re:Praise Indeed (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Matt Perry (793115)
      I wouldn't call 2.7 GHz low end unless you're a hardcore gamer that's always upgrading to the latest hardware. 800MHz with 128 MB of RAM is my impression of low end these days. I only know a few people with machines faster than 1.3 GHz.
  • It's a railway FPS with scripts acting out a scene before your eyes every so often. Most often, the finale of the scene involves you killing the actors.

    It's nice, but like many other games which add something new to the mix (in this case the physics), too much time is spent trying to showcase the tech. "Really? You mean that if I add weight to that side, the other side will raise? Amazing! Can we do it again?"

    I give it 3.5 out of 5. Good, but not very filling.

  • Stolen Code (Score:5, Funny)

    by goldspider (445116) <ardrake79NO@SPAMgmail.com> on Monday November 22, 2004 @05:00PM (#10891438) Homepage
    No wonder it took so long to develop. It must have sucked having to start from scratch when that code got stolen. I wonder how the burglars got it out of the building. Did they put it in a briefcase and just walk out the door with it?
  • by brxndxn (461473) on Monday November 22, 2004 @05:03PM (#10891473)
    I am loving Half Life 2 and I think the game really rocks.. Though, I'm annoyed with two things..

    You cannot skip a part of the game or 'take shortcuts' if you find a faster way to do something like in normal FPs's.. As an example, I used the airboat to jump through a dock area without blowing up some strategic exploding barrels to form an entry. But, when I tried to complete the next jump, I hit an invisible wall in midair... until I completed the first part and the 'wall' dissappeared. It's happened elsewhere in the game.

    Also, the characters have no interaction. Freeman never talks and the other characters are invincible. So, I usually pelt them with barrels and other debris using the gravity gun while they're talking to me. It gets pretty funny sometimes when you smack a guy in the head with an exploding barrel from across the room and he just keeps talking..

  • by Canthros (5769) on Monday November 22, 2004 @05:04PM (#10891478)
    The game still looks good in lower-detail modes.

    The last game I played through was Tribes: Vengeance, which runs off the UT2K4 engine. Doesn't run well at all on my decrepit GeForce 3 until quite a few things are turned off, at which point, only the number of polygons is impressive: the textures are muddy, the light soures don't glow, etc, etc.

    Half-Life 2 ran beautifully on the same hardware at the same resolution with only a couple of settings turned down (textures at Medium, water reflections on simple). There were times when I needed to turn things down a bit more (shaders caused me problems at various points), but it still looked fantastic.
  • by EpsCylonB (307640) <eps@NOSPam.epscylonb.com> on Monday November 22, 2004 @05:05PM (#10891484) Homepage
    The sequel, Half-Life 2, has been in the works for almost six years and is one of the most hyped and anticipated games of 2004.

    And 2003 as well, but thats a whole other story...

  • by brundlefly (189430) on Monday November 22, 2004 @05:05PM (#10891486)
    I was quite upset to discover that the game has no Super Turbo Turkey Puncher 3 console anywhere in any of the levels. Big disappointment.
  • by _bug_ (112702) on Monday November 22, 2004 @05:07PM (#10891514) Journal
    Could anyone whose played both Doom3 and HL2 care to offer any comparisons between the two, on an engine level. (Try to ignore story, if possible.)

    I've only played D3, and the items listed as breakthroughs in HL2 seem to already exist in Doom3. So is it just hype, or is there a real difference?

    About the only thing I've heard thus far is that HL2's engine seems to be more forgiving for older hardware. Any truth to that?
    • by Repugnant_Shit (263651) on Monday November 22, 2004 @05:41PM (#10891974)
      Physics:
      In D3 the physics, to me, didn't seem like a big deal, or a large part of the action. HL2's physics are threaded through the entire game - it just wouldn't be the same without them.

      Shadows:
      D3 had wonderful technology. If three light sources were shining on an enemy, it would have three shadows. HL2's shadows seem to be a one-shadow-per-model deal. And they sometimes seem to be cropped when they land on walls.

      Graphics:
      D3 has good graphics. The interactive, high-quality computer textures were amazing. The way light fell on enemies was well-done, and really added to the atmosphere. However, HL2's graphics were much more varied and colorful. The attention paid to detail was unbelievable.

      Also, because of the more varied level and model design, features such as bump-mapping and are used to better affect in HL2, although D3 is quite stunning.

      AI:
      D3 is an iD game - there's not much AI to speak of. HL2's AI is an improvement over that of HL1, but with 6 years to get it right it should be. The enemies work together as a team, and your friends do what they should.

      Maps:
      D3 featured mostly small, cramped maps. While beautiful, I felt that the reason there weren't many large open areas was because of performance. Outdoor areas never seemed to have as much detail. HL2 does have its share of cramped hallways but also an equal share of outside fun. A beach, a city square, etc. add variety and run as smoothly as the indoor scenes.

      Performance:
      I have 2.4Ghz P4, 1GB of RAM, and a GeForce 6800. D3 performance was nothing special, dipping as low as 15 FPS. HL2's benchmark gave me 85 FPS, and the actual game was silky smoooooth, with anti-aliasing and 8x anisotropic filtering.

      On the whole, they both have good engines, but I enjoyed HL2 much more, and think they did a much better job of showcasing what a modern engine should do. The Doom 3 engine is probably more advanced, but also almost too resource intensive (note the quality setting for video cards that don't exist yet).

      Wow that was long. Hope this helps somewhat. Couldn't tell you about audio because Windows doesn't believe I have a 5.1 setup, so I can only do stereo.
    • HL2: Interactive adventure movie
      Doom 3: Interactive horror movie

      Graphics score equal, though both in different aspects. DOom 3 has better interiors, HL2 has better outside levels and AI. Both have good storytelling and you can walk only one way,
      The downside on HL2 is that it is a more restricting on a lot of things. This makes the game feel less 'real' and more like a movie.
  • by blanks (108019) on Monday November 22, 2004 @05:08PM (#10891520) Homepage Journal
    20 hours of game play. From what I have been hearing most people have just skipped the single player game, and are just going right into the multi player games.
  • by Wrexen (151642) on Monday November 22, 2004 @05:10PM (#10891557) Homepage
    "With all those quid pro quos out of the way..."

    If you don't know Latin, it's probably best not to carpe diem your words like that.
  • My review: (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Mr. Flibble (12943) on Monday November 22, 2004 @05:13PM (#10891591) Homepage
    I finished the game on hard on Friday, here is my take.

    Pros:
    - Graphics and facial animations. Wow. I do mean WOW. (I would have liked more interactions with the characters in terms of plot and what the hell is going on... These moments were great.)

    - Level design - the belivability of the world is unmatched. City 17 looks and feels like a real place.

    - New weapons, the gravity gun.

    - (Other "new" weapon near endgame, I won't mention the details of it here so as not to be a spoiler, but those of you have used it know!) That part was too fun for words.

    Cons:

    - The AI did not seem as good as in HL 1, rather, it does not seem to have the same level of self preservation.

    - You should be able to give your team the order "STAY HERE AND DON'T FUCKING MOVE!"

    - The levels while awesome, keep you confined to a narrow tunnel. There is no exploring a-la Far Cry. I would have liked to have seen this on the buggy level.

    - Lack of plot. The plot is very thin, and comes in bits. I really wanted to know what was going on, and while you can piece together an idea from the clues Valve gives you, much is left unsaid and really needs the gaps filled in.

    - The game is too damn short. It is about 1/3 as long as the first one.

    My review:

    9/10

    A must play game.
    • by scribblej (195445)
      You should be able to give your team the order "STAY HERE AND DON'T FUCKING MOVE!"
      ---

      Hahahah.... dude, you said it.

      "Follow Freeman!"

      "DON'T FOLLOW ME *NOW* YOU TWIT, THERE'S A SNIPER RIGHT TH.... too late."

    • Level design - the belivability of the world is unmatched. City 17 looks and feels like a real place.

      Actually because of the bizarre setting and strange dream-like lighting (bright light hitting at a low angle and very dark shades) it is better then real, it is surreal. It is very much like a playable Dali painting.
  • by Obiwan Kenobi (32807) <evan AT misterorange DOT com> on Monday November 22, 2004 @05:14PM (#10891597) Homepage
    This is taken from my blog [misterorange.com], but I felt it was thorough/pertinent enough to post here.

    So I finished Half Life 2. Ironically, I never actually completed the original, but I've been excited just like any other gamer over these past few months about what the six-year-development cycle has done for the game in question.

    How has this gestation period treated the game? Very well. It seems that two things are apparent to me as I made my way through the connected, fluid universe of Half Life 2:

    One: Valve are masters of atmosphere. While Doom 3 had its moments, it was mainly atmosphere in the form of no atmosphere. The lack of a true outdoor environment (albeit a small one with high rock ledges around and a fast-moving sky) prevented it from truly sinking in the idea that this is a living breathing world and more of a series of spooky outposts.

    Half Life 2, on the other hand, truly delivered in the atmosphere environment. Everything is as it shouldn't be, which is to say totalitarian and controlled, from the first moment of the game you are subjected to the mindless droning of the Omnipresent Master along with the suddle and barking tones of the Military Component. It's enough to make you creeped out. And in a good way. Not in a Monster Closet (my code name for Doom 3) way.

    Two: The female character of Alex was masterfully done. Never have I truly cared for, nor even felt better just being in the presence of, such a character before. She brought a calming effect that is truly unmatched by any other thing in the game.

    I believe I have noticed something of First Person Shooters here recently, something that I was speaking with my friend Jon about. I call it the Waking Nightmare syndrome. There is a level of stress that the latest FPS's put on you by taking as much control and normalcy away from you. Whether this be Monster Closets (regarding both the mechanic of "boo scares" with doors and the game Doom 3 itself), or spooky towns filled with baddies or buggy rides through the open (and dangerous) road, these games want you on edge.

    And frankly, this type of gaming is scary and nerve-wracking. It makes me not want to play.

    Yet, it does want me to play. But the difference is in the amount of which I can take at any given time. With Doom 3, I honestly just stopped playing it. There reached a point where I realized that the game had determented into Monster Closets, where you would either pass a locker and it would shoot out a monster, or one would simply crawl out after you passed to sneak up on you soon after. Either way, it got to be distracting, formulaic, and yes, even a bit scary. But not creepy scary, like those really good Japanese horror movies. In fact, it never reached horror. It reached scary, and that's nowhere near horror.

    Now Half Life 2, on the other hand, reached something very close to horror, but never quite got there. It presented a world out of control, yet the way that world came to be was never explained, even in the very beautiful and psycho-centric last levels. Now that would be true horror, the ability to build this world then show the awful unmaking of the world you were used to.

    I would also like to note that the finale was grand, but the ending was awful. Fine, Valve, you didn't want to "end" it by any Movie Sense. But we basically just played through one, albeit in a first person point of view, yet you gave us a Kubrick-like (or Twilight Zone) one and expected us to enjoy it. Amused, yes. Enjoyed, no.

    Regardless, it is highly recommended. The game, when it works, even in Waking Nightmare style, is beautiful stuff. There are plenty of levels, locations, and characters that make the trip worth it. I believe the bonds between the characters of Barney, Alex, and the rest were established well, but I do hope that next time they spend more time working on those bonds (or perhaps putting the co-stars in real danger, you know the kind that kills people) and actually -gasp- mak
  • A very fine game (Score:5, Insightful)

    by RocketScientist (15198) * on Monday November 22, 2004 @05:20PM (#10891682)
    Every now and then, unfortunately not very often, my cynical nature is let down when something long awaited leads not to major disappointment, but to actual satisfaction. Is the game perfect? Nope. But it's a damn fine piece of work.

    The environments are pretty and crisp, and, in contrast to Doom3, generally well lit. That's actually an interesting point. The game manages to convey a sense of suspense and terror without resorting to the total darkness that consumed much of Doom3. This is done effectively enough that it makes the darkness of Doom3 seem to like a cheap ploy, like the Doom3 level designers couldn't do suspense without total darkness.

    The Airboat scene is a great example of what's done very very well in the game: excellent gameplay fun, and excellent eye candy. It's intense, it gradually gets more and more challenging.

    One thing that I didn't like was how the non-character NPC's are handled, specifically the members of your "squad" in the final levels. In several places I had a great shot at the bad guys, but was denied an actual shot because of an NPC in the way. On the other hand, unlike similar situations in Halo (for example), the NPC's don't cause damage if they shoot you in the back. It's balanced, I just don't like it, and I don't have any suggestions to make it better.

    The ending was something of a downer for it's lack of resolution. But that's fine, it makes me look forward to (1) playing through again, (2) looking forward to the inevitable expansion packs, and (3) Half-Life 3. Saying the game is terrible because it lacked resolution at the end is done by those who would have complained between installments of the Lord of the Rings trilogy. It's not a complete series, it's part of a longer story.

    There are a few interesting side-stories that could be done as expansion packs later. Bear in mind that the two original Half-Life expansions, Opposing Force and Blue Shift, occurred concurrently with Gordon's original escapades through Black Mesa. There are a lot of other events going on while Gordon's doing his thing, so it'll be fascinating to see how the expansions go.

  • by GarfBond (565331) on Monday November 22, 2004 @05:21PM (#10891693)
    Stellar game, wonderfully executed, and almost perfect in playability. You can tell that they cared and spent a lot of time on this game, cause it shows.

    I docked my personal rating by .5 because of Steam. While it's a pretty good system overall (msging other people within the game using Friends is pretty cool, as is following them from server to server with the same client), it obviously had its growing pains on opening day. However, as far as I can tell, the flood of people from then is gone now, as Steam's bandwidth usage is well under its maximum capacity now (http://www.steampowered.com/status/status.html), so trying the game now should pose no problem for anybody.

    My big problem is that the retail version has a CD check everytime you try to start it up. This is incredibly stupid, because not only has my CD key already been verified, people who bought it off of Steam don't have to go through this unnecessary step.
  • by Lord Bitman (95493) on Monday November 22, 2004 @06:11PM (#10892318) Homepage
    Some tips to get you started:
    - It was much too easy, primarily due to horribly layed-out maps (Hmmm, we need to make a corner here so that not to much is rendered at a time. I guess we better fill the corner with enough ammo and health that nobody ever feels excited or like they're taking a risk). Setting the difficulty to "hard" makes enemies take more hits to kill, but still substantially fewer than the piles and piles of ammunition laying absolutely everywhere.

    - The premise of the game seems to be "Hey look, you can pick things up". Yes, it's fun, it looks cool, and it's completely and totally pointless. At no point in the game are you rewarded for doing something interesting with the physics or with picking things up. Whenever that might have been the case, it is ruined by being the only option available.

    - Infinite Rocket crates. The most simple thing anyone could come up with to suck all the excitement out of what otherwise might have been a really fun battle, is in just about every major battle. Two of the most fun moments in the game were when you fought along side other soldiers, and did not have an infinite supply of ammunition. Firing off your rockets and watching those around you working together to take down the same enemy, somehow that seems more fun than crouching next to a box.

    - You inexplicably can't fling corpses around. This is completely inexcusable. Then, at the end of the game, you suddenly /can/ fling corpses around. This is ruined by then requiring that you fling corpses around (all other weapons are taken away, and the magical corpse-flinging ability also makes all weapons disintegrate). What could have been turned into a nice treat at the end of the game was made stupid by having it shoved down your throat. They even take away your fucking crowbar. There's no excuse for that. It's done, btw, because otherwise you'd be able to take out the last goal in one second using a machine gun. At least, I assume that's why.

    - "interactive" means "lots of unskippable cutscenes in which you can't do anything". Even the smallest level of interactivity- like bumping in to the computer monitor as seen in the E3 video, has been removed. The long ride in the last chapter makes what probably would have been the most frequently returned-to chapter just not worth playing. I have an expensive graphics card, so it looked really cool. Once. After that, I just wanted to fling some corpses around for a while. The ability to look a little to the right or left does not make this pointless waste of time "interactive". In general, if you're designing a game and stick somewhere not in the very begining a scene where you need to climb into a steel coffin and wait for twenty minutes as you look at inexplicable gimp zombies (are they supposed to be Strogg or something?), you should probably re-think your pacing.

    - On a note related to pacing, the game does not follow any natural progression whatsoever. In Half Life 1, each scene blended into the next and almost every chapter was good enough that sitting down for a quick game could easily turn into a night of "I can't believe I just re-played through the whole game". Here, you've got three unrelated games smashed awkwardly together. You've got urban combat, stupid vehicle levels which I assume were added so that the claim could be made "With two new driveable vehicles!" in advertisements. They add a small amount of fun in exchange for removing replay value from the game as a whole. And then you've got the stupid survival-horror "OMG ZOMBIES" levels. having such vastly different segments with no transition between them makes for an awkward and poor experience. You have the ability to select any chapter you want to start a new game from. I'm sure that at some point I'll start a new game on each and every chapter. But the poor or nonexistant transitions ensure that I'll never actually play through the whole game again.

    - No friendly fire. This is just annoying. An option to turn it on would be nice. I know they
    • Even the smallest level of interactivity- like bumping in to the computer monitor as seen in the E3 video, has been removed.

      I was disappointed by that too. But, on the plus side, you CAN play with the mini teleporter in the corner of the office until it breaks down.

      No way to say "wait here and DO NOT FOLLOW ME". Squads do not understand the concept of "huge open area surrounded by snipers"

      Actually, you can. The C key tells them to go somewhere. You just can't get too close, because then they will auto
  • Half Life: Reloaded (Score:3, Interesting)

    by syberanarchy (683968) on Monday November 22, 2004 @08:56PM (#10893976) Journal
    First off, I am a semi-pro game reviewer, so take this for what it is worth.

    Half Life 2 reminded me a lot of the Matrix series - the first one was just so gosh darn good, they had to grasp at straws for the sequel.

    The first three chapters almost feel like a fanfic made by a kid who really liked the Matrix, to a point where he thought "HAY, THE MATRIX WOULD BE COOL MIXED WITH HALF LIFE."

    Even the opening cinema amounts to "WAKE UP NEO...ERM...GORDON!" You spend the first three levels running from agent...er, I mean, Combine and Manhacks. You've got a pistol and crowbar, but there are so many enemies that it's easier to run.

    After the thousand yard dash, you are thrown into a hoverboat for a terrible, lengthy vehicle sequence.

    I'm currently on the fifth level, which seems to be more of the same. I hear it really picks up after Ravenholm, and I'll stick with it. But man, the first third of the game has been pretty unimpressive thus far.
  • by _Shorty-dammit (555739) on Monday November 22, 2004 @09:29PM (#10894167)
    there's nothing stopping them from releasing Steam updates beforehand that get rid of the need to contact the Steam servers, and make all the games true stand-alone games. They could be around a long time. They could be gone in three years. Who knows. But there's certainly nothing stopping them from patching Steam before they have to pack it in. There *is* a backup utility built in now, and it will make CD or DVD sized backups for you. I'm actually curious to try it out now and see if a restore from the backups currently needs to contact the servers before you can play or not. But certainly if Valve is going to go by the wayside they'll be able to patch Steam so it's not reliant on Steam servers any longer.

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