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Half Life 2

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After 6 years of waiting, finally Half Life 2 is out. For whole lot of ppl out there this was the most anticipated game of the year, and may be in this millennium so far. Especially that Doom 3 hasn't met expectations for bunch of folks. I donno what exactly they were expecting from D3 besides cool graphics and intense demon shootings, but to each his own. Anyway, so only 6 years passed since the first Half Life was produced and we got the sequel. Despite some rumors about HL2 being delayed till march 05 or later due to tensions between Valve and Vivendi the game was released as scheduled(that is after several delays), 11/16/04. For those who had Steam account game was available 12:00 am, the rest could pick up their CD or DVD version later in stores.

I liked the game, enjoyed playing it and I was upset when it ended kind of abruptly and too soon in my opinion. Graphics are very good. Not as good as in D3, but still very impressive and frame rates are higher compared to D3. In the end it's hardly even 20 hours of playing even on Normal difficulty. I haven't played it on hard, and don't feel doing so anyway. It was a cool game, I might play occasionally some levels again, but not the whole thing on higher difficulty.

Gameplay

- HL2 is quite immersive. Although not as much as D3 was, at least to me. You get variety of environments to play in. Different vehicles to drive, and bunch of weapons to shoot with. One of the biggest points of HL2's graphics engine - "Source" was the facial expressions. Which was done superbly. I haven't seen such realistic faces and facial expressions in any game to date. However, the way it was incorporated in the game, it didn't add much to gameplay. Since most of the time you are busy driving or shooting, you don't see those faces anyway, opponents most of the time are zombies with headcrabs on the head, or combine soldiers in gasmasks. Whenever you get to see those expressions is certain scenes when you communicate with other folks, except it's always a one way communication, you never get to say a word or interact with another person somehow.

Textures and outdoor envs in general are done also superbly. I was playing on 1600x1200 resolution with all settings high, AA 4x, AF 16x and still, I would get 50 fps on average, in complex scenes, and above 100 fps when running in the streets undisturbed. Indoor envs, most of the time are very realistic Soviet era/style houses in City #17 at undisclosed location, but apparently in Russia, as several buildings have Russian letters on them. Canals are canals, can't comment much. Textures were very good and realistic in them as well.

HL2 was promoted as one of the most realistic games in the world, where you could interact almost with everything, and physics were very realistic, and so on. IMHO it was mostly hype. For one, physics engine used in HL2 is not Valve proprietary, but Havok 2.0 by Havok Inc. Second, the statement about "interacting with almost everything" is clearly an exaggeration. May be it's more than in any other game, but sometimes there's no point to it anyway. You can move boxes around, but some of them you can't. You can pickup empty bottles, though no apparent reason or need. Just for fun, although you won't be doing that all day anyways.

What was cool with all this interactive physics was the ability to throw canisters with paint or some flammable liquid in it (apparently gasoline) at the opponent. And then watch them walk painted in white or flaming. However both sequences were scripted contrary to the popular statement that the result of the canister impact on the zombie was still rendered by physics engine. The feature allowing to shoot the lights wasn't there. No stealth either, after playing FarCry I think that was cool, especially the stealth and the ability to prone.

Weapons

- There are lots of weapons in HL2, the most interesting of course being the Gravity Gun. I did like using it, was fun. As for the rest of the weapons, IMHO shotgun was a good one and the pulse rifle. I have no idea why pistols in HL2 have more power than Sub Machine Guns(SMG), so I ended up using .357 magnum revolver as a sniper rifle, except there was no scope on it, which obviously sucked and didn't add nothing to reality or gameplay. The only sniping you could do was scoped crossbow, like in HL1. Still no good substitute for a good .50 caliber sniper rifle though. Donno what Valve has against that. Another real kewl thing was shooting sawblades with the gravity gun. Cuts zombies in half with one shot obviously. Quite a picture.

IMHO

- I think the game is good, but not as good to swear by it or as it was hyped up. It does have strong points, very realistic outdoors being one of them, and facial expressions probably another, though that's not the most important thing in the game. The story in second game wasn't really a story. It's rather an episode. You're stuck in the middle of the situation and never really learn what has happened anyway. The game ends and you go back to sleep from which you were awaken in the beginning of the game. Compared to that D3 had much more complete and detailed story. Although, check out this site if you are confused about HL2 storyline. Very helpful. Obviously all that is more of a guessing (HL2 part) but still, explains a lot that the game itself never really explained. What's gonna happen to combine and earth after G-Man takes you back to sleep is a pure speculation, you don't really know if combine have another control facility or not, so you can make up your own theory or wait for HL2, or both.

In the end I like HL2, and I think D3 was a better game. It was more immersive, longer, with better graphics and much scarier. Yes, driving and shooting was cool in HL2, but not that much driving. At some point it became just boring and annoying. Same goes for endless rides in very slo-mo elevators and prisoner cradles. Come on. Aliens, with their supertechnology and they can't seem to solve any transportation problems? Although HL2 AI was much better than in Doom 3. That's about humans AI, zombies were about the same level as Demons in D3.