I wasn't harsh enough
PlayStation 38.00
Overall 8.00
I have a confession to make. A confession that may disturb you. I didn’t like Half-Life. I thought was boring and slow and tedious—hell, I was thankful for the jumping puzzles because they gave me something to actually do. In fact, I never did finish Half-Life because I honestly found it too boring. Plus the friend’s house where I played it had much more interesting FPSers and after awhile I realised I was wasting time that could be better spent playing Operation Flashpoint.

When Half-Life 2 came out there were people lining up at my door wielding crowbars at the ready to beat me to death with if I didn’t buy Half-Life 2. They promised me that Half-Life 2 was different: “Half-Life 2 is nothing like Half-Life!” But I shook my head and didn’t believe them, and if my door wasn’t the type that couldn’t open and was made out of unbreakable wood, then I wouldn’t be here to write this.

     But years later I saw The Orange Box for a cool $25, and I realised that it had at least one game I might like (Portal) and that at $25 it was the cheapest way I could play it anyway. After I completed Portal—which was more than worth the entry price—I plucked up my courage and started Half-Life 2. After all, perhaps the crowbar wielding fanboys were right and it wasn’t like Half-Life. Then I was hit with a strange sense of déjà vu and I realised it wasn’t courage that I needed but endurance.

It was like Half-Life, in fact it was boring. Actually, at first, I thought it had a bit of promise. I didn’t mind walking around aimlessly in a train station with a bunch of guys in masks that I suppose were meant to be intimidating and were there to build atmosphere, but considering I was just randomly dropped into the situation with literally no build up I was kinda having trouble getting a feel for the atmosphere. Now, there’s nothing wrong with dropping you in the thick of it at the start of the game, but when you’re dropped into a situation where you do nothing but walk around it isn’t going to hook me into the story.

      But after walking around for awhile I stumbled into another character. I’d heard wonderful things about Valve’s amazing talent for storytelling and their fantastic lack of cut scenes, and yet I found myself watching one. Sure I could look and walk around, but I still had to listen to every tedious word that was said. Oh, and at least you can skip some cut scenes, but when you’re stuck in a room so that you’re forced to listen to someone, you’ve got to wait patiently for them to shut up.

I was pushed outside and I thought perhaps I’d see some action. But no, instead I had to start stacking boxes and then walk around a bit to witness some more of the horrific oppression. Well, it would have been horrific if I (or Gordon Freeman) had any emotional attachment to what was going on, but alas I did not. Then just as my boredom was reaching its peak I had to endure another cut scene and then I was sent onto the roof where I had to run away from enemies. Surely the people in the previous cut scene could have given me a god damn weapon to defend myself with?

I’ll skip ahead a bit, as this is getting about as tedious as Half-Life 2. It wasn’t long before I finally did get a weapon and I thought perhaps things might be looking up. It was at this time that I was confronted with thousands of wooden boards that just had to be knocked down, which might not have been too bad if there was some tension and atmosphere, but as the ground made the same noise as sheets of metal when I hit it, and it was hit and miss (forgive the pun) when it came to which pieces of wood would break, I couldn’t help but be even more turned off by the prevalence of wood (I don’t deserve to be forgiven for that one:|).

     It was then that I realised why I didn’t care at all about the story. It wasn’t because I hadn’t finished Half-Life, and it wasn’t because it sucked; no it was because I had nothing to engage me with it. Gordon Freeman wasn’t a character: he was a floating hand. Now I know FPSers aren’t exactly famous for their characters, but if they’re attempting to tell a story this way then there needs to be something to engage me with the damn thing, and two obvious ways to do that is to focus on gameplay that is actually relevant to the story (and the story wasn’t about which types of wood are breakable and which aren’t right?) or have a character that has apparent emotional ties to the story, the action, or the characters.

     Yeah, I know the player is meant to be Gordon Freeman, so he’s a soulless floating hand, but I am the player, and I was Gordon Freeman, but unfortunately Gordon Freeman had little to do with the story as he was a little pre-occupied with breaking down walls. But don’t get me wrong, this style of character in a first person shooter that tries to tell a story can work. Deus Ex did it effortlessly, but Deus Ex had you being an integral part of the story to begin with, and you had a lot of interaction with characters that you, the player, could develop an emotional attachment to. You weren’t breaking down walls; you were interacting with other characters rather than just listening to them talk or running away from them. At the very least you got to shoot them! :P

     At this point I also realised I liked a few things about Half-Life 2. It wasn’t afraid to be hard. I started off playing on the hard setting. I’m a very competitive and determined guy (I did manage to force myself to finish Half-Life 2 after all!) but when I started dying a hell of a lot, I switched the difficulty down to normal and continued on my merry way. Kudos to Valve for actually letting you play with the hard setting to begin with, and still giving you a substantial challenge on normal.

I lied. At that point that was all I liked about the game.

     My expectations were raised again when I saw a hovercraft. “Ooh, hovercrafts are cool! This could be fun!” I thought to myself. I was a little worried by the lack of a weapon, but I was sure things would finally begin to look up. I was wrong...again. Riding a hovercraft through radioactive sewage and jumping out every now and then to do no more than raise a ramp or two is not my idea of fun. I might be competitive and determined, but I gave up. I decided I’d force myself to keep playing, but stop expecting a magnificent game, and accept I was playing something incredibly boring that I didn’t like one bit.

     It was then that I started to have fun. I entered Ravenholm.

     One thing those Half-Life fans are right about is the gravity gun. There is nothing cooler than severing zombies in half by flinging a circular saw’s blade at them, but I’d be selling Ravenholm short if I said that was the only good thing about the level. No, Ravenholm was fantastic. It was dark and it was tense and it was atmospheric and it was immersive. There were ominous screams and thumps in the background, and whenever I saw a zombie fly at me from the rooftops, I would reach frantically for the shotgun to take them out. Not only that but there was music here and there! Music that was so underused in the rest of the game, yet almost always present in the most immersive and atmospheric parts. I’m all for minimalism, but considering Half-Life 2 is set in a pretty dead world, most of the time the only sound that accompanied me was my god damn footsteps. That’s not to say that it couldn’t work, and with a few more wind sound effects and what not it probably would have.

In Ravenholm, the lack of character to Gordon Freeman paid off too: I wasn’t Gordon Freeman; I was me, and I was slicing zombies in two and jumping from roof top to roof top—two things that I’ve always wanted to do! Even with the nasty interruptions posed by a clergyman with a shotgun that kinda jolted the pacing, Ravenholm was a brilliant experience, and one that actually worked and achieved everything I felt that Valve were going for. But I’m sorry to say that I was stupid enough to raise my expectations again.

     My heart sank when out of no where I saw a dune buggy. Just when they’d built up a ****load of momentum they had me driving around again?! Come on Valve! Are you trying to make me hate your damn game? I could have put up with the inconsistencies that broke immersion here and there if you’d not decided to destroy everything with your two stupid vehicle sections. Actually, the second wouldn’t have been so bad if it wasn’t that I’d already done it before. In fact, if there had been a little bit more tension before Ravenholm it would have been a nice change of pace, but as it was, it simply showed me that not even the brilliance that was Ravenholm could save the first Half of Half-Life 2. No, the first half of Half-Life 2 was some of the most boring and disappointing time (I really was expecting it to be good) time I’ve spent playing video games.

     This tedious first half also meant that I focused far too much on the inconsistencies that never really bothered me in Ravenholm. I was spending my time thinking about things like there being only two voice actors for minor characters (a man and a woman) and wondering why when I hit the sand with my crowbar it made the same noise as when I hit rocks (and why the indentation was the same too;)). To be honest I spent a lot of my time hitting stuff with the crowbar just to hear the stupid noise and see what damage it did to whatever I was hitting. Then I lowered my expectations again, and accepted once again that Half-Life 2 sucked.

     And it was then that it proved me wrong. There was something quite awesome about controlling a swarm of ant-lions and watching them brutally rip the combine apart. And from that point onwards the game had me hooked. Not only was the gameplay finally focused, but some actual characters started playing a role. Alyx was a real character, and it made all the difference in the world to the story when she was going around with me. I must admit I don’t really like her as a character, but boy did she manage to actually get me somewhat interested in the story. She had emotional ties; she had a reason to be fighting, unlike Gordon Freeman, who was just a floating hand.

     The environments grew a lot more engaging too. (Not that Ravenholm wasn’t beautiful, but it’s buried in my memory under a pile of broken pieces of wood). Nova Prospekt was a very atmospheric level. Once again there were far off screams in the distance, and there was always the threat of there being something around the corner, and to top it off there was a real sense of urgency in what I was doing. A sense of urgency that was somewhat squandered when I met up with Alyx and meandered around a bit. Boy was that a pace breaker, but it was a minor one, and if I’d already been engaged with the story it wouldn’t have been too bad. And if it wasn’t there, then it would have taken me even longer to get interested in the characters, so it was a necessary evil.

     Perhaps I’m painting too rosy of a picture. The niggling little issues still pissed me off greatly. Like the fact that quick saves were upwards of 4 bloody megabytes and not only did they take a minute or two to load so did the damn level after the quick save itself had loaded! And then of course after every five minutes I had to stop for a minute for more of the level to load! And then there were the countless numbers of immersion killers, like the prevalence of ammo crates and health packs that were littered about in the strangest and most unbelievable places, and doors that couldn’t be opened, and the previously mentioned issues, all of which could surely have been carried out in a rather less intrusive way. But it wasn’t as big a deal anymore because I was having some fun; rather than them being the icing on a tedious cake of boredom.

     However, there was one niggling little issue that continued to piss me off. Squadmates. Now, apart from the Combine’s (and Zombine’s) use of grenades—which generally resulted in the death of themselves and their squadmates; in fact, their use of grenades was quite helpful come to think of it!—the AI was pretty damn good. The Combine took up good positions and used cover and generally made you think a bit as you shot them, though admittedly they did always fall for stupid traps. But Freeman’s squad-mates? Well, I was playing Lure of the Temptress at the time—a game from 1992—and you can tell your partner following you around to get out of the way, and generally they do. In Half-Life 2, however, no matter how much you tell them to stop blocking your path down one of the hundreds of thin corridors they will just stand there staring stupidly.

     To make matters worse they were nothing but a hindrance in a fire fight. Sure, they could take down the Combine reasonably well, but generally they just got in my way as I tried to move around to avoid the Combine fire, and god forbid when the Combine actually managed to throw their grenade before it exploded, because my squad-mates invariably managed to get in my way again as I tried to run away. Oh, and I couldn’t kill them myself either. Invincible characters were kinda lame but understandable, but invincible characters that are secretly working for the Combine and trying to trap you and get you killed were just a pain in the arse.

     Did I mention the environments grew prettier? The final level inside the Citadel is a sight to behold. I’m a huge sucker for Evil Empire Grey and the Citadel had it in spades. The corridors were dark and foreboding and claustrophobic and they were teeming with enemies trying to get you killed; enemies that you got to rip apart with the gravity gun! Which was almost as cool as it should have been. I say almost because it just emphasised another little immersion killer. The inconsistency with the gravity gun. Surely in its normal form it should be able to pick up and throw around people? And if it can knock a car around then it should be able to knock around a damn Combine computer, yet only in its modified form is it able to do so. Not to mention that it’s a little ironic that it gained its super-man-throwing-powers from a machine designed to hold and destroy weapons. The irony!

     Ah well, there was one final disappointment Half-Life 2 had in store for me. I never quite understood people’s problem with Halo 2’s ending, because I wasn’t paying much attention to it; I was just killing the aliens. But the build up to Half Life 2’s ending was nice and engaging, even if the twist just before hand had me vomiting in sentimental disgust, but I’ll be damned if the whole thing wasn’t building up to an epic face off mano-a-mano. But, what did I find myself doing? Shooting energy balls and climbing up a tower. When I got to the top of the tower I thought I was just about to reach the climax, but apparently Valve are selfish lovers. There was no confrontation. There was no ending. There was no climax. Instead? There was an explosion in slow-motion and one of the most disappointing endings in a game that I’ve played. Is that really all they could come up with? You don’t build something up like that and then end a game with a measly explosion that doesn’t resolve anything. Actually you do if you want to leave a bad taste in the player’s mouth.

     But then came Episode 1 and apart from proving that they ended Half-Life 2 early just so that they could have a go at Episodic Content—which they appear to have given up on—the bitter taste was washed away. As with Portal it was a focused experience that was to the point and didn’t waste a moment. This was a Half-Life 2 that I could enjoy from beginning to end: there was no filler, there were no unnecessary cut scenes, and Alyx was there all the time to keep me interested in the story. Though I must admit there was one thing that almost made me hate it. It was an inconsistency so bad that I’ll probably never forget it. There was a padlock that I could only break with a firearm, and not with the gravity gun that can be used to break very single other padlock in the game. Yes, it’s nitpicking, but I’m sorry, that is just a complete and utter immersion killer. Please don’t force me to pick up weapons if I don’t want to, and please don’t force me to waste my ammo if I don’t want to, and sure as hell don’t force me to pick up weapons you want me to by making me do something in a completely illogical way that I haven’t had to do once at any other point in your god damn game!

     Then came Episode 2. It was longer and less focused and there was filler. But I enjoyed it more than any other part of Half-Life 2 (though I think Episode 1 is the best). I was finally immersed in the world and the story, and while it wasn’t exactly anywhere near the calibre of something like Deus Ex, it was still an enjoyable pulpy sci-fi story that Valve were starting to pull off quite well—certainly better than most other FPSers anyway. And the fact that it was graphically a vast improvement over Half-Life 2 and Episode 1 certainly didn’t hurt.

     Another thing I’m a sucker for is dark, glowing blue; and the ant-lion caves made for a beautiful, organic and alive level that throbbed with the sound of ant-lion larvae. However, I must admit that I felt guilty killing them. Talk about cute and helpless! :( But those white bastards that shot acid me certainly made it a lot easier to kill them, and so began an epic vendetta to kill every single one of their children that I found. Never, ever, shoot acid at me. Seriously.

     Then I got outside and things got even more beautiful. I’ll say this here and now and you can quote and laugh at me later, but Half-Life 2 Episode 2 is one of the most beautiful current-gen games I’ve played. The trees were lush and gorgeous and it really felt like a harsh wilderness. Of course Episode 2 had its fair share of problems. The most annoying of which was the sound. Not only was the music far too loud when people were talking (which was barely fixed by turning the music down unless it was turned off completely) but for some reason the quality of the recording was terrible. The voices were muffled and Indistinguished and I found myself struggling to understand what was being said. I have to say that I have problems with the speakers on my TV, but I had no trouble understanding anyone in either of the previous Half-Life 2 games. Yes there are subtitles, but with their stupid border there’s another immersion killer for you.

     As I said earlier with Episode 2 the other major problem was filler. It was longer than Episode 1 so it fleshed out its length out with things that at times felt a little unnecessary to the story (the prolonged strider attack, though I suppose it was kinda building up to that. But the timing of it didn’t feel too believable or as tight as most other parts of the game) and other times contrived (Alyx’s near death experience, which was necessary in the sense that it illustrated the importance of her to the resistance, but unnecessary in the sense that it certainly could have been done in a far less contrived way), but they were forgivable, because by this point I was actually interested in what was going on so I could ignore the fact that I was doing stuff that felt slightly unnecessary. If Half-Life 2 had started off better, boy would it have been a great game.

     One thing I commend Episode 2 on is that it actually had a proper ending. In fact, there isn’t really any excuse for not having Episode 1 and 2 as part of Half-Life 2 and ending it there. It finished the events that Half-Life 2 followed very nicely and even gave you a little teaser for the next game, but it didn’t start the bloody next game and end half way through like Half-Life 2 did.

There’s just one final thing I’ll say about the Episodes though, and it’s a double edged sword. As awesome as the Auditors were with their wonderful special effects, there’s not really any excuse for having them kill people by inserting a penis into the back of their head. This isn’t Scary Movie guys, and death by penis doesn’t quite seem to fit—oh god there’s another pun and it’s even worse than the last. I better stop before I make anymore.

     It’s risky but I’ll try and say one final thing. My faith in Half-Life has been restored. I want to go back and play the original again, or at least wait until Black Mesa is released and experience it in current-gen glory. Sure my faith will probably be lost again, but they might be more alike than those Half-Life fans wanted me to believe, and perhaps the second half of Half-Life is as fantastic as it was in Half-Life 2.
Posted by Foolz Mon, 25 Oct 2010 03:34:51
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Mon, 25 Oct 2010 03:35:16
8.0 is including the Episodes. HL2 itself would score lower. This review is two years old and fucking long, because HL2 felt too fucking long
Mon, 25 Oct 2010 03:35:37
Hi, I'm constipated wrote:
Mon, 25 Oct 2010 03:35:59
Hi, I'm constipated wrote:
BTW your real name is at the bottom of the review, don't know if that was intentional.
Mon, 25 Oct 2010 03:36:21
Hi, this is the only 3D game I've played:
"Hmm, I played through HL2 three times (so far), and I never found it boring. Granted, I was playing the superior Xbox 360 version. Nyaa"
Mon, 25 Oct 2010 03:36:38
Well it shouldn't really even be on the source, but the more embarassing thing is the copyright on there! Eww. Also they deserve to the reviewed together because they're kind of the same game. I mean HL-2's ending is shitty becuase it's not actually an ending, and it's not an ending because Episode 1 follows it. Arseholes!

P.S. If it's the only 3D game you've ever played then no wonder you like it!
Mon, 25 Oct 2010 04:35:39
Well that's weird. I disagree with your points, but at the same time think you are correct.


I tell ya, I also did not like Half-Life, though I went back to play it after loving Half-Life 2, so that probably had a lot to do with it.  I thought the first one was direction-less.  The second one however always did a good job of letting you know where you were to go next and what the goal was.

There were some lame parts, like Ravenholm, and the beach section, and the last levels, but it did such a good job of putting me into those places.  I felt like I was moving my way up the British coastline in some alternate version of the 1940's.

The weapons were satisying, and the enemies were challenging enough that it was enjoyable to work away at them.  The platforming garbage (like using the gravity gun to move stuff around, and the bridge) all should have been cut out, as should the vehicle levels.

Far from perfect, but if you go into it thinking creative FPS, and not narrative/gaming masterpiece than it can be an enjoyable experience.
Mon, 25 Oct 2010 06:07:47
"There were some lame parts, like Ravenholm"


I went into it expecting both, and it failed me on both accounts.

You are correct, though, I am right. Nyaa
Mon, 25 Oct 2010 11:46:00
Has someone been deleting posts in here?
Mon, 25 Oct 2010 12:45:24
@Hi, I'm constipated.
That would be me! Couldn't work out how to edit, so I deleted/reposted. Ah well.
Mon, 25 Oct 2010 12:55:17
Okay my Raja.
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