November 20th, 2004


Half-Life 2 review, spoilerless

Okay. So I just finished HL2, and I thought I'd throw out a few opinions and reviews.


The gameplay is good. Not stunning. But good. It's a solid PC FPS, which means there's a reasonably large amount of save-reload tango, but at least you get to blow stuff up real nice. The guns are mostly fun, but with a single exception, there's nothing really noteworthy in the gun department. They're guns. They shoot things. Things die. Then there's the exception which I could write paragraphs about on its own, but since this is in theory spoilerless, I won't.

On the other hand, the number of variations on the gameplay is fantastic. You'll drive vehicles, blow up Really Big Things, run through sewers, run through blown up cities, order squadmates around, trigger traps, etc etc etc. Which is devastatingly fun and cool, and I love having a lot of stuff to do in a game.

On the gripping hand, it's all stuff we've seen before. It's solid and well-done but, in general, there aren't any real gameplay revolutions here. So it's sort of like a Blizzard game, and that should tell you everything you need to know about the gameplay.

I'm giving Gameplay 9/10.


Come on. Go find some screenshots. Tell me those aren't drool-worthy.

Technically, it might be inferior to Doom 3. I say "might be" because, due to Doom 3 being so fucking dark, you never really find out. Also, apparently Id Software programmers have a pathological fear of any colors other than gray and red. Makes it hard to compare, except it doesn't, because HL2 wins.

Worthy of note is that they've gone with a very realistic earth-toney game. Even the guns rarely spew out technicolor destruction - thinking back on it, I can remember *one* bright blue thing, *one* bright yellow thing, and *one* vaguely bright-green thing. The rest, all earth tones. So we're not talking about a technicolor special effects extravaganza here.

The animation, on the other hand, is to die for. Remember the Final Fantasy movie? Remember how all the people in it looked fantastic, until they started moving, in which case they were just *slightly* off - you could tell they were damn near perfection, it's just that last bit giving them trouble? That's what Half-Life 2 looks like, in realtime. One thing that had me nearly yelling "Yes! You got it right!" is one section where two characters walked up to each other, and . . . *touched* each other. This never happens. There's always a jerky bit while the models synch up and are replaced by a single animation, or objects just flying from one person's hand to another. In theory it's not *too* hard to get the models on the exact right location to remove the jerk, but nobody ever does it. These people did it. Awesome.

Graphics, 11/10.


Everything's just plain right. The voices are, with a few exceptions, recorded in enough duplicate to not make it repetitive. The gun sounds are right. The auditory effects are right - if someone's yelling in a big hall, it *sounds* like a big hall. There were a few irritating sound glitches but this is apparently caused by hardware limitations, and, well, honestly, my system's getting a bit old.

Of note: The G-Man's voice is perfect, on the same level that Shodan's voice was perfect.

Also I really can't stress this no-repeats thing enough. I never found myself categorizing sound clips into what they meant, and that was simply because I didn't have enough data points. It's not like Halo, where I know the hollow "NOOOOoooo" sound means an elite trooper has just died. I had to listen to the sounds. That's just plain cool.

Sound's tricky because once you reach a certain point it's hard to excel. Especially if you want a semi-realistic world. We know what stuff sounds like, and once stuff sounds like that, well, you're done. Something like Myst, sound's ultra-vital and can set the tone of the world, but in a realistic game, it's just gunfire.

I'd give Sound 10/10, except that it's not really that hard for this, so I'll divide it by two.

Final score for sound: (10/2)/(10/2).


Oh yeah! This game had AI. I'd forgotten. I thought all the enemies had actual players at the helm, because they sure behaved that way. Seriously, the AI's flawless. They acted like people.

Well, most of the time. The AI for your friendlies tended to get in your way. As in, you'd be walking down a hallway, and you'd turn around, and the hallway would be full of squadmates that you'd have to push through. (Leading to the only sound clips I learned to recognize - your squadmates saying "Sorry." "Excuse me." "I'll get out of your way.") Also, there was no way to tell your squadmates "Hang back while I take care of the seventeen billion turrets up there" - you could tell them to go to a location, but you'd run up and be eliminating the second turret and you'd hear "Let's follow Freeman!" and then gunfire and screams and you saying "fuck".

So that could have used some work.

And, really, I don't know how much of the enemy AI was pre-scripted. It could be that they had the levels liberally scattered with tokens that said, in effect, "Hide here!".

I'm going to give AI (9 plus or minus 1)/10.


The music wasn't anything special. What there was was good, in the sort of "Hey! Techno! Neat!" sense of "good". Because, you know, it was techno. It wasn't particularly suitable techno - I mean, it wasn't bad, it just didn't make me say "This music rocks!". I can't remember a single bit of it - in fact as I write this I have the Halo soundtrack going through my head. Which isn't a good sign.

There also wasn't very much. It was clearly just a triggered sound event - player gets to point X, play 30 seconds of techno. Wheee. It's like City of Heroes, only . . . singleplayer, and with techno.

I hate to say it, but I'd give it 3/10 . . . except, hey! Techno!

So it gets pi/10.




If you had even ONE WORD of complaint about Halo 2's ending, you are now morally obligated to bring a pitchfork to Valve's office and wave it around a bit.

I don't even know if the ending was good or not. I mean, we can't know. Maybe we'll find out in Half-Life 3. Or maybe we won't! Who can tell?

And how am I supposed to score this thing? Geez.

Ending points, i/10.

So the final score is, um . . . uh, hold on . . .

Approximately 8.2/10.

Er, plus or minus 0.02. Fuck. I should have calculated the first one at a higher precision.

Oh yeah, and I forgot to count the i. Er, (7.5+i)/10ish? Plus or minus a bit? Wait, should the i's maximum score factor into the total?

Screw it. 9/10, where 10 is the best game in the entire history of the universe.