Sunday, October 08, 2000

Half-life 2 PC | 10

Okay, so I'll admit to being one of the five people that hasn't even touched Half Life 2 until now. I did play through the original Half Life, and its difficulty (especially in the later stages) was a bit of a turn-off. Personally, I think that when the game practically necessitates cheating to complete it, it's a bit too much. That said, seeing this bundle on the store shelf was a bit too good of a deal to pass up, so I picked it up.

First impressions on the game design- the physics is more heavily involved in gameplay than in any other shooter before or since. In fact, in many cases the gameplay seems to FOCUS on the physics, not on killing enemies. To underscore this, you can actually finish most of the game with only the gravity gun, which (except in rare cases) can't kill anything directly but can pick up objects to throw at enemies. This is an interesting departure from the norm, but there are times when I think they took it a bit too far. Typically, you'll start off killing enemies and will have the normal frantic bursts of action, but you'll eventually run into a puzzle. These are usually something as simple as a locked door or elevator, and you simply (or not) have to open it or turn it on. Most of the puzzles can be figured out given a reasonable amount of effort on the player's part, but there are a few that will undoubtedly frustrate to the point where you simply look it up. I guess this is fine, so long as you aren't highly averse to cheating in such a fashion. I will say, when you do get where you're going, you do feel a sense of accomplishment at having figured it out.

The game's graphics are pretty good even for now, and voice acting is well done. The environments are well made and look realistic in a sort of grim alien/post-apocalyptic style. It's nothing that will blow you away after seeing next-gen titles, but it's none too shabby either. Additionally, the episodes feature graphic improvements. If you have bought a machine anytime in the last 3-4 years, chances are it'll run smoothly at max settings. The game is quite stable as well, though it doesn't seem to like being minimized. One thing to note is that the game does take quite a while to start up and has occasional- and sometimes rather jarring- load pauses. These usually take place in a featureless corridor, and I found that after a while I could tell when it was about to stop to load.

The original HL2 is generally a good story and great pace, save for one glaring thing. There are two sequences where you're driving a vehicle around, and it's my opinion (and most I've mentioned it to agree) that these are just WAY too long. It's almost as if the developers were justifying the time they spent making the vehicles work by stretching out these sequences to a ridiculous length. Some other interesting notes are that allies are somewhat useful now, and the variety of enemies is enough that they don't get overly repetitive. Particularly, there is a point where you get to command an endless horde of weak critters to overwhelm a horde of enemies (fortunately, not endless), which is one of the highlights of the game.

The episodes (1 and 2) more or less follow the same style of the original. You lose all your weapons at the start of each one, which is rather irritating, and they aren't especially long installments. They largely serve to drive the plot along, which is actually getting interesting enough that I'm looking forward to the finale. You spend most of your time with Alyx backing you up, which is good if you hate being lonely, but somewhat of a shift in gears from the core game where you're largely solo. There are a few surprises and new enemies along the way, and enough new environments to make things fun.

Additionally, this package comes with Team Fortress and Portal, which are a multiplay shooter and puzzle game respectively. I haven't looked into either extensively since I largely bought this pack to get the Half Life content, but it's a nice bonus.

The only big gripe I have about the Orange Box is something that a lot of other people have complained about- specifically, Steam and the Valve DRM. If you don't have a live internet connection you CANNOT play any of the games since it needs to connect to Steam to authenticate you. Steam also performs updates whenever you launch, so patching is not optional and can eat into your game time when you don't particularly want it to. There were times when I was playing some online game, my internet died, and I figured to just play some HL2 instead... and after a few minutes sitting on the 'Now loading...' prompt I remembered it wasn't going to work either. This, like many other aspects of Half Life 2, is different from any other shooter out there- but not in a pleasant way. Personally, I don't see why it can't authenticate once in 3 launches, or even every other launch. Even that would be preferable to the way it is now.

All in all, the Orange Box is a great value if you haven't already bought HL2 or Episode 1. I'd hesitate to say it's a 'great' value for Episode 2 alone, but this is also available separately on Steam if you already have the rest. For those who haven't tried the core game, it's a lot of fun and good game time for the price, and unlike most new shooter releases you probably won't have to upgrade your PC to run it.

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