1| Half-Life² (includes Episode 1 & Episode 2)

Released: November 16th, 2004

Definitive Version: PC (All major OSes); Also on: PS3, Xbox 360, Xbox.

Every gamer has that one game in their lives that leaves a humongous impression. That game that feels less like you are playing a game and more like you are engaging in an experience that will last with you for a lifetime. The “Star Wars experience” I like to refer to it as. This often comes from releases in the medium that were so polished and so far ahead of their time that there was literally nothing like them. It was as if you were playing a masterpiece from the future. This perfectly describes what it was like playing Half-Life 2 around its mid-2000s release. At the time there was literally nothing like it. No game had such a cinematic experience where “you controlled the player”. No game had such spit polished pacing. No game did such a perfect blend of graphics, art style, writing, and atmosphere. No game incorporated so many game design innovations that relied so much on technical power. And no game certainly did all of the above. That is what made Half-Life 2 such a special game.

Reading the list above, it would seem this game would be classic case of “ good for its time but has aged badly”. However, replaying the game last year I was shocked how well it held up. It wasn’t just the fact that the game’s actual gameplay is still as sharp as ever or that the pacing is still the best the industry has to offer. But the fact that what made the game so incredible over a decade ago still hold up today at nearly the same caliber. The textures may not be the best but the graphics are amazing thanks to the art style and incredibly detailed animation. The cinematic feel of the game is still virtually unrivaled, which can be thanked due to the fact that the game is so excellently directed. The character’s animate well and act natural, the acting is top notch, and there is always something going on so you aren’t bored. But most of all the game has an unparalleled level of detail. Just walking around City 17 is enough to explain the entire situation of the world. Martial Law is intact as you see combine patrol the area and harass citizens. The city is an empty wasteland with the only human life seen are either the oppressive troops or citizens squatting in building fearing for their lives.

That said, the game isn’t completely flawless. There are minor scuffs of the game showing its age. The set pieces, while amazing, aren’t as detailed as they should be and can take me out of the experience as a result. While the gunplay gets the job done and certainly “feels” good, it is definitely a bit on the simplistic side. And the variety of enemies could certainly be improved. However, nothing is flawless. Playing Half-Life 2 today is the video game equivalent of watching on of the movie greats such as Indiana Jones or Star Wars. Sure it has aged in some ways, but for the most part it hasn’t, especially in some things where conventional wisdom says it should have. It’s a testament to the game’s staying powering and showing the game will likely hold its title as one of the industry greats.

Yet despite the game achieving such high standards, Valve managed to strike lightening in a bottle continuously. Releasing the subsequent game as bite sized episodes may have had many fans worried, and while it should have resulted in the game’s decline in quality in retrospect, in reality Episode 1 and 2 are every bit as good as the groundbreaking game they are built upon. While they weren’t technical marvels at their time they still retained the razor sharp pacing and design the previous game maintained. Playing through the games never feel like a chore and there is always something going on that will hold your interest.

However, I feel that Half-Life 2 deserves the number one spot on this list due to two simple facts. The first is what made Half-Life 2 stick out so much was that it was a true “next generation” experience at the time. Prior to Half-Life 2 no game had ever had such tight pacing, immersion, and a quality cinematic experience. Since the game’s release the entire industry has been headed in that direction. It seems that nearly AAA game puts a strong focus on a cinematic experience. Trying to blur the lines between game and film. Yet even in that context nothing has come even within spitting distance of Half-Life 2. Part of the reason is because Half-Life 2 wasn’t supposed to push the medium in a way to blend game and film into one, it was meant to push the medium to see just how far gaming can go in the strengths it excels at such as immersion, interactivity, and of course fun. This is something modern developers should take note of. The second reason is because the game is simply that good. And what better way to end this write up by just stating that as it compresses everything I’ve said into just five words. Half-Life 2 is just that good.

Posted by Punk Rebel Ecks Sun, 19 Feb 2017 07:37:04 (comments: 5)
Sun, 19 Feb 2017 14:45:55

Yeah it's a badass game. I remember playing it on the original XBOX when it came out..I had no PC so that version was a godsend to me. I found it funny watching the big BOX trying to keep up with the game. Then of course I got the Orange Box on 360 which was fantastic.

This game would definitely take a spot in my Top 10 games for pacing, no doubt. Resident Evil 4 is up there with it as well and a few others. A well paced game is so hard to nail...some games feel too short or too long, too drawn out. This one never does. But it also depresses the shit out of you when it ends BECAUSE it's so well paced, you never get bored and never want it to stop.

Mon, 20 Feb 2017 13:09:59
Congrats on finishing your epic series. That was a lot of effort and I enjoyed it a lot.

As for HL2 I could never really get into it that much. I played it on the OGXBOX and to me it was decent but the hype surrounding it just led me to let down expectations. It didn't help that it had a cliffhanger ending and there were long stretches which dragged like the hovercraft bits. It also was around the same time RE4 launched and that game was so good and really defined a lot of what was put into the next generation of consoles AAA productions.
Tue, 07 Mar 2017 10:09:02

Congrats on completing this marathon!

Wed, 08 Mar 2017 03:35:20

Yet another game that I haven't played at always felt a little guilty about missing out on. Oh well, I'll just wait for when Half Life 3 comes out. Probably better to get into the series with that one after all.

At any rate, congrats on completing the list.

Tue, 25 Apr 2017 16:57:35
Worthy number 1. One of the all time greats.
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