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.

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

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 vuand I realised it wasn’t courage that I needed but endurance.

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.

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?

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

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.

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

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 dieing 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.

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

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.

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

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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!

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.

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!

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

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.

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, butI 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.

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.

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

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.

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 Sun, 25 Jan 2009 11:59:22 (comments: 9)
Sun, 25 Jan 2009 15:02:23
This is one of the best blogs I have read. It's allowed me to relive the highs and many slow lulls of HL2. I agree with your assesment of the game. Unfortunately for me, by the time I got the game I had played the Ravenholm level several times over on a demo disc. I want to try the new episodes and if I see it at the right price I will then I can dump HL2 on my bro.
Sun, 25 Jan 2009 22:11:46
I'll agree with you about HL2 being too drawn out and not exciting in most parts, but I still really enjoyed it. I played through the two episodes just recently, and like you, I enjoy them more than the main game.

Regarding the "Auditors" (I think they're called something different here), I think that killing people in that way is actually their way of acquiring their victims' knowledge. Think about who was killed by them and you can see that things might get really frantic and desperate in the third episode.

Not sure which platform you have the games on, but if you have the PC version, you should get Garry's Mod. It lets you manipulate every object from the game and build stuff to your heart's content.
Mon, 26 Jan 2009 04:17:25
Ouch, that'd possibly ruin the game completely. Check it out if you can get them cheap! I peronally enjoyed them a hell of a lot more. And glad you enjoyed the read.

You're probably right. I was mostly just being a dick there! Once you pun you can't stop. Sad
And I've got the PS3 version unfortunately as it was substantially cheaper than any other. I like bargains.
Wed, 28 Jan 2009 00:19:08
I hated the first HL. Of course, I went back to play it on the PC after I had finished the second one, so maybe it was just crap in comparison to the greatness of HL2.

HL2 doesn't hold up as a classic though, on my replay of it on the Orange Box the disembodied Gordon Freeman seemed awfully tired.
Wed, 28 Jan 2009 04:32:57
Hmm, perhaps it would have been better at the time.
Wed, 28 Jan 2009 19:22:58
Yeah I find this non-talking protangonist tiring recently. You have to have a long established character to do it well. Now, especially in a first person game, it just seems bland and boring to me.
Thu, 29 Jan 2009 06:56:55
Yeah, though I don't think that they necessarily have to talk. They just need a little character and relevance. And it's bollocks that you can't be immresed if you're actually playing as a character rather than a floating hand...
Thu, 29 Jan 2009 11:42:27
They need to show the character as well, in the third person and not just a reflection or in the case of dead space, hiding his face in a helmet.  
Sat, 31 Jan 2009 04:32:10
Third person in a first person shooter?!
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