I wasn't a properly initiated hard-core gamer back when Half-Life 2 came out. My only connection to the series was "oh, that one weird box on the store shelf." After going to that one college, I realized that I needed a radical change in how I evaluated choices. I couldn't be a dumb kid that coasted through life on whatever life gave me. I started by disregarding my friend's advice that Half-Life 2 was a bad game, or at least so much that I avoided it, so I bought it and started playing.
I discovered a well made, if not brilliant, game. That tends to happen when you test and re-test your games to a fault. Half-Life 2 is a game that resides near the top of the best games of all time lists, but I'm not sure if it's warranted. I'm not one of those Millennials that grew up with it and Ocarina of Time, so any nostalgia or sentimentality is lost on me.
The story continues with Gordon Freeman, theoretical physicist, moonlighting as a freelance cosmic spy. The current mission is fighting an oppressive alien occupation. You fight through alien-infested streets to meet some of your physicist buddies, spring them out of jail when they get caught, then take it to the man. There's one level, Ravenholm, that scares many players, but I always thought was mild. These people haven't been to abandoned underground lab to grab paper.
Combat involves taking down human Combine soldiers, headcrabs, headcrab zombies, and antlions. Unlike the original Half-Life, the vortigaunt aliens are on your side, as are human resistance members. I'm certain that the game throttles the number of enemies around you. There were several times when I kept killing a dozen or so in the same spot, and they kept trickling in. I wondered if I was going to run out of ammo killing them.
Gordon's iconic weapon is a crowbar, but the star of the show is the gravity gun. This lets you grab debris around the level and fling it at your enemies! When you're not doing that, you use it to lay heavy things on a beam to seesaw your way up a ledge.
Unlike more conventional shooters, you carry around every weapon all the time. This makes it cumbersome to select guns, especially when grenades and the melee weapon are in the list. Even its contemporary shooters like FarCry, F.E.A.R., and Halo 2 limit the number of guns you carry, and I think that's a better model.
I admire the design that never takes the view away from the player. There's never a point where you see something not from Gordon's eyes. When you walk into a long, narrow space like a hallway or tunnel, it's probably a level transition or loading area. Valve has a tendency to overuse other level gimmicks, like seesaws. In the first game, there is a level where you shoot railroad switches, and another where you navigate a warehouse full of laser tripbeams. On every beach in Half-Life 2, you can't walk on sand without getting swarmed by man-sized bugs, so you need to move (and walk on) pieces of debris to avoid the sand.
At LAN parties, when we got bored slaughtering bots, and tired of wondering why the Far Cry dedicated server wasn't showing up, we played Half-Life 2: Deathmatch. It was far easier to work with, and my friends still had plenty of fun. Or did until we discovered that the magnum revolver is extremely accurate and packs a one-shot-kill. I can't decide which was worse: getting killed by the magnum, or an airborn toilet.
Even today, Half-Life 2 is a good game. Because Gabe Newell said that episodic gaming will take us to the promised land, Half-Life 2 has two small episodes. I possess and have played those, and maybe I'll cover them in another article. I can understand the anxiety about episode 3, but I'm just not invested enough.