Updating My Resume by Beating Half-Life 2 At Last

Running a site that covers movies, television AND video games can be tough some times, and there’s a reason most places only pick one.

if you want to be a reputable critic or writer in a certain area, you need to educate yourself by being well informed about every area you cover. If you specialize in just one of those three, it’s pretty easy, but trying to do all of them?

I’ve been trying to watch a lot of “must see” movies and shows to better build my knowledge base. I’ve probably seen well over 2,000 movies, and have probably watched 200 seasons of various TV shows. It’s a lot, but I like to think that at this point, to some extent, I “know my shit.”

Now I’m realizing that I’m a bit behind in the same sort of training for video games. I grew up playing them a lot, so naturally I’m an expert, yes? Well, if I wanted to write endless posts about NBA Jam and Streets of Rage and Pokemon, sure, but as I had responsible parents, I didn’t have time to play every relevant game out at the time, or I wasn’t allowed to experience some of the more violent ones.

No violence here! (at the moment)

Because of that, I’ve missed a lot of classic titles over the years, Deus Ex, Silent Hill, every Final Fantasy game, but there is one series that I felt I really should examine lest I never be taken seriously again: Half-Life.

More specifically, Half Life 2. I understand perhaps I should have started with the first installment, but an entire game is a much bigger time commitment than say, a movie, so I figured I should skip to the one everyone hails as the greatest FPS ever made.

It was my very first Steam purchase, and I got it for measly $8 or something similar. Yes, yes, Steam vets will tell me I could have gotten the entire Orange Box for $3 if I had jumped on a particular sale, but whatever. I just wanted that one title, and man, was it ever enough to keep me occupied.

I’ve never played a PC FPS before this. I know, lambast me all you want, but by the time first person shooters were allowed in my house, I moved on to consoles, only turning to the PC for games like Starcraft and Diablo. I played Counterstrike for two weeks at computer camp in high school (yes, I am that cool), but that’s it.

F*** everything about these.

It was an interesting experience playing an FPS with a mouse and keyboard. It certainly allows for more precision shooting, and hotkeys are a lifesaver. Also, quicksaving is the greatest thing that’s ever been invented, and I was quite upset I discovered it only two hours before the end of the game. Derp-a-derp.

My previous experience with Valve has been limited to Portal, a series I, like everyone else, cannot find a fault with, and even though I’m not a Team Fortress, Counterstrike or Half-Life vet, I know Valve’s reputation for making quality games.

Half-Life 2 is indeed a masterpiece, one that has clearly inspired many trends in FPS titles, but it’s not completely without flaws.

First off, it’s long. It’s REALLY damn long. Today, most FPS campaigns are 5-6 hours tops, which generally feels like a rip-off from companies who know that multiplayer is where the real cash is located.

I started the game probably a month ago, and when all is said and done, it’s taken me about fourteen total hours to get through it. For a linear FPS, that’s MASSIVE. It’s good that so much work has been poured into it., but I think the length is just a bit too much. Areas start to feel the same and the game seems like it’s at the end multiple times before it thrusts you into another mammoth section.

This part seems like so long ago, it’s hard to believe it’s the same game.

And absolutely all of that 14 hours is gameplay. You might spend 20 hours completing Mass Effect, but half of that is mining minerals or seducing your crewmates. Valve realized that it might be a bit much, so to break up the action, they implemented physics puzzles sequences that utilize their Source engine. It’s a very necessary device to break up the endless gun battles, and it’s something that many games have tried to emulate, but very few have done it successfully.

It’s strange to play a shooter that doesn’t either have A) suction-to-wall pop-and-cover abilities or B) the ability to aim down a sight. One or both of these are standard in the genre now, but Half-Life makes you be nimble and think on your feet. Gun battles are once again about strategy rather than firepower. It reminded me a lot of Uncharted, which did have a cover system, but it was always being blown up so you could never camp out and stay still.

The weapons are a lot of fun, but I wouldn’t have minded a touch more variety. After the first hour or so, I never touched a pistol again, and only one type of SMG, assault rifle or shotgun seems kind of archaic today. However, the game does introduce the item that tops every “best video game weapons” list, the Gravity Gun. It’s mainly useful for the puzzle sequences, but can be used in combat as well, and it’s a symbol of Valve’s creativity, and they would only eventually top themselves with the Portal Gun a few years later. The end sequence where you’re stripped of your weapons and left with only a newly supercharged, soldier-tossing Gravity Gun is pure brilliance, and a great way to conclude the game.

Is that portal conductive paint I see on the wall?

Enemy variety could have used a bit of work as well. There are really three types, soldiers, headcrabs and mech. Soldiers all have relatively the same weapons, relatively the same life, and by the end of the game you’re sick of seeing them. Headcrabs and the humans they possess are best disposed of with either the shotgun, or the iconic crowbar, but I have to say by the 5,000th headcrab that took me 5 swings to connect with it, I was more than sick of that sort of combat.

Mech usually results in the most epic battles, with a laser guided rocket launcher perhaps the game’s second coolest weapon. At first you’re shooting down hunter-copters, but by the end you’ll have to fight War of the Worlds type robots who take a solid five rockets before going down. These encounters can get downright exhausting, but it feels great when you get past them.

Missing the first chapter, I felt pretty lost in the story the entire time. There’s a city that’s under some sort of totalitarian occupation (the soldiers and mech) but there’s also an alien invasion going on at the same time (the headcrabs). You’re some sort of folk hero because of the events of the first game, and you spend the duration of the game uh, moving forward.

Forgot about these things, setting them on soldiers is absolutely one of the most fun things in the game.

That’s the best way I can describe it. In any given section, I barely had any idea of where I was going, or what the significance of what I was doing, rather I was just looking for the next part of the level I was supposed to advance to. Occasionally I’d have to blow someone up, find someone who’d been kidnapped, or follow around Alyx Vance in her tight jeans. I appreciate that Valve tries to tell the story without the use of cutscenes, using only the gameplay to move the plot forward, but despite me seeing 500 sci-fi films and playing similar games, I genuinely had no idea what the hell was going on the entire game. I need to go look up the novelization of the series or something.

The level design was very interesting, and you could tell it had been playtested a LOT. This means Valve watched people play, and any time they’d get lost, they give them a hint, any time they’d be low on health or ammo, they’d give them a stash. Sometimes it’s almost TOO perfectly made, and at times it can go overboard when Alyx is gently reminding you to reload your weapon 12 hours into the game. But more often than not it just feels, right. I wanted to play through the game without once having to look up on the internet what I was supposed to do next, and each time just when I was at my breaking point, the lightbulb would go off and I’d figure it out. It’s a lot like Portal in that regard, and you can tell both are Valve titles because of it.

The fact is, this game has everything. At its core, it’s all about problem solving, whether that be how to get across a pit of radioactive waste, how to sneak past a gallery of auto-turrets or how to take down a room full of armored soldiers at 20% health. It’s a long journey, and I might not have understood what was happening around me, but in the moment, the gameplay is rock solid, and I can see why Half-Life 2 is revered as a champion of the genre.

Now, what should I play next?


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  1. That’s cool! I just started the same thing! With portal 2 released, I finally downloaded the Orange Box on my Steam and I’m going through HL2 after spending an hour or so replaying Portal.

    I played Half Life before and I can assure you that the story elements are sparse. The narrative in all these games are limited because you play a silent protagonist who spends most of the game running through linear levels. When there is dialogue it’s very well-executed but there is no exposition of the plot. You are required to immerse yourself into the world and try to pick up on things organically. The confusion you had with the plot is not going to be remedied much by playing the first game.

  2. Half Life 2: Episode 1 & 2 for sure

    They are a bit shorter, but still menage to pack memorable scenes (especially episode 2 ending)

    And if you are into PC gaming, i suggest Alien vs Predator 2 – it is absolutely fantastic horror/stealth/action experience. Champion in atmosphere.

    Forget the remake from 2010. AvP 2 is the real thing.

  3. Half Life 2 actually doesn’t have much to do with the first. The whole world under control thing never even happened in the first game. Like, you just wake up and bam, the bad guys own the world. They never even appeared in the first one.

  4. I absolutely love Half-Life each and everyone of them, the game is long but well worth the time it takes to beat it, i was sad when it ended, still waiting for a new Half-life to come out someday but who knows when that’s going to happen.

  5. Deus Ex. You need to get caught up on PC games dude. Deus Ex is widely regarded as the best PC game of all time and since Deus Ex: Human Revolution is coming out soon you would do well to prepare yourself.

    Other suggestions for the PC:

    The Witcher
    Thief 1 or 2
    Amnesia: The Dark Descent (made me jump so much)

  6. The first Crysis is a very excellent game. The story line builds and develops really well. The cut scenes aren’t too long and if you have a PC powered by the sun’s core, it’s one of the best looking games out there. There’s also a second part to it that let’s replay the timeline of the game but as a different character.

    The climax of the story (when the proverbial fecal matter hits the fan) is one of the most satisfying and awe inspiring endings in FPS.

    When you play this game, make sure you crank up the sound, adds the massive feel and mystical story of the game.

  7. I have to agree with Nick. Play Deus Ex. I found it much more enjoyable than Half Life 2. I got HL2 for free with a video card purchase and when I was done, I was relieved it was over and never looked back – it just wasn’t nearly the experience other games were (especially Deus Ex). I almost quit HL2 simply because the seemingly endless air-boat section at the beginning was so bad. I probably played Deus Ex through at least 3 or 4 times using different strategies and choices. It is a much more enjoyable game than HL2 and has a truly excellent story.

  8. Definitely play the 2 episodes for HL2. It obviously continues the story of their escape from City 17 and sets up, what I am sure will be an amazing finale to the HL2 story arc. I’m VERY curious to see how it plays. Since Ep. 1 & 2 came out shortly after HL2, they were able to get away with using the SAME EXACT mechanics and gameplay elements…..NOW it’s 2011 (who knows is EP3 is even coming in 2011) and I’m sure a lot of people, myself included, are desperately wondering how the final chapter will look and play. Can ep.3 survive using HL2’s (at this point) cliche and run-of-the mill mechanics? I really don’t think so. However I will still play it and finish it, because the universe Valve created is still one of the most mysterious and interesting the video game world has ever seen. Also, I would love to see a Half-life movie directed by someone like Aronofsky. That could be AMAZING (as long as Clint Mansell does the music)

  9. @Nick.

    Human revolution is a pre-quel. Do you think it’s still necessary to play the original? I remember playing it when i was very young, and did not understand it at all. There was also the language barrier, because I was still learning English.

  10. episode 1&2 there awesome “little” hl2 dosis

    hopefully they make hl3 and release it when the other 2 strong fps games are played to death … it would sell like “blowjobs from megan fox for free” (that one is not from me but it fits quite much)

  11. 14 hours is completely reasonable time for FPS singleplayer. It was like that before.

    It’s just that games like Call of Duty, Bulletstorm, Homefront spoiled and tricked the gamers into thinking that 6 hours for SP is perfectly normal.

    Well guess what – for 60$ – no it’s not

  12. I tried playing HL 1 on PS2 a few months ago when a friend lent it to me (both PS and the game, as far as console i stuck on the N64, I’ve been on PC for years)…I just couldn’t get into it though it seemed promising, and for the life of me I couldn’t or didn’t know how to save so every time I died (which I did a lot in the first part) had me starting all the way to the beginning, and since I was used to Quick Save it was a bitch….Quick Save is the shit!

    as for PC games to play, to beat on a dead horse, go with Deus Ex…I beat it like 2 months ago and it was great…the graphics are dated but the fun isn’t…the amount of choices to do things is just awesome…just opening a door you get the option of hacking the security system, killing a guard, finding a key or just plain blowing it up…the game’s got everything from playing it as a stealth game, to full on kill spree,etc…it’s a complete game

    sticking with PC games you should play:

    -American McGee’s Alice (seeing as the sequel is coming out soon)
    -Amnesia the Dark Descent and Call of Cthulhu Dark Corners of the Earth if you’re into scary stuff that involves more investigating and running the hell out rather than combat, specially Cthulhu, it went fairly under the radar
    -Star Wars Republic Commando (not that big a deal, it’s fairly simplistic but it’s fun to waste a few hours, it’s short though)
    -Braid, you have to play Braid! it’s Mario for the thinking man

  13. Holly crap! Javier is right.

    Amnesia and Call of Cthulhu along with Alien vs Predator 2 are the scariest games ever. Forget about that Dead space third person crap. Fear is experiencing in first person.

    And Braid is brilliant. A masterful 2d platformer with brilliant puzzles based on time manipulation. What Portal is to 3D, that’s Braid to 2D (minus the humor).

    Deus Ex is a must if you are RPG fan. And Vampire Masquerade: Bloodlines too! It’s basically Deus ex set in vampire gothic modern world. It has brilliant characters and voice acting (guy who voices Bender is one of main characters), unique quests and classes (Malkavinians = most hilarious things ever), and epic story. You could also finish quest in a few ways.

    Here is the beggining


  14. @Dzuksi

    while Amnesia, Cthulhu and AVP2 are scary. The fact that they’re first person games has NOTHING to do with that fact. Horror games have always been about sound design, atmosphere and disturbing imagery. To brush off Dead Space like that because it’s a 3rd person game is just SILLY. Are you going to tell me a game like Silent Hill isn’t scary because it’s in 3rd person?!?! Not trying to be a dick, but you can’t just discount a game like Dead Space, when it has some of best the atmosphere, some of the best lighting and sound design in the industry at that time…and hell EVEN NOW; not to mention the feeling of dread it creates, has to be some of the best in any game. This is definitely more opionion-based, but there IS a reason why Dead Space was/is successful; it was the shot in the arm the genre needed. It took what RE4 did and added a little bit of “The Thing” in there for good measure to create a great horror title and hopefully long-lasting franchise.

  15. @Roman

    I understand you perspective and i agree that sound and atmosphere are the things that horror needs most, especially sound, but i also believe that horror is best experienced via first person – just the thing that you are so close seeing throught the eyes of the character, with that limited view, makes it much more special in my eyes at least.

    I found Silent Hill fantastic (first 3 that is) and i liked RE4 (never been fan of RE franchise), but Dead Space is almost a different beast – sure the gameplay is there, sound and lightning was amazing, but i thought that overall atmosphere was….generic. First hour or so was fantastic, but then the game started becoming predictable – the only horror that it tried to create was from “BAM, jump out of nowhere in your face moments”, there were not many scenes where the atmosphere is building up and creating creepy effect. There are just jump scenes. I just think that Dead Space is overrated, but then again that’s just mine opinion and i am in minority

  16. @ Dzuksi

    I can def. resepect that. Have you tried DS2 yet? I can def. agree with the fact that DS1 gets repetitive and then you can pretty much call out when the next thing is going to pop out at you (mainly because of the musical stings and ques), but the 2nd one, while a lot more streamlined and linear, has some of the most unexpected scares i’ve ever experienced. I honestly think that, bc of the reasons u mentioned about not liking the first one; you will love the 2nd, bc they really did improve on everything you mentioned not liking. Lot of parts where stuff pops out with NO music to help you figure it out. There are enemies that work like raptors, where one will run in front of you forcing you to follow it, while another hits you from the side. not to mention those babies with giant claws…….and their screaming…OH GOD THE SCREAMING. Give it a shot, I think you’ll be impressed.

  17. @Roman There’s not a need to have played Deus Ex in order to play Human Revolution but there will be a few references (from the sounds of it things like FEMA and UNATCO).

  18. I’ll try Roman. My friend has DS2 installed. I’ll jump there and try it sometime soon. Heard it was good, but then again the same thing was said about DS1.


  19. The best part of Half Life was not knowing what was going on. That whole feeling of…what?where?why?how?who? really added to the chaos that was enveloping civilization around you.
    Basically, it was refreshing not being spoon-fed a plot.

    And did I misread the article, or did you dislike that the game was so long? You go from saying you thought the game was too long to making a comment about how campaign games these days are rushed in favor of the multiplayer…a little confused there.

  20. A lot of people, when they refer to HL2 they include Ep 1 and 2– I highly recommend these as they are an evolution of HL2– both an extension and a constant improvement of what the game proper gets right.

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