Half-Life 2 review

Ridley Scott's sci-fi movie Alien was tight and terrifying, set in a claustrophobic spaceship where death awaited around every corner. In contrast, Aliens, the sequel, eschewed the horror conventions of the first film and shifted the series’ genre to a more sci-fi action/adventure feel.

More than one critic has noticed the similarities between the original Alien film and Half-Life , Valve’s 1998 sci-fi first person shooter about a theoretical physics experiment gone awry in a secret research facility and a lone physicist’s attempts to escape the facility despite an alien invasion and the attempts by the government to cover it up. Half-Life was widely praised at the time and has since gone to influence countless game developers.

Half-Life 2’s grim future resembles something out of The White Mountains trilogy or 1984. Instead of a survivalist, Gordon Freeman is now a freedom fighter and a symbol of hope to humanity—perhaps the only truly “Free Man” left. When you first enter the world of Half-Life 2, you watch as the gas-mask wearing Combine police herd humans like cattle while Dr. Breen prattles on the TV screen about how “our benefactors” are only protecting us from ourselves. And that is why they won’t let humanity breed. Seriously. In this dystopic future, humans can’t breed. Something, clearly, needs to be done. The entire opening sequence is beautifully written and immediately gives you a sense of the world—after being rescued from detention by your old friend Barney, you are immediately hunted by the Combine, traversing rooftops and stumbling into apartment buildings full of frightened subjugated humans in a desperate attempt to escape. You’re unarmed, scared, and have no idea where you’re going. It’s one of the more intense sequences in gaming you’ll experience.

After blacking out, you’re rescued by Alyx, daughter of one of Gordon’s coworkers at Black Mesa. She becomes a trusted ally (and in the episodes that continue the story) demonstrates one of the best AI’s you’ll ever see. Lethal with a pistol, she is no damsel in distress.

The game then introduces (or reintroduces) you to a variety of scientists and personnel that make up the human resistance against the alien force. Your missions will usually follow a predictable pattern: get to point A or B to rescue or meet up with person X. Occasionally scripted sequences move the plot along or let you do something cool (like gun down an enemy gunship) but the amount time spent traveling and sheer distance can get grating. We appreciate that Valve took the time to give us vehicles like airboats and dune buggies, but shouldn’t we be grabbing a gun and trying to take down the evil alien force inhabiting the world?

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