Half-Life 2 review
Take the weapons, for example. To combat the Combine soldiers, head-crab zombies, and aliens you’ll encounter, you have a pretty standard arsenal of weapons with two notable exceptions. In addition to your trademark crowbar, you have pistols, futuristic rifles, grenades, and a rocket launcher at your disposal. You’ll also have access to an anachronistic crossbow that serves a similar function as a sniper rifle. It seems way out of place in the Half-Life universe and is rarely used; at one point you fight enemy soldiers that have actual sniper rifles (that you never get can access to) which leads to the question: why not just give us one of those?
Yet while the crossbow is a creative addition to your arsenal that doesn't work, the gravity gun is an uncoventional weapon that is essential. Obtained fairly early in the game, the gravity gun completely changes how you interact with the environment. A click of your mouse and you can draw an object to you and another click sends it flying across the room. It’s a useful tool for getting hard to reach items, but it also makes anything you pick up a weapon. The Ravenholm level, full of saw blades, becomes a gleeful exercise in eviscerating zombies thanks to the gravity gun. While the crowbar will always be a symbol of the Half-Life series, Half-Life 2 will forever be remembered for its groundbreaking introduction of the gravity gun.
But Valve doesn't do the best job of giving you a sandbox to test your new toy. The gravity gun is initially extremely useful and then gets put on the backburner in areas where there’s nothing to grab. It once again becomes essential in the final stages, but the game’s strange pacing and schizoid level-design makes for an up and down experience. Some levels you want to play again and again and others you never want to ever get back to. As classic as HL2 is, not every level is equally fun to play.
I first played Half-Life 2 when it came out for the PC six years ago. It’s a credit to Valve that Half-Life 2 still looks fantastic on my Core i7 iMac. There are some long load times between maps and the frames per second aren’t as high as I’d like them, but on the whole the playing experience wasn’t too dissimilar from my initial run through years ago. I did notice some slight detail loss with certain animations, especially in the beach levels, but I'm nitpicking here.
Depending on your perspective, Half-Life 2 is either the most epic and ambitious title Valve has ever done, or the most bloated and unfocused. But even with its missteps, there’s a reason why Half-Life 2 appears on virtually every “best games of all time” list. It pushes the FPS genre in new and ambitious directions—the gravity gun, the physics engine, the visuals, the story, the AI, are all innovations that would carry other games. But with Valve, they’re just part of a laundry list of things they got right. Half-Life 2 is simply one of those games that can be held up as art, as something that is smarter than Halo or Gears of War while still being engrossing to play and fun to explore. If you have Steam on your Mac, you simply need to experience this colossus of game development.