Content of the article: "I have just finished Half Life 2 and its Episodes and…"
I bloody loved them! All of them! Yes, even Episode 1! Since each game is only slightly different, it won't take long to talk about each one individually.
Half Life 2
Half Life 2 impressed me when I booted up the game. Dynamic main menu, impressive lighting and a brand new city never seen before. I thought, "Oh? Is this one open world?". It isn't but that does not stop this game from knocking it out of the park. One thing to note though before continuing: after a bit of searching online, I found that many recommended playing with the Update mod instead since it not only fixes a lot of the bugs Valve could not be bothered to fix but it also upgraded the game here and there visually.
Story-wise, nothing too grand scale. Aliens take over the world, you must free the human race. Simple premise, excellent execution. The worldbuilding has been upped from the last game, with even more subtle clues as to what is going on in the world and nothing shoved in your face. I know a lot of players feel as if the first game felt more free as it gave the player more choice in what they wanted to do (e.g. choosing if companion AI were to follow or die) and did not require some massive story in order to be excellent but I do feel as if this was the right way forward. Considering how Valve left off the last game, I don't think they want to stretch it out for too long and they have to give answers to things unexplained in the last one, like the G Man.
Speaking of characters, I think this is the game's strongest and weakest point. Actual characters now with their own personality, which is great!… Except they are barely used in this game and honestly do not have much depth to them. The only character with this is the G Man, who is still an ongoing mystery amongst fans, but none of the characters feel… I don't know, human? This game kinda struggles with it, especially in terms of AI.
Did you know that the Combine's AI are just as advanced as the Marines'? Yep, you heard it. So why don't they act like it? Because of the level design. You're mostly fighting them on either completely open terrain or narrow hallways so you do not get to see it as much as you did with the Marines. I was even surprised to find out that they were trans humans.
The gunplay has been improved in my opinion. Smaller selection, wider utility. I found myself using each gun often, except the pistol which is not really used after you get better guns. And then the Gravity Gun. Oh, the Gravity Gun! Best addition yet! I got through Ravenholm using that weapon only (although I never received the achievement for some reason) and I understand why it's so iconic now. Especially towards the end. Sorta.
The last part is… weird. The game gives you an improved version, allowing you to grab enemies now as well as heavier objects. But… I don't like it. The Combine still use guns so it is difficult to survive every encounter with enough health for the next one. Hell, Valve even give you a supercharged healing station, meaning that they understood players would struggle with staying alive normally in this section. Then the 'boss fight' where you just throw energy balls at a light three times and it explodes. Really unsatisfying but, hey, at least the G Man comes into the spotlight again.
One more thing: that goddamn flashlight. I barely sprinted in this game because for some reason the upgrade to the flashlight caused Gordon to have temporary amnesia on how to use his legs. Why is its battery even connected to sprinting anyway?
Half Life 2: Episode 1
This game has a… mixed reception. On one hand, it released quite soon after Half Life 2 and starts off right where that game left off. But there isn't anything substantial to this game. Barely any plot elements, you have to use the supercharged Gravity Gun again, no notable locations and a more boring end section with an even more boring boss fight to boot. The only thing I could say about this game is that Alyx is more established as a character and as a companion, she is great at warding off enemies, especially at the start of the game where you have very few weapons with little ammo. I would say that this is the Blue Shift of the Half Life 2 games: it's more of Half Life with the same weapons but not as memorable. I'll give this one a hurrah though; it does help to further the mysteries of the HL universe, such as the G Man and the Advisers.
Half Life 2: Episode 2
The first thing I noticed as I booted up the first chapter: separate flashlight battery! *sets off fireworks* Seriously, this part is a lifesaver! Now I can finally run and the battery lasts for ages and I barely have to turn it off, just as God intended.
The story elements came back and, man, did I miss them! The White Forest is now a Resistance base, the Combine are opening up a new portal to retake humanity and we are building a rocket to stop it. All good fun. Problem is we have a new character: Dr Magnussen. And, again, my problem with characters arises.
I felt as if I should have played Black Mesa because Valve sure like retconning. I like that they acknowledged the microwave casserole incident but I really don't remember any of these characters and to have them introduced as if they know me ruins the immersion that Half Life is oh so known for. I could forgive Half Life 2 retconning because the engine of Half Life 1 is quite old at this point and adding now established characters in is going to be difficult, especially if none of the developers there are actually familiar with its code. But Episode 2 does not have this excuse. It had the opportunity to introduce Magnussen before. It still does! Portal showed that they will add scenes in to fit with the canon so why did they not add at least a passing remark about him?
Other than that, the new content is an enjoyment well worth experiencing. Hunters take care of the Combine AI problem. They are not human and they are much tougher to beat. They follow Gordon around relentlessly and their explosive bullets must be dodged if you value your life. The best options here is explosives and throwing objects at a high velocity. I think Valve wanted to teach us to use the car against them at some point for use in the final battle but I didn't get it because I'm dumb or Valve failed to rub the lesson in. Either way, this lead to the final battle being a lot more difficult than necessary.
The final battle has you facing off Striders alongside Hunters. To dispose of the Striders quickly, you are given Magnussen bombs that can quickly take them down. The catch? Hunters target and take them out quickly. And when you don't know how to take out the Hunters quickly, this becomes quite the challenge. If I had to count how many times I reloaded my save, I would need my entire family's hands and feet and I would still lose count. Because of how quickly the Hunters take out the bombs, it would lead to a constant cycle of me throwing a bomb and quickly grabbing the pistol only to find that the bomb has already fallen off. To say the least, it became annoying.
At least the finale was worth it. Alyx's father gone, the Advisers return and we have a new objective: the Borealis. I don't think it was as a bombshell as many fans make it out to be but I can see why many were left downcast that there was no followup to this as of writing.
It's sad to think it's taken Valve this long to make a new Half Life game (Half Life: Alyx). I understand what happened but it doesn't make the wait any more frustrating. Still, it seems they still care about their fanbase and are now willing to make games again, especially with the new L4D2 DLC they are adding. I won't be playing Alyx anytime soon due to possessing no hardware that can run it but it seems a lot of fun and I look forward to not only playing it but also the future of this gem of a series.
- Half-Life has not aged well. Half-Life 2 is better than I expected it to be.
- We calculated that Gordon Freeman’s body count across all games is 1,527 kills (with almost two-thirds being from Half-Life 2 alone).
- I finally played the original Half-Life
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