Video Game Thoughts: Half-Life 2

Half-Life 2 was a 2004 first-person shooter game by Valve Corporation that I played on the PC. I loved the original Half-Life, but my computer was never good enough play Half-Life 2. It wasn’t until I finally got a real gaming computer in 2009 that I was able to play it. I kind of bought it on a whim. My game of choice then was World of Warcraft, but I had played it too much. The game had become boring. I decided to go back through the years and see if there were any good computer games I had missed.

Half-Life 2 was the first one I saw because it was such a good deal. It came as part of The Orange Box, a special bundle with five games in it. A typical computer game costs $50-60, but The Orange Box was only $30, an absolute steal for the number of games in it. Even if I counted Half-Life 2 and its expansions as one game, it was still three games for $30.

I had high expectations for Half-Life 2. I loved the first game, and the reviews for the second game were just as good. The game did not disappoint. It was a Friday evening when I bought and downloaded the game through Valve’s Steam service. I stayed up until 4 am playing it. I couldn’t get enough of this game. The graphics, sound, and music were amazing. The story was high quality; it could have been a movie script. The environments were realistic and moody.

Probably the only downside to Half-Life 2 was that it was depressing. The story was about aliens from another dimension that had somehow opened a portal to Earth. They were enslaving the human race. Most of the enemies the player faced were not aliens but humans that had been implanted with cybernetics. This basically turned them into zombies that could not disobey their alien masters. Players controlled Gordon Freeman, the silent hero that had to stop the aliens or at least slow them down. There were some friendlies here and there, but the player was mostly on their own. I really liked the story, but so many times it just felt hopeless.

There was another thing I preferred about the first game. The original Half-Life had a lot more horror elements to it. It was a very scary game. Sometimes I didn’t want to venture further to see what nightmare was next. The aliens in that game were real aliens. My heart would skip a beat sometimes. Half-Life 2 did have a few horror sections, but the game was more action than horror for most of it. The sequel had more fast-paced action and much better characters. Most players liked this more, but I still liked the original slightly more.

Episode 1 expansion

This expansion continued the story from the previous game. It also added a new achievement system. By doing various fun things, the player could unlock achievements. They didn’t serve any purpose but did show up on the online Steam profile. Then friends could see their progress in the game. I had a lot of fun getting the last achievements. Some of them were pretty hard or tedious. A whole set of achievements were added to the base game as well, giving veteran players an incentive to play through the older content again.

The gameplay was mostly the same in Episode 1 compared to the base game, but now the player had Alyx Vance as a constant companion. In the base game, she was a major character, but the player was mostly alone. In the expansion, Gordon and Alyx became good friends and tackled challenges together. Many times the player had to rely on her to progress. Her AI was pretty good. There were never any bugs. The expansion was pretty short, but it was still a good value in this Orange Box package.

Episode 2 expansion

Episode 2 continued the story where it left off in Episode 1. It had its own set of achievements too. It was action packed almost the whole way through. The player also got to fight more aliens instead of cybernetic soldiers. Alyx once again was a companion, but there were a few sequences where Gordon had to continue solo. There was a good mix of story, action, dialogue, and exploration. It never got boring.

One of the cool new features added was a new lighting system. They called it high-dynamic range. It allowed for much bigger contrast ratios. The blacks were blacker and the whites were whiter. When transitioning from a dark area to a bright area, the screen would become blindingly white for a few seconds and then slowly adjust to a more reasonable brightness. This simulated what human eyes do, for example, when we first go outside after being in the dark at the movies.

The depressing tone had pretty much disappeared in this expansion. The humans were starting to have some success against the aliens. There was even a character with a great sense of humor. The final battle in the expansion was epic. I reloaded that final battle several times to play it again. The only downside was that it was, again, a short expansion. I just wanted it to continue another twenty hours, but it didn’t.

Valve announced that they were making an Episode 3. Unfortunately, it never came out. First, they kept delaying it. Then, they stopped talking about it. More recently they’ve said they are just working on a Half-Life 3, though it’s been a few years since with no new information. Other Valve games have become huge successes along with their Steam platform, the most popular digital download service for computer games. They may have just gotten too busy to continue Half-Life. I think they may also be afraid of releasing a game that ends up worse. It could really hurt their reputation.

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