It’s testament to the brilliance of Half-Life 2 that seven years on it has yet to be bettered by another game in the first-person shooter genre. And – more than that – Half-Life 2’s DNA can be spotted in nearly every recent first-person shooter. It has, arguably, been the most influential videogame of modern times.
Half-Life 2 has everything a great FPS game needs and, importantly, it did it first: brilliant pacing; a believable and completely realised game world; great and epic set-pieces; innovative first-person storytelling; endearing characters; solid combat and an imaginative roster of weaponry; terrific variation in gameplay-styles and locations; oh, and humour, bags of humour.
Half-Life 2 is a game that knows it’s good. Very good. But it doesn’t take itself too seriously.
This is a game about one man’s struggle to free mankind from an Orwellian alien oppression yet Half-Life 2 is not bleak or dark or any other nonsense like that, it keeps its sense of humour and is all the better for it. Half-Life 2 does have a dark edge, but the bright, colourful locations and the likeable, cheerful characters balance that beautifully.
It also uses technology as a means to an end, not an end by itself. The awesome physics engine is there to power physics-based puzzles, not to make enemies look all cool and shit when you blow them up. Although they still do. The groundbreaking facial animation is not there just to make the characters look good, but to help express emotion and make the acting better so that the story is conveyed with more passion. Although they still do.
Point is that everything in Half-Life 2 is there for a reason. There is no waste, there is no flab, this is the perfectly designed first-person shooting game, where shooting is just one of the many amazing things that you can do.
The Ravenholm level is a lesson in perfect game design. Play it using only the gravity gun to experience it in the way it was meant to be played.
Alyx Vance (to Gordon): Man of few words, aren’t you?