Retro gamer? .. Half-Life 2

Half-Life 2

Once every year or two I spin up Half-Life 2 and pick up Gordon Freeman's tale. Half-Life concluded with G-Man issuing Gordon an offer he could not refuse; certain death or entry into G-Man's service. In a universe where Gordon accepts this fait accompli, G-Man puts him on ice until his services are next required.

This comes about approximately twenty years later when G-Man returns Gordon to Earth - for his own ambiguous reasons - into City 17. It is a complicated and conflicted world occupied by the Combine, Vortigaunts, Xen monsters, ant lions and beleaguered humans. There he meets up with former colleagues in the on-going battle for his and their survival.

My favourite parts of this game remain the less-linear sections where I can wander; find a less popular route and go as stealthy as possible - perhaps locating a secret or two along the way. Although too often they are guarded by poison zombie's; those guys are a pain!

The sub-sections of the game can be broken into brief chapters; experimentation and exploration interspersed with battle and horror. It amazes me that this master of sequels is now ~ten years old.

One relatively early section of the game still makes my skin crawl; Ravenholm. "We don't go to Ravenholm" is a character line that will be familiar to many gamers. At first you are led passed the tunnel entrance but inevitably have to walk down the corridor and enter the part of the game that makes me most uncomfortable.

On the positive side it is where Gordon first discovers the gritty but effective combination of the gravity gun and the circular saw blade.

Unfortunately this part of the game is painfully linear and is a bit of a zombie-fest. Younger gamers don't get it - how can this be scary they ask?

You've got to remember this was ten years ago before every other game was an FPS zombie-survival-horror gore-fest. It is close, claustrophobic and in places frustratingly relentless. I love it and hate it.

In total contrast to Ravenholm is the use of motorised transport in the game. Combined with large open landscapes, Gordon can use the airboat and sand rail to cover large distances in short periods of time. Here I make use of the Resistance Crossbow to quietly pick off Combine without setting off alarms, stealithy taking apart large Combine forces.

The sequence of independent game areas along the coast is fantastic. I love the sense of hopelessness at so many locations, abandoned by humans and overrun by Combine, ant lions or Xen creatures.

The bridge is my favourite; a great balance of sniper work, careful balance and movement, and straight up combat with some Combine troops and a few head crab encounters thrown in to remind you to jump regularly.

I have one pet hate which runs throughout Half-Life 2. Why on earth did they use lambda symbols to reveal secret areas. See the contradiction in that sentence? - that's why it's a pet hate. It completely ruins the challenge of finding these areas.

My favourite sections of this game are as it winds up towards the climax; fighting within the citadel. On entry the Citadel's security system strips Gordon of weaponry and in doing so accidentally supercharges the gravity gun - the only item you are left with at the time - which the player then uses to great effect by using defeated Combine guards bodies as ammunition.

I won't go into detail about the end of the game - even for an old game like this it always feels wrong to give away the plot and ending. There are countless walkthroughs and dedicated wikis for that!

Suffice to say that I played through Half-Life 2 for the umpteenth time and enjoyed every second of it.

Does the age of this game make it one that I should consider "retro" by now?

With game play as intimate and thrilling as this, it's difficult to consider this game old-fashioned or superceded. It is still one of the greatest video games ever made, which is the only fitting description for a sequel to what was possibly the greatest video game every made. The only downside to continually returning to it being the emergent aching in both hands, I'm getting older.

Recently I have moved on to something significantly more modern - The Talos Principle. This devlish and stylish, first person puzzle game has recently captured me and I'm finding it extremely difficult to step away from the keyboard. Perhaps a little post about that will come next.