Everything I’d Forgotten About Half-Life 2

It’s over ten years since Half-Life 2 was released. The other day I found myself arguing that there still hadn’t been a first-person shooter released that was better. Then wondered if I was talking out of my hat. In an effort to learn whether Half-Life 2 is as great – nay, as perfect – as the version in my head, I’ve replayed it, and realised there’s so much I’d forgotten.

“Gordon Freeman? You mean the guy who came into our apartment carrying that creepy broken doll, then threw all our furniture out the windows? He’s your hero?”

I’d love to see an action movie where the main character behaves like I do in FPS games.

“Quick, Sam Fists, you have to get to the roof to switch off the nuclear missle!”

“Okay, sure, but first let me see if I can balance this bin on your head.”

It’s weird to remember that Half-Life 2 was one of the first times such behaviour felt so realistic. Sure, we’d all balanced plant pots on people’s heads in Deus Ex a few years earlier, but HL2 made ignoring the urgency of your peril feel real.

Returning to the game ten and a half years later, I feel that, if anything, I’ve gotten naughtier in this regard. I’ve replayed HL2 in the intervening decade, I think at least twice more, but I’d say it’s been about five years since. Enough time to make returning a swirling mix of nostalgia, and constant surprise at details I’d forgotten. Of course I remembered the train station as Gordon arrives in City 17, but I’d completely forgotten I could (mutely) speak to the other people milling about. I remembered I could throw cans at the heads of the grumpy guards, but I’d forgotten this leads to hooting as I run away, trying to avoid the wrath of their sparky batons. In fact, there’s a lot that I’d forgotten.

I’d forgotten that the teleporter that appears as soon as Gordon arrives at Dr Kleiner’s lab looks an enormous amount like GLaDOS:

I’d forgotten how primitive the shooting feels.

Weapons come without scopes, there’s no ironsights, and headshots absolutely do not offer instant kills. In fact, the whole approach to combat feels bizarre ten years on, where your bullet sponge suit is intended to get shot at, you’re supposed to see your health go down. That’s perhaps the most striking difference, actually.

Obviously over the last decade we’ve seen the FPS switch from metered health and health packs to mystically recharging shallow pools. I think, over the years, I’ve concluded the result of this is FPSs getting easier, letting you just crouch to get better. But going back to HL2, it’s maybe the other way around. A modern FPS gives you an extremely small amount of damage before you’re deaded, as a direct result of your magic insta-healing. But in Half-Life 2, you can just stand out in the open, getting shot at, as you clumsily pick off distant enemies with your pistol. There’ll definitely be a pile of health packs around the next corner, so so what if your health drops to 4%?

It’s odd to adjust back to it, realising I don’t need to incessantly crouch behind objects, but just rather embrace the harmless shooting gallery for what it was.

I’d forgotten just how good the game looks.

At coming up for eleven years old, it’s very reasonable that a lot Half-Life 2 is looking old. But it still looks utterly wonderful. Lots of sharp edges, boxy designs, and square rooms really do attach the game’s design ethos more to the ‘90s than the ‘00s. It feels much closer to Half-Life than it does to Episode 2. Or Portal. Of course, at the time, it was utterly groundbreaking spectacle, and it’s really hard to remember that when even the clumsiest freebie Unity game is constructed with a much more sophisticated set of tools. But wow, little is constructed so incredibly well as Half-Life 2. The tech may have aged, but the artistry has not.

The Citadel at the end captures this better than anywhere else, even those beautiful stretches of beach villages, or the spooky abandoned streets. It is the most emblematic of the creative brilliance overriding the clunky and out-of-date presentation. The volume of activity on screen, the little vignettes of horror as you pass them by, the vast sense of scale, all overcomes the silly non-rails on which you hang, or peculiar shadows falling on the wrong surfaces. It’s masterful.

I’d forgotten that the hovercraft sequence goes on about three times too long.

Oh good grief, what were they thinking? The “air car” or whatever ridiculous name it has occupies about seventeen months of the game. And every time you think it’s finally done, nope, you get right back in and bash-crash your way down yet another 450 mile corridor.

I’m sure I remember enjoying it before. I’m also sure I remember its lasting about ten minutes, not the majority of my adult life. I certainly don’t remember its being so tiresome to control. Clipping on things, randomly flipping upside down in reaction to seemingly nothing, spinning itself, and veering off to the left or right as you line up for the eighty-fourth ramp in a row, it’s completely horrible to drive.

The repetition is deeply surprising too. I suppose if you’d asked me to describe Half-Life 2 based on my memories, I’d have said it was one of the most precisely constructed games ever made – hewed to perfection. I’m really not sure this is true. The flow is often still utterly absorbing, but other sections start to feel bloated, over-long. Especially the bloody hovercraft. Good gracious. Do I have to get off and make another ramp accessible again? OH GOOD.

I’d forgotten how incredibly terrible the music can be.

Bombastic, cheap dance music is really not what suits Half-Life. Its deeply peculiar intermittent appearances only make it more incongruous to the experience, as for some reason this particular section of a level requires the soundtrack to a Jean-Claude Van Damme movie to play in for a minute or two.

I’d forgotten how long it is until you get the Gravity Gun.

I’d forgotten how gruesomely macabre it is.

When I think back on Half-Life, I really don’t remember the gore. But wow, there’s so much of it. Brutal, horrendous human carcases, trees strewn with twisted, mutilated corpses, charred remains prostrate in homes, haunting screams forever etched into the remains of their faces.

I’d forgotten that Ravenhold isn’t very scary.

I’m sure it was. I’m sure it was one of the scariest sections in any game, and would make top seven lists of that sort of thing. There are still abandoned playgrounds, urban decay, lonely streets filled with a fresh array of fast-paced monstrous mutants, but not a moment of it caused me a tremble nor quiver.

And I’m not brave. I’m the sort who has to pause games like Amnesia, Thief: TDP, etc, to get my breath back. Here I was calmly shooting stuff while the completely ridiculous Father Grigori jabbers away merrily in the background. The closest I’d get to scared was lost, because I’d end up going around in circles, looking for whichever ladder I’d missed.

I’d forgotten this scene:

On page two: physics, antlions, striders, sidekicks.


  1. Lachlan1 says:

    I played through this recently, not having had the chance to play it back in 2004. I played a lot of the shooters before that time though. TBH I really don’t see what all the fuss was about. For once I’m not trolling BTW, it just seems bland and every section is extended beyond what it needs to be, but especially that damn hovercraft bit.

    • ScubaMonster says:

      I played it a while back and I have to say I feel the same way. I too didn’t play it when it originally came out. Maybe that’s the difference, but I’m not sure if that is even the reason. I’ve been playing games for years and have played ones before HL2 that I still enjoy, so I’m not sure it has anything to do with not appreciating it when it first came out.

      • Darth Gangrel says:

        I can name a number of games I enjoyed more than Half-Life 2, Serious Sam: The Second Encounter and the Jedi Knight games are the ones that first come to mind. Sure, the gravity gun is fun and there is a lot of effort made with the level design, the story and stuff, but I can’t play it for very long without getting bored. With S-mod, which adds a lot of guns and tougher enemies, it feels like a whole different game. The same with Doom 3, which isn’t bad but it gets a whole lot more fun to play for extended periods with the Perfected Mod. Some games just aren’t that fun to play without mods.

    • HuvaaKoodia says:

      I had the same experience some 4 years ago when I played it for the first time. Nothing spectacular.
      Had I played it back in 2004? Probably spectacular.

      Playing Deus Ex for the first time, also many years after release. Spectacular!

      • skittles says:

        Not really. Although I like the game, even back when I got it in 2004 I remember feeling the game was a bit tedious. It was a fault with the original game too, they are just too damn long. For me an FPS is not really a long game experience, they should generally be about 6-8 hours. But the Half-life games tried to be epic in scope in a format that doesn’t really allow for it. All the parts of HL2 were lengthened beyond what they should have been and it resulted in some really tired design. The HL2 episodes were somewhat better in providing a more concise concentrated experience. Pity they were abandoned.

    • mouton says:

      It has aged badly in terms of design. And yeah, a lot of the hype is about how great it was back in 2004 – a curse of many classics, be they books, films or games.

      • EhexT says:

        That’s one of the most ridiculous claims I’ve ever heard. If there’s any part of Half Life 2 that has stood the test of time it’s the design. It’s a ridiculously well designed game and Valve understood FPS better than pretty much anyone else. The two sequel Episodes improve upon every little niggle, but even base HL2 is unbeaten when it comes to encounter design, level design or player guidance. That last one is the “worst” part of it, beaten by everything else Valve has done afterwards, but even the worst player guidance in Half Life 2 is so much better than other FPS it’s not even funny. People regularly get lost in CoD levels, because the maps are so horrendously laid out and designed, and those are maps that are tiny and hideously linear, and they’ve been making the same game almost a decade now without learning a thing about how to make maps. Compare that to the incredible improvement between HL2 and Episode 1 or the ludicrous leap from pre-Portal to post-Portal.

      • carewolf says:

        No, it was pretty underwhelming when it came out to. The first Half-Life was a groundbreaker, but the second only ever got to be a best-seller due to Counterstrike which started as a mod for the otherwise lackluser HF2 game.

    • MrUnimport says:

      I played HL2 about six years ago, after having been raised on Duke 3D and COD up to 4, and I found it nothing short of sublime.

    • rcguitarist says:

      I had the exact same experience when I played it for the first time a year ago. I found it boring, repedative and not much fun. I am sure that when it came out it was amazing and the best FPS that had ever been released, but why people keep holding onto it and worshipping it….that I don’t know. A ton of games have come out since that do everything that HL2 did but better. It’s one thing to remember how great a game was when it came out, but another to still think it’s the best game ever 10 years after it’s release. Yes, it was a milestone, but now it’s time to move on.
      It’s like someone who is still obsessing over and trying to play games on a voodoo 2 graphics card because it was amazing when it first came out.

      • joa says:

        Well it’s not for everyone but a lot of people do still find the game fun.

        A game is more than just a sum of technical parts like a video card, because it’s got all these creative elements — and they don’t necessarily get better with time, just the technology available to present them. And many are willing to overlook the technical limitations of older works if the other elements appeal to them.

      • behrooz says:

        A ton of games have come out since that do everything that HL2 did but better.

        The difficulty comes when you try to name one.

      • EhexT says:

        ” A ton of games have come out since that do everything that HL2 did but better. ”
        Name one.

    • Premium User Badge

      john_silence says:

      I sincerely believe it is impossible to apprehend how groundbreaking HL2 was at the time if you played through it a few years down the line, when you’d already experienced its innovations as they’d been appropriated and diluted throughout many other games, even mediocre ones. This isn’t misplaced veteran pride of the “you weren’t there, man” variety, God I hate patronizing. Simply, I’d argue the fuss about it was caused not merely by playing through it once it was finally released, but rather by what was anticipated about it.
      At a time when shooter design, moment-to-moment interaction, was still pretty much struck in the 90’s (Doom 3, Far Cry) the initial snippets of gameplay that made the rounds on the Internet looked so unbelievably immersive. Can you remember the footage of what would be known as a Combine, in what would be known as Ravenholm, that you could kill without firing at him, just by manipulating physics? Shut up, take my money and force me to install Steam although it is basically non-functional yet (a rare instance of a killer app existing before the technology or platform it helps push to customers).
      As John points out at the beginning of this article, HL2’s world felt grounded, real, in an unprecedented way, even when you were doing the silliest things in it or enduring interminable sections. Only the first STALKER managed to fill me with comparable trepidation before release. HL2 pointed towards a paradigm shift in what video games, esp. the all-important FPS, would become. It was like a glimpse into the future, much as seems to be experienced nowadays by people who try out VR.

      • Smoky_the_Bear says:

        Exactly this. People playing it years later are missing out on the fact that when you played HL2 at the time, you were seeing a lot of things for the first time. The feeling of immersion in the world, rather than the previous standard of sets of levels that felt set apart from each other. The feeling of being on a journey with purpose and a higher goal rather than your sole reason for being to be to shoot everything in sight then reach the end of the level.

        Other technical innovations such as the grav gun and use of physics as well as AI accompaniment that we see used all over FPS today (CoD, BF, Bioshock: Infinite etc etc) that pretty much didn’t exist before it. This is the reason why people hold it in such high esteem. You can’t get the same feeling of being blown away by this game when you’ve played dozens of games that have come since and copied everything it did.

        • Archonsod says:

          Squad Mates with decent AI had been a thing since 1996 at least (Terra Nova), and HL2’s squadmates couldn’t hold a candle to those in Rainbow Six or the SWAT series. I’d have also put the System Shock / Deus Ex games ahead of HL2 in terms of ‘journey’, and Aliens vs Predator certainly wiped the floor with it in terms of immersion. The only thing HL2 managed to do that we hadn’t seen before was the physics.

          • thetruegentleman says:

            Of course your squadmates couldn’t hold a candle to the games where your squad is actually necessary to win the game; that isn’t why they were there. The squads in HL2 were meant to show you how the world had changed: how the beaten down folks getting whacked by cops arbitrarily were finally fighting back. It was world building.

            And System Shock wasn’t a journey: you never saw what you were fighting for, and never had any higher reason to fight beyond basic survival, although the game’s storytelling/atmosphere was quite a step up from other games around the same time. Deus Ex sort of had a journey, but it was much more about uncovering a conspiracy while doing the occasional sidequest as opposed to trying to reach a particular end goal. Deus Ex DEFINITELY didn’t have interesting environments though; none of the levels in Deus Ex felt like a real city; interesting to explore for goodies, yes, but ‘real’ environments, where people would actually live? Not so much. Maybe things were different for you, but I felt way worse seeing a resistance member die in HL2 than I ever felt screwing with the Deus Ex folks.

            Also, I don’t know which Aliens vs Predator you mean, but all of them already had a world built up from various movies, so its a poor example in anyway.

          • A Gentleman and a Taffer says:

            Have you been in Paul’s apartment in Deus Ex? Which you can access from the hall or the fire exit outside the window. A lot of games still don’t have environments as realistic as Deus Ex. Agree with the rest of your points, but the Deus Ex bashing is a little I’ll judged, methinks. As someone said higher up that’s still the game that stands the test of time. A lot of what HL2 did has been copied into the ground or bettered (not HL2s fault, mind).

      • blastaz says:

        I played it back in the day, I remeber the anticipation at uni and as I was about the only person who had brought a gaming pc up everyone deciding that my room rather than the pub was the place to spend the afternoon. A collective experience of gaming I hadn’t really had since golden eye, what, another ten years previously.

        However I also remember a lingering sense of disappointment that it wasn’t as good as half life 1. It was shorter, had fewer weapons and enemies, and just felt less. The sense of openness when you popped overground and out of black Mesa was awesome and 2 never followed through on the promise. I also didn’t like the revisionist plot. I didn’t piss away all that time in Zen hell to let the Combine take over!

        So is there a better fps than half life 2? How about Half Life? (Or farcry 3/4?)

        • A Gentleman and a Taffer says:

          We must be similar age, I remember my first experience of HL2 was watching my flat mate at Uni play it in his room. He let me a have a go for what turned out to be the last 10 minutes of the game, he wasn’t happy when he realised I’d finished it for him! Similar reaction too, it wasn’t as good as HL1, think it’s a pacing thing, I found a quite a few sections dragged.

          The golden age of gaming for our generation was over by HL2 I think, the Mario 64s, the Goldeneyes, the Freespace 2s, the Deus Exs. Monumental shifts in what games could deliver, even by 2004 things were getting more incremental. Whisper it: Call of Duty possibly impressed me more at the time, in terms of delivering that Hollywood blockbuster feeling. Roll on HL3, the first Virtual Reality Hollywood blockbuster.

      • UnholySmoke says:

        This this this. It was the number of things it did for the very first time, and somehow also did incredibly well. That is why people continue to lose their minds over an as-yet-unannounced game.

    • BockoPower says:

      I played it at launch and wasn’t really amazed either. It was good and enjoying but nothing groundbreaking as everyone was saying. I think HL2 was too overhyped. I remember I was really impressed by one unpretentious FPS called Singularity. For me it was better than HL2 but was too short and lacked more variety. Will revisit it again some day to recall better.

      • kmv_007 says:

        Are you comparing HL2, release date 2004, with Singularity, the shooter by Raven, release date 2010?

    • Kaeoschassis says:

      Got it for xmas the year it came out. Had a new rig that could actually run it. Basically it was the most amazing thing I had ever played. I haven’t played it in probably six or seven years, though, and haven’t felt even remotely compelled to. That should not reflect poorly on it as a game, but I will say that’s probably not as brilliant as we all thought it was. I think John nailed it pretty well – it’s not perfect, but nothing since has really bested it either.

      Having said that, I still play Doom2 avidly. Like I’m glad I don’t play it through steam because I don’t WANT to know how many hundreds of hours I’ve put into it. So I wouldn’t personally call HL2 the best shooter ever. Just good.

    • Sin Vega says:

      I was very underwhelmed by it at the time. I preferred the first one (though even that I thought got a lot more praise than I really understood) to be honest, and got so bored of HL2 that I gave up on it not long after the antlion bit. It was slow and repetitive and the guns were rubbish. I got it on 360 a few years later as part of the Orange Box and gave it another go, but couldn’t face the prospect of that interminable boat sequence again.

      • Barberetti says:

        That pretty much sums up my experience with both games. The most fun I had out of HL2 was getting it to run without steam being installed.

        I uninstalled HL2 a few hours later.

    • ansionnach says:

      I didn’t even finish the first Half-Life. It just didn’t grab me. Maybe I’d played too many shooters by then. Did play loads of the original Counter-Strike, though. A friend used to try and get me to play Half-Life multiplayer. Never really understood why as the guns were naff and the shooting was crap. All that said, I’m sure there must be something to both games if I had persevered. My favourite shooters are still Dark Forces (the first one), Duke 3d and Quake III Arena. Other than Q3, there’s a good chance something better has come out since, right?

    • misterT0AST says:

      The voice acting in my language is atrocious. Worse than Tommy Wiseau, I’m not even kidding, Italian voice acting in it is the WORST DUBBING in a videogame I’ve ever heard. Meanwhile Warcraft III was amazingly translated, and came out the same year I think.
      behind this flaw which made me turn the audio off (no way to change language on Xbox) i saw a shooter taking itself seriously. With that voice acting. Brown and gray, mud and concrete everywhere. The sky is gray too. I missed the Hovercraft (no idea how) and I went through 2 or 3 lakes of acid jumping on crates which I was placing myself.

      After a long session of jumping, crouching, grabbing, dropping, jumping, etc. i saw a ramp and I had no idea how to get over it.

      however piling up objects I did manage to climb the invisible walls around the map and reach the void outside of it.

      After roaming the (obviously gray) skybox for a while, I gave up. I could choose to load a previous save, and re-do all the part I just completed, or leave the game and just play portal, and that’s what I did. Never went back to it.

      i remember the enemies being faceless guards, flying pencil sharpeners, mollusks and other blobs with no personality. the main character had no personality either (“mute protagonist” and all that). the game had no face and no personality for me. The friendly NPCs were voiced by amateurs so I have no idea what their personality was supposed to be. that really rubbed me the wrong way. that kind of bad voice acting is something I would have expected from a flash game on Newgrounds, this was a boxed game bought from a store. At least they had the decency not to translate Portal, they would have done an abysmal job as well, ruining Glad0s. I don’t know why they had to ruin the story of their own game like that.

      • alms says:

        Playing any game in a language other than english is, with few exceptions, one of the worst ideas one can have while playing a game. Just use the subtitles if you need to.

      • Det. Bullock says:

        “I don’t know why they had to ruin the story of their own game like that.”

        Because most of the gaming population of our native country had a tendency of doing paper planes instead of listening to our (usually not very good) english teachers?
        Also remember that at the time CTO was still active or went bankrupt fairly recently and they had the habit of translating and dubbing almost every game they distributed, that might have influenced their choice of dubbing the game instead of going only for subtitles.

      • Premium User Badge

        Phasma Felis says:

        “The friendly NPCs were voiced by amateurs”

        Fun fact: The voice of the male citizens was voiced by the same guy who does the Sniper in TF2 and Pudge in Dota 2, among others. (They told him to use his regular speaking voice for the part.)

        Another fun fact: He’s married to the lady who voiced Combine Overwatch, GlaDOS, and TF2’s Announcer.

    • Howard says:

      I bought and played it day of launch (well, as close to day of launch as the then utterly broken Steam would allow) and not only did I not agree with those who think it is the greatest game ever made, I honestly think it is an actively bad game.
      Even at the time, the much lauded AI, graphics and “world changing” physics system all fell flat with me. Ambled through it for 6 tedious hours and felt nothing but sad afterwards as I honestly thought I was missing something that everyone else had seen, but no amount of replays over the years have convinced me that this is anything other than a terrible, wildly-overrated game.

      • Thesingularity says:

        So those who enjoyed it are guilty of a kind of elaborate self deception?

    • Yglorba says:

      That’s not a surprising reaction. I played it when it was fairly new, then played it again to finish it very recently, and I felt the same way on the second playthrough — HL2 still has some parts that remind you of what made it famous, but it’s aged badly, and playing it through today makes it clear why they’re dithering so long on HL3. Aside from the art design (which is still hard to match), everything good about it has been copied a thousand times by other games; everything bad about it has long since been polished away on even most mediocre modern shooters.

      One thing I think people forget about it (and something that I feel it should legitimately be criticized for) is that the game is linear. Very, aggressively linear. Back then this was unusual, and HL2 ended up paving the way for many of the extremely-linear shooters of today (although even by modern standards HL2 often feels unusually linear.)

      Compounding this is the fact that the devs seemed to be ashamed of this linearity at times, so they sometimes tried to hide it by making it look like you have options or by making you search a bit for where to go next. But this only makes things worse, because there is always, always just one way to go; having to search for it occasionally just grinds this in your face. It doesn’t feel like you’re trying to solve a logical puzzle or to determine where Freeman would go in-character, it feels like you’re trying to read the devs’ minds, which often leads you to do things (or travel in directions) that seem utterly insane for no explicable reason except that it’s clear that that’s what the level designers want you to do.

      (The most egregious example of this is near the end of the game, of course, when entering the big evil fortress requires that you do something completely, utterly, mind-bogglingly idiotic with no prompting or justification or logic behind it other than the fact that you’ve been railroaded into a narrow corridor by the level design and taking this insane action is literally the only route available to you. It doesn’t make sense in-setting that this would be the only option available to Freeman — you can see plenty of other paths, just a tiny bit beyond your jumping range — but it’s glaringly obvious what the level designers want you to do.)

      This is also very glaringly obvious during the city rebellion levels, which are themed to feel like a fight for the city but instead feel like Freeman wandering around trying to figure out where the level designers want him to go.

      The lack of audiologs also feels glaring, since they’ve become such a standard in similar games (and of course the original System Shock had already used them when HL2 came out.) It makes the world feel a bit emptier and less real than I would have expected.

      And yeah, I agree with John Walker about massive health pools + armor + health pickups everywhere vs. modern regenerating health. People sometimes talk about regenerating health as if it’s dumbed games down, and I just roll my eyes — they don’t remember what it was really like. In practice, keeping your health and armor up in HL2 is an annoyance that simultaneously strips out a lot of the game’s ambiance by ensuring that most of the time, against most enemies, Freeman can stand there and soak up bullets like a sponge without ever needing to retreat.

      (Which reminds me of one last thing that always seemed odd — Freeman is obviously, plainly superhuman. His suit must be a one-of-a-kind legendary relic, since it apparently lets him absorb vastly more armor than anyone else in the game. Back when this game was made, the idea that FPS protagonists are inexplicably inhumanly tough was normal, but more modern designs with smaller player health pools have generally done a good job of avoiding that feeling, outside of games where you’re explicitly supposed to be superhuman.)

      • Werthead says:

        Audio logs are a pretty hideous way of furthering narrative in a game. In SS2 they made sense, but games since then have relied on them as a lazy crutch for storytelling. SOUTH PARK’s brilliant satire of them in STICK OF TRUTH was right on the ball. “I am terrified and going to die, why the hell am I recording this audio log for someone else to find? What will I care?”

        HL2’s way of furthering narrative – actually finding clues to backstory likes newspapers on the wall – was far more organic. Much, much easier to miss though.

    • husainhz7 says:

      Played it in 2010, by far the best game I have ever played. 2 things made me love it. Variety and feel. Never has any first person game made me feel so free to punt anything, making it feel awesome.

    • Silva Shadow says:

      I played it at launch, replayed it later, and I came to the same conclusion.

      I hated HL1 for being so much of a platformer, for some reason I loved Opposing Forces, I’m not sure why. HL2 was a fucking chore to play, the longest fucking corridor ever, and it only got good once you were bombing through the city fighting the Combine with the whole arsenal of weapons collected up until that point, then it gets shit again because they take away most of these weapons and tools and force you to play in one way. The lack of freedom is what annoys me.

      Red Faction fucking owned Half Life, and Chronicles of Riddick Escape from Butcher Bay destroyed HL2.

      Yeah HL2 pioneered scripted sequences and the long corridor gameplay, but whatever man, it wasn’t as good as the hype.

      Also Deus Ex > Half life.

  2. JS says:

    Yes, HL2 was, and still is, an awesome game. But it is far from perfect. As noted in this article, the combat is quite primitive. I remember reading an article about a mod called Minerva or something, and the author commenting on how this mod made him realize how great the combat in HL2 is. I just shook my head at that, since I belive that the HL2 gameplay is great because of the really awesome level design, and the perfect mix of weapons, which covers up the flaws in the combat mechanics.

    I’m glad to see that someone agrees with this.

    • Smoky_the_Bear says:

      Exactly, the variance of weapons, which made you actively switch between guns for different situations has, in my opinion, never been done better (although this was something the original Half Life also did). Before Half Life it was mostly a case of, find gun, use gun, find better gun, use better gun as a way of ramping up the difficulty curve and letting you deal with more powerful enemies. Weapon choice in Half Life really kept you on your toes, even if some of the weapons do feel dated now (the sub machine gun that literally sprays out like it’s a sprinkler being probably the worst offender).

      • LionsPhil says:

        Yes. This is also why ammo is sufficiently scarce to stop you just using the one gun the whole way through.

        I remember Quake 4, of all things, being good at this too.

  3. nojan says:

    so visiting a brothel in a game is a negative point ? and how could you not mention METRO?

    • Eight Rooks says:

      While Dishonored’s brothel level didn’t bother me much (not remotely as much as John, it seems), METRO’s was rubbish in every respect, and instantly felt far more tired and dated than anything in either Half-Life game. I loved METRO and Last Light, but Christ, there was nothing mature or grown-up about that bit.

      • John Walker says:

        It didn’t especially bother me, and obviously contains a couple of very memorable moments. But it was still eye-rolly that it contained one at all.

        • Dances to Podcasts says:

          That still doesn’t explain what’s so eyerolling about it…

          • aoanla says:

            Because the majority of brothel levels are lazy excuses for providing titillation for male players under a veneer of “this world is gritty because it has places where women will have sex with people for money”.

            Clearly, in reality, the political and cultural significance of prostitution and brothels is more complex, but this tends to be how brothel levels are used in games. (To be fair to Deus Ex: Human Revolution, it actually has a relatively well done section like this, which is much heavier on the “social commentary” and lighter on the “titillation” factor, but the established trope still weighs heavy on it.)

          • Distec says:

            Okay, but there really wasn’t anything titillating about Dishonored’s use of it, at least to me. So if the trope is done well – in this case, not prompting male players to pop erections into their keyboard trays – then I don’t see why that should be a mark against the game.

          • bill says:

            Time to Crate: 23.5 seconds
            Time to Brothel: 7.8 minutes

            *Figures are an average of all FPS games released between 1908 and 2011

    • jeeger says:

      Yeah, I don’t really get it as well. Brothels do exist, after all. And in some parts of the world they’re even legal and well-regulated. I can’t even really remember anything especially eyerolly about the Dishonored brothel, to be honest. It’s for both sexes as well, IIRC. And I can say that Dishonored was the closest thing to HL2 worldbuilding I’ve seen in the last few (10 already? Damn.) years. Sights and people like Granny Rags or the Bridge still occasionally pop up in my mind in a “gosh, that was nice” way. So yeah, I think letting a brothel spoil enjoyment of your game seems strange to me, but I guess it’s only a lack of further elaboration on the point that keeps me from understanding John. I’m pretty sure that with a few words more on the theme, I’d understand his point of view.
      PS: Great article!
      PPS: I’m not speaking for or against prostitution, only about the offensiveness of brothels (or, to be precise, that single brothel).

  4. Eight Rooks says:

    While a couple of your points here are clearly the work of a crazy person/just all-around badwrong, I’ll happily agree with the gist. I played through it again for the first time in ages last year, and for all its obvious flaws HL2 still stands up shockingly well for a ten-year-old game. Valve get a little too much praise in some respects, but at the same time they managed their success for very good reasons.

    (And kudos for pointing out the music. Christ, Half-Life’s music was always rubbish, even back when HL1 came out. HL2’s score was generic electronic farting desperately flailing to steal from half-a-dozen different genres, and yet it never managed to sound as if it could have recognised any of them if they came up and kicked it in the shins.)

  5. RLacey says:

    I have absolutely no memory of HL2’s music whatsoever. In fact, I have no recollection of it *having* music. Which is odd, but also sounds like it’s probably a good thing that I don’t think I ever heard it.

    • Smoky_the_Bear says:

      It was sporadic if I remember right. Lots of sections had no music at all.

  6. rodan32 says:

    Am I weird in preferring original HL?

    • Buuurr says:

      No, I too prefer it. I thought HL2 to be a major disappointment in comparison.

    • JS says:

      Yes. The original HL versus HL2 is like comparing the T-Ford to a modern car. You should have great respect for the groundbreaking T-Ford, the car that made personal vehicles affordable for the average person, but that doesn’t mean you’d want to trade in your modern car for a T-Ford, and drive it to work every day.

      • Buuurr says:

        “02/04/2015 at 22:41 JS says:

        Yes. The original HL versus HL2 is like comparing the T-Ford to a modern car. You should have great respect for the groundbreaking T-Ford, the car that made personal vehicles affordable for the average person, but that doesn’t mean you’d want to trade in your modern car for a T-Ford, and drive it to work every day.”

        It seems you clearly missed the point that was being made. HL was great. It was atmospheric. It was (and this is hard even today to do right) immersive. The ninja like black suited guys… the monsters… all of it was presented in a new and quick moving way. There was an intensity to HL that HL2 just did not have, at all.

        You’d be right if we were just talking about graphic, but we are not. We are talking about the whole.

        You’d be correct if your comparison was to a T-Ford vs a T-Ford with new paint.

        I will point out that this just seems like general knowledge…

        • Smoky_the_Bear says:

          Both games had their merits imo. Half Life fell into the trap that all FPS did at the time of putting you as a lone combatant taking down hordes of enemies (save for a few utterly useless security guards). In this respect, HL2 managed to make itself more meaningful in my opinion. The narrative was far superior to anything previously in the FPS genre. The world that was created made sense in the way that “random ENORMOUS science/military facility” didn’t quite as much. Also HL1 had the dreaded alien levels which ruined the game for a lot of people (I’ve never finished the game because of them).
          I’d agree that the combat in HL1 was revolutionary though, the AI of the teams of marines flushing you out with grenades and flanking you was just a joy to behold.

    • LionsPhil says:

      I’m pretty sure preferring HL1 to 2 is a fairly widespread opinion ’round these parts.

    • RSpace says:

      HL1 is great, but the graphics feels very dated by today’s standards. Luckily the Black Mesa remake using the HL2 Source engine makes up for that – a faithful remake that presents HL1 much more as you remember it.

    • Spacewalk says:

      You think you’re weird, I prefer Half-Life: Source.

      • CMaster says:

        You’re some kind of inhuman monster, aren’t you?

        • Spacewalk says:

          It’s Half-Life with slightly nicer lighting, better AI pathing and physics which is pretty much the reason I like it so much because dropping down the console and changing the numbers around to make you able to blow a scientist halfway down a corridor with the shotgun’s alt-fire never gets old. I could do that in HL2 but it doesn’t let you shoot your allies.

          • CMaster says:

            I’d argue the “better lighting” thing. I mean sure, the lighting engine mmight be theoretically better. But all the textures (and lack of bump/specular mapping) and lighting was set up for the GoldSRC engine, so it just looks weird.

    • Eldritch says:

      Posted this elsewhere, figure it may be wort a repeat:

      The original Half Life was almost perfect. Played it Christmas 1998 and then for the next year, with Opposing Force and various mods adding to its longevity. The battles! The wonderful, brutal AI that made every encounter play out differently! I was astounded, hooked. Couldn’t wait for HL2. When I first started playing it in 2004 I was baffled by how poor the enemy AI was. Also, I found the ubiquity of the exploding barrels odd and anti-fun – I wanted the cat and mouse ferocious combat of Half Life, not this.

      I convinced myself it was just an early tutorial phase, that it would improve. It didn’t; the AI remained very poor and the exploding barrels were everywhere. Even when I resolved never to shoot them the idiot AI often suicidally blew them up and ended the battle. Perhaps they were ashamed.

      HL2 made other missteps – ones with unfortunate repercussions for the genre – waves of enemies spawning in from behind those blue screens for one, and CoD took note.

      HL1 had a variety of scientists and security guards you needed to open doors etc. The security guards were nicknamed Barneys and all looked the same, due to tech limitations of the time. If they died it was game over, and a reload; a good thing.

      HL2 retconned all those guards who got killed into a single character, Barney, which was bizarre and – unforgivably – made him almost unkillable, a bullet-sponge which, with his inept AI meant he could take an awful long time doing nothing. Alyx was similarly almost unkillable. Again, CoD, and later Dice, thought, Hmm, we can do this, have cretin AI fart around beside the player…

      Then there was the trailer that came out in 2003, showing wonderful AI. We saw the player barricade a door, a soldier run to it, find it blocked, then move to shoot in through a window. Clever.
      Much was made of how a Strider was shown to pursue the player, encounter a bridge, consider, and then stoop to go under it. But again, these things were never in the game itself. The Striders were always in wide, open arenas and never had to do much of any manoeuvring and the soldiers were perpetually foxed by exploding barrels.

      I accept that HL2 is loved, but for me it was and is a great disappointment and a game that ushered in a wave of practises that blight and stunt FPSs to this day.
      Ah, but the first Half Life, now 16 years old, remains the real classic, the literal gamechanger.

      • CMaster says:

        The HL1 AI is actually fairly poor. (If not awful, and better than most FPSes of the era). The trick is that while the opponents aren’t actually clever, the at least act in ways that seem convincing. The soldiers run between positions marked as cover, then stop and shoot – this looks much more real than strafing-shooting-moving. If they can;t get line of sight, they throw grenades instead – this doesn’t take a lot of brains, but feels like they are trying to flush you from cover. Etc. It’s about making the grunts act in a way that at least looks like it might be a real behaviour, not a videogame one.

        • Pundabaya says:

          Yeah, HL’s AI is remembered as good because of the layer of smoke and mirrors Valve put around it. The ‘barks’ the marines would use helped loads too.

          HL2’s AI is way, way better, but the level design doesn’t show it off at all. If the AI does something clever but the player can’t see it, then it might as well have done nothing.

          • Smoky_the_Bear says:

            Yeah admittedly small rooms full of boxes must be fairly easy to script AI for but tbh “Smoke and mirrors” or actual AI, what does it matter. It gave the feeling of a coordinated strike team working together to take you down. How they achieved that does not matter.

          • CMaster says:

            I wasn’t trying to tear down what HL 1 did at all. I was trying to show what was effective, and somewhat feeling sad that so many other games (including HL2) didn’t really seem to learn that lesson – the important thing about the AI isn’t the cleverness, but making them behave in a believable way.

        • LionsPhil says:

          Throwing ‘nades if they can’t get line-of-sight is kinda actually flushing you from cover.

          (The marine pattern of throw-grenade, it-rebounds-incorrectly, “OH SHI-“, gibs, is burnt into my brain forever.)

          I can’t really call it “fairly poor” when modern games still seem to be struggling to match its level of “basic” situational awareness, even if some of them are doing it without so much map hinting. (A lot of the marines’ positioning is down to manually well-placed pathnodes.) We can usually get “oh goodness, a bangtater has landed at my footsie-pies, I should emit a profanity and attempt to flee”, but so many NPCs will send so many bullets into so many walls oblivious that they aren’t landing any hits on their target.

          And when was the last time you got a good flanking that wasn’t due to scripted spawn positions? (I bet it wasn’t HL2.)

          • LionsPhil says:

            In fact, I’d say HL1’s AI was more varied too, as a result of its more varied monsters, rather than just various types of dudes. There’s nothing I can remember in HL2 that fights like Houndeyes, running away and regrouping. Or even the human assassins, which hit and ran, constantly repositioning.

          • Eldritch says:

            In complete agreement. One of the things I loved so much about HL1 was watching the soldiers fight the aliens – just watching, marvelling. The battles came out different every time, giving such a sense of life, of intelligence. Sometimes I would intervene, perhaps early on, favouring one side over the other; other times I would snipe judiciously, keeping the sides level as long as possible but, again, regardless of my input, a battle was being fought, victory in the balance, everything blessedly unscripted.

            There was none of this in HL2 so, while some may say the HL1 AI was fairly poor or whatever, nothing in HL2 gave that sense of stuff going on around you, of life, of battles being won and lost independent of your participation.

          • KenTWOu says:

            HL2 controllable antlions scratched that itch for me.

      • Premium User Badge

        Phasma Felis says:

        “Much was made of how a Strider was shown to pursue the player, encounter a bridge, consider, and then stoop to go under it. But again, these things were never in the game itself.”

        I specifically recall the fear as I ran into a car tunnel to escape a strider and it dropped down, splayed out its legs like a spider, and followed me in.

      • Howard says:

        You, sir, are 100% correct. HL2 was not just a poor game, it is, as you say, responsible for a lot of the crap we now must suffer through in shooters.

        • Yglorba says:

          I said it above, but I’ll repeat it here:

          Linear levels. Physics aside (which was more technology than game design), if HL2 had one impact on games, it was the push towards extremely linear levels. Everyone forgets that. This is what level maps looked like before HL2. This is what they looked like afterwards.

          • onodera says:

            MDK was the first shooter with linear levels. Well, it wasn’t a FPS, but this simply means it was the first over-the-shoulder TPS as well.

        • drkeiscool says:

          That’s like blaming Tolkien for knock-off fantasy novels written today. Valve didn’t force other companies to adapt its gameplay tropes, and it’s not fair to blame them for the state of the industry today.

          • Smoky_the_Bear says:

            Yeah I agree. The immersion that HL2 created was mostly due to the fact it kept you on a fairly set journey and was better for it. I don’t know why the old style of FPS completely went away in the last 10 years but you can’t solely blame HL2 for it. It was actually doing a more unique thing at the time and was a great game because of it. Now looking back, everything is more on rails type “epic journey” stuff and it’s easy to look at HL2 and say “It’s just another one of those”, but at the time it wasn’t.

          • Eldritch says:

            “That’s like blaming Tolkien for knock-off fantasy novels written today. Valve didn’t force other companies to adapt its gameplay tropes, and it’s not fair to blame them for the state of the industry today.”

            Interesting. Let’s unpack this a bit. For the sake of argument, let’s agree Tolkien put out something new, innovative and which was done to a high standard. It is natural then that, following its success, there would be works inspired by it, often merely imitative and inferior. No blame attached to Tolkien.

            My issue with HL2 is that it was massively flawed and yet – crucially – these flaws were overlooked, the game garnering almost unprecedented praise. This allowed the imitators a pass; having waves of dull, stupid respawning enemies, or idiot AI companions who were invulnerable (or as near as) – these would not be labeled as bad game design until years later, with the blame levelled at the likes of CoD.

            But these were poor – even at the time – in HL2; I found them crushingly dull and regressive compared to Half-Life. So I think it is quite fair to blame HL2 (and the critical response, which was, IMO of course, blinded to these faults) for, in effect, rubber-stamping these design choices.

    • XhomeB says:

      I also VASTLY prefer the original HL.
      Superior, less on-rails level design, much better atmosphere (you felt like you were fighting for survival, in HL2 I feel like an errand boy), lots of memorable moments (soldiers invading Black Mesa etc.), much better, natural-feeling puzzles (in HL2, it’s all about simple physics-based ones and stupid contraptions).

    • Joshua Northey says:

      I remember having extremely high expectations after being told about HL1 a couple years after release, and I was still blown away. I had similarly high expectations for HL2, and while it was very good, it did not blow me away.

  7. Ostymandias says:

    The incidental pseudo-IDM music is forgettable, but for me the real soundtrack is the humming drone of the dropship, which in my opinion is a stroke of sound design genuis.

  8. LionsPhil says:

    Surprised you didn’t have anything to say about just how much it blocks you with in-engine cutscenes while Alyx talks, especially since you screenshotted the Breen bit at the end where she absolutely murders the pacing.

    Yes, the antlions and turrets are totally better buddies than the humans. Even hostile ones are useful!

    • Premium User Badge

      DelrueOfDetroit says:

      It blocks you but it never takes control away from you. That is the key feature here.

      The only time the game does take control from you is when it makes sense in relation to what is happening to your character and even then you can still move your head.

      • April March says:

        If a game doesn’t let me open the doors to continue playing it then it has definitively taken bloody control away from me.

      • LionsPhil says:

        It really doesn’t make much difference, and if anything leads to hyperactive bouncing around the room if the plot is failing to engage and you’re bored of playing cameraman while it pretends it still has your attention. (See: any speedrun.)

  9. SuicideKing says:

    Teleporter looks more like a giant Wheatly, to be honest.

  10. skalpadda says:

    While HL2s soundtrack is a bit schlocky at times and some of those string and guitar samples should have been retired in 1995 it also doesn’t sound quite like any other soundtrack out there and there are some real moments of greatness which capture the atmosphere perfectly. “Bombastic dance music” though? I can think of maybe two tracks on the entire (50+ track) soundtrack that might fit that description. Are you getting so old you think anything with a synthesizer is techno, John?

    • Flit says:

      I jammed to the HL2 soundtrack on my iPod back in 2005, but after a decade of refining my music tastes it’s not as cool as I remember. I feel like the game elevates the music rather than the other way around, with a few exceptions.

    • Distec says:

      Yeah, there really isn’t a whole lot of dancey stuff outside of one or two moments. I quite liked it for the most part, at least on the electronic side of things. I still have stronger memories of the first game’s tracks though, especially that opening ambient piece…

      You’re quite right that it sounds unique compared to a lot of others, and I appreciate it for that.

    • Foosnark says:

      Heh. I have the soudntracks for HL1 and HL2 on my MP3 player and still fire them up on occasion.

      Some of it is really good — perfectly suited to the environment. But I find the parts that are supposed to be more action-y lurk somewhere between generic and horribad.

      Ambience was something both HL1 and HL2 did really well, and action is something they weren’t as good at (especially HL2), and the music reflects that.

      • Distec says:

        The bits where the soundtrack would “rock out” felt really mismatched to me, and it seemed to get worse by Episode 2. HL1 made some liberal use of guitars ‘n stuff, but it was usually sandwiched into a pounding electronic/industrial beat. And when the guitar more or less stood on its own, it still had a very otherworldy, alien treatment to it.

        They work better as an accompaniment to the game rather than standalone pieces, but I still love tracks like “Nuclear Mission Jam” or “Drums and Riffs” from the original. And who couldn’t like that little bit that plays when you pick the HEV suit for the first time? Love it!

  11. Flit says:

    Highly recommend the HL2:Update mod posted here a few days back. It’s a wonderfully subtle facelift.

    link to store.steampowered.com

  12. BooleanBob says:

    Yeah, even at the time I felt it wasn’t great, too much like a series of stitched-together set pieces in exactly the way the first game wasn’t. I seem to remember the multiplayer being knockabout fun, at least.

  13. Big Murray says:

    If I could marry Half Life 2, I would.

  14. gmillar says:

    The hovercraft sequence was one of my favourite parts of the game. Yeah the controls suck, because the hovercraft is made out of bits of scrap metal. Should it have turned on a dime like a car from GTA3? In my opinion they pretty much nailed the hovercraft, and the part where the chimney falls across the river and the badass electronic music comes in is one of my favourite moments in gaming. If you think the soundtrack is bad, maybe you should open your mind to something other than the boring orchestral music that infests almost every game out there.

    • thedosbox says:

      It’s no so much that it’s difficult to control (which it is), but that there’s so bloody much of it. I’m not a particular fan of vehicle sections in games, but there were too many in HL2.

    • Foosnark says:

      I disliked it mostly because it induced horrible motion sickness for me until I adjusted the FOV.

  15. sinbad says:

    Ravenhold may not have been very scary, but Ravenholm certainly was. Those super fast, wailing, killer monster things? That’ll be 2 pairs of new pants please…

    • skalpadda says:

      Yeah, playing it while knowing where to go, how all the traps work and where to go it’s not particularly scary. My first time through it though, fully immersed coming out of the lab, the sheer horror of the story of the place, the introduction to fast and poison headcrab zombies and the sounds they made… it was tense.

      • kament says:

        Exactly. Tense. That combined with the change of pace and mood is the main reason it stands out and works as something scary – it is the spooky bit of the game, after all, but that’s about it.

        • Smoky_the_Bear says:

          Yeah to me that is so much more effective than this current breed of survival horror which you buy knowing will try to scare you. With Ravenholm you’d just been marvelling at this wonderfully crafted city filled with alien architecture, spoke to some people to find out what was going on, then all of a sudden you are thrown into this completely different scenario with jumpscares galore. It really took you out of your current mindset and was very unsettling because of it. I remember just wanting it to be over after about 5 minutes.

    • LionsPhil says:


    • PancakeWizard says:

      Nevermind them, I always found the ones with a bunch of poison headcrabs on their back terrifying!

      • phelix says:

        Especially their breathing noises. I remember being terrified by one of those abandoned beach houses because it had this ominous breathing in it and not finding the zombie until it was too late.

      • Premium User Badge

        particlese says:

        Oh, good gravy, I’d forgotten about those. I was going to agree with the poison headcrabs bit alone. For me, the scariest part of the game was trying to stay on catwalks in the mines to avoid them, then running out of ammo and other explosive objects.

        But I had completely forgotten they also come in frickin’ bundles. (BUNDLLLLLLLLLLE!!!) I just started Ravenholm in my DK2 playthrough and haven’t been scared yet (well, I was startled once by a monster closet), but now I’m looking forward to this section even less, which I didn’t think possible.

    • Premium User Badge

      gritz says:

      By far the most terrifying part of this game was the bridge. I have a major fear of heights, but never in games… except for that damn bridge.

      • OneCardLarry says:

        The bridge was my favourite part of the game, change up of tempo compared to what came before and one of the first times in a game I tipped up in my chair trying to see over an edge. HL2 had a real knack of making you feel part of the environment, of many different kinds of environments, which very few games had up until then.

      • drygear says:

        If you want flashbacks: link to 3.bp.blogspot.com (link is to a picture of a worker under a bridge like the one in HL2)

  16. Muzman says:

    Basically the evolution of Call of Duty to the present Mil-shoot exists to correct these problems and distil the HL2 experience. So it’s a bit ‘be careful what you wish for’

    Not that I disagree. My mind has always filtered out the annoying stuff and I end up saying “oh yeah. This nonsense happens now…”

    Also a worthy exercise with the original game too. As that has quite a few bits it could do with out.

    • Donjo says:

      You’re right but present day Mil-shoots all seem to have the same boring story.

      One thing not mentioned in the article is the sound design – I’ve been playing it again because of this graphic update (which doesn’t do anything remarkable) and keep noticing the excellent sound design – wind whistling around lonely corners, an out of sight wind chime in an abandoned base, the chirping of sea birds becoming apparent when the helicopter at the damn is taken down – the list goes on and it’s really absorbing stuff. Fair play to Kelly Bailey.

  17. varangian says:

    I played the Update version through a few days ago to enjoy a slightly shinier look to it (and spot a few little changes they’ve made to the story as well) and agree with most of your points. Particularly those infuriating squaddies who were only ever useful a couple of times and the rest of the time were mobile chicanes.

    But whilst it shows its age in many respects it is, in my experience of FPS games at least, still stands out as the one that uses good design to show you where to go and what to do. Apart from Father Grigori’s sage advice to aim for the head and playing catch with Dog for practice with the gravity gun there’s little in the way of in-game tutorials. Unlike other games where a blizzard of instructions appears to tell you how to accomplish something HL2 just points you in the right direction – often by allowing you to practice in a less threatening situation – and does you the honour of assuming you’ll be smart enough to figure it out from there. Always nice to be credited with a few brains when your character is supposed to be a whizzo physicist.

    • jjujubird says:

      Yeah, it’s puzzling why so few game designers understand that you should “show and not tell” whenever possible.

      Valve and a few others have this down, but so many have not learned the lesson yet.

  18. Werthead says:

    NO-ONE LIVES FOREVER was 2000 and 2002, so pre-dates HL2. I actually checked a mega-list to see if anything really can be argued for:

    link to en.wikipedia.org

    (you can rank by date, although I suspect the list is not complete).

    The ones that stood out (not saying they’re better, just to throw into a conversation):

    Chronicles of Riddick: Escape from Butcher Bay (X-Box release before HL2, PC afterwards)
    Star Wars: Republic Commando
    FEAR + sequels
    SWAT 4
    Dark Messiah of Might and Magic
    ARMA + sequels
    STALKER + sequels
    Call of Duty 4 + many, many, many sequels
    BioShock 1 + 2 + Infinite
    Crysis + sequels
    Mirror’s Edge
    Left 4 Dead 1 & 2
    Far Cry 2 + 3 + 4 + Blood Dragon
    Latter-day Wolfensteins
    Metro 2033 & Last Light
    Black Mesa
    Borderlands & sequels

    The conclusion I reach is that the only FPS games I would 100%, no-qualms put above HL2 are, er, Portal and its sequel. And I’m not even sure they are first-person ‘shooters’ in the traditional sense.

    For such a popular genre it seems odd that there’s nothing that inarguably stands out as being vastly superior than a game released eleven years ago. It might be that more recent FPS games have nailed individual bits better than HL2, but not right across the board.

    • welverin says:

      Portal isn’t s shooter and I’d remove Dark Messiah of Might and Magic, and Dishonored from the list as well.

      • Werthead says:

        I don’t think you can dismiss Dark Messiah just because most of its combat is melee-based (and all of its actually useful combat is boot-based). It’s certainly not an RPG.

        Dishonored takes more from RPGs, but then again you can play it as an out-and-out FPS if you want. In fact, Dishonored probably comes closest out of recent games as to hinting at what a HL3 might look like (some of the same art guys worked on it as HL2).

        • jc14can says:

          Dishonoured looked so much like HL2 as to be distracting.

          • zaygr says:

            Didn’t they have the same guy who was the Environment designer for Half Life 2 work on Dishonoured?

    • Smoky_the_Bear says:

      Yeah agreed. Although tbh Portal is a puzzle game with first person perspective, it doesn’t have shooting mechanics or really any sort of combat, I wouldn’t put it on the list. In over 10 years you really think that stuff would have come along that put itself head and shoulders above HL2 and revolutionised the genre but there really hasn’t been.

    • kament says:

      Odd might be putting it mildly. I don’t want to think that HL2 is actually the best of what the shooters could possibly offer and it’s all downhill from there.

  19. liquidsoap89 says:

    I play through HL2 once every couple of years (usually when I find something to make a new trip through worth it, hello Oculus Rift). It’s still one of my favourites. I acknowledge many of it’s flaws now, and there are things in FPS’ that have just simply gotten better over time. But there are still moments in HL2, even after 11 years, that I continue to smile at. The trip across the beach, with the Antlions always on your tail (being more of a nuisance than anything else really) is the big moment for me. The “hunted becomes the hunter” shtick works so incredibly well, and the intensity very quickly ramps up as you make your way to Nova Prospect (which is my favourite part of the game).

    One thing I find interesting is how over the years I’ve gotten quite fast at finishing the game. A combination of bunny hopping and knowing where to go means I can get through the game in well under 8 or 9 hours, and for whatever reason I actually find this makes the game more fun. Maybe it’s the pace that I create by going through the slower bits much faster, but everything flows really well at that speed.

    And not enough could ever be said about the level design. I’ve read and watched breakdowns of individual parts of this game, and why these individual parts work so well, even just on their own. The way you’re directed, and told to look at a specific place at a specific time, without being explicitly told is an incredible feat. One that very few other games have managed to match, even a decade later.

  20. Frank says:

    Eh, 90% of why I love HL2 is for the art; with 10% for the gravity gun. Both of those have held up excellently.

    Loading screens? Not so much. They were ridiculous back in 2004 and they’re just as insufferable now.

  21. Werthead says:

    I think the article may also hit the nail on the head (without even mentioning it) as to why HL3 is missing in action. Valve will have to make a game that:

    1) Is true to its roots. A HL which only allows you to carry 3 guns wouldn’t really feel like a HL game at all (the FPS genre was already heading in that direction anyway before HL2 came out, with HALO and FAR CRY).
    2) Respect and redefine some modern conventions. We like to think that HL2 invented in-game physics, but actually MAX PAYNE 2, FAR CRY and DOOM 3 all had physics engines in place earlier. HL2 just actually did something useful with it.
    3) Reinvent the wheel a bit and make everyone go, “Woah!” The in-engine cut scenes that would play out as you walked around was fairly original at the time.

    It was hard enough to do in 1998 and incredible they did it again (more or less) in 2004. How they do it in 2020, or whatever, is an even bigger question. Maybe Source 2+Valve VR will be the cominbation that makes it work?

  22. Shazbut says:


    …because I bring this up casually every time Half Life is mentioned and then don’t get a wave of people agreeing, so I just want to be sure…

    am I the only person who can’t play the games because I find headcrabs too scary?

    Amnesia? No problem. Outcast? A cinch. Why? Because they don’t have things that look and sound like THAT which JUMP OUT OF VENTS at YOUR FACE.

    There is still no “No headcrab” patch that I know about. This is one of the great mysteries of my life.

    • Artificial says:

      Hearing the headcrabs still make me shiver to this day. Even having played through the game so many times now.

      • Shazbut says:

        Thank God I’m not alone

      • MadArcher says:

        You’re not the only one. I shivered to their screams in the 1st HL and it went on until I reached the end of Episode Two even if many years had passed between the two.

    • bleeters says:

      I was mostly ok with headcrab zombies until the first time I set one on fire.

      It’s been ten years and I still remember the noise they make. Nope nope nope.

  23. JB says:

    I always loved the beach village section(s?) along Highway 17. Good times.

  24. PancakeWizard says:

    The Crossbow has a scope, and it’s extremely satisfying to use. I couldn’t care less about ironsights, because you don’t need them; there’s a target reticle. A shame you didn’t like it as much. I play it yearly and still love every minute of it, even the airboat.

    • Smoky_the_Bear says:

      Given that the most popular FPS on PC (Counterstrike) also doesn’t use iron sights on modern, real life weapons, I’d say it’s allowable in a game like HL2 tbh.

    • Immobile Piper says:

      Oh god the iron sights. They’re ok in Op Flashpoint & Rainbow Six (the real ones), but I’ve never enjoyed using them in some of the more modern titles. I just don’t see the appeal.

  25. Stevostin says:

    HL2 was a good game but nothing the way HL1 was. The engine, though, was amazing. It looked nice, not crazy nice (except some stunning material) but at the top of its time… but at the same time, it was fast, really fast. The opposite of a new ID release. Facial animation and eyes were awesome, still better than some of last year’s games.
    But the design, if inventive, wasn’t as inspired as HL1. Gunfights, especially, were totally inferior on every aspect. Pace was also boring where Half Life had a wonderful tension. Ravenholm wasn’t scary at that time either for anyone who had played Thief or Alien II.

    That being said I agree it would be hard to name a corridor shooter that was better since. Maybe CW, The New Order ? I had real fun with that one. Clever thing. What else ? Ah yes, Metro series.

    Don’t know. For me HL2 marks the end of corridor shooters. After STALKER especially, the very idea of walking a map according to a path seemed retarded to me.

  26. piedpiper says:

    It’s fine post-industrial/IDM for a fine post-human world. Always liked it. Maybe because i just love that kind of music. At least it never felt out of place to me.

    Yes, in second playthrough it was not so great, but the first playthrough it was just breathtaking.

    >Long game.
    I remember finishing Half-Life 2 and being very dissapointed. That’s it? And ends on cliffhanger? I remember HL2 as one of those games which ends in abrupt and unsatisfying way when things just got really cool. Though it lasts around 10 hours it feels like a really short game. Maybe because it’s that good.

    Was never scary but very atmospheric and moody. Oh, and those brilliant sawblades.

    • Joshua Northey says:

      Exactly my main feeling at the end was that it was just getting really interesting.

  27. PancakeWizard says:

    HL2 can never get enough credit, IMO:

  28. Crafter says:

    Funny, I replayed Half Life 1 & 2 recently.
    Half Life 1 did not age well at all. This train opening sequence that made it stand out at its launch ? It feels ridiculous right now. These are just random elements thrown together without purpose or logic. That walking robot carrying something ? It start walking from a wall, what is it doing there ? Why is there an industrial building machine in the middle of nothing ? What about that tunnel, apparently very old with wooden support and holes leading outside ? What is it doing in the middle of this modern installation ?

    Half Life 2 in comparison could be released right now (with some slight engine improvements) and it would probably be the best FPS of 2015. It is probably in good part because the genre did not evolve that much though.
    It is far from perfect, but it knows how to play on its strength and how to renew its gameplay just enough along its long campaign.
    It is not perfect though. The silent protagonist is becoming very tiresome, I don’t see how having a character that does not utter a single word in any situation helps immersion that much. There is also a very big disconnect between all these action sequences and the couple of moments where the game has decided that you can not shoot on this character since it is not supposed to die, even though you have many reasons to do so.
    The age of the game is not even an excuse, Deus Ex got that just right.
    I don’t mind the long airboat sequence that much, but these scripted events are pretty bad if you have a good memory. Their setup was already pretty foreseeable the first time around, the second time they are just boring.
    Still, even with these more or less minor complaints, it is a very fun FPS. I just wish that Valve could be at least transparent enough in order to announce whether or not they are working on episode 3 or Half Life 3.

    • PancakeWizard says:

      I recommend playing Black Mesa if you haven’t already. It helps Half-Life 1 ‘age well’ quite a bit.

  29. Dorga says:

    Stalker is the one that comes closest, in my mind. Many are tighter and more balanced, but it’s the atmosphere that holds it together and makes it stand ou

  30. Clavus says:

    Hundreds upon hundreds of hours in Garry’s Mod has etched every bit of content of this game into my brain. HL2 has plenty of spots where it visibly aged, but I’d still call it “the best FPS ever” if asked.

    As far as modern FPS games go: I would say Wolfenstein TNO refined HL2’s formula best. But the thing is, no FPS revolutionized the genre as much as HL and HL2 did. CoD4 was more of a trendsetter if anything.

  31. CMaster says:

    Going to echo a fair bit of the above in saying that I think that while HL2 may be a better game than HL1, HL1 ages better.

    Half Life still feels like it did/does something unique. In the sense of place (as silly as it is). In the incidental storytelling (of admittedly a very skeletal story). In the serious dedication to the complete immersion (no cutscenes, no control loss) and silent protagonist (which HL2 and especially the episodes start to treat as part albatross, part joke).

    HL2 made such a splash because it did so much that was new and staggering at once. The set-piece events. The vehicles (in an FPS). The physics. The large outdoor areas. The emoting characters. Sure, some games had flirted with these things already. HL2 did all of them, and went further on almost all of them than its predecssors. Now, all those things have been done better. So to modern eyes, HL2 is more important for what it established, not what it still is.

    • XhomeB says:

      That is so true. HL1 succeeded at making Black Mesa feel like a real place, mostly due to the excellent level design which made you feel you were exploring the place instead of being pushed down a linear path.
      HL2 not only failed at accomplishing a similar goal in my opinion, but also committed a great sin – some of its levels were just boring. INCREDIBLY boring, like the sewers, “defend this area from waves of enemies” sections and tutorial-like parts (here’s a new weapon, this is how you use it).

  32. AngoraFish says:

    Every time I go back to HL2 I’m blown away by how good it still is. Nothing since has even come close.

  33. mattlambertson says:

    I won’t claim the story is anything transcendent but I can’t say I’ve ever played a shooter before or since that was so damn entertaining, in terms of visuals, mechanics, plot twists, and everything flowing together perfectly, as Bioshock Infinite. It’s a thrilling amusement park ride and I mean that in the best way possible.

  34. Artificial says:

    For me, it really is the perfect FPS and perfect game.

    It’s linear, but doesn’t hold you hand and force you along the corridor the entire way. The atmosphere created by the music, sounds effects, art style and in game assets is nothing short of perfect.

    For some reason I enjoy the long boat sections, it feels like you’re going on a real journey to reach the place you need to get to, and seeing all the abandoned stuff and industrial areas on your way through.

    • po says:

      There’s a world of difference to the airboat sections if you keep stopping off to explore the environment, when compared to playing as straight runs between the points where a puzzle forces you to play on foot.

      It’s nowhere near on the same level as the hidden rooms in Portal, but you can see the seeds of the idea in some of those locations.

  35. alms says:

    I played HL2 for the first time a few years ago, and there’s a lot of truth about what’s been said about world building and sound design. Oddly, I don’t have the slightest recollection of it actually having music. It seemed like a virtual place I would like to be in, an intriguing setting …if only I didn’t have to put up with the shooty parts. Then again I’m not exactly known for my love of FPS games.

    I imagine if HL3 were ever to be made, it’d be an open world first person puzzler/adventure. And given how the general public reacts to whatever change Valve makes to Steam, I suppose it’s actually easier for them to avoid the Half Life brand entirely and make a new game set in the same universe but with different characters and an original storyline, just like Portal.

    If only we could flush the fanboy/haters mindsets down the drain… but then again, I wonder if Valve still has any interest in making single player games.

    • LionsPhil says:

      Probably because the music is so utterly forgettable. HL1 did the same deal, but I bet you struggle to remember anything but the Valve logo theme. I certainly do.

      • alms says:

        What’s so odd about it, is that I should at least remember that there was some. I read about it and was: wait? there’s music? …not just ambient sounds?

      • Distec says:

        Like, vividly. Man. :(

      • Premium User Badge

        gritz says:

        I absolutely disagree. Sure, there was some generic house in the actiony parts, but part of what made Ravenholm so effective was the eerie synth that vaccilated between a deep unnerving moan and a caustic screech.

        I’m really shocked to see this, tbh. I always thought HL2 was considered one of the most memorable soundtracks in all of PC gaming.

    • welverin says:

      Is it possible you turned the music off? I turn the volume down on every game I play, often to the point where I can barely hear it, if at all.

      “If only we could flush the fanboy/haters mindsets down the drain… but then again, I wonder if Valve still has any interest in making single player games.”

      They don’t have in interest in making games at all anymore, they farm all their development out to the community, and it’s hard to do that with a single player game.

      • alms says:

        Actually I was thinking about a video featuring GabeN that was posted on the forums a while ago, IIRC. There he argued there’s this sort of ‘level progression’ players go through, with multiplayer sitting at the top. As for the music I don’t think so, I love music in games and then I wouldn’t remember the ambient sounds right? Maybe a case of selective removal. Guess I’ll check some let’s play on youtube.

        Oh look, I found it:

        link to youtube.com

        And this is the thread if anyone is interested in taking a look.

        • aoanla says:

          Gabe’s discussion of this theory of his is at around 3:31 and onwards.
          I kinda disagree strongly with it – I went through a period of playing multiplayer games, sure, but that died down a lot. I’m back to being mostly singleplayer again, and I don’t feel like I’ve “lost levels” in the process.
          (It’s a dodgy analogy anyway, because it suggests that there’s a linear progress pattern: plays single player games -> plays multiplayer games -> designs and builds new games. This seems implausible – there must be plenty of game makers who don’t play multiplayer games much, surely?)

  36. neoncat says:

    HL1 >>> HL2

    I only got around to playing these just a few years ago, and HL2 felt extremely repetitive. It did a lot of gameplay things that I recognize were revolutionary at the time, and I can appreciate how well they constructed the world, but I wasn’t terribly taken in by any one part of it.

    However, I will always remember the elation in HL1 when I first saw the blue sky…. and then the horrible sinking feeling in my stomach when I was forced back underground… and then the amazing relief when I peeked out of the drain in the cliff face and saw daylight.

    HL1 was so perfectly suited for the rails-shooter model, and even though I knew all the events were scripted, it still felt like an accident when, say, I fell through the vent.

    (Also I’ve selectively blacked out whatever happens at the end… but nothing’s completely perfect. :P)

  37. woodsey says:

    “Perhaps Dishonored? There’s a good argument to be made there, but then Half-Life managed to get through its 15-20 hours without finding the need to visit a brothel.”


  38. Doomsayer says:

    There are instant kill headshots, mostly with the Revolver but unaware Combine also die to a single pistol shot to the head.

  39. OctoStepdad says:

    Great article for the release of Half Life 2 : Update. I just put it on for a half hour or so (got to the teleporter). And this part struck a chord with me

    ““Gordon Freeman? You mean the guy who came into our apartment carrying that creepy broken doll, then threw all our furniture out the windows? He’s your hero?””

    When going through the humans apartment, I was yelling to myself “Don’t listen to this propaganda!” as I was throwing the TVs out the windows.

    Does anybody know if there is a game where the NPCs react to you being a dipshit? I just want to hear a NPC say “What’s Your Problem? Why are you ruining my apartment?!?!” during a cutscene.

    • LionsPhil says:

      Deus Ex will in some situations, although I don’t think it’s so much that NPCs have the concept of personal property as that if you smash or nick stuff near the places some of them wander (their homes or offices) they’ll get angry at you. Not during cutscenes, mind, since then you don’t have control.

      …this reminds me of the claims during Unreal 2’s development that their NPCs would notice if you wandered off, started doing jumping jacks, or just stood staring stupified at Aida’s zero-gravity chest during conversations. I don’t think any of that actually made it into the released game.

  40. Spacewalk says:

    You seem to have forgotten about the buggy John or did you have such an awful time with the airboat it overwrote your memory of it?

    • John Walker says:

      Well, no, I didn’t mention it because I *hadn’t* forgotten it!

      • Spacewalk says:

        You covered just about everything else I was starting to think that you’d forgotten the entire game so I thought it was a bit odd that it wasn’t included.

        Did you also remember all the places where the G-Man pops up?

    • Premium User Badge

      particlese says:

      And the Internet still hasn’t trained me to instantly account for missing commas: I was trying my darnedest for a few too many seconds to remember HL2 toilets which were usable as something other than projectiles, and what amusing glitches they may have had. Therefore: no harm done! :)

      I think the vehicle sections would have been vastly improved with even vaguely smoother steering, perhaps a la Trackmania rather than Halo so you can still aim the gun separately with the mouse.

  41. Dugular says:

    My two pence:

    I still love the design of Half-Life 2, and contrary to some of the comments I’ve been reading here, I actually find the combat to be beautifully complex.

    Not complex in the modern way where you have complicated options to dispatch simple enemies, but in the Half-Life way of having simple options to dispatch enemies in increasingly complicated situations.

    If you only play a small chunk of the beginning of Half-Life 2, you probably will come away not thinking much of the game, and I don’t blame you. It wasn’t paced anywhere near as good as the first Half-Life, but the fights you get into as the game progress are some of the most riveting.

    I’ve never been a big fan of games with overly convoluted combat mechanics, as I feel you spend much more time trying to press the right button rather than simply thinking of taking the right action. Half-Life 2 nails this perfectly BECAUSE it has simple combat mechanics. It then gets you used to different enemy types individually before mixing them together where you have to take everything you’ve learnt previously and naturally make new decisions on the fly.

    One example is when you discover the manhacks (flying sawblade things). They only damage up close so you can pick them off at a distance safely. You then discover the combine soldiers, which are simple enough. Then you discover a higher number of soldiers and quickly realise that you run out of ammunition really quickly, which can be countered with the gravity gun and using objects in the terrain as projectiles. Finally, you encounter combine soldiers and manhacks together, and the moment when you realise that the manhacks can become ammunition for your gravity gun is amazing and completely changes how you view your enemies. A modern game would give you a flashing prompt saying “USE THE MANHACKS AS WEAPONS AGAINST THE SOLDIERS”.

    Half-Life 2 never tells you these things, but by subtly teaching you as you play, it stays quiet and confident that you’ll discover things on your own.

    More games like this please.

    (I’d appreciate any recommendations as well! I thoroughly enjoyed the fire fights in Uncharted 1 and 2 on PS3, as they had a similar mind set to Half-Life where it was less corridor based and more thinking-on-the-fly).

    • po says:

      I think the problem a lot of people had with combat stemmed from them playing it primarily as a shooter, when the only weapons you ever had enough ammunition to keep on using were the pistol, SMG and, at least in some areas, the shotgun. Thing is, only one of those was remotely satisfying to use.

      I must have played through the entire HL2 series at least twice, entirely with a console spawned .357, and regular showers of ammunition boxes. That gun was far more satisfying to use, requiring a better aim to compensate for its long reload.

      None of the guns though came close to the satisfaction of repeatedly slamming a heavy radiator into combine soldiers with the gravity gun.

      If ever HL3 does come about, I hope that doing similar with the added tricks possible by combining the gravity gun with a portal gun, will provide the same level of satisfaction.

    • Premium User Badge

      gritz says:

      This is a very good post.

      And for the record, I think the gunplay isn’t bad at all. Walker is 100% wrong about headshots, they totally drop civil protection in one shot.

  42. Siimon says:

    Just a little note: 2-page articles are subpar to 1-page articles. Please revert to old standard.

    • John Walker says:

      This article is nearly 2000 words long! It’s much tidier this way.

      • LogicalDash says:

        I could understand page breaks if each page took up exactly one screen, so that I didn’t have to scroll at all.

        As it is, when I want to read more of the article, I might have to scroll down, or I might have to click a link, depending on whatever the editor thought made a good break point.

        Pagination does not make the article look any better; the same amount of text is on my screen no matter what you do, so long as the article’s longer than my screen is. It does not make it any easier to read, and indeed makes it slightly harder, as described.

        What’s “tidy” about it, then?

  43. ffordesoon says:

    I’ll never understand the complaints about HL2, nor the people who prefer the first to the second. I liked and continue to like the boat bits. Same with the buggy bits, the antlions, the in-game cutscenes, the guns, the length, the music, and even the squads. It all worked wonderfully for me, as well as any game ever has.

    It’s not perfect, of course; the pacing problems are very real, the physics are clunky at times, the world doesn’t hang together as well as the original’s, Ravenholm is and the silent protagonist angle is jarring given Gordon’s more prominent role in the plot. There are definitely games which have bested it in those areas, and I’d argue that the Portal games and the Episodes are simply better. But HL2 is still pretty uniformly fantastic.

    Also, it doesn’t have HL1’s jumping puzzles, it doesn’t go on too long, and it doesn’t have fucking Xen. Those are all massive improvements on the first game.

  44. Baron Bacon V says:

    While I do understand why this game gets so much flak these days, I can’t help but love it.
    The gunplay is kinda mediocre, and the Gravity Gun is a bit clumsy, but the art design is gorgeous! The mix of European architecture and futuristic scifi imagery is genius! (and the same designer’s work was also great in Dishonored) The characters and writing are quite good, constantly self aware, but never quite reaches the obnoxiousness of (some) Joss Whedon dialogue, with actually likable heroes (and hateable villains).
    The story is deep and subtle, conveying an awesome feeling of merely being a pawn in a much larger and more menacing storyline (which is even more true of HL1).

  45. Serenegoose says:

    Honestly, I’ve finished halflife 2 more than I’ve finished any other game that I’ve ever owned. I couldn’t disagree more with some of the comments. For me, it has the most finely paced combat, enjoyable to explore world, most fun set pieces, great environmental design, just plain /best/ shooter I’ve played. There’s one fight in the whole thing where I think it messes up and that’s the second turret defence in nova prospekt, which is just too much of a grind for fun. I like that nobody’s telling you you can only carry 2 weapons. I like that it gives you just enough health that you can’t actually stand out in the open taking shots like the terminator, but you don’t just sit behind cover and trade shots either. I like the little chatters from overwatch, and I like playing rocket launcher tag with attack helicopters. But mostly, I just love the game. All of it. Even the hovercraft bit, because I must be blessed with some sort of luck, but I never had any trouble controlling it, and got a huge thrill from the whole extended helicopter chase scene. I genuinely cannot think of any FPS that I’ve played where the movement and action and gameplay felt more right to me. I can’t think of anywhere where what it does is done /better/.

  46. tonicer says:

    No wonder it’s good … after all it’s a PC exclusive … they age really well … some need a little help from modders … like Quake1 with the raytraycing engine and high res textures.

    In a world without consoles every game could be as great as HL2 is even 10+ years after it’s release.

    I know some of you guys are consoleplayers but lets look at the facts … what did consoles do for gaming that is good? Nothing!

    The quality (not just the graphical fidelity) of games goes down with every new console.

    A world without consoles would be best for gaming.

  47. Text_Fish says:

    When will page 3 be out?

  48. Premium User Badge

    Oakreef says:

    If you use E to grab a ladder instead of just running into them you latch onto them instead of floating up them and it makes the experience much nicer.

  49. Zallgrin says:

    I’m surprised at all the people saying that HL2 aged badly. Come on, it aged better than 99% of contemporary games!

    Besides, I played it myself only three years ago for the first time. I was blown the fuck away. Seriously. I had finished HL1 at 1am in the morning and decided to dip in shortly into HL2 and man…. I just couldn’t stop squealing at how amazing the world-building and level design is.

    Therefore no, I don’t get the complaints for HL2. It is one of the more unique and cool games I’ve ever played.

    • Smoky_the_Bear says:

      I get the feeling there is a lot of anti-valve sentiment going on. Also a bit of gaming hipster as well. “Everyone thinks HL2 is great but I know better and here’s why……” sort of thing.
      Ofc some games just don’t resonate with people, that’s also a reason. I’ve always though Mario was shit and have no idea why everyone loved it so much and why it became so big.

      • Zallgrin says:

        Yeah, you are probably right. Besides, being a classic does not mean everybody has to like it, but one gotta at least acknowledge that even now HL2 does some things incredibly well. =/

      • Premium User Badge

        Oakreef says:

        I feel the same way regarding Mario, at least the 2D ones. The 3D ones are ok. Don’t really like Super Meat Boy either. Maybe I’ve just played so much Sonic as a kid that I can’t stand platformers that are too different from it.

      • joa says:

        Yeah I think a reaction against what’s perceived as “received wisdom” might have something to do with it, and also a kind of “out with the old, in with the new” mentality that seems to be ever present in gaming.

        Whenever I play Half-Life 2 though (and I replayed it last year) I just find it effortlessly fun and charming. There’s a certain kitsch to the characters and story that I really appreciate — especially in these days where games are self-consciously ‘dark’ and ‘mature’.

  50. Premium User Badge

    particlese says:

    Am I the only one who really liked the airboat section? (Except yes, the controls are horrible, and all vehicles in the game could benefit massively from Trackmania-style soft steering or something. Mouse steering could work, but then you couldn’t look around or aim the gun separately with the mouse.)

    My first time through, the falling chimney crashed right in front of me with perfect timing, and it was amazing. I took a quick pause to marvel and feel awesome after ramping over it. It’s one of my favourite cinematic bits of the game and one of the things which keeps me repeating the start of the game every few years. The second time, I apparently drove so perfectly that I got here too soon and had the chimney land on me, but I still get a kick out of it, cheesy