Minimum System Configuration

1.2 GHz Processor 256MB RAM DirectX 7 capable graphics card Windows 2000/XP/ME/98 Mouse Keyboard Internet Connection

Preferred System Configuration

2.4 GHz Processor 512MB RAM DirectX 9 capable graphics card Windows 2000/XP/ME/98 Mouse Keyboard Internet Connection

After years of waiting, the loyal Valve fans\' dreams have finally come true. Despite the agonizing delays, the insidious but ingenious beta leak, and the Valve-VU legal disputes, the beast has awoken. Be afraid, Halo 2, be very afraid. One of the major fears, as with all well-known titles (especially this year), was that it would not live up to the hype. After the disappointments of Halo 2 and Doom 3, my heart was warmed, and my faith in games revitalized when I entered the first chapter of Half-Life 2. The environment was alive.

People walked about, actually going somewhere (as opposed to games such as Deus Ex where the cities were populated with individuals that apparently thought sitting in the same chair of the same bar for hours on end and staring blankly into space was a good idea), the air filled with sounds of combine radio chatter, Dr. Breen\'s constant stream of propaganda, and wind howling through the roof of the train station, and objects fell over and bumped each other in a realistic manner (as opposed to the physics of games such as Doom 3, where everything seemed to be made of a futuristic rubber that repulsed everything it touched). The very air felt breathable; never before did I experience such beautiful realism in a game. Before we go on, I hereby assure you I will not provide any spoilers to the game beyond what you could view in the videos released by Valve or gather from the game\'s bio. In fact a large amount of what you see in the binks didn\'t make the final cut, so prepared.


After being in limbo for 10 years, Gordon Freeman is awakened by the mysterious G-man and dropped into an eastern European city nicknamed ?City-17?. It seems the world has been taken over by a race of extra-dimensional aliens known to humans as the Combine. Your role in the human rebellion is that of a messiah, the last bastion of hope against complete subversion of the human race. The plot becomes more twisted and desperate as time goes on, as the remaining vestige of resistance struggle to find a way to free themselves from the bondage of the Combine and their human puppet leader, Dr. Breen. As for the rest of the story, Half-Life 2 does an excellent job. Not everyone liked the ending, but overall plot provides a great impetus to continue playing the game. You constantly meet up with allies who provide direction, supplies, and support, so you never feel lost or abandoned.

Game play

The game play changes many old concepts from Half-Life, while introducing some new exciting ones. Most of the weapons made it back, repolished and somewhat modified. In fact there are very few new weapons; most of the new stuff is related to the new gameplay concepts. The movement speed in Half-Life 2 is slower and more realistic than that of the original, but there is a sprint option which draws energy off a rechargeable power source. Breathing underwater lasts longer but also uses the battery, as well as the flashlight. Another new game play element is the vehicles. Yes, this isn\'t really new to the industry, but I\'ve never seen vehicles used so well in a single-player game (even Halo). They are responsive, fairly easy to control, and great fun.

The vehicle levels seem to be made perfectly; the large landscapes have many optional pit stops and many challenges and puzzles spicing up what would be monotonous driving in most games. You can command squads of human resistance later in the game. The humans aren\'t the smartest, but can help when the going gets tough. They have some nifty abilities, such as giving you ammo when you\'re running low, they can pick up better weapons if they stumble across them, can jump and move most places you can, and the medic rebels can heal you and the others. One note about the NPCs; many critics complained that the allies tended to get in your way in tight areas, I never had this problem. A little push and they quickly stepped aside.

As Gabe Newell stated in one of the E3 demonstrations, not all allies in game are human. You can command a race of Starship Trooper-like aliens with pheromones. I won\'t go into this too much to keep from ruining it for you, but I\'ll just say it\'s really really cool. The physics, as to be expected, are the best so far. The thing that surprised me was how much it was a part of the game, everything is rendered with physics, from cars to wooden bridges to pieces of scrapwood. You can pick up and throw smaller items, but the real fun comes with the famous Gravity Gun, commonly known as the manipulator. It allows one to pick up and hold up large objects as a shield, then launch them at a very high velocity...a deadly weapon.

Thus just about anything not tied down is a potential weapon, and Half-Life 2 is replete with objects just waiting to be smacked into your enemies faces. One last concept that I couldn\'t tell if it was a bad thing or not, is the ammo/enemy health equivalency. In Half-Life, enemies were tough to kill, and you could carry large amounts of ammunition. In Half-Life 2, the focus seems to be more on lots of low-hp enemies, and limited ammo capacity. This might annoy the die-hard Half-Life fans, but it was still an interesting idea; even on hard it was fairly easy to dispose of most enemies (barring the ones requiring heavy firepower).


The eye candy is beautiful. Every aspect of the graphics is delicately and painstakingly crafted, many of them are more a work of art than a game. Some scenes inspired me as much as the real world. The shaders and effects were on level with the industry. The models are very very well done-not photo realistic-but definitely the best so far. The texturing is sometimes low-resolution, but this may be to help the framerate. Incidentally, the framerate is quite high; even on my 9600 pro it ran at 40-50 FPS. There\'s a set of custom drivers out there made specifically for the Source engine, I suggest you try it if you\'re getting low framerates.

The NPCs\' faces and body language are simply amazing. The characters, from the close friends and co-protagonists, to the citizens and rebels you, meet, fight alongside, and yet never see again, all act like real people. You can look into their eyes and see their emotion-from cold fear to exhilaration in a firefight- and the rest of their body follows suit. Unfortunately, one part of the graphics is severely lacking. The shadowing effects aren\'t very good, many shadow bugs can be seen throughout the game. Given the beauty of the rest of the game, this small bug can be easily looked over, but it can be a severe problem in multiplayer, where the shadows sometimes will betray your location (this can be dire in Counter-Strike: Source).

Sound & Music

The ambient sound is one thing I love, everything from the Combine radio, to the airboat hitting the water is well done. The Source engine, like its predecessor, has an excellent doppler simulation, which means echo and reverb is applied to every corner of the game. The rest of the game\'s sounds are on par, some of the guns sound kind of wimpy, but that\'s to be expected in a Half-Life game. The voice-acting is superb, which goes very nicely with the incredible character animation. The music disappointed me slightly. It borrowed a lot of tracks from the original game, and the new ones where very short. They weren\'t bad, but I expected more from such a epic game. The music style is mostly electronica/rave/techno, with a little industrial thrown in.


Now for the criticisms. There are a few things in Half-Life 2, not mentioning the shadowing, that stole from the rest of the game\'s perfection. The artificial intelligence (AI) wasn\'t thoroughly impressive. The higher-ranking Combine will tend to hide behind objects, but the lesser Combine and aliens will mostly charge you blindly, even on higher difficulty levels. Steam, the distribution system for all Valve\'s games, has received praise as a great answer to the problems of patching and publisher greed, but also with anger at the unreliability and numerous difficulties some users have had. Even though Half-Life 2 is a single-player game, you MUST have an internet connection to register it on Steam. This is probably to prevent piracy, but poses a problem to those with no internet connection. So be warned, no internet, no Half-Life 2.

As stated above, Steam is not the most stable piece of software around, and many users have had to fight to get the game to run, especially when using the store-bought copy. The nice thing about using Steam is its built in server and friend system for multi-player games and mods. You can also purchase any Valve game and download it online, no going out to buy it from the store. I opted for this and got Half-Life 2 completely online. It worked fine for the most part; just don\'t quit Steam or shut off the computer when it\'s downloading or you might be stuck with corrupt files and have to re-download a lot of stuff.


In terms of objectional content, there is a little to be aware of. This is of course a first person shooter, so if you are against fighting and killing, obviously you\'re in the wrong department. There is gore, particularly related to the alien race known as headcrabs (small face-hugger like creatures which latch on one\'s head and control the host, turning them into zombies). You can cut zombies in half, burn them (eliciting gut-wrenching screams). There is a fair amount of ?scenery gore?, such as burnt, mangled, and hanging corpses. The characters do swear, just about every major word is used except the f-bomb (which is amusingly hinted at in one part of the dialogue). Apart from that the game is quite clean, no sexual innuendos (except for Dr. Breen ranting about reproduction and human instinct in an early part of the game). Beware of the M rating, I certainly wouldn\'t give this game to preteens.


All in all, Half-Life 2 has proved to be a game of great worth, capable of beating all its competitors with a great story, excellent gameplay, amazing graphics, and most of all, a stable engine for which many free mods will be created in the near future.

About the Author

Cheryl Gress

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Christ Centered Gamer looks at video games from two view points. We analyze games on a secular level which will break down a game based on its graphics, sound, stability and overall gaming experience. If you’re concerned about the family friendliness of a game, we have a separate moral score which looks at violence, language, sexual content, occult references and other ethical issues.

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