The game’s been out over two years, but I only managed to get around to buying it a couple of days ago. I’ve been playing it off and on since then, and although I don’t like it as much as the original, it’s been a lot of fun! My observations from a couple of hours of play follow… it’s been out for a while, so please be advised that spoilers are unboxed.
The good :
It has beautiful graphics, even compared to most modern games. Something about the facial animations seemed unrealistic at first, but now that I’ve gotten used to them I don’t notice.
It makes extremely good use of three-dimensional audio. Audio is still underexploited in a lot of games, but HL2 is one of the few games where I feel comfortable relying on the audio to help keep track of what’s going on behind and beside me.
The terrain is varied, and in general extremely fun to walk through. So far (I’ve only just gotten to Highway 17), they’ve done a good job of changing settings before I get too sick of looking at the same stuff. There’re a few obvious exceptions to this rule, such as the fact that every single wrecked boat in the game looks identical (seriously; they could afford to make oodles of wrecked cars, but they only had enough money left over to design one boat?)
The gravity gun rocks the house. Seriously, they could’ve just called it “Half-Life 2: screw around with physics,” and I would’ve been in.
While the controls are pretty tight, Gordon Freeman’s body isn’t. In a game that relies heavily on agility puzzles (climbing/running/jumping/crawling but especially jumping), I think it would’ve been worth it to actually give Freeman a body. In Thief 3, Oblivion, Rainbow Six: Vegas, and a host of other newer games, your body was proportional to the map, and it made the controls feel much tighter. Everybody and everything in HL2, however, seems to be significantly smaller than you are, and it seems as if the whole game takes the old “Gun and amputated hands” approach to player design.
Speaking of which, I thought that the firefights could’ve been a lot more dynamic than they were. The physics engine was out of this world, and there was no shortage of stuff to take cover behind… so why couldn’t Gordon crawl, crane his neck around the corner, hug the surface he was on, or do any number of additional things to keep himself concealed? The game wasn’t built with those tactics in mind, so the actual experience didn’t suffer without them… but I’m so used to the mobility and options afforded to players in most modern tactical shooters, that HL2’s “stand, shoot, run, shoot, crouch, shoot, run” approach seemed kind of limited.
Speaking of running and crouching: what on earth was wrong with hit detection? After a few stints of the game thinking that I’d run into the immobile Barnacle/Roof Alien tentacles when, in fact, I was a good several feet away, I just started shooting the barstards before I got close… the same applies to climbing and jumping, really. The physics are great, but I found precise maneuvering to be hard and extremely unintuitive.
The gravity gun was fun, but I’m having some issues with a lot of the other firearms. With a few notable exceptions they all seem to run together; submachine gun, pulse gun, shotgun, pistol… they’re so generic, after a while I just started randomly selecting one to clear each room with.
Finally, the story seemed like it had been really neat during the design phase, but in the finished product it felt uneven and hastily assembled; the first two hours were extremely engrossing, but nobody ever bothers explaining anything to me! It’s devolved from a gripping narrative to “Oh gee, look! Gordon Freeman, squee! Could you sign this autograph and wait here for about two minutes, so a deus ex machina can whisk me away and send you running for your life before expediency obligates us to expand the plot?” I mean, good god people: Gordon makes a new friend, who I’m guessing is supposed to become his love interest later down the line. She appears to really worry for him when a teleporter accident seperates them and forces him to dodge military and police dudes to meet up with her. They meet up, but oh noes it’s the military! They split up to do their seperate hero stuff, and in parting she goes “Oh, by the way, there’s this place that we never, ever go. You’re gonna have to go through it. Toodles!”. Granted it’s an emergency, and she only has a few seconds to talk… but in retrospect, perhaps a better way to part would’ve been by saying “I’m sending you into a town full of zombies. Find the insane Russian preacher with a shotgun and have him show you out”. Or, I dunno, maybe just “Gordon! Zombies!”. Anyway, I survive the zombies, contact her, and does she apologize for sending me into a town full of the undead without any warning whatsoever? Nope! Does she even mention the zombies? Nope! She just turns on the radio and goes “Bitch, break my dad out of prison! Bye!”.
Anyway, that’s my take on things. I’m really enjoying playing, no matter what my sarcastic take on the game’s problems may be.