Saturday, November 19, 2005

Half-Life 2 (Xbox) Impressions

As many of you know, Half-Life 2 is considered by many to be the PC game of the year for 2004. It's been heralded as a beautiful, realistic, story-driven FPS, and as of last Tuesday the Xbox port that Valve Software has been working on for some time finally shipped to retailers.

I picked up my copy of Half-Life 2 Wednesday night, and I'm presently at the beginning of the 6th Chapter (of 14), which is actually a Chapter I played in the PC Demo; "We Don't go to Ravenholm."

First off let me say that Half-Life 2 is overall the best looking Xbox title I've ever played. The screenshots simply do not do the game justice, as they look so rich and vivid in motion, and I'm only playing on a 20 inch, flat CRT at 480i. I've noticed a good bit of texture pop-in during actual gameplay, and unlike Halo 2, there are plenty of load times in the levels, however this doesn't change the fact that the game is simply beautiful to behold.

The character models, though low in detail (save for key characters like Barney), have the most life-like facial expressions ever seen in a video game, and the textures and environments are rich and detailed. Though lacking the detailed lighting found in Doom 3, the Source Engine is capable of creating beautiful outdoor environments as well as good indoor areas, whereas we really only saw great indoor sections for Doom 3.

Half-Life 2 also employs the best use of a physics engine that I've ever seen. Most everything reacts just as it would in the real world. Glass windows crack and small pieces shatter where bullets fly through, wood planks splinter and fall apart when smashed, and objects bob up and down and move with appropriate motion through water. Wonderfully fun stuff.

The sound mix, however, is not as lovely. Voice acting is very strong, but the music really blows. In fact, I believe all the music I've heard thus far is a complete re-hash, not even re-mixed tracks, from Half-Life. The sound effects are also so-so. The weapons and ambient sounds sound great, but there are too many re-used effects from the first game that haven't been touched up.

I also find that, though the game has the same great presentation found in its ground-breaking predecessor, the story is severely lacking. Granted, Half-Life only had an average story (it's The Ultimate Doom's story with aliens instead of demons), it was the presentation that pulled it through and allowed the player to be so immersed. Half-Life 2's story seems to have no sense of itself what-so-ever, and thus the levels have no substance to them. There were many unanswered questions left over from the first game, and thus far nothing has been answered while more questions have been put forward.

Save for the fun and innovative Gravity Gun, all the weapons I've gotten to use are a rehash of the original game's, lending itself to a much too strong sense of repetition The predominant enemy in the first levels of the game, the Combine Soldier, doesn't have AI up to par with the Elites from the Halo series, or even those of the Soldiers from Half-Life, leading to very basic and bland battles, save where you can have fun with the great physics engine.

The controls for Gordon are handling well so far, though I find aiming to be a little sluggish, though it's something you can get used to in a few minutes. Star Wars: Republic Commando had the same issue, but strangely the Halo and Doom 3 series did not, leaving me to believe the problem is with the game design and not the controller. I did encounter some very annoying collision detection, especially early on, where I'd be constantly bumping into and sometimes getting momentarily stuck on door frames as I was walking through them. This was an annoyance, but a minor one.

The game features a few different vehicles, and the first one you encounter is an Air Boat. I can see how the controls for movement and turning would work with a keyboard, but how they've ported over to a controller is awful. The Air Boat does not handle well, and turning is a pain in the ass. Thankfully, this rather lengthy vehicle sequence is no where near the complexity of the Halo 2 vehicle sections, and not much finesse is needed in its handling.

Overall, my initial impressions of the game are positive, though I do have some apprehensions. The game is beautiful and has some nice design, but it seems to be lacking a good bit of substance. While the quality of the fire fights and character interactions have picked up as I've made my way further into the game, it is taking a long while to do so, and this may hurt replay value. I also have yet to see a great deal of versatility in which I'd be able to approach various situations, unlike Halo 2, which is another aspect that may hurt replay value.

I'm still not even half way though, so I'll wait until I complete the game to pass final judgement. Look for my in-depth review as soon as I win the game, hopefully in a week or so.


Anonymous said...

You only fought Combine Metrocops, not Soldiers. You haven't dealt with the true enemy A.I. yet. You'll see... ;)

Anonymous said...

You're completely wrong about the HL2 story. A lot is explained in the game, and if you actually pay attention to your surroundings you would know exactly whats going on.

Juxtapose said...

I do pay attention to what's going on. I listen to ever radio announcement, watch every broadcast, try and talk with every character, etc. There still is a lot that hasn't been explained yet:

Why were the aliens of Xen invading Earth? What was Nihilianth and who were Race X and what was their relation to everything? How did Barney get your crowbar when you had it with you at the end of Half-Life? What's the relation to the Combine and the Head Crabs? The Vortigons (Alien Slaves)? What happened to the other Xen races?

The basics of Half-Life 2's story is simple to understand: Generally what the Combine is and what they're doing, why a resistance has formed and what they hope to achieve, etc. Yet thus far it's all been very basic with little substance, and I'm hoping things will improve.

A good sequal will answer or at least explain much of what was left in question from its predecessor while either expanding those concepts or engaging new ones.

I'm not the only one to criticize Half-Life 2's story. Many of the reviews for the PC version last year did that same, and ActionTrip is still doing so to this day.

Anonymous said...

The Xen are invading because of the explosion at black mesa in half-life 1.

The Combine controlled the Xen to use as slaves. The headcrabs are used the same way, they stuff them in canisters and launch them to towns where citizens are resisting. The story isnt that confusing, you havent listened to it correctly.

Juxtapose said...

You misunderstand: Obviously the forces of Xen are invading Black Mesa after the accident that Gordon caused, but throughout all of Half-Life it never mentioned why, they were just a hostile force and in the context of the game this worked.

However I'm presently half way through its sequal and there has been no explaination or elaboration what-so-ever. The reasons and motives of the first game are still not being stated.

I'm hoping this will change by game's end, however I have it on good authority that it will not.

Anonymous said...

AFTER you finished the game, and if you still didn't pay attention and still are completely clueless, read this:

Juxtapose said...

Thank you for the link, anonymous. I will check it out after I complete Half-Life 2.

zapbythunder said...

Actually. Source engine lighting is superior to Doom3's - especially with the release of HDR in Lost Coast, it's the SHADING that needs work ;)

Personally, I think that the xbox port for Half-Life 2 could've waited till the 360, if Valve implimented HDR into the game for the xbox 360 ( should be able to run on the ATI r550 chip ) the game would dominate even the long-anticipated Halo 3.

Anonymous said...

Well, for the crowbar thing, anyone with half a brain would understand that either:
-Barney said it was Gordon's crowbar as a joke, knowing he used it a lot in BMRF.
-The Gman took it at the end of HL2, thus, maybe he gave it back to barney to have him give it to Gordon. We DO know gman had some contact with the resitance.
Kleiner and Alix seemed to be waiting for gordon, wich makes it possible they had contact with the Gman.

Juxtapose said...

However you don't know for sure, you're simply guessing and assuming.

How do you know it's a joke? How do you know that isn't the same crowbar? Looks the same as the one from Half-Life.

Obviously I arrived at that same assumption, but assumptions aren't facts.