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.