Few games can have been as eagerly anticipated as Half Life 2. The sequel to the groundbreaking FPS from Valve finally arrived 14 months late and the recriminations are still ongoing.
I completed HL2 last night, so now feel ready to review it. I'm glad I waited till the end to write this as the end really is a curious thing that may well swing peoples opinions of the overall game.
As in the original, HL2 has some stunning gameplay. The tried and tested formula of slowly building your experience up with the various weapons available is carried off to nice effect, but as always I found myself sticking to my favourites for most situations.
Where HL2 really stands out is in its expansive environment. As with the original and it's never-ending mazes of corridors, air ducts and railways, HL2 really immerses you in a world that is both complex and mesmerising. Where this game improves on it's original is that you are not trapped indoors for the majority of the game. While this was a benefit in the original, the fact that you are able to travel along the roads, rivers and rooftops of City 17 make for some stunning visuals in the sequel. When you do go indoors, HL2 loses none of it's charm. From crumbling prisons to cramped basements, the indoor levels are fantastic.
Again, the enemy AI is nice with soldiers ducking out of site and vehicles shooting down your rockets. Unfortunately, this is let down by the lack of AI in your canon fodder soldiers that come to aid you later in the game. At times it seems like there is an endless stream of footsoldiers at your disposal. They run into the street; they fail to duck for cover; they die; more soldiers appear to help. It's a little monotonous and would have been better if the soldiers helping you actually bothered to act like real soldiers.
The introduction of vehicles is a fun diversion in between the real action moments of the game, with the hoverboat providing one of the most exciting sequences in the early chapters.
Of the other additions, the one the stands out the most is the gravity gun. This weapon really does allow you to interact with the environment in a way that had not been possible before. It also comes in mightily handy when low on ammunition. In the final stages of the game, the gravity gun is transformed into an uber-weapon, which is no end of fun... allowing you to pick up soldiers and fling them at their comrades killing all before you.
In the end though, it's these latter stages that prove the most disappointing. After 12 chapters of stunning action and remarkable gameplay you arrive at the Citadel; the central base of City 17. In Chapter 12 ("Follow Freeman") you'll have taken on almost an entire army of troops, destroyed several striders and traversed the ruins of the city. So by now you'll be expecting something special, right?
The final two chapters of Half Life 2 are a major letdown. With the exception of getting the upgraded gravity gun as your sole weapon, the levels offer no major challenges. In total, it took me about 30 minutes to get through both levels and into the final face off, and half of this was comprised of cut-scenes where you are have no control of anything. The final confrontation took me two attempts and about 2 minutes to get through.
After the excitement of the previous levels it was a bitter pill to swallow.
In summary, this is an amazing game, let down by a truly dire final two chapters. HL2 is a lot shorter than the original in my opinion, which is a real shame as I feel those final chapters could have been extended a long way if only the effort had been put in. Nevertheless, I am looking forward to starting a new game on 'hard'. There is enough excitement and gameplay in the first 12 chapters to keep me happy. I'll just have to block out the end.