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July 09, 2014

Half-Life 2 Full Review


Hail to the King, baby...

Reviewed By: Kyle van Rensburg

Verdict: Caution Advised (For Strong Gory Violence and Moderate Horror.)

Release Date: November 2004

Developer/Publisher: Valve

Platforms: Windows, Xbox, Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, OS X, Linux.

Genre: First-Person Shooter



Areas of Concern:

Violence:

Mild Moderate Heavy Very Heavy Extreme Offensive

--Several people are shot during the course of the game; red and yellow blood squibs are seen, splattering over the environment, staining the enemy's clothes and cries of pain are heard. A race of alien creatures, Antlions, explode into chunks of flesh and goo with a "SPLAT" sound when killed.

-Players can use a crowbar to bludgeon enemies, blood bursts shown and cries of pain heard.

-Players can use vehicles to run over enemies, resulting in the enemies being flung across the environment with a rather amusing thud sound and a cry of pain. 

--Players encounter zombies, which are grotesque creatures which have their torsos torn open, exposing ribs, lungs and the like, and their clothes are soaked in blood as they moan in pain. Players can set them on fire, high pitched screaming being heard as they cry out in pain.

-They can also be cut in half, with a blood burst and the severed body parts dropped to the ground. Sometimes, the dismembered torso crawls after your character. The Fast zombies are almost skeletal, with bones and pink flesh showing through, their bare faces visible with the skull and everything.

--We see several environments stained with large amounts of blood, especially in areas which feature zombies. We also see several burnt and charred corpses, which are depicted in graphic detail with their bodies thin, black, and their teeth sticking out in an eerie fashion.

-Some of the environments which feature zombies show stray limbs and torsos lying in the environment. The town of Ravenholm is stained in lots of blood inside houses, on streets, etc.

--In one short sequence, a Headcrab (an alien creature which pounces on the heads of people) jumps on a screaming man's head, the man struggles and falls over, a puddle of blood splattering beneath his head. 

--Players can use a "Gravity Gun" to manipulate the physics of objects and throw them at enemies, resulting in splatters of blood and the bodies of enemies recoiling against thrown objects. Later on, players can zap enemies with an upgraded version, resulting in them convulsing and dissolving into ashes.

--Explosive projectiles, barrels and grenades can be lobbed at enemies, with explosions knocking them back and sending them flying. You can also shoot orbs at enemies, which causes them to dissolve into ashes.

-There are several sequences where parts of the environment are blown up, wreckage and explosions shown.

--One of the player deaths you can suffer is falling from a huge height with a sickening "CRACK" being heard when you hit the ground.

Context of Violence: Shock Value, Atmospheric (The violence depicted and caused by the player is clearly done for shock value. However, it's also shown in a "casual" fashion, showing the violence to just be part of life in this world. The corpses and bloody environments add to the grim atmosphere of the game's world.)

Sex/Nudity:

Mild Moderate Heavy Very Heavy Extreme Offensive

--A man talks about a suppressed "reproductive cycle", a man jokingly mentions that when a war is over, he's going "mate", a man calls an alien crab a "head-humper", and it's implied that two characters develop feelings for each other during the course of the game.

Context of Sex/Nudity: References Only, Atmospheric

Language:

Mild Moderate Heavy Very Heavy Extreme Offensive

Uses of S**t, B**ch, B**t**d, C**p, H**l, D**n and a partial use of F**k.

--God's name is used in vain.

Context of Language: Grittiness, Comedy (Most of the language adds to the gritty nature of the game. The partial F-word is used in a comedic fashion.)

Spiritual Content: 

Mild Moderate Heavy Very Heavy Extreme Offensive

--A character in the game is a Catholic priest who lost his mind in the apocalypse, he rattles on about salvation, his flock, congregation and quotes from the Bible (how accurately is debatable) at certain points.

Context of Spiritual Content: References Only

Drugs/Alcohol/Smoking:

Mild Moderate Heavy Very Heavy Extreme Offensive

--We see several beer bottles littering environments. In one scene, a man speaks groggily whilst sitting in front of an empty beer bottle.

Context of Drugs/Alcohol/Tobacco Usage: Atmospheric

Gross Stuff/Gore:

--One of the alien creatures you face is a grotesque ceiling creature which swallows a crow on it's first appearance. It spits out bones and yellow fluids when killed.

Scary Stuff:

--The sixth chapter, set in Ravenholm, is notable for it's scary and dark nature, with Zombies coming at you from many different directions in the dark.

-The Zombies themselves are pretty scary, who growl and whimper with pain. The Fast zombies scream and are likely to terrify gamers.

--The whole of the game contains some dark elements, such as a jump scare with an unplugged TV (most of you may miss it, but it's there), the town of Ravenhold as mentioned above and the overall grim nature of the world where the game takes place in.

It's not MORBIDLY dark, but the game's unsettling nature may be too much for teenage gamers. The game doesn't have any scare chords and let's the atmosphere speak for itself. 

Which, at the end of the day, makes it even more unsettling when you're going through an abandoned building and come across a poisonous zombie hiding in one room, waiting for an unsuspecting victim to lay it's beastly hands on.

Morality:

Abysmal Bad So-so Okay Good Very Good

Gordon Freeman (The protagonist and player character) is shown to be morally upright and leads an uprising against a tyrannical alien empire treading upon mankind.

-The types of creature/people killed by the player, whether directly or indirectly, are human "Civil Protection" units who oppress innocent citizens, various kinds of aliens who only seek to harm the player and transhuman enemies who lack free will.

Allied humans and aliens are killed by the aforementioned enemies. The player cannot kill his allies, though he has the option of standing by and watching as mission critical characters are killed. (This always results in a "game over" screen, however.)

Morality Type: Black and White
 
Review of Game:

--The Usual and the Unusual: At it's core, Half-Life 2 is just another shooter game with the, ahem, usual shooter mechanics, point and click to aim and fire, inventory slots, reload after X amount of bullets are fired, etc.

Where the game really shines is the subversion of the shooter genre, with many sections where gunplay serves absolutely no purpose and players have to manipulate physics in order to solve environmental puzzles to move up in levels.

These puzzles are often straightforward, with bricks being placed on the one side of a seesaw type contraption to allow the player to jump over onto a walkway, using barrels underwater to lift a ramp for a speedboat to pass over, and so on.

Later on in the game, players acquire a weapon which broke new ground back at the time of it's release: The Gravity Gun. This gun can be used to pick up objects and solve puzzles in even more mind-bending ways.

--The Harbingers of the Apocalypse: Okay, maybe too fancy a title for the enemies of Half-Life 2, but there's plenty of variety to be found here. You won't be forgetting these beauties anytime soon...

-The Combine: While the first Half-Life had military grunts, this one has more Orwellian security guards and soldiers in comparison. You'll fight several kinds of humans, all of which wear masks to cover up their, ahem, humanity.

-The Antlions: The brainless of the alien race, these fierce warriors give their everything to the fight, even going so far as to charge headfirst into your car to bring you down...

...Which makes them end up like all those mosquitoes on your windscreen.

-The Zombies (And Co): The unholy result of a strange coupling between the grotesque headcrabs (arachnophobes beware!) and human beings, these midnight creepers are half-alive...and very deadly. You may want to do these poor chaps a favour and give them one to the brain to end their misery.

--Them (Somewhat Aged) Graphics: While the art style is unforgettable with it's combination of realistic and dark, brooding sci-fi, the graphics have started to show their age somewhat. The textures aren't as crisp anymore and the animations lack the fluidity of today's games.

That's not to say the graphics look bad. On the contrary, I finished the game the day before writing this section of the review and I had to admire just how finely crafted this game was in every single detail. Oh, and the bridge sequence? Still gives me chills...

--Incomplete Story Arc: The biggest issue I have with the game. While it crafts an unforgettable world with unforgettable world with unforgettable characters, the main story of Half-Life 2 fails to bring closure to the aforementioned.

Because of Gordon's silent nature, the main character storyline is left incomplete. While some may argue that the way the game directs you fulfills this part of the story, there's nothing here that gives Gordon here any depth.

The constrains of the FPS genre can be worked around to create a three dimensional story. That's a fact, and I don't care what you say. It CAN be done. However, when you play it like this with a silent protagonist, it won't work. Mark my words, it won't.

Also, Alyx is hardly even in this game when you stop and think about it. She's such a memorable character and you hardly ever see her! Good gosh, you know how special a creation she is when she was my first crush!

...Moving on...

--Overrated: In spite of how much I love this game (Okay, okay, and love Alyx), the haters have a very good point. This game is overrated. And with good reason. It did innovate a lot and certainly broke new ground, but it's not perfect.

No game is perfect, mind you, but the story falls flat at times and feels somewhat incomplete. The game also feels very emotionless at times and while it does add to the post-apocalyptic feel, it also makes it feel very....soulless.

Thankfully, the sequel episodes did a good job of rectifying this with more character interaction and such, but the fact of the matter still stands. The game is very close to being a masterpiece, but it just doesn't reach that level just yet.

Maybe the long awaited Half-Life 3 will, but as for this one? It's amazing, it deserves the praise, and has a well-deserved legacy. But a masterpiece? Not quite.  

Quality Verdict: Amazing (A)

Almost fully deserving of the praise it received over the years, Half-Life 2 remains a modern classic and set the bar for years to come. 

Conclusion:




I have to say, depicting the violence in a non-melodramatic fashion makes it that much more impactful. While the game's not as gory as modern games, the indifference with which it treats said gore makes it far worse in humble opinion. Maybe it's just me. Oh well. 

In other news, if you're sensitive to gore/scared easily (easily, as in, you're too afraid to even hear a ghost story) you may want to avoid this game. Which I strongly advised against, because this fella set the bar for all following Shooter Plus games to come.

Yes, Shooter Plus. In case you're confused (which is the norm when you're talking to me), Shooter Plus is a phrase I made up to denote Shooter games with other elements such as physics manipulation and the like from a First Person perspective. Not necessarily Puzzle games like Portal, but with elements that almost go there, but not quite. 

Just make a hipster term if you're still confused, okay!?

Also, is it just me or is the lack of strong language an upside and odd downside at the same time? Like, why does nobody seem THAT depressed about the world going to heck? 

Adding to that, nobody's forming weird cults or religions to even reestablish some sense of order to the chaos. What's going on here? And then there's the suppression field which removes your desire/ability to reproduce---you know what? Never mind. I figured it out.

The Preacher: What? You afraid of the "deed", little man?

Trent: David...

The Preacher: Okay, okay, I'm moving on. Sheesh. So, what can I say that hasn't been said already? This game has a LOT of gore, yet nobody seems to care that much. Maybe because it's not as overly sensational like the games following in it's legacy?

Trent: I did recoil at a lot of the gore in this game, but I have to agree. Half-Life 2 is not as lip-licking in it's displays of killings like other games. That's not to say that it doesn't have it's gruesome moments. Please tell me you didn't once raise an eyebrow at ONE sequence featuring the Zombies...

Verdict: 16+




For Strong Gory Violence and Moderate Horror Themes

Outro: And just like that, one of my wishes from the blog's inception has been fulfilled. The ushering in of the modern age of gaming can trace it's roots back to this highly innovative title. With pride and a cigar.

Okay, not a REAL cigar. An imaginary one which doesn't cause cancer. Yep.

Now for my next wish: I'm going to be reviewing Half-Life 2: Episodes One & Two in the near future. In my humble opinion, those two titles improved on the full game and really satisfied me where the main game left me hungry. Coming soon!

What did you think of Half-Life 2? Overrated or not? Deserving of it's legacy?

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