Gaming's Defining Moments No.18
Originally this was going to be about Journey.
But given the over-saturation of articles on that game, I've decided to put that to one side. And instead talk about the only other game that's perfect from start to finish: Half-Life 2.
We pick one singular moment in these features that defines a game to us. It's not impossible to extract one or many such moments from Half-Life 2. But the entirety of Valve's game flexes it's muscle and sustains the confident composure of entertainment that knows exactly how incredible it is.
It's credible fiction made incredible through pacing and atmosphere, as the opening crawl through City 17's dystopian nightmare seems more near-future than futuristic fiction. Realistic physics kept us grounded even when we were performing extraordinary feats. The sense of oppression as an escapee hounded by forces unrelenting. Gordon Freeman never an aggressor, never turning into a bad-ass tactician. Silent - but never two-dimensional.
A journey that refused to use cut-scenes or fast travel. To Valve, even the long drives between towns was of interest: and I fully heartedly agree. The sweeping roads eerily silent and foreboding rather than boring treks. A breather between gunfights that gave you an idea of the Combine's reach while simultaneously painting a wider landscape beyond corridors and carefully-designed invisible walls.
That's the strength of Half-Life 2: I'm chewing up word counts talking about empty roads. But they're just as vital as powerful guns, Alyx Vance, Ravenholm and that ending - from start to finish, the game's satisfying on every level.
Does it put a foot wrong? Arguably yes. I can remember the one time I got frustrated in trying to find my way out of the canal in the airboat, the exit not apparent because of a blind corner. Would I have been annoyed at the ending if I hadn't known that Episodes I and II were coming? Perhaps.
But I look over my gaming shelf and see The Orange Box, by far the best compilation package every burnt to game disc and my entry into Valve's workings - and I get that overwhelming sense of positivity. From the night time basketball court scene to the overpowered Anti-Grav assault - fragments of memories wash over me, and each one a belter.
It still looks beautiful too. And you've got to give it to the Source Engine and the game's enduring quality that it can create something that stirs excitement so ardently with just one minute of footage, and spawn something as left field as this.
You can play Half-Life 2 either through Steam on PC or pick up a copy of The Orange Box for PS3 and Xbox 360.
- System:PC, Xbox
- Offline players:1
- Online players:1-32
- Age limit:From 16 years
- Release date:14 November 2003
- Haze PS3
- Salvation PC/Xbox 360
- Call of Juarez PC/Xbox 360
- S.T.A.L.K.E.R.: Shadow of Chernobyl PC
- Half-Life 2: The Black Box PC
- They Multi
- Jurassic Life PC
- Duke Nukem Trilogy Nintendo DS/PSP
- Necrovision PC
- Deer Hunter Tournament PC/Xbox 360
- Resistance: Fall of Man PS3
- The Scourge Project Multi
- Crysis Warhead PC
- Half-Life 2: Episode Two Multi
- The Crossing PC
Xbox One - Microsoft's Presentation
Me and My Spartan - Halo 3
Behind the Legend: Making of Grimrock 2
Interview: The Behemoth's Dan Paladin