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Why is Half-Life 2 SO Genius?

Updated on May 1, 2017

Half-Life 2

Doesn't that look absolutely brilliant?
Doesn't that look absolutely brilliant?

All About Some Detail

Even the title screens are interesting, they change too. I can appreciate a developer paying such close attention to even the smallest of details. Not only is each background image stunning but they are all interesting too. I think it helps for when your game crashes or maybe you forgot to close a background program perhaps, closing and reopening to a fresh image makes it a bit less aggravating (about like the crash system in Burnout making crashes more tolerable). I like the way the backgrounds for the title menu seem to fit where you are in the game too. I wasn’t kidding when I said that the background changes; your progress determines what set of backgrounds gets cycled through.


It isn’t that they gave a bunch of random pictures to enjoy when you start the game, the backgrounds are context sensitive. Whichever point of the game you are at is reflected by the backgrounds chosen for the title menu. Again, they are visually stunning and usually very interesting (to me anyway). It feels like you are looking at a point in the game from an angle you otherwise would not get to see. It is like seeing the outside of a room that a game takes place in (like seeing the outside of the enrichment center from Portal).

The Enrichment Center Parking Lot
The Enrichment Center Parking Lot

Direct continuation

Valve was smart enough to acknowledge a pretty large time gap between the first and second Half-Life games, to me that was fitting because they released the second one a good many years after the first one initially released. If you stick with the story and follow along with what's going on, you'll see that Half-Life 2 is a direct continuation in the eyes of Gordon Freeman. Many games do this and it isn't exactly groundbreaking but it is satisfying, when it's done right. Some games attempt to do this but decide on changes that make it less than what it should have been. One of the things I was thankful to see was that they left Gordon speechless; I don't want them to cast a voice that ruins it for me.

Do you think Gordon is mute or are the developers lazy?

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Hendrix warning the crowd to cover their ears.
Hendrix warning the crowd to cover their ears.

Not only was Gordon still mute and everyone okay with it, the scientists aren't just the 3 scientist models recycled a thousand times, they built story around them directly as characters to gain interest in. There are times where you are heading for one person or another (at one place or another) and get to see the city and a good bit of aftermath from Half-Life. When you first start the game, you get a disturbing introduction to how controlled everyone and everything is, how everything is under military control by our invaders, how depressing everything has become after the first Half-Life.

The Combine keeping it on lockdown.
The Combine keeping it on lockdown.

Let's Hear it for Alyx

I always have to give props to a game for including any kind of character that isn't another white guy and Half-Life 2 does that (Half-Life did that with one of the scientists too). We have a very well respected scientist named Eli Vance (not a white guy) and his daughter Alyx Vance. Alyx is who I am focusing on more because she breaks two concepts by being not male and not white. The game has you start with an extremely brief train ride in. You make your way through a small part of the city and eventually run into Barney (Black Mesa security guard from HL1) who sets you on the path to Dr. Kleiner (another scientist from HL1). As you near Dr. Kleiner's lab (whether you know it or not) you end up surrounded by several dudes with what looks like shock-batons. You have no escape, they get you from all angles and you are pummeled near unconscious.

Alyx saving your sorry butt in Half-Life 2.
Alyx saving your sorry butt in Half-Life 2.

Alyx comes in and you hear a dramatic struggle. You can hear one guy go down, he screams and thuds to the floor. Another scream and a crash of glass, “No you don't!”, she says. Next 2 guards go down together and scream in unison. The next thing you know, you are being helped to your feet by a badass brown-skinned female, “Gordon Freeman I presume”. She shows you to the lab and the game is on, it's time to Half-Life.

Ouch.
Ouch.

I wonder if it is still an anomaly, if it happens again

Just about as soon as you get settled in the lab, the enemy's presence is discovered. You are told that you'll be teleporting to Dr. Vance's lab from a teleporter that Dr. Kleiner has setup, something about this sounds a little sketchy. With Gordon's expertise in button pressing and switch throwing, Alyx is successfully transported to Dr. Vance's lab; proving the stable function of the teleporter. Next is your turn to teleport to Dr. Vance's lab so you step in to the teleporter, the good doctor gets everything fired up and it is time to bounce. Something to know here, Dr Kleiner (for whatever stupid reason) has a pet headcrab. Shortly after you arrive to his lab, Dr. Kleiner's headcrab took off scared into the a/c ducts.

Grand Half-Life failure
Grand Half-Life failure

The teleporter is running and just as you are about to be sent through, that fakken pet headcrab jumps out of a nearby a/c duct and straight into the teleporter, completely ruining your ride. You get sent all over hell, from this lab to that one and back, then up to the office of a man named Dr. Breen and back. At one point, you are teleported to a point under water (made me freak out the first time) with a horrible irradiated-shark looking thing coming at you mouth open and larger than life. Eventually you are teleported to a point just outside of Kleiner's lab and after they shut the machine down you are free again. Does any of that sound familiar?

The Unmanageable Air-Boat

This thing was too much fun. Some people hated it (it was weird to control) and some people seemed to have no problem with it. I hated it at first but eventually got used to it, I actually like it now even if it is unrealistic. Basically, you need to get to Dr. Vance's lab, which is where everyone is at. In order to get to everyone, you have to climb aboard the air-boat and cover some pretty nasty looking irradiated ass water. The air-boat section of the game does get pretty tough but it is a welcomed break from all of the headcrab nonsense you go through to get to it. Besides, they give you plenty of ramps and big air opportunity with the air-boat.

You're good to go, Freeman.
You're good to go, Freeman.

To keep it interesting, once you get past an obstacle or two, you end up with a ruthless helicopter on your ass. You have a bit of a maze to navigate and you're being fired at quite a bit. You are defenseless and the setting is tense, the only option you have is to dodge. You do get to a point where you find a small hideout, where you get hooked up with a gun like the one on the chopper that's after you. This is where the air-boat gets tricky for me, you get the usual WASD for movement but then your mouse is your aim. Even if the controls are no problem, you still have to deal with the physics of sliding around on the water. It doesn't matter, you get a pretty rewarding (to me at least) and satisfying ground to air boss fight.

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