For years, people had been talking about how phenomenal Valve’s Half-Life 2 was. I just didn’t understand the appeal of yet another first-person shooter where you fought off an alien invasion. It didn’t help that I didn’t have a PC of my own, and that until the release of The Orange Box, the Half-Life experience was extremely limited on consoles. Fortunately, a few years ago I received The Orange Box, which contained the whole Half-Life 2 story to this point, for Christmas. Then I finally played it the other day. Now I completely get it.
Though Half-Life 2 may not appear to be much more than your standard “man saves world from alien invasion” shooter, Valve includes so much personality and life into the characters it becomes hard not to feel like a part of that world. You play as Gordon Freeman, a theoretical physicist who finds himself on the frontlines of a revolution both by choice and by chance. Getting into the shoes of a slightly-smarter-than-the-average man instead of a running, gunning musclehead is a nice change of pace. That said, as Gordon, you’ll do more than your fair share of running and gunning. For a seemingly feeble scientist, this everyman has got some action hero chops. Gordon is the sci-fi equivalent of Indiana Jones. Both are highly respected professionals in their field, but both also have an innate ability to handle whatever life throws at them. Including aliens.
Primarily, you’ll be fighting alone, but there will be more than a few occasions when you’ll have a partner or two fighting by your side. Unlike most contemporary shooters, these partners actually come in handy, and are very useful in a fight. Everyone you meet is cool, but Alyx Vance is the greatest person alive. Seriously. Unlike most love interests, Alyx is completely fleshed out. She’s got her own agenda, ideas, and abilities. She doesn’t just cater to Gordon’s whims, and is far from a damsel in distress. Not only is she smart, attractive, and completely devoted to the revolution, but she can also hold her own in a gunfight. It’s easy to see why so many fans are eagerly anticipating Half-Life 2: Episode 3. She’s important not just to Gordon, but to the people who’ve spent hours playing the game, hoping to be reunited with the girl of Gordon’s dreams for what seems like forever.
The real selling point of this game though is how emotionally invested you become in it. I play dozens of games every year. There are very few in my lifetime that I can say have resonated with me emotionally on some level. Half-Life 2 definitely makes that list, and it’s because of the game’s incredibly strong characterizations and impactful human moments. Unlike Homefront, which is another video game about a dystopian future where you aid a resistance against an invasion, the downtrodden people of City 17 aren’t just there for shock value. You get a real sense of just how defeated the general population is, and when you finally meet up with some of the members of the resistance, even they’re not 100% sure they’ll be able to pull it off. Neither are you. That’s what makes completing the adventure so great. Even as you’re taking down some of the more advanced enemies towards the end of the game, you’re not really sure if it will be enough to help the human cause. There’s always a bigger threat looming, and with the cliffhanger that Episode 2 ends on, I have a feeling things are only going to get worse for Gordon.
It’s not easy for me to become so enthralled with a game, but Half-Life 2 certainly lived up to the hype of everyone who ever talked to me about the game. There’s just such a quality to every component of the game. Valve can certainly add me to the long list of people awaiting the next installment. I could definitely see myself playing this game again just to be reunited with some of the characters (read: Alyx), but for now I’m content to just reflect upon my time in City 17, and wonder what could possibly happen next.