iXBT Labs - Computer Hardware in Detail






Half-Life 2

Half-Life 2 Box

Developer: Valve Software
Publisher: Vivendi Universal Games
Genre: First person shooter (FPS)
Official web site: www.half-life2.com

Recommended system requirements:

  • CPU: 2.4 GHz
  • Memory: 512 MB RAM
  • Video card: DirectX 9.0 compatible
  • OS: Windows 98/Me/2000/XP
  • Misc: Internet access required (!)


  • CPU: Pentium 4 2,4 GHz
  • Memory: 1024 MB DDR PC3200
  • Video card: GeForce 6800 Ultra 256 MB
  • OS: Windows XP SP2, DirectX 9c
  • Misc: SB Audigy

They managed to do much, if not everything, in the long run. They could have polished some issues better for these five years, and some basic solutions seem disputable from any point of view. But let's face it — Half-Life 2 is magnificent. What was promised is done, what was desired — incarnated. You are sure not to be disappointed, though you'll hardly be charmed either.

That's the end of our review. We are going to lock ourselves in a Tibetan monastery until Half-Life 3 is released.

Deficit of novelty

Scared? In fact, we have been thinking hard what we can tell you about Half-Life 2 what you don't know yet for yourselves. The game has been licked all over, bitten, and X-rayed so often for the year and a half since the NDA was lifted, that after its long awaited (to say the least!) release, having finished the game for the first time, the author of this article is feeling sort of deceived.


Deceived because actually there nothing to write about. Yep, that's a shooter. Wonderful, isn't it? Yep, Gordon Freeman the MIT graduate is starring. What a surprise! Yep, the game is full of scripted scenes, there is a girl named Alyx and biped adversaries painfully resembling the legendary infantry from the first part. You have seen it all on the screenshots. Physics? Max Payne 2, Painkiller, Doom 3, and everywhere from now on. Besides, video clips with E3 2003. Gravity manipulator (gun? cannon?) will hardly become a revelation to anyone. You can also drive a buggy in Half-Life 2, but you have already done that in the alpha version stolen a year ago.

Several issues were surely left beyond the global hysteria. So, nobody told you that the gameplay in Half-Life 2 has almost nothing new. This unpleasant discovery is up to you. Of course everything's to be blamed upon the release that has been late for a year. We are even ready to believe that; we can say to ourselves: "If it had been released last year on September 30!.." and musingly roll our eyes. Bit it has been released now, after Far Cry, Doom 3, and Painkiller. The result of this couldn't-care-less attitude towards the deadlines is obvious.


Scrupulous insight into the game draws an unconsoling conclusion: the only indisputable novelty is the notorious gravigun, and the majority of really pleasant game moments center around it. Most physical puzzles are based on the ideas of prehistoric The Incredible Machine, often dubious.

But enough of sad things, the other game issues being just marvellous! The game process of the first Half-Life migrated to the second part practically unchanged. We run and shoot while the scenery around us is changing with enviable frequency. Extremely hard levels alternate with easy periods. Unanimously cursed jumpo-psychodelic Xen is exiled for good. This time the main enemies are distant relatives of the American Special Forces, which livestock had been damaged so much by the good old doctor Freeman in far 1998.

I mean it, scripted linear monorail called Half-Life 2 knows no glitches, misfire, or indulgence. Stomp-stomp-stomp, have a chat, stomp-stomp-stomp, fire-fight, stomp-stomp-stomp, have a chat, stomp-stomp-stomp, have a drive, stomp-stomp-stomp...


Impressive. Now you understand where five years of development have gone to. The game was assembled, disassembled, assembled, disassembled, assembled, and disassembled until it was mostly deprived of any pronounced negative moments. All the efforts resulted in a Call of Duty-like game but with a thick chocolate layer, which will inevitably make everybody happy. Even such grumpy old farts like us.

Candidate to a Masterpiece

But still some clumsiness gives us no rest. Let's take the plot, for example. We are warning you right away — there is no such a thing there. Half-Life 2 lacks the plot. Natural genius of the first part is replaced with some silicon synthetics, which provides reliable, provoking no questions scenery for shooting, running about, and motor-boating.

Closer to the middle of the game the "Where am I?" feeling gets unbearable. But the funniest thing is that this very feeling drives you forward in blind hope to get an answer to the question "what's going on" at least in the credits when the game is over, somewhere next to "Gabe Newell". Gentlemen, this is called "phantom motivation". Applaud, they did it.


But we didn't. It's bad when the end of the game makes you feel deceived. And Half-Life 2 deceived us all right. 12 hours of shooting for truth ended in a poorly disguised promise of a sequel. It's a cheap trick, gentlemen.

But put yourself in place of developers from Valve, from whom a miracle (at least) was expected. People even ignored the "sequel law" according to which most sequels are worse than their predecessors. Imagine that press — how could you develop a game better than Half-Life and stay within the confines of the first person shooter genre, long fossilized because of its own restrictions?

But the main problem was not even in the fundamental hopelessness of this move. The main problem was that even Valve hardly understood the true reasons of Half-Life success far back in 1998. The developers only tried not to damage anything while improving the game.

As a result, Half-Life 2 is still the same Half-Life on steroids. All obvious flaws were carefully removed from it. Besides, the game was enhanced with the elements that proved themselves successful in other games, be it computer partners or controllable boats-cars. No, I am not even referring to Far Cry, but to much older games like No One Lives Forever and Star Trek — Voyager: Elite Force.


Valve was so afraid to include something new and unexpected to the game that this game is suffocating without such things. Half-Life 2 feels like a collection of covered with century-old dust cliches edited by talented people. And the main cliche, which makes no bones about its bold secondary nature withal, is the plot.

Social Psychology

Not to produce a wrong impression, we repeat that the game is real good. It just hardly merits all those superlative epithets conferred by some journalists. And finally, there are truly unique moments in Half-Life 2, which you will not come across in other games. These moments are psychological.

Long ago, several years before the announcement of Half-Life 2, a Doug Lombardi spilled the secret that one of the most important tricks in developing the sequel would be an attempt to implant common human emotions to computer characters.

Theoretically, no revolution is needed to do that. It should be enough to truly animate NPC, give them personalities, desires, define people they hold dear, and those who hold dear these characters.

And so Alyx appears in Half-Life 2, a daughter of Eli Vance, whom we had supposedly seen in the very beginning of the first part, in the conversation before the notorious experiment. It's not difficult to guess the relationships between the father and the daughter as well as between the other scientists from Black Mesa and Gordon.


However, all this psychologically sensual plenty looks somewhat incomplete against the frankly schematic plot and rather simple relationships between the characters. Besides, our deaf-and-dumb Gordon Freeman soon starts getting on your nerves, his participation in the relationships between the main characters coming to the role of a self-propelled camera with a gun.

However, despite some negative moments, Half-Life 2 really brings the interaction between computer characters to a qualitatively new level. When you stop feeling indifferent to their fate, one can say that Valve has succeeded to reach its objective: models made of triangles and textures on the screen are living their lives, which extend beyond your presence in this world, being something more than just static scenery.

Actually this is the main secret, the main achievement of Half-Life 2. After the stories of Alyx and her father, doctors Breen and Mossman, you cannot help laughing at blockhead NPC in some Men of Valor, and even the previous favorites from Doom 3 start looking insipid.

Glory Road

Another positive moment of Half-Life 2 is in the succession of missions. From the beginning to the very end you are not allowed a relaxed minute, providing solid in its congenial succession experience. For all this, Half-Life 2 contrives ways of preserving the inner integrity at constant exterior changes (not visual but in the game play).


After deserted houses in City-17 — driving an airboat, creepy mini-Doom 3 in Ravenholm, beach buggy, laying siege to a prison with an army of tamed ant-lions, holding out a territory against attacking Combine soldiers, full-scale war on the streets of City -17 and, at last, the gloomy Citadel. In the course of the entire journey the gameplay remains the same just for a not-boring period. And then it subtly changes, reshuffling the available elements into a completely different form.

I suppose, it gets most apparent in the siege of a prison with a silly name "Nova Prospekt". For two levels you are acting like a character from "Tremors" carefully jumping on hummocks and boxes avoiding stepping on the beach sand, and then you are suddenly running towards your enemies with an army of insects behind you, which had been deadly dangerous to you just a moment before. And now you don't start at every noise, and battalions of Combine soldiers are sailing away into the mist of Styx.

Half-Life 2 is full of such shifts. For example, when the endless buggy ride starts getting on your nerves, you come across a bridge where you can act only on foot. And the mediocre (in our opinion) final Citadel lasts just those 15 minutes we are ready to stand it.

Real Shaders

Engine! That means a lot... Sorry, but this vaunted Source cannot cut the mustard. This game should have been released a year ago, before Far Cry and Doom 3. But today, looking at Half-Life 2, you just don't get it what Valve and ATI representatives were so enthusiastic about. Of course, on the whole, Half-Life 2 graphics are of a much higher quality than in most other games of this year (especially than in those ported from play stations). However, having yielded the right-of-way to the above mentioned couple, Valve made a fool of itself.

An average statistical Half-Life 2 frame demonstrates graphics obviously inadequate to the slowdown. In Far Cry you only need to open your eyes to understand why the engine is slow. In Doom 3 you only need to remember the fundamental differences of the game engine from those in other games. In Half-Life 2...


Half-Life 2 frames painfully lack details too often. For example, squares in Citadel frames can hardly be less than insulting when you are using a video card for $500. When you look at the textures of the coast, rocks, buildings, you sometimes think if the 256 MB of video memory are that necessary today. For all that, practically all surfaces are stained with pixel shaders. Shiny things, shimmering things, some refracting surfaces, gurgling water, etc. In most cases all these effects do not contribute to photorealism, while drastically dropping the performance. The question is: hadn't they better increase the texture details and geometry complexity instead of painting thick animated reflections of the clouds on the dry asphalt? As a result, we have to ascertain that the vaunted Source succeeds best in animating faces of the characters.

By the way, if you are told that Half-Life 2 engine was written from scratch — don't believe it. People familiar with the code of the stolen alpha version unanimously confirm that Source is nothing but a considerably, almost completely reworked GLQuake, used in the first part of the game. It's clear that "from scratch" is out of the question here.

Bottom line

They managed to do much, if not everything, in the long run. They could have polished some issues better for these five years, and some basic solutions seem disputable from any point of view. But let's face it — Half-Life 2 is magnificent. What was promised is done, what was desired — incarnated. You are sure not to be disappointed, though you'll hardly be charmed either.


We have actually started the article with these words. But try to understand us correctly: we were promised a revolution and got only a very good shooter instead. Yes, it's very very good but no revolutionary and actually far from being a masterpiece. They decided not to refine the plot and absolutely deliberately gave up serious attempts to bring something new to the genre (physics is good, but you can hardly call the things "new", when they are all around you every day offscreen).

All in all, play it. Everyone will play Half-Life 2 no matter what we'll write about it. And most probably the majority will like it. For this majority Valve already has certain plans on further development of the second part of the series. Remember how Half-Life was developing? I think I'll be right to assume that there will soon appear additional missions, which will develop the currently curtailed plot. We have so many questions unanswered yet...


  • The highest quality of gameplay!
  • Unique psychological content of the characters.
  • Not outstanding but quite decent technical implementation.
  • Physical puzzles and the gravity gun.


  • Schematic plot.
  • Relatively outdated graphics.
  • Sometimes poor difficulty balance.

Danil Gridasov (degust@ixbt.com)
November 30, 2004

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