If you're a fan of shooters, chances are you'll be squirting over the prospect of Halo 2, Killzone and Doom 3. But there's one game that overshadows even these giants: a game so big that every gamer everywhere is desperate to get their hands-on it. It is, of course, the sequel to a legendary blaster that paved the way for the rest, a story-driven epic which again promises to redefine the genre and just about every future action game too.
Dazed And Confused
Shit, even that intro doesn't do this monster game justice. Ever since we saw the demo of Half-Life 2 at last year's E3, we've been busting our nuts to get a go on this baby. And y'know what? After months of probing, we finally got inside developer Valve's studios to be the first IN THE WORLD to play Half-Life 2. And while we were there, we held guns to heads until Valve's genius programmers blabbed about the Xbox version. You will not read this stuff anywhere else, we shit you not.
So there we were, in Valve's HQ in Seattle, with Half-Life 2 running in front of us. "GIVE US A GO!", we screamed, so they did. And y'know, it's every bit as good as you expect. We'll get to that in a second - first let's talk about how the opening mission pans out.
It's quite literally a voyage of discovery, with you exploring an alien-infested European city called City 17. Once again you play Mesa scientist Gordon Freeman, the goggle-eyed nerd from the first Half-Life. But now it's a decade on. Apart from that, you know nothing. What the hell's going on? Why these freaks are running amok? Think it's time you found some answers...
Inside City 17
All around people dressed in white shamble through the city streets, heads bowed and shoulders slouched with a lifelike hunch, clearly terrified by the imposing gas-masked cops who watch their every move. Those stun batons look like they'd hurt, see. Approach these über-Nazis and you're met with tirades of abuse that'd make D-12 wince, plus electric sparks as batons thumb your flesh into a bloody pulp. And because you're unarmed - for the moment, at least - there's nothing you can do about it.
Alien drones flit around the city while in the background giant three-legged war machines stalk menacingly along patrol routes. Each step sends a shudder across the pavement and a shiver down your spine, as their legs move and fold in perfectly formed mechanical movements.
You approach a passing pedestrian to ask where the nearest boozer is - no idea. So you ask directions instead. Her face contorts, individual muscles twitching to betray a level of facial detail that no other game has ever even sniffed at. Man, this baby looks AMAZING. It's, like, the most lifelike game we've ever seen!
But quit gawping and listen up, she's got something to tell you. See, her look is one of fear. "Shhhh, they may hear us," she hisses before marching away. But why is she so afraid? How did these aliens get here? How did WE get here? And what's happened to us during the last ten years?
And that's how Half-Life 2 begins, sucking you from reality and plopping you straight into one of the most believable and beautifully realised virtual worlds ever. It keeps you in a state of confusion, forcing you to desperately search for a familiar face or trigger to make your memory flood back like a burst river in a monsoon.
The Power of Manipulation
But the sedate start won't last long. Hell no. Before you know it, the blasting begins, as we found out in the all-out action second level of our playtest.