Pinch yourself, it's not a dream. The words you thought you might never hear have finally been uttered. "Rise and shine
Mr Freeman. Your time has come again." It means this: the most anticipated game in the history of the universe, six years in the making, delayed for over 12 months, is now complete. Gordon Freeman is back in action. The G-Man has spoken. And let me be the first to tell you (sharp intake of breath...) - it was worth the wait.
I must admit, the doubts had started to creep in. Why all the delays? Is the game not good enough? Is Valve in development hell? But thankfully, no - the delays were simply due to the fact that everything had to be as near to perfect as the gods would allow. And believe it or not, they are. This game is so close to flawless it's painful to the eye. It's so beautifully constructed, so immaculate, I can barely bring myself to divulge its details. Everything I write puts a preconception in your minds that may alter the playing experience from the one intended, and that would be doing you a great disservice. But don't worry, I'm not going to give the game away. I'll avoid specifics and give you only the bits you need to know.
The Legend Grows
Like this: best FPS ever. Yes, that's right. It's an honour I was never entirely happy to bestow on the original Half-Life, which, as far as I'm concerned, was just one of a clutch of equally great shooters around that time. But this time I have no hesitation: Half-Life 2 is the best first-person shooter ever. Indeed, it may well be the best action game ever, full stop. It's a huge statement to make, especially in a world of Max Paynes, Quakes, Splinter Cells and Halos. But it's true, and here's why.
Half-Life 2 is simply beautiful. Not only in looks, but in every part of its construction. The environments themselves are breathtaking, diverse and immense, but rather than offering a series of randomly themed missions, Half-Life 2 plays like an 18-hour action film, scripted tight as a drum to make every second as involving and exciting as the last. Where one level of Doom 3 is largely indistinguishable from the next, Half-Life 2 shifts gears dramatically at every turn, with new and unexpected delights tumbling one after the other.
Even the opening level is a revelation, despite the fact that you spend its entirety bereft of weapons. I guarantee you'll spend the first half-hour of the game simply delighting in the world - testing the wonderfully generous physics properties (every loose item in the world can be picked up, thrown and usually destroyed), and marvelling at the looks and behaviour of the inhabitants. I know I spent a good 20 minutes simply throwing suitcases and litter at Combine grunts, then running away when they came at me with a cattle-prod.
It's the only shooter I've ever played where I wasn't frustrated not to have a gun in my hand straight away, wishing the opening stages would stop patronising me and let me shoot something. Here, you barely register the fact, so involving
is the world around you.
When the shooting
does begin, it begins with a vengeance. As dynamic and interactive as the world feels when you're empty-handed,
with a gun in your hand it feels almost unnaturally violent. Every weapon, even the basic pistol, has a substantial, explosive feel to it. Later armaments like the Overwatch Pulse Rifle or SMG make you want to shoot at birds just to hear its thunderous cough.
The way barrels explode, the way wood shatters and splinters, the way blood splatters across propaganda-stained walls - everything you do has a gratifying force behind it. And though much of this is down to the Havok 2.0 physics, which we've seen plenty of times before, it's never been implemented with as much finesse and tightly-wound impact as in Half-Life 2.