noiseredux vs.

Posted on Sep 7th 2015 at 07:32:55 PM by (noiseredux)
Posted under PC

NOTE: Metagaming is a series where I force myself to play through Metacritic's highest rated PC games, working my way down the list one game at a time. There's no real goal other than giving myself an excuse to experience these critically acclaimed games. Sometimes I'll beat the games, and sometimes the games will beat me.

Half-Life 2

As I write this Half-Life 2 sits comfortably at #1 on Metacritic's list of the best PC games of all time. It holds a score of 96 - one of only 6 games to rank so high. Technically one of only 5 games, as one of them is The Orange Box which is a compilation of Half-Life 2, its expansions and Portal - all games that find themselves just slightly further down the list on their own. So this is how we begin; with the best of the best.

Now before we get the ball really rolling, how about a little background on the history of me and Half-Life 2. Our relationship started off in a very... very odd way. You see although I actually sorta love FPS games now, that wasn't the case several years ago. Though I had grown up playing stuff like Wolfenstein 3D and Doom back in the day, I became pretty much inept when the y-axis was introduced to aiming with a mouse. And attempting this stuff using twinsticks on a controller baffled me even more. Sometimes ending in feelings of "I have to vomit."

And then something really weird happened a few years ago:  I got this sick idea to attempt to play the unreleased port of Half-Life on the Dreamcast. This was mostly out of sheer curiosity. Not just for the port itself, but for how the controls would be handled on a controller that only had one analog stick. The experience was admittedly strange. But I was able to work my way through the game using this weird Southpaw controller style. And more importantly - I fell in love with the world of Half-Life. After that I immediately decided to move on to Half-Life 2, this time on the Xbox 360. This meant I'd have to get used to twinstick controls. I started my way working through the game, and it was tough. Eventually I gave up somewhere around the first vehicular section.

Not long after this I got bit by the PC gaming bug. And it's been a whirlwind ever since. After spending time with Quake, Quake III Arena and Quake 4, I actually became one of those people who plays FPS games with a keyboard and mouse. And now I can't go back to use a controller! I even got myself a nice mechanical keyboard produced by WASD and installed Cherry Red dampeners in it, along with the wonderful G502 mouse by Logitech - both gifts. And since I've become a keyboard & mouse convert, I've found myself enjoying first person shooters even more. The time was right to revisit Half-Life 2 and finish it once and for all.

So is Half-Life 2 really deserving of such high praise - the #1 spot on Metacritics PC games list? Dudes... it is. For starters the great thing about Half-Life 2 is everything. It really just feels like it does everything right. Here's a game well over a decade old, and I struggle to find any faults with it. As much as it's gone on to influence countless other single player FPS games, I can't say that any other has nailed everything so perfectly.

What immediately comes to mind is the pacing. Indeed this is where HL2 truly shines. It is such a well designed game that you never really feel unsure of how to proceed. Yet there is no modern FPS trap of making levels entirely out of long hallways. Nope, there's actually lots to explore here. But there's such a natural flow - both to level design and the story itself - that it feels like the you're constantly a moth to a flame. You just know that you're always marching forward. Always making progress. It's genuinely quite brilliant.

The pacing is further applauded thanks to constant variety. In a sense it feels like you're on a rollercoaster ride for the entire dozen or so hours it will take you to get through. One moment you're sneaking through tunnels, the next you're speeding over water on some sort of jet ski. Even the tone of the game shifts abruptly in fantastic ways. The section known as Ravenholm feels like one of the scariest horror game settings and has a color pallet that will make you feel dread. A few hours later you're exploring a beautiful cliffside area.

The storytelling is also superb. Much like the original game there are no cut scenes here. Everything happens in-engine. You never lose control of Gordon Freeman. You are always a part of the story - never a voyeur. The soundtrack - both musical and voice acting - goes a long way to reinforce this storytelling and the unique atmosphere.

The combat is wonderful as well. There's an excellent freedom to how you might address any given situation. Certainly there are some very satisfying weapons here - from the trusty crowbar, to a perfect-for-silent-sniping crossbow all the way down to far heavier artillery. But it's the gravity gun that will get you killing in all sorts of puzzle-solving ways. Ravenholm for instance leaves you with limited ammo, but a bevy of sawblades and explosives to throw around in a fountain of headcrab zombie blood-rain.

But ultimately no matter how much I gush about Half-Life 2, it's pretty impossible to put into words just why this game is so great. I'm thrilled that I finally pushed my way through, and I'll surely be delving into the expansions soon enough. If you're a fan of FPS games - and maybe even if you're not - you owe it to yourself to experience this one.

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Great article noiseredux!  I couldn't agree more, I LOVE HL and HL2 and all of the episodes (still waiting on episode 3, or HL3, SOMETHING).  I have destroyed this game a couple times over, and all the expansions at least twice.  Half-Life the original, Blue Shift, and even Opposing Force, I have beaten them all at least twice.  Such a great experience!

I would say if you haven't beaten the first Half-Life games, beat those, then beat all of HL2 and expansions for a really enjoyable experience.

Black Mesa is a great remake of HL, and recommended if you have or haven't played the original.
Absolutely loved HL2 and the episodes. Like most fans I've been waiting too long now for episode 3 or HL3. I remember when I asked my brother-in-law if it was worth getting the episodes and he said I was so lucky that I was going to experience the games for the first time.

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