Winner of over 50 Game of the Year awards, Half-Life set new standards for action games when it was released in 1998. There’s a zero-to-none chance you’ve never heard of its sequel, Half-Life 2. Simply put, this is the best game ever.
What we’ve got here is a classic masterpiece. It’s an impressive and engaging shooter that follows-up one of the greatest PC games we’ve seen. Both titles shaped the industry and fueled a fan community that will never stop asking for Half-Life 3.
It’s so good it built Valve’s reputation to what it is now. Valve made the original Half-Life as an indie studio. Then, they took about six years to develop the second one with the rewards they gained from the franchise starter. Now, they hold the most prominent PC games storefront.
Both games are high-up the history charts. You could play any title of the Half-Life series for under $10 on Steam (before Half-Life: Alyx). All of them are fantastic.
Sixteen years ago, when Half-Life 2 debuted, it was a technological revolution. It was years ahead of their competition in visual design, graphics, sound FX, and gameplay. That’s the reason why it won over 10 Game Awards and why many consider it the greatest FPS in history. It executes its concepts and mechanics to perfection.
Platform: Windows 7/8/10 PC, macOS PC, Xbox, Xbox 360, PlayStation 3
Release date: October 1, 2004
Check on Steam
“1998. HALF-LIFE sends a shock through the game industry with its combination of pounding action and continuous, immersive storytelling.”
The environment speaks
If you haven’t played this before, I won’t spoil much. I want you to experience it fully, as every little thing, every noise, every scanner light, and every radio chatter builts the game’s universe slowly and carefully.
You’re Gordon Freeman, though. You were “missing” since you escaped from the Black Mesa lab incident. Back in 1998, the lab’s experiments brought Unforeseen Consequences to the world. They opened a rift to another dimension, and so an alien race known as the “Combine” conquered the Earth.
You wake up on a train on your way to City 17, which is under the control of The Combine. Soon enough, you start a mission to defeat the alien race and free the Earth.
Now, the experience is setting free the Earth from the Alien invasion. And whereas you don’t speak, everything else does. Even injecting health into your suit makes noises you will never forget.
You wear the HEV suit, and it comes with a computer voice helping you understand what you need at each moment. It’s such an essential piece of gear than its OST became part of Valve’s official logo.
Can you recognize the music?
Why is it so good?
Many things shine through this game. First of all, and as I said, everything speaks. Valve took its time to build the world without boring exposition. It’s up to you to discover what’s going on as you go about your journey. And the journey is filled with all kinds of radio chatter, alien sounds, scientists screaming, and refugees running. Enough clues to figure out what’s going on.
Secondly, it was an outstanding FPSPS shooter back in the day. Heck, it still is with the fantastic display of weapons. However, the enemy AI and the mechanics don’t seem so good anymore, but it’s still a fun experience thanks to the vast array of enemies trying to hunt you down. On top of that, there are also allies helping you resist during the craziest scenarios.
Third, the game keeps you on your toes. It’s a linear game with chapters, and every section is different than the last.
You might be running through the highway with a go-kart to destroy different roadblocks on a moment with the vehicle’s mini-fun. Then, you might be entering a prison infested by bugs with a unique bait that lures-in bug creatures to fight against The Combine. And after that, you might ally with a group of refugees to tar down a giant Alien machine with rocket launchers.
Next, you might be fighting against a giant spider-like robot with a missile launcher. Before that, you were going through the dark corners of an abandoned city trying to survive the attacks of zombie-like aliens. It’s always new, it’s still fun, and it’s ever different.
Last but not least, we have that neat gravity gun. It’s a special weapon that’s able to lift, summon, and launch objects back at your enemies. The gravity gun can interact with almost anything, so it’s not only massively fun and dangerous, but it’s also a vital part of the plot.
Is Half-Life 2 a survival-horror game?
I vividly remember a Half-Life 2 chapter where I had to go through a ruined city. The city was crumbling and on fire, and the zombies were launching at me enraged, on-fire, and without mercy.
Then, I had to go down a sewer on a flimsy elevator. Aliens were lurking on the roof, waiting to eat me. I had only a small flashlight to light the way forward. I could also light up gasoline barrels on the floor to see. Otherwise, the aliens would surround me and kill me.
Half of the game goes down the sewers. The other half goes up the surface. Both parts are equally horrific and stressful.
It’s a first-person-shooter first and foremost. But it’s a scary setting. See, you’ll spend half your playthrough on underground places like sewers, where you’ll have to micro-manage the batteries of your suit’s in-built flashlight. When it’s dark, the aliens will catch you unaware and eat you.
The other half of the game is on the surface, duking it out against the Combine. Such is the identity of the game, half survival, half shooter.
On that same you, there’re other elements you have to micromanage. First is ammo, as it’s scarce during the first half of the series. Also, you slowly build your arsenal of weapons, but the most potent guns (like the Plasma Rifle or the Revolver) are always short in ammo. Because the ammo is scarce, you’d better learn how to use your gravity gun.
Then, it’s the battery during dark sections. When the battery runs out, it needs to recharge over time.
The HEV suit withstands cold, radioactive, burn, electrical, and toxic damage, but only for specific amounts of time. You’ll need to take care of the suit’s resistances as you explore the most hazardous parts of the game.
Lastly, you have to be careful about your health and energy shiels. You can only recharge both on the health and energy stations you find every so often. It doesn’t restore over time, and it doesn’t fall as drops from the enemies.
The Half-Life Universe
I choose Half-Life 2 as the best game of the franchise, but I could have chosen any other. In particular, Half-Life 1 has two different expansion games where you get to replay the story with another character from another perspective. I’m talking about Blue Shift and Opposing Force.
Moreover, Half-Life 2 has two follow-up episodes (Episode 1 and Episode 2). These follow Freeman’s story and the war against The Combine. They also further explore the mysterious presence of the G-Man, an inter-dimensional man in a suit with contrived goals.
You could pick any of these titles and be satisfied. You’d be playing history.
Or better yet, you could play Half-Life: Alyx, one of the best 2020 games.
Is there anything else to say? Half-Life is what made Valve. Half-Life is what made the Steam store. And for less than $10 on Steam, you could see why everyone is praising the game so much.
Comparing Half-Life 2 with a modern fps shooter is both sad and impressive. The current gaming industry keeps copying their competitors, so all we’ve got is generic shooters with similar gameplay mechanics and generic plots.
Moreover, they sell us those games with pre-rendered CGI trailers with nothing to do with the actual game (Call of Duty, anyone?). We’ve yet to see an FPS that executes its mechanics to perfection and doesn’t drown us on additional gimmicks, RPG elements, micro-transactions, loot crates, leagues, and post-launch fixes.
So, yes, Half-Life 2 is still the best fps. Can you name another one? Let me know in the comments!
Maybe Cyberpunk 2077 has what it takes to get FPS crown. I would give it to the Mass Effect series, but Bioware’s sci-fi epic is more on the RPG side.