Man, this Hilary Duff security is intense!

2004 has truly been a gamers dream come true. This year alone we've seen some long awaited heavy hitters appear like id's Doom 3. Within a two week span, gamers have also received GTA: San Andreas, Halo 2 and now Valve's highly anticipated sequel to one of the most influential games ever released.

Half Life 2 much like the previous games mentioned is more of an event rather than simply a release although you'd be hard pressed to find anything written about it in the mainstream due to the media's embarrassing fawning over of the highly overrated albeit extremely playable, Halo 2 for Xbox. There certainly weren't 1.5 million pre-orders for Half Life 2 but that doesn't mean the game should take a backseat to a puffed up poser like Bungie's Halo sequel. Let me put it this way; if it wasn't for Half Life, Bungie wouldn't have had any concept of what to lay down for the first line of coding for Halo.

Half Life influenced an entire genre that was stagnating under its own weight and lack of depth. Games like Doom and Quake were nothing more than excuses to shoot everything that moved on screen where Valve's Half Life added a compelling story and scripted events to the surroundings which transcended the experience of what a FPS had been up until that point. Taking a rib from Half Life, other developers have incorportated the awardwinning genre altering elements from Valve's imagination and managed to evolve the genre as a whole. Since Valve was solely responsible for upping the ante originally, the expectations of HL2 were off the charts, as gamers everywhere were waiting for the second coming to further move the FPS genre into unchartered territories. Unfortunately I'm here to report that right in line with every other highly anticipated game this year, Half Life 2 misses the mark and manages to be a solid jump to the left rather than the 100 metre dash forward many were hoping for. Truth be told I'd even suggest the game actually steps backwards in certain areas which I will explain in a few moments.

Because the game doesn't immediately strike you as the most amazing game ever, that doesn't mean that it isn't playable and entertaining. Half Life 2 is filled with great game moments and visuals that will blow you away figuratively and literally. This game is one awesome looking digital canvas, provided you have the horsepower under that $6000 Alienware PC of yours. Insert medium sized chuckle.

So, you fellas going to the big Ragoo fesitval?

The very moment you start the game on a train headed toward City 17, reminiscent of the original games opening sequence, you'll be immediately transported to the Half Life universe even though it may have been years since you faced the decision at the end of the original. Gordon Freeman is back and although it sucks to be him at the moment, you'll be tickled that you get to spend quite a lot of time in his shoes. You may not be prepared for what it waiting for you once you step off the transport. City 17 is a metaphor for the current state of the human condition. You can feel the despair of the human spirit everywhere in City 17. From the sunken faces of the citizens to the crumbling architecture of its buildings, this is a society trapped in emotional and spiritual upheaval. You won't have long to soak in the sunny atmosphere of City 17 as the adventure begins quickly and doesn't let up for another 15-20 hours.

Valve once again devotes your consciousness entirely to Gordon Freeman throughout Half Life 2 and never waivers. Cutscenes, communication, action and other pivital moments are all viewed from Gordon's perspective which goes a long way to keep you in the reality of the game. This is his life and you're stuck with it for the time being.

Yeah, this pistol should take that thing down in a couple of shots....

Gamers excited about all of the new weapon technology will be disappointed somewhat. In keeping with the continuity of the universe, you will use many weapons recycled from the original. The one major exception is the Gravity Gun which puts an new face on combat as well as puzzle solving. The Gravity Gun is so damn fun that it's a shame it's not available in multiplayer (due to Valve recycling CounterStrike Source instead of creating a Half Life 2 dedicated multiplayer game). But what fun is shooting fish in a barrel, and that's exactly what you've got here. The enemy AI is almost non-existent and you'll marvel at how anyone at Valve thought it would be challenging to send enemies running towards you, rather than wait in the hiding spot they adopt for a few seconds. It got to the point where I could actually count out how long it would take one certain foes to come out of hiding and attack me, at which point I would just shoot them. Taking the game up a notch in difficulty didn't seem to make much of a difference either. Some of the larger enemies in the game designed to be pains in the ass, live up to expectations - especially the

You could argue that games like Doom 3, Halo 2 and Half Life 2 aren't cerebral experiences anyway, and all that really matters is the action. This is where HL2 shines completely. When battling the gigantic striders that roam City 17, not unlike the fearsome foes in The War of the Worlds or the evil ant lions, you'll be hardpressed not to deposit something in your underoos every once in awhile. Later on in the game, you'll even team up with a variety of nondescript and ultimately disposable partners which makes the action take on a more epic struggle.

It's the Master Chief calling again Gordon. I can't keep telling him you're in the john...

Considering how well Valve got the action down pat, I was very unpleasantly surprised that they managed to fumble the storyline so badly. HL2 starts off with such promise and ends with something akin to what you'd find in Doom, which is a travesty of a mockey of a sham, if there ever was one. I can't say anything directly as the spoiler-alert people would hunt me down, but let me say this - the biggest spoiler is that the ending is a huge spoiler (and I don't mean secret!).

Okay, so the action is great, the story is mediocre but at least Valve's attentions to the visuals of Half-Life 2 was time well spent. If you have a PC that can take advantage of what Valve intended you to see you won't walk away disappointed in the slightest. Had this game been released last year with graphics like this, it would have been worthy of creating a new religious holiday. With Doom 3 sucking some of the attention away from HL2's visuals I can at least say that the id boys just can't compete with the sheer magnitude of what was going on the streets of City 17. Half-Life 2 is one of the hottest looking games ever. Take that Far Cry.

Finally I come to the multiplayer aspect of the game. It's no secret that Valve decided to tweak it's Counter-Strike: Source game and include it rather than create a multiplayer game that actually took advantage of the weapons of HL2. I find this somewhat disappointing, especially because I was really looking forward to messing up some players with the gravity gun. That being said, Source is an excellent multiplayer experience in its own right and deserves to be played for years to come. However if you are going to log on, you should know right now that many of the maps included in Source have been around longer than you have and you will be pwned and pwned over and over again by people who have had years of experience under their belts. Don't let that discourage you though. Getting your ass handed to you by people better than you is what makes you a normal guy and what makes them lifeless nerds with nothing better to do than sit around playing in cyberspace. Bitter, you say? I say **** YOU, you lifeless nerd!!

These futuristic mosquitos are intense!

Valve survived a lot to get this game into your hot little hands and you should repay the favor by buying and playing this excellent addition to the Half-Life series. Like the other big name, super hyped games of the year recently released, it isn't the second coming of software; it's simply a well put together game that will while away the hours until you locate a girlfriend, who will undoubtedly have to stumble down your basement stairs by complete accident and fall madly in love with you, even though you pay her absolutely no attention. So while you are waiting for Ms. Wonderful to enter your life, pick up HL2 and give Mr. Freeman a hand saving the world again. He'd do it for you. Note: As with any PC product, HL2 has it's share of bugs - both significant and insignificant. These bugs were not factored into the final score due to the inevitable patch.

Preview by Vaughn

The sequel to one of the most genre expanding games ever, will be on store shelves soon. Developed by Valve, Half Life 2 has seen its share of setbacks and delays, including engine theft of the highest degree which involved the FBI. Serious stuff. While Valve isn't saying when the game will be released, certain online retailers peg the release date around Sept 1, 2004. I say "Fat chance you'll be playing this game on Labor Day."

While the sequel picks up where the first one left off some time has advanced. HL2s protagonist extraordinaire Gordon Freeman, scientist Eli Vance and his daughter Alyx face an even greater threat. The Xen aliens are taking over earth.Set in the Eastern European city "City 17", players will have the fight of their life as aliens attack from the ground and sky ala War of the Worlds.

Valve has promised 32 player multiplayer action, but not much is known at this time regarding what features will be included. The games recommended settings aren't known at this time, but Valve has stated that you won't need a supercomputer to run the game at modest levels. We have heard that the minimum system specs are currently targeted at a 700 MHz PC with 128 MB RAM and a DX6-level video card. Good news for those who haven't upgraded for a few years. Better delete all of that internet porn.

For a game so close to release, we sure don't know that much about it. Valve has really kept the juiciest details close to the chest this time. Check out the GIGANTIC mouthwatering screens below and mark your calendar....for some day in the next 5 months.

Click For Media
System: PC
Dev: Valve
Pub: Sierra
Release: Fall 2004
Players: 1 - 32
Review by Dean