It's a good time to be a gamer, and the timing's right for the second installment of Half-Life.

There was no doubt in my mind that Half-Life 2 for the Xbox would be just as great as it was on the PC a year ago. This is a top-shelf game and one that's considered by many players and reviewers as an instant classic. There have been so many great games released this year that Half-Life 2 is just the icing on the cake. I'm not sure if we could include it as a game-of-the-year contender for this year since it's more than a year old, but if that's the case it's good new for the other hopefuls because this baby is going to be hard to beat.

Half-Life's appeal is many and varied. It's great in so many areas, from the storyline to the mix of genres that include stealth, puzzles, platform, vehicle driving, exploring and of course shooting. This is primarily a first-person shooter but with a survival horror influence with plenty of mysteries to be uncovered.

But the most important aspect of the game is the atmosphere. It manages to convey the sterile, futuristic, and mysterious environment that one Gordon Freeman finds himself in. While aboard a train, Freeman learns of the oppressive control of the government that controls the populace. Breaking up families and moving them to different areas. The locals that he runs into are void of any emotion. Something is terribly wrong. Eventually Freeman is contacted by a friend from the underground resistance that enlists him to help in the cause of freedom fighting. Alyx is his female scientist assistant that helps explain technical information to him in his pursuit of knowledge.

As Freeman you play his character from the first-person perspective. He doesn't talk but absorbs information, much like you playing the game from the beginning. Like you, he doesn't have any knowledge of situations but learns from listening and interacting with others. This style really assimilates you into the game as you feel part of it and not just an observer.

It seems there are no limits to the weapons that you can carry. Everything from machineguns to grenades and the ever-handy crowbar are just one button press away. Using the D-pad you can switch weapons easily. Keep in mind they have to be reloaded and the ammunition is not unlimited. Aiming is somewhat forgiving, you won't miss using the mouse as a controller. The entire Xbox control system works virtually perfectly. It's amazing that everything from the PC game has been crammed into this title.

Excellent graphics and animation are the hallmarks of the Half-Life series and you won't be disappointed. It looks every bit as good on the Xbox as it does on the PC. The environments are empty, sterile and run down due to some prevailing depression that illustrates how people have given up on their former lives. The character models are excellent with amazing facial expressions that include "tells." You can't always be sure that what people are saying to you because there is a level of body language that can be interpreted. The voiceacting is superb and the script is incredibly realistic for such a far-reaching storyline.

Half-Life 2 is an absolute must for any Xbox owner. Even if all you play on it is Super-Bust-a-Move it's time to grow up - or at least die trying.

System: X
Dev: Valve
Pub: EA
Release: Nov 2005
Players: 1 - online
Review by Mike