Remembering the Classics: Half-Life 2

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Video game delays are always a double edged sword. It goes without saying that developers want nothing more than to deliver the best product possible to the masses. Happy customers lead to big money after all. Frequently in an effort to have more time to fix issues, deadlines will get pushed back so companies can fine tune the material (or so they say). The positive spin to this is that when the final product does come, it has a better chance for high quality because of the extension. That unfortunately does mean that excited fans will have to wait bit longer, which is where the con comes. Not only does waiting absolutely suck, it also puts the thought of something actually coming into jeopardy. Far too often are games delayed, only to get outright cancelled later on. The 2013 announcement that the repeatedly delayed Final Fantasy Versus XIII had become Final Fantasy XV, which is now very much a reality, is definitely not the norm.Half-Life_2_cover

The greatest example of delay woes revolves around the sequel to Half-Life 2. People have been begging for Half-Life 3 ever since Half-Life 2 received universal acclaim, but Valve has shown no sign of a game in ten years. Hope still remains but many have begun to doubt that a full sequel (not just extra episodes) will ever come. If anything though, that has made the love for Half-Life 2 grow much stronger. It’s so strong, a fan created mod was released on March 27th overhauling the game’s graphics and fixing several issues. Half-Life 2: Update gives this decade old game a fresh coat of paint that makes it look better than ever. The best part? It was fully endorsed by Valve themselves. That means that, while the developers were busy doing whatever it is they’re doing, they were perfectly fine with letting fans do work on one of their most popular games. It was a great bit of fan service that legitimately benefits everyone else.

Why this happened makes perfect sense too. From the moment Half-Life 2 graced Windows PCs in late 2004, the already critically praised brand developed a very unique status among the gaming public. For many people out there, Half-Life is the pinnacle of first-person shooter greatness with Half-Life 2 as the leading figurehead. The story of theoretical physicist Gordon Freeman and his quest to stop ruthless aliens and humans alike is one of the reasons why Half-Life 2 is so popular. It’s told in a fairly linear fashion in that the game tells you what you’re supposed to see, but there are plenty of optional areas that you can explore for extra rewards. The game also doesn’t have any cutscenes, instead preferring to let the story get told by other characters, which means the player is never really taken out of the experience. All in all it’s a very science fiction heavy narrative filled with different dimensions, mysteriously powerful characters, and lots of cool technology that turn Freeman into one of the best protagonists of the genre. This is in despite his inability to talk.

A big reason why Half-Life 2 has persevered for so long is because the game, along with the series as a whole, isn’t your typical first person shooter. They aren’t just about running around with the biggest gun and killing enemies in a hail of whatever. There are a lot of environmental puzzles for you to work through in order to complete the game, actually forcing you to think with your brain and not your trigger finger. Continuing along the line of Freeman as a physicist with a Ph.D. from MIT, some of these puzzles are appropriately physics based. You need to take into account things like size, weight, and even buoyancy to find your solution. Not unlike the field of physics, there frequently is more than one way to resolve the issue at hand. This opens the door for creativity in a way other FPS games simply cannot match. Physics isn’t just based around puzzles too. One of the more famous features of Half-Life 2 is the Gravity Gun which allows Freeman to use everyday objects as weapons by blasting them at enemies.gordon-freeman-half-life-2-800x600-hd-wallpaper

The graphics were nothing to shrug off either. Half-Life 2 first found a console home with the Xbox in 2005. Seeing as we’re now two generations removed from that system, it’s understandable that game’s appearance has dropped. It may still look really good, but it has definitely aged like everything else. Only in looks though, not with the great content. That’s likely the biggest reason why this fan-made update was reported across many game sites. If graphical limitations were stopping you from enjoying Half-Life 2 to its fullest extent, this update makes the game even more modern and better maintained. Valve’s support for this project, which began back in 2009, is proof that they fully understand what the masses want, and they want more Half-Life. Half-Life 3 is still a total mystery though, so you can make the case that this is Valve trying to keep the masses satisfied. Improving on what was already considered top-notch is definitely a step in the right direction.

This might be hard to believe, especially considering how much I love FPS games and how huge Half-Life 2 is, but I have never played this game. At best I played a little bit of the original Half-Life. I know, this definitely needs to change. I don’t have any excuses either outside of not having time. Like I’ve said in other editions of Remembering the Classics, sometimes life and the ever massive library of other awesome games get in the way. Half-Life 2 is just another example of something that escaped me. Eventually I will sit down and finally experience this mega-hit for myself. Just like Half-Life 3 will come “eventually”!

The apparently never ending wait for Half-Life 3 has reached meme levels. Whenever a company plans a press conference, regardless of it being Valve or not, someone always says “Half-Life 3 confirmed”. Hell, the event could not even be related to games at all and someone makes this joke. It honestly won’t end until the game actually comes. Half-Life 2: Update however definitely makes the wait a little more bearable. This game is an absolute classic and giving it a nice face lift is exactly what it needed. People still can’t stop talking about it after all. Plus, it gives credence to the thought that like minded fans can really do a lot of good for busy developers. Valve likely doesn’t have time to create an enhanced version, so letting the talented public takeover is a big win-win situation.

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Luke Kalamar is Pop-Break.com’s television and every Saturday afternoon you can read his retro video game column, Remembering the Classics. He covers Game of Thrones, Saturday Night Live and The Walking Dead (amongst others) every week. As for as his career and literary standing goes — take the best parts of Spider-man, Captain America and Luke Skywalker and you will fully understand his origin story.
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