I finally managed to get a copy of Half Life 2, little late of course, anyway I have played the game now for around two hours so its time for a little review of what I have played so far. I am playing the XBox version of the game, which so far holds up reasonably well, the framerate is a bit low, but for most part one can accept it.
Ok, so lets talk about the game, first the good things, the beginning of the game, namely the first ~20mins are truely awesome, some of the most athmospheric and realistic moments I have seen in video game history. It really looks and feels like being in an oppressed city, feels a little bit like DeusEx. The behaviour of other characters is very believable and the dialog is good as well and even so Gorden doesn't say a word, as always, it this time fits the situations quite well, they even joke about it in the dialog. So all this is quite a bit of improvment over the Half Life 2 where playing a physicist in the first few minutes, while having absolutly no idea what the whole game was about really destroyed all athomsphere for me. That one doesn't have a energie bar those first few minutes only helps to immerse one into the athmosphere.
Those very athmospheric moments however don't hold on for to long, after some more dialog one hops into the HEV suit and the real game begins. Sadly it pretty much manages to destroy everything that was build up in the first few moments extremly quickly. Instead of continuing to providing an athmospheric environment, the game falls back to pretty standard 08/15 first-person-shooter gameplay, no big suprises, just standard run and shoot. The game continues with a ton of classic FPS faults, for one Gorden simply never uses his hands, wheels magically turn, barrels are lifted by magic, ledder climbing is done free handed and button pushing of course as well. It of course doesn't stop there, Gorden doesn't have legs either, just the standard flying gun and nothing else, feels like a direct throwback into 1996, a huge dissapointment. The controls also feel rather slugish, often one bounces into objects or gets stuck on edges, there were also some sections with slippery ground which controlled totally weird. The biggest downer however is the stupid level design, instead of presenting a believable world, the game provides a series of boring by-the-book gameplay situtions. If there is some Barnacle on the ceiling, there for sure is an exploding barrel near by. If there is a ramb to lift, there for sure are some conveniently placed barrels you can use to lift it near by. And so on, it feels totally fake and pointless, the whole game turns into run&shoot, then a short stop to solve a little stupid puzzle, then continue with run&shoot, repeat ad invinutum. Every now and then you run into a little hideout of some person that says a few meaningless words, but those hideouts are always placed just three meters away from the action, completly unbelievable and stupid. It of course doesn't help that the controls aren't that good either, this might be the fault of the console port, but having to manually switch weapons everytime one has to crack some piece of wood with the crowbar really ruins the immersion quite a bit, this is especially true since the secondary fire so far doesn't have any effect with any weapon. ResidentEvil4 and Halo did much better then that, since they made using the knife, kicking and granate throwing a single-button action, so you could simply use it when needed instead of being forced to wriggle around in the weapon menu.
The vehicle driving on water again, feels equally pointless, you drive, stop, do puzzle, continue to drive. The track itself doesn't even provide much challange and neither does the collision detection feel right, the Half Life 2 designers should have had a look at WaveRace on how to get water driving feel realistic and how to properly react to collisions. Oh, have I mention that Gordon again steers by the sole power of his mind? Really looks like he has a gravity gun build into his head...
Anyway, lets come to an end for this time. I only have played 120min so far, but except the excelent beginning, the game really disapointed for most part. The graphic is nice, the gameplay however is the very same that pretty much every other first person shooter in the last 10 years head, it might look a bit prettier then average, but graphics aside Half Life 2 doesn't really offer much.