As a 2004 title, the graphics of Half-Life 2 are superb. The then newly-developed Source engine has demonstrated itself as a valuable asset and a capable anchor of Valve Corporation, and the vast potential it has for Valve’s future developments.
Two things in the game are uniquely impressive due to the use of the Source engine: physics, and lighting. The physics of the game is surprisingly realistic, allowing the player to take advantage of the surrounding environment and objects to achieve their goals. The elegant lighting is an antithesis to the dark nature of the game, effectively emphasizing both aspects with the contrast. Especially with the introduction of high dynamic range rendering (HDRR) in Half-Life 2: Lost Coast, a small addition released in 2005 as a technical demonstration, the quality of the lighting is further enhanced while preserving more graphic details in different light levels.Gameplay
The overall gameplay is a bit more than justmediocre. The variety of weapons at your disposal is certainly beneficial and provides more dynamic approaches to eliminating enemies. Ammo seems to be too abundant in the game, however, making it less of a challenge while making decisions about which weapon to use. The implementation of the gravity gun is a nice touch; the ability to move and launch heavier objects opens up a huge range of possibility with what the player can do in-game. What the game lacks in terms of weapons is the ability to aim down the sight on most weapons. While there IS a zoom function, it is solely for reconnaissance purposes and the player cannot shoot when in zoomed mode.
The atmosphere of the game can be described as creepy and haunting. While there are no hardcore thrillers, the presences of headcrabs and other bio-deformed creatures would surely make you jump at some point in the game. Although the game does feature a long string of forty or so soundtracks, there seem to be a lack of ambient music. Addition of quiet, creepy background music can most certainly contribute to the overall atmosphere.
Another note is that jumping in the game seems somewhat iffy; the jump seems more like a leap than a jump, with very little vertical displacement. The character also seems to have trouble standing and staying stable on steeper slopes, instead just gradually sliding down.Symbolic Messages
The main character Gordon Freeman’s last name is an obvious reference to Gordon being the “One Free Man”, the ‘leader’ of the Resistance, as explicitly stated by Dr. Breen in his announcements. The setting of the game is portrayed as an absolute terrorist regime run by a single ‘party’ (the Combines). The regime can be compared to that of Stalin’s or the one in George Orwell’s novel, 1984. The first comparison can be reinforced with the fact that the desolate streets and playground of City 17 is undoubtedly modelled on the town of Chernobyl in the former Soviet Union after the nuclear disaster. The frequent use of terror and torturing in this society is obvious due to the blood-filled chairs often seen throughout the game. The Civil Protection guards acts as a secret police force for the regime, who enforce ‘security’ by chasing down and beating the player if their orders are not followed or if slightly provoked (e.g. not throwing garbage in the garbage can). The 1984-esque setting also features hovering cameras, known as scanners, which occasionally take snapshots of the player, reinforcing the notion that “the Big Brother is watching you”. The scanners are a symbolic manifestation of the non-stop 24/7 surveillance imposed on the citizens under a terrorist regime. Breen’s repeating announcements also symbolize the propaganda widely used in one-party dictatorship states. The flash from the camera of the scanners can blind the player, just like how the people can be blinded by propaganda into believing lies or how, under surveillance, everyone turns a blind eye to the injustice in the society. Headcrabs, which latch themselves to hosts’ heads and controls their minds, are used as weapons against the Resistance in the form of ‘Headcrab Shells’, representing how propaganda brainwashes and mind-controls the citizens, essentially ‘zombifying’ them into obeying the will of the party/dictator.
The fact that the Combine is from another dimension (hence aliens on Earth) makes Half-Life 2 more or less a simulation of an alien invasion of Earth. The makers of the game obviously hold the belief that human are inferior to invading aliens, as shown by how the war only lasted seven before Earth surrenders (the Seven Hours’ War). It is also interesting that the Civil Protection officers are essentially cyborgs, showing the effect of technology on humans and how the Combine utilizes so-called ‘memory replacement’ to put humans under the subject of their will.
Moreover, Half-Life 2 offers some insights into the effects of colonialism. The Earth is, in simple terms, a colony of the Combine: an ‘empire’ spread across multiple dimensions, similar to empires that spread over multiple continents in the Age of Sails. The colonized humans suffer from oppression and maltreatment; their numbers diminish due to the suppression field that inhibits embryonic growth, hence the absence of children throughout the whole game; natural resources continually deplete, as seen most noticeably by the grounding of ships due to dropping ocean levels.