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Rewind Review Special! Half-Life 2 trilogy video review (feat. Unabridged Gamer)

RR-sama and Unabridged Gamer team up to tackle one of the strongest fanbases ever: Half-Life 2!

Hello, and welcome to the final piece in the Half-Life Rewind Review series! Today's a special occasion as I was invited to do a video podcast review with YouTube video game controversy stirrer and GameSkinny reviewer, Elijah Beahm, otherwise known as Unabridged Gamer on YouTube. Together we decided to wrap up the Half-Life 2 trilogy into one hour-long discussion on the highlights and flaws of the series. The video can be found in the header of this article, or you can follow this link to watch it on YouTube.

As with all Rewind Reviews, Half-Life 2 underwent a review process through the eyes of a modern critic. No nostalgia glasses, no excuses, no rationalizing hardware limitations, and no sparing myself from angry fans and readers. Nothing will excuse the game from anything that we - as modern gamers - would expect to see in the genre today. Mixed in with the typical RR-sama content is Unabridged Gamer's unique reviewing style that focuses on the game's context and history.

For those who would rather read than watch, here's a brief summary of the highlights!

The Story

While Half-Life 2 tries to be more story driven than previous titles in the series, it ultimately creates more holes in the plot than it attempts to fill.

  • G-Man's existence is changed from omnipotent inter-dimensional creature, to something that can be stopped by vortigaunts without much effort (all within the same trilogy at that).
  • Character depth is poor at best, many of the characters lacking even the most basic archetypal qualities. While this wouldn't be much of a problem if the characters grew in some way, most of them seem to have already done all their growth before the game starts, and so the result is underwhelming at best.
  • The environment bland at best. In fact, City 17 barely resembles a city in any shape or form. The lack of unique architecture - aside from the Citadel and Plaza Square - suggests that this was never a functional city to begin with.
  • The use of technology, and the supposed threat that the Combine represent, is vastly undermined by various occurrences within the game itself. Humans seem perfectly capable of using Combine technology, and human tech has no trouble taking out even the most powerful of Combine weapons.
  • There are actually fairly few ties to the original Half-Life game, the only ones being: the crowbar, Gordon Freeman, Headcrabs, and the G-Man. Should these be removed, the game would be unrecognizable, and this, in turn, causes many internal issues with the storyline.
  • Betrayals, battles, and other major story events are greatly undermined by various in-game, writing, or other lore-based issues.
  • Numerous other story issues are discussed in the video!

The Gameplay

While certain portions of the game can be fun, some sections are difficult to digest without wearing a strong prescription of Nostalgia Glasses. Many of these faults are simply due to the age of the game, however, others are purely design failures that should not be there to begin with, such as:

  • Nova Prospekt highlights the extreme lack of enemy diversity in the game as it presents every single enemy in the game in one area (aside from some zombie varieties). While this is expected in end-game segments to this date, the fact that this occurs barely halfway into the game (and only 1/5th of the way through the trilogy) shows a severe lack of effort to create an immersive world.
  • Weapon variety is shallow at best. Many weapons serve as direct upgrades to others, and many of the unique functions that each weapon has are never used during gameplay.
  • The Gravity Gun gimmick is fun. However, its novelty wears thin quickly. This is namely due to its inconsistency as a reliable weapon.
  • Enemy AI is weak, and they lack diversity. Combine and other ranged enemies fail to take cover, while melee enemies simply charge at you without any other attack patterns to choose from. This is a serious downgrade from the original Half-Life, which came out six years earlier.
  • Game difficulty settings are merely numbers changes, as the AI is no smarter in Hard than it is on Easy.
  • Ally AI acts similar to the Combine AI, and they often rush to their deaths. The exceptions to this rule are Barney and Alyx, but the only reason they survive is thanks to rapid health regeneration.
  • Other gameplay issues can be found in the video!

The Presentation

While Half-Life 2: Episode Two's graphics look much more impressive than the other two games in the trilogy, the series as a whole lacks character. This isn't entirely a fault of the game's age as certain areas still look good. Instead, the fault is on the game's overwhelming reuse of props, textures, and more.

Considering the fact that the art director for Half-Life 2 moved on to work on games such as Dishonored shows the restrictive nature of the game's presentation as a whole. Music in the game sounds amazing, but it is rarely played, and is often drowned out by the sounds of the weapons in the game.

Half-Life 2 and Half-Life 2: Episode One have received visual updates as of the release of the Orange Box. However, they simply took character models from Episode Two and threw them into the previous games. This actually results in the game looking worse, primarily due to the newer models clashing heavily against the older ones.

The Verdicts

Unabridged Gamer explained that his score of 4.5/10 was due to the fact that the game is very much still playable, and the faults are not so terrible that the game does not deserve revisiting. He remarked further that the game works well as a base for new developers to learn from, but that the lack of game studios that still use the Source engine will result in negative yields.

As for the RR-sama score, the game received a 3.5/10. Those who have read Rewind Reviews before will understand that a 3 is reserved for those that are playable, but lack anything particularly impressive by today's standards. The reason that the game gets a 3.5 is that Half-Life 2 sets a standard for gaming that isn't completely irrelevant as of yet. While the game's difficulty and AI are considered weak nowadays, the gameplay mechanics are still sound. As such, it still functions as a "standard" for gaming, albeit on the lower side of the scale.

I hope that everyone who watched the review enjoyed it as much as I did recording for it, and if fortune is on our side this may be the first in a running line of collaboration videos!

Do you agree with this review? Do you think that the points raised are too harsh? What is your own experience with Half-Life 2? Leave your thoughts in the comments section below!

Reviews in this Series:

The full Rewind Review series can also be found here.

Our Rating
4
RR-sama and Unabridged Gamer team up to tackle one of the strongest fanbases ever: Half-Life 2!
Reviewed On: PC
Published Jan. 15th 2016

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