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 Half-Life 2 retrospective: The shooter that changed everything turns 10

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Minkaro
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PostSubject: Half-Life 2 retrospective: The shooter that changed everything turns 10    Sun Nov 16, 2014 4:54 pm

By Ivan Dransfield

First released: 2004 (PC)
Now Available On: PC, Mac, Linux, Xbox 360, PS3, Android

I remember it like it was yesterday - I had bought a new PC specifically to play Half-Life 2, a behaviour reserved only for the biggest releases, repeated for the likes of Supreme Commander and Football Manager 2007.

We had been told so much about this new way of doing things, that it required some form of online activation - Steam - in order to play it. Fine, cool, whatever - makes no difference, the game is out, let's get installing.

I don't think I got to play Half-Life 2 for another two or three days after picking it up. The curse of exploding, gremlin-riddled servers struck the almighty Valve, and many of us were unable to actually play the game we'd waited six years for.

Oddly, Half-Life 2 is revered in gaming circles. If it had come out and botched its launch so spectacularly these days, the internet would have been up in arms. How times change...

But then, Half-Life 2 is special. Like, really special. The kind of special where those who played it back in 2004 for the first time actually get a tear in the eye, remembering just how much it lived up to six years of hype.

Even with the famous leak - where the game's code was stolen and distributed on the web - it wasn't ruined. It wasn't sullied. It was everything I - everything we - hoped for. It was everything we didn't hope for, too - in the way that it introduced features we didn't even know we'd give monkey's about until we had a chance to muck about with them.

The Gravity Gun, having a robot 'dog' to help out, remembering not to shoot Vortigaunts, driving down a coastal highway, refusing to put a can in a bin and getting thwocked for it... none of us expected Half-Life 2 to be that good.

So it's right to expect it's a game where you go back to it, 10 years down the line, and it's turned into some unrecognisable mess; destroyed by the ravages of time and made even more disappointing thanks to your unreliable memory that Makes Everything Better.

Stupid memory.

But... it's great. Still. Half-Life 2 is the kind of game you can show to one of those snot-nosed shooter fans of today and say in a distinctly parental tone, 'Now this is what real video games should be'.

I mean yes, they've probably all played it already because it's only ten years old and is very easy to pick up for next to nothing on Steam - but you get the point.

There's just so much about it - still - that stands out. So much that's brave and interesting, rather than forced and needlessly bombastic. So much character in a man who never speaks; so much empathy with a woman who really should have served as the template for How To Write Female Characters In Games; so much terror in Ravenholm...

Even the physics - so new and fresh back then, so commonplace and forgotten these days - do something beyond just make tins fall over realistically. Puzzles with physics elements! Physics! Puzzles! Madness.

Half-Life 2 bridged a gap between the old and new - it's one of the last bastions of old-fashioned first-person shooter design, with a hint of openness mixed in with box-and-lever puzzles.

It's also one of the first of a then-new generation of shooter games, bringing the cinematic action and atmosphere in spades that we come to expect as standard these days.

It's also really not too big a leap to say that, without Half-Life 2, the modern gaming market probably wouldn't be like it is today.

Steam already existed by the time the One Free Man's second adventure appeared, but it was the first game that made Steam's installation mandatory. One of the most-anticipated games of the... well, ever, forced you to install Valve's proprietary software.

If it wasn't for that 'gentle' nudge, would we be living in a world like we are now, dominated by digital distribution and with Steam holding a majority when it comes to video game sales on PC?

But that's Half-Life 2 - the game that changed games, changed our PCs, changed how we buy games, changed how we own games, changed how games are made, changed what we expect from games and generally changed things.

It shows its age these days - the airboat sections especially are pretty-bloody-bad - but Half-Life 2 is still 20 times the game most contemporary shooters are. It's been 10 years and nobody has even been close to catching up.

I'd be quite sad about that fact, but instead I'm just going to play Half-Life 2 again. Maybe the G-Man will turn up in another place I've never seen him before. The creepy-talking git.
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Half-Life 2 retrospective: The shooter that changed everything turns 10

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