First Person Shooters owe a great debt to this game's success.
This was back in 2005, and I hadn't played a first person shooter since Doom. I was just seriously getting into gaming and the industry in general so I was branching out from the usual games I would play, Japanese role playing games and other story based adventure tales. I liked those specific genres because of the story, which would keep me interested and give me context that would give me a reason to finish the game. Somewhat myopically, I thought that those were the only games where I could get that kind of feeling. Then, I played Half-Life 2.
I don't know how I'd expected the game to start, with some kind of epic shootout that would befit my view of this genre, or some such nonsense. It's become a big talking point now, though, that even if you haven't played the game, you'd know that the first few minutes of this game are spent in observation of the environment. That's Valve's strong suit – they can convey ideas through the environment without specifically having to say them out loud through any sort of dialogue. It's similar to the way that a good film can convey an idea without necessarily having any characters speak onscreen, or how a book can give you a vision of what's going on without a large amount of description of environment or characters. It's the faith in the audience that comes through the extensive amount of playtesting that Valve employs which I enjoy so much.
The way the game is paced is very different in the context of a video game, as well. It starts off very slow and there's long sections that some players tend not to like. I noticed that when the game went to consoles, many players didn't want to continue with the game after the long airboat section. It's this pacing that I really enjoy about the game. I never feel like these sections are artificially long. With the buggy and the airboat, they're broken up by more on foot sections throughout the levels. They are artificially gated, of course, but it doesn't necessarily feel that way because of the way it's designed. I always felt like I was exploring and I happened to do what I needed to do. I never saw the rails that were guiding my experience.
The thing I was most surprised about was the narrative. I had never played a game like this with story integrated into my experience. There's still the equivalent of cutscenes, but they feel different when the game doesn't take your control away. The actual story itself isn't particularly special, as a dystopian future tale that has been explored through all different media for years and years, but for the first time, the player feels like they're actually living in this world instead of just an idle spectator.
I can say without a doubt that Half-Life 2 was what got me into games in general, and even ignoring the effect it had on the industry as a whole, I enjoy it for that reason alone. You can see how the game influenced most shooters nowadays – Bioshock, Call of Duty 4, and just the linear story based first person shooter owes a great debt to this game's success.