Half Life 2 is a Bad Game.

[Reposting from another blog I just started. This is in response to people being shocked/upset when I say I think that the Half Life 2 series is bad and this is me finally articulating why I think its bad.]

Really. Okay, sure, maybe that’s hyperbole and I should say that I think it’s a mediocre game to be more accurate. But that’s what I really think. And let me explain why.

First off let me say that I think Half Life 2 has got some fantastic things going for it. It’s got an amazing starting section. You’re starting out in a dystopian future where the alien Combine have all but completely taken over the Earth where the only real resistance you get any sense of existing at all is waiting for the mythical Gordon Freeman to come back and save the day again. Alright, that part isn’t actually that great, but the atmosphere that the game builds in the first hour or two is really spectacular.

You’re subjected to and catch glimpses of the abuses and power of the Combine as you start out into the world. You see it in the worn spirits of the two men you’re on the train with who are uncertain of what the future holds for them, the Orwellian giant screens and speakers broadcasting Dr. Breen through the city, to the camera drones that start to watch you as soon as you step outside the train station. There’s a man trying to take what few possession he still has from a cart of suitcases and is knocked over for trying to do so, and a woman waiting for her husband to come on the next train after he was taken for questioning. You catch a glimpse of several Combine who are interrogating/beating a man, and through tutorializing you’re forced to pick up and throw away an empty pop can or be beaten after a Combine soldier knocks it on the ground.

The sense of atmosphere you get in those first few minutes of the game, before you’ve really even started to play the game is great. It’s among my favorite starting section to any game I’ve ever played and I don’t think there’ve been many games that have done it better.

But then you start to actually have some gameplay that isn’t just running from point A to point B, which means soon it’s going to start going to shit.

Barney, working undercover for the resistance posing as a Combine soldier stops you at a checkpoint under the guise of an interrogation/beating and sets you free, but the alarms have to be tripped in the process for you to get away, on a delay for Barney to cover for you as long as he can. So you escape, you start needing to book it away from the Combine, where ever that is in City 17 where there aren’t Combine.

You’re running through alleyways, witnessing more abuses of power being committed by the Combine along the way, and staying as far away from them as you can so they don’t recognize you before you make it into a rundown apartment building where a raid is happening on one apartment, before being taken in briefly by neighbors looking to keep you, a complete stranger but also a fellow human, safe from being caught up in it.

Then finally the Combine are onto you, and they begin to chase you. The game is still pretty good at this point. You’re not interacting with the world terribly much in a very game-y way, you’re mostly just running away from them, still unable to defend yourself. All the while getting help from strangers who are willing to help you, telling you where to run so you can keep going to delaying the Combine as much as they can. You’re running across roof tops being shot at from below on the streets and having more soldiers appear behind you trying to stop you. This sequence is great. Really, it’s wonderful. It keeps up the great sense of just how powerless you and the general population of City 17 are under the boot of the Combine.

Then finally you get corned, beaten, and knocked unconscious by Combine soliders. Enter Alyx Vance. She’s a pretty good character throughout the series. Very well voice acted, facial animations are exceptionally well done (especially for the time, but still hold up today), and in general just a very smart and capable character.

But things are going to get bad soon. You’re going to get a weapon and things are very quickly going to turn to shit. Anyways, you meet Dr. Kleiner and listen to him and Alyx talk before Barney stops in as well and you get your super cool Science Suit for doing sciencey things like empirically testing how many whacks with a crowbar it takes to murder a Combine and finding out just how many Manhacks can an average person kill before they just get completely fucking tired of it.

Anyways, theres some story stuff and some science mumbo jumbo that gets discussed and also Alyx’s dad is there too I guess and then you use Combine technology to teleport Alyx to the resistance’s secret base and just as you’re about to go through it, science goes wrong. Dr. Breen realizes who you are and that you’re there, you nearly drown and get eaten by a very rude fish, the de-beaked head crab tries to eat some seagulls on a beach, and then you’re basically just back where you’re started right before science went bad.

So now you’ve really got to get out of there, and shortly thereafter Barney throws you your classic crowbar, wishes you luck and tells you to be careful, and then you’re on your way.

The atmosphere still holds up here, and even for a while it’ll still be pretty good. But at this point the part of actually playing is going downhill. Briefly put, the combat in the Half Life 2 series is awful. And it’s that because of a number of reaons. The weapons you have don’t really feel like they pack any punch, with the only exception of the gravity gun which won’t generally have nearly enough things to really play through the game using primarily that for fighting and the secondary fire on the combine assault rifle. Aside from those two weapons, the weapons you have don’t feel like they’re doing anything at all. Enemies don’t react to being shot at all, the guns really don’t have a very fulfilling sound to them, and some of them feel really inaccurate. And finally most of them just aren’t very Cool. In a game where you’ll be doing a fair amount of shooting throughout, having the shooting not being very fun or fulfilling is a very bad thing.

You travel through sewers and drainageways, with a constant onslaught of Combine soldiers, helicopters, and jeep things with guns, and even when you’re not being immediately sought by Combine forces, you’re contending with the tentacle things looking to eat you as you slide down a slippery surface with little traction to avoid them, or the Combine has sent Manhacks after you. All of this is great in adding to the atmosphere of just how oppressive the world of Half Life 2 is. But little of it is actually fun. And that’s the kicker.

And soon after all of the sewer nonsense you get to the first overly long and terrible vehicle section of the game. The boat. Boat. It controls I kinda like a boat I guess in that you don’t get the really precise movements that you’d get on foot or with other vehicle types, but the weird kinda loose boat controls are the problem. It’s that the section goes on for so long that it just gets to a point where I’m always wishing it was maybe a 3-5 sequence at the absolute most, because at this point in the game, the atmosphere is really starting to be less of a thing and it’s starting to turn very quickly into a more action oriented game. And that isn’t the strength of Half Life.

And that’s really the crux of it. The actiony parts where you’re really playing the game are rarely noteworthy. They’re competently done, to be sure, but they’re not fun. Sure, there are some exceptions like Ravenholm being just batshit weird, but that’s very much the exception and not the standard.

Where Half Life 2 excels is in atmosphere and in making (more than is normal) empathetic and real feeling characters. And unfortunately most of the game isn’t focused on that. You get Alyx accompanying you for a decent chunk of the game, which certainly helps matters, and Eli is also particularly well done. But that’s so much on the periphery of actually playing the game.

And so Half Life 2 is a mediocre game (and by and large everything I said applies to the series at large), but because of the massive amount of praise that’s so frequently heaped on it as being a beacon of what gaming should strive to be, I feel like I have to say that it’s just a bad game instead to make people actually perk up and listen.

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Posted by JazGalaxy

I agree with you.

I was super excited to buy the orange box and I plopped it in my console one day only to realize... oh yeah. The gameplay in HL is almost non-existant, and what is there isn't very fun.

The graphics are great, characters are great, setting is great, art is great, sound is great, tech is great.... it's just not a fun FPS game. If they made they made HL 3 a movie instead of a game, I wouldn't be dissapointed in the slightest.

And when you take into account what Half Life has done to gaming as a whole, it's not just not-a-great-game... it's almost criminal.

Edited by EvilNiGHTS

I think the issue is that it's very much a product of its time. Something we've gotten away from in last generation is that these games used to be really long. We're talking about 20+ hours in some cases without much regard given to pacing or varying mechanics, which is a stark contrast from the FPS genre today.

Posted by ch3burashka

Alright, we needed a new Jim Sterling.

Edited by ImmortalSaiyan

it's......... ok.

Posted by Video_Game_King

Oh, boy. You know how much shit I got for shitting on the first Half Life? I can't imagine it's gonna be much better with the sequel.

Posted by BeachThunder

Edited by CircleNine

@video_game_king: I also think the first Half Life was bad, but then I didn't play it when it was new so I don't really have that experience with it that lots of people had with it.

Edited by JustinNotJason

I disagree. I did, and continue to think, it's one of the best games of all time. I enjoy the atmosphere, the puzzle mechanics and the fighting sequences.

The fact that they re-released it with the orange box and it was still as good as most (then) current gen games shows how well it holds up. Hell, you could play it now, almost 10 years later, and still have a really good experience.

That being said. Everyone has different tastes. It is a long game and, as someone pointed out, the length wasn't uncommon at the time, but is alittle out of place now (unfortunately). A lot of people make the argument that the puzzles are tired and over used in games, but Half Life was one of the first games to really pioneer it.

But I suppose agree to disagree.

Posted by TheCreamFilling

I can see how you didn't like the boat section, but I had no problems. Different people have different tastes.

Posted by The_Laughing_Man

It was amazing when it came out. And like all games it did not age to well. It is a bad game now. But not back then.

Posted by Video_Game_King

@video_game_king: I also think the first Half Life was bad, but then I didn't play it when it was new so I don't really have that experience with it that lots of people had with it.

Funnily enough, that exact same topic came up in the situation I'm talking about. (Then again, I didn't outright call Half Life 1 bad. Just very, very average.)

Posted by Nigglenummy

You're entitled to your opinion, but you're in the minority. Keep in mind HL2 came out in 2004....nine years ago. A lot that is expected of FPS's has changed since then. The combat and vehicle sections that you hate so much were mostly hailed back then.

Posted by JasonR86

lol.

Edited by ArbitraryWater

I think Half Life 2 has some pretty fantastic guns, to be honest. It's not my favorite first person shooter, but I liked the combat just fine when I played it for the first (and last) time like 5 years ago. I will agree that the pacing is pretty terrible and most of the sequences in the game wear out their welcome before they're done, and I'll add the terrible jumping and physics puzzles on top of that.

But also, you have to remember that Half Life 2 came out almost 10 years ago and thus cannot necessarily be held to the expectations we hold about shooters now. Oh, I still think its quality is overstated, but it's still an important game, even if most of that importance came in the form that every game had physics from then onward.

Posted by Milkman

It sure is. It's right up there with MGS 3 in the category "games that are not good games."

Posted by CptBedlam

It's certainly not a bad game but also not that milestone some make it out to be. I was not very impressed when I played through it at the time of its release.

Edited by TruthTellah

You have bad opinions!

Really. Okay, sure, maybe that's hyperbole and I should say that I think you have mediocre opinions to be more accurate. But that’s what I really think.

Also, while we're taking acclaimed games down a peg just because we feel like it, I think it's worth noting that Super Mario Bros is rather shallow gameplay-wise and way too short. Not to mention, Final Fantasy 7 was pretty ridiculous if you think about it, and they really padded out the experience with extra fighting and tedious sidequests, am I right? And don't even get me started on the crappy textures in The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time. Pee-yew!

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Posted by moondogg

Its all opinion, I quite enjoyed it, really only played through it for the first time a few years ago. Its dated, yeah, but. It's a fun game. I'll agree that certain elements outweigh others in quality (but again that's all opinion). But nothing from my experience drags it down into being 'bad'.

Posted by mrfluke

k

Posted by JasonR86

@jasonr86 said:

lol.

If I weren't a dick I would have gone further and said that this thread is a big giant code for 'PAY ATTENTION TO ME' via denouncing a thing other people really like. It's the forum version of being an attention whore.

But I'm a dick. so, "lol."

Posted by JazGalaxy

It's certainly not a bad game but also not that milestone some make it out to be. I was not very impressed when I played through it at the time of its release.

See, that's where I disagree.

I think it's not a great game, but I don't think anyone can argue that it wasn't a milestone. It was THE milestone of the last decade. It was the template that almost all games attempted to follow right up until now.

Having played both HL and HL2 when they were brand spanking new, they were both huge, huge milestones. HL1 was even a good FPS. HL2 just wasn't in my opinion, and that's largely only due to the fact that it spent so much time telling it's story and not nearly enough time allowing you to play a game.

Posted by RonGalaxy

Good on you for shoving yourself into a 10 year old conversation. Your opinion doesn't matter, my opinion doesn't matter. Why write a small essay on something that doesn't matter?

Posted by MariachiMacabre
Posted by MocBucket62

Never played any Half Life game. I'd still like to if I ever get a chance, but hopefully I enjoy the combat better than you did because it sounds terrible from what you're saying. Also the guns sound like anti Battlefield guns if they sound inaccurate.

Posted by CptBedlam

@jazgalaxy: I do agree with you on the HL1 being a milestone part. HL2 didn't do anything noteworthy to advance the genre imo. Not even narrative-wise (I think Riddick, which preceded HL2 by a few months, was way better in that regard for example).

Posted by EvilNiGHTS

Again, seminal doesn't always mean good.

Edited by Jace

@circlenine:

You spent 9 paragraphs just outlining the story beats only to arrive at, "The combat is boring and the weapons feel bad."

You know, I've heard a lot of great arguments against HL2. The physics puzzles get old, the see-saw thing is gimmicky, levels are too linear, and the list goes on.

But you are the first to complain about the weapons in a story-driven shooter that had one of the most innovative weapons of its time. (Two if you count both forms.)

If you're going to say it's bad, at least use a sound reason.

Edited by believer258

I... don't know if I want to try and convince anyone, anymore, that Half-Life 2 was made in 2004, and way back then it did some amazingly impressive stuff that has been implemented in pretty much every shooter since.

As for the guns, Half-Life 2's shotgun remains one of my favorites. I don't know where you get that it doesn't have any "oomph" to it, it's loud and makes bad guys fly backwards. What more do you want? The crossbow pins dudes to the wall, the pulse rifle sounds really good and its secondary fire is even better, the magnum sounds great, etc. Admittedly, the SMG and pistol sound a bit tinny, but those are two very early weapons.

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Posted by CitizenCoffeeCake

I disagree.

Edited by CircleNine

@jace: The shooting parts, the majority of the gameplay part of the story driven game, are actually kind of a big deal in a first person shooter. And if the shooting parts aren't fun and are drawn out and boring, that's kind of a big problem with the game. And the physics puzzles, there are like maybe 2 in each game that I can actually recall. Sure, they're shitty and not very fun but they're also very brief compared to the 10 hours of running and gunning that you'll be doing.

You'll notice I mostly praised the setting of the game, just the playing the game part of the game is what I think is mediocre.

Posted by JaredA

I played HL 2 for the first time a few months ago and I thought it was a kick ass game.

Posted by Irvandus

I really love Half Life but I can understand perfectly that a person playing it for the first time now could not enjoy it.

Posted by CircleNine

Oh and I played it and the episodes when they were each new. This isn't someone coming into it 9 years late and saying I think its mediocre.

Posted by MariachiMacabre

@jasonr86 said:

@jasonr86 said:

lol.

If I weren't a dick I would have gone further and said that this thread is a big giant code for 'PAY ATTENTION TO ME' via denouncing a thing other people really like. It's the forum version of being an attention whore.

But I'm a dick. so, "lol."

Have I ever told you that you're one of my favorites? I just...I appreciate you so much.

@milkman I can't tell if you're being serious but MGS3 is pretty fantastic. HL2 is as well. But MGS3 is really, super, crazy good. Tell me you're joking so I can sleep soundly tonight.

Posted by Giantstalker

Man, games truly are subjective aren't they. I guess this only becomes more and more apparent as these things get, well, older.

Posted by Milkman

@mariachimacabre: I am totally not kidding. Both games certainly did interesting things and there's no denying that Half Life 2 is an important game but the problem is that both of them are SUPER boring to play. I mean, holy shit that boat section of HL 2 is so bad.

Posted by BaconGames

It's hard to have an opinion about certain games having played them at a certain time but also so many times I can't look at it the same way again anyway.

Posted by MariachiMacabre

@milkman said:

@mariachimacabre: I am totally not kidding. Both games certainly did interesting things and there's no denying that Half Life 2 is an important game but the problem is that both of them are SUPER boring to play. I mean, holy shit that boat section of HL 2 is so bad.

I totally agree that HL2 has not aged well (but it was amazing at the time, despite the overlong boat section) but I just played through MGS3 HD and I still love the shit out of that game. But I'm a big proponent of the batshit insane MGS plot. To each their own, however.

See, rest of this thread? DIPLOMACY. Catch the fever of Diplomacy, everybody.

Posted by Slag
@jasonr86 said:

@jasonr86 said:

lol.

If I weren't a dick I would have gone further and said that this thread is a big giant code for 'PAY ATTENTION TO ME' via denouncing a thing other people really like. It's the forum version of being an attention whore.

But I'm a dick. so, "lol."

Since you did go further does that mean you're actually not a dick?

Posted by FengShuiGod

I dunno, I played HL2 and the episodes like two years ago and I thought they were great.

Edited by JasonR86

@slag said:
@jasonr86 said:

@jasonr86 said:

lol.

If I weren't a dick I would have gone further and said that this thread is a big giant code for 'PAY ATTENTION TO ME' via denouncing a thing other people really like. It's the forum version of being an attention whore.

But I'm a dick. so, "lol."

Since you did go further does that mean you're actually not a dick?

Eh.

@mariachimacabre Awwww.

Posted by TruthTellah

Oh and I played it and the episodes when they were each new. This isn't someone coming into it 9 years late and saying I think its mediocre.

I can definitely understand why you might want to share your thoughts here due to having already spent some time writing them up for your blog, but I hope you also understand how this post and your headline may just make this seem like a very common gaming forum plea for attention through putting down a popular game or series. It is unfortunately common and effective in the gaming community, and whether that was your intent or not, it is likely lead to the same result.

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Edited by Max_Cherry

Half-Life 2 had terrible pacing issues. I never finished it. I got half-way through the Citadel level and just had enough. I wasn't about to go through another like 9 hours just to see the ending.

Edited by DoctorWelch

Doom and Doom II are some of the only first person shooters that actually hold up these days. At this point in video game history the first person shooter has been iterated on more than any other genre in video games, and because of this there are a lot of older games that seem down right terrible if you take them out of their time periods.

I actually played Half-Life 2 in about 2006 or 2007 and didn't think it was all that great. In contrast, I only played the first Half-Life last summer and thought it was much better. Older shooters like Doom and Half-Life actually hold up much better than other shooters from the early 2000's for some reason.

Obviously, I did not play either game when they were new so I don't have that specific perspective on their influence, but I do agree that both games are a bit overrated. I have seen the arguments as to why Half-Life is a great game, and I actually kind of agree. Even playing it for the first time last year I can totally seem why that game would blow someone's mind when it was released. However, Half-Life 2 was mostly a boring mess of mediocre puzzle solving and shooting. Considering Halo: Combat Evolved came out 3 years earlier, a game which is better than Half-Life 2 in most respects as well as being a larger influence on future of FPS games overall, I really find the whole obsession over Half-Life 3 to be pure insanity.

There's pretty much no way for a new game to live up to the hype, and at this point companies like Bungie and Respawn are the ones I would trust to bring about a new, innovative FPS experiences. So yes, even if I don't think you properly voiced the reasons why Half-Life 2 is mediocre, I still think you are pretty much correct in your evaluation. It certainly isn't a bad game by any means, but I simply don't think it deserves the attention and praise it gets.

Edited by CircleNine

@truthtellah: The odd thing is I'm pretty sure I actually spend many more words praising the game for what it does well than haranguing it for what it does poorly.

Posted by Stokes
Posted by TruthTellah

@truthtellah: The odd thing is I'm pretty sure I actually spend many more words praising the game for what it does well than haranguing it for what it does poorly.

True, but it's all in your delivery. You even noted that you purposefully made it sound more inflammatory just to get more attention. You basically called someone ugly and then said, "Okay, okay, you're actually -alright-. Even though your nose is a little crooked and you're kinda overweight, you do have decent hair and great legs. So, yeah." It's reasonable that they might still focus on the fact that you started the whole thing off with a bigger insult, thus distracting from your more measured point.

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Edited by Oldirtybearon

I think the vehicle sections were the worst part of Half-Life 2. Whenever I replay it I always want to skip those levels because they add nothing to the atmosphere or provide any narrative justification for existing. I get nothing out of them except squirrel-y handling and occasionally having to shoot ant-lions. As OP said the guns do lack a certain amount of "oomph," and the levels are far too linear when the world begs for exploration. Alyx Vance is okay, too, I guess. She's not a particularly interesting or deep character. The only reason people even like her is because she was the first NPC tag-along to not rush you to the next objective every ten seconds.

For the sake of contrast, I'm replaying Half-Life 1 via the Black Mesa TC. The combat encounters are spaced apart pretty well and just when I've had enough platforming/puzzle solving a Vortigaunt warps in or some other nasty critter/US Marine shows up to take my head off. It's something that I never could put my finger on until playing Black Mesa. That is Valve is not good at pacing in the Half-Life games. Half-Life 2 is still a good game I think, but its over-reliance on boring physics puzzles and vehicle sections keep it from being a great one.

Obligatory "where the fuck is Half-Life 3?" point

Edited by RE_Player1

I don't think you understand the types of games that surrounded it during that year. In 2004 Half-Life 2 was mind blowing.

Posted by tyler1285

@max_cherry: Wait, you got halfway through the finale, and then decided to stop?

People who don't like Half-life 2 are bad vidja gamers.

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