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Overview

Gordon and Alyx beneath the Citadel
Gordon and Alyx beneath the Citadel

Half-Life 2 is a first-person shooter developed by Valve and originally published exclusively for PC on November 16th, 2004. It continues the story of Gordon Freeman, a theoretical physicist caught in a disastrous teleportation experiment that becomes the catalyst for an alien invasion. Despite his success in destroying the alien's apparent leader Nihilanth during the events of the original Half-Life, Gordon finds himself conscripted by the enigmatic G-Man and placed into suspended animation. Several years later, Gordon is re-awoken for his next assignment: to disrupt the occupation of Earth by the Combine, a powerful alien collective that has subjugated the remnants of humanity during his long absence.

As with its ground-breaking 1998 predecessor, Half-Life 2 was released to overwhelming critical acclaim and commercial success, and it has frequently been cited for popularizing the use of physics manipulation in first-person titles to attack enemies or solve environmental puzzles; the game's advanced facial animation system also garnered significant praise. It has earned thirty-nine "Game of the Year" awards and has been ported to Xbox, Mac, Linux and Android platforms. Additionally, Half-Life 2 is included in The Orange Box, a 2007 compilation title which also brought the game to Xbox 360 and PS3. Half-Life 2 is notable for being the first game to require installation of Valve's Steam client, even for retail copies.

Subsequent follow-ups to Half-Life 2 were released as standalone episodes. Half-Life 2: Episode One and Half-Life 2: Episode Two each continue the franchise's overarching story while introducing a handful of new graphical and gameplay enhancements.

Gameplay

While its run-and-gun first-person gameplay is very similar to that of the original, Half-Life 2 sets itself apart from many of its shooter contemporaries through the use of a robust physics engine (a heavily modified version of Havok) which allows players to directly manipulate many objects throughout the game world. It also introduces the Gravity Gun, a new physics-based weapon capable of picking up and launching most small or medium-sized objects with considerable force, potentially turning these mundane items into improvised weapons. Most of the game's environmental puzzles are also built around this sort of object manipulation.

Protagonist Gordon Freeman spends the majority of the game on his own, exploring and fighting enemies solo; however, he is sometimes met by non-hostile NPCs who may provide dialogue or other forms of support. Late in the game's campaign, players are given the ability to command small squads of armed human resistance members as they fight through an embattled City 17.

Story

The G-Man revives Gordon
The G-Man revives Gordon

"So, wake up, Mr. Freeman. Wake up and smell the ashes."

-G-Man's introductory speech

Like the original game, the plot of Half-Life 2 is told not in discrete cutscenes, but instead through voiced NPC dialogue and scattered instances of environmental storytelling encountered during normal gameplay, such as newspaper clippings and the generally dilapidated state of the world. Due to the somewhat ambiguous presentation, many of the finer details of the game's backstory are left for players to infer themselves.

The game is set roughly one to two decades after the events of the original Half-Life, in which Dr. Gordon Freeman inadvertently caused a "resonance cascade" while working as an associate at the Black Mesa Research Facility in New Mexico. This catastrophic event heavily damaged the facility and triggered the teleportation of several hostile alien species into Black Mesa that immediately attacked the surviving personnel. Gordon battled through the aliens, as well as the US military's HECU soldiers sent to "clean up" both the invaders and any witnesses, in order to escape Black Mesa and close the dimensional portal before a full-scale invasion of Earth could take place. Eventually Gordon teleported himself to the "border world" of Xen to confront the aliens' leader, a powerful telekinetic being called the Nihilanth that was maintaining the link between dimensions. Gordon destroyed the creature, seemingly ending the alien threat to Earth; however, he was immediately met by an enigmatic figure known only as the "G-Man," who offered Gordon a job on behalf of his unknown "employers". The first game ends as Gordon is placed into some sort of stasis amidst a black void.

City 17's train station plaza
City 17's train station plaza

Half-Life 2 opens in the same void as Gordon is revived by the G-Man, who states that his "hour has come again". The G-Man inserts Gordon aboard a moving passenger train via teleportation; upon disembarking, Gordon finds himself in "City 17," an urban dystopia that appears to be the remnants of an unnamed city located in eastern Europe or Russia. Although still populated by human inhabitants (as well as several Vortigaunts), City 17 is controlled by the Combine, a powerful collective of aliens that have conquered Earth in Gordon's absence. The city's oppressed populace suffers greatly under Combine rule; forced relocation between urban centers is commonplace, and omnipresent Metrocops constantly harass innocent citizens with violence and impromptu raids on residential blocks. Even humanity's ability to procreate has been denied by a Combine "suppression field" that is slowly driving their race towards extinction.

Gordon also learns that former Black Mesa administrator Wallace Breen managed to broker a deal with the Combine's leadership to have himself installed as Earth's puppet ruler in the immediate aftermath of the "Seven Hour War," a decisive conflict between the Combine and humanity's military forces which ended with Earth's unconditional surrender. Breen surveys his citizens from the Combine Citadel, a multi-kilometer-tall metal tower in the city's center that serves as the Combine's base of operations on Earth. His publicly televised "Breencasts" are little more than Combine propaganda, touting the relative safety of City 17 and extolling the virtues of Earth's new "benefactors" while condemning the weaknesses of humanity such as instinct, superstition and the urge to reproduce.

Gordon's sudden arrival in City 17 soon sparks a massive resistance uprising, during which he and Alyx Vance manage to infiltrate the Citadel and destroy the "dark fusion reactor" located at its peak, ostensibly killing Breen in the process. Unfortunately Gordon and Alyx become trapped near the reactor's explosion; just before they are enveloped by the blast, time is apparently stopped by the G-Man, who arrives to once again place Gordon into stasis. This is where the game ends, with the franchise's story continued in Half-Life 2: Episode One.

Vehicles

In certain chapters of Half-Life 2, Gordon Freeman uses two vehicles to help him through enemy territory. The vehicles widen the range of the gameplay even more and help prevent the game from becoming overly repetitive.

Airboat

Airboat
Airboat

The Airboat is a land and water based vehicle. It's easy to maneuver, thus making it possible to dodge obstacles like bombs dropped by the Combine attack helicopters. Gordon Freeman uses the Airboat to navigate through the canal network and make his way to Black Mesa East, where he meets up with Alyx Vance, her father Eli Vance, Dr. Judith Mossman and Alyx's robot pet named Dog. At first the Airboat is unarmed and has no form of attack; however, later on it is mounted with a Combine chopper gun by a Vortigaunt.

Dune Buggy

Dune Buggy
Dune Buggy

The Dune Buggy is a land based vehicle that is used to cross the beaches while avoiding Antlions. The Dune Buggy is equipped with a mounted Tau Cannon which is used to gun down any enemies the player might encounter on the way. The Tau Cannon is the same from Half-Life. This one, however, cannot overload or run out of ammo.

Weapons

There is a diverse array of weaponry in the Half-Life universe. Every weapon has unique properties and their uses generally don't overlap. There is a weapon for every purpose and nearly every weapon is a worthwhile option in combat so long as it is used properly.

Crowbar

Crowbar
Crowbar

The iconic symbol of Gordon Freeman. The crowbar is the first weapon you get and its usefulness is more in the realm of breaking things than taking down armed forces, but it can do that too if necessary. It does more damage per hit than the Pistol and doesn't need reloading. It has a first-rate application beating down headcrabs that are normally a pain to shoot.

9mm Pistol

9mm Pistol
9mm Pistol

A weak backup weapon, very similar in appearance to the Heckler and Koch USP. The 9mm Pistol's main upshots are the availability of its ammo and its ammo capacity in the magazine and in reserve. That aside, it has little stopping power and should be avoided if other options are available; there is almost always a better weapon for the job than this Pistol.

  • 18 round magazine (180 in reserve).
  • Accurate out to fairly long distances.
  • Ideal at medium to long range.

Magnum

Magnum
Magnum

A satisfying deathblow in any situation. The Magnum will kill any standard enemy in one shot on Normal and is perfectly accurate--the only gun in the game to possess this trait. Ammunition for this gun is scarce, generally only found in secret areas; this is because it is designed to be used in a nearly theatrical fashion. Line up your shots carefully to avoid wasting them and crank up your speakers to ensure the fantastic kick of this gun doesn't go unnoticed. If you position your crosshair over an opponent in the distance while using the zoom function, you can exit the zoom and then land a perfect headshot if you don't move the mouse (you can't fire while using the suit's zoom feature).

  • 6 round magazine (12 in reserve).
  • Perfectly accurate.
  • Can be used at any range effectively.

Submachine Gun

Submachine gun
Submachine gun

Well-rounded is the name of the game for Valve's knockoff of the MP7. This automatic Submachine Gun is accurate to respectable distances, has decent stopping power, and the clip lasts for long enough to keep you from running dry before finding cover. A large fraction of the Combine use this gun and drop ammo for it, so only trigger-happiness or a lack of weapon variety will deplete your reserve of its bullets. The SMG comes with a 40mm grenade launcher that can fired with a right-click. Grenades for this launcher are rarer than Magnum rounds but they are also vastly superior to normal grenades thanks to their detonation on contact.

  • 45 round magazine (225 in reserve).
  • Accurate to medium-short ranges but useable at longer ranges.
  • Ideal in medium and medium-close range combat.
  • Grenade launcher holds 3 rounds.

Overwatch Pulse Rifle

Overwatch Pulse Rifle
Overwatch Pulse Rifle

The assault rifle of the future. The inner workings of the Pulse Rifle are questionable at best (are those tiny pods the entire clip?), but its power is hard to contest. Its magazine and reserve are a bit short so it doesn't work well in extended engagements, but Combine soldiers in areas like Nova Prospekt all use them so this should be an infrequent problem in these places. It knocks out most targets in a second or two. The secondary fire for the Overwatch Pulse Rifle is an exposed fusion core launcher (again, is the whole thing really inside that little glass jar?) that releases a ball of swirling energy that bounces around and vaporizes anything it hits. These balls are hard to use tactically because of their sporadic bouncing pattern, but if there are enough enemies in the room, you're guaranteed to get a few of them.

  • 30 round magazine (60 in reserve).
  • Slightly less accurate than the SMG.
  • Ideal in medium-close range combat.
  • Exposed core launcher holds 3 rounds.

Shotgun

Shotgun
Shotgun

The alpha and omega of close quarters combat in Half-Life 2. The Shotgun is modeled in form after the Italian SPAS-12 shotgun and uses readily available ammo. The pellet dispersion is far more realistic than in most games, meaning it works to greater ranges than you might initially expect. This range, combined with the hefty damage it doles out, makes the shotgun useful in many situations. Additionally, the secondary fire unleashes even more stopping power by firing the second barrel simultaneously with the primary barrel. Although this is a twist on standard shotgun functionality (as a shotgun's secondary barrel simply holds shells) it opens up new possibilities for hostile neutralization. If you find Half-Life 2 to be too easy, try playing through it without the Shotgun; you'll be surprised just how often its immense strength solves your problems.

  • 6 round magazine (30 in reserve).
  • Reloads one round at a time.
  • Accurate only at close range but usable at medium-close ranges.
  • Ideal at close range.

Crossbow

Crossbow
Crossbow

An overly physics-inspired sniper rifle. The Crossbow is much harder to use than the average sniping weapon for one reason that really becomes two reasons in practice. The crossbow fires an electrically superheated copper rod great distances and can pin unsuspecting Combine soldiers to walls and objects, leaving them to flop around in the most glorious of ragdoll fashions. Unfortunately, the rod qualifies as a standard projectile, meaning that it has travel time and is affected by gravity. This forces players to make two separate corrections to their aim if firing at range: one for the drop in height and one to anticipate their target's motions. Thankfully, the crossbow at least has a right-click zoom function identical to the suit's except that you can actually fire while using it. The Crossbow is, ironically, hardest to use at sniping distances and is more than powerful enough to used against enemies in direct conflict. The ragdoll pinning is also always a plus.

  • 1 round magazine (8 in reserve).
  • Accurate at any range with proper aim correction.
  • Ideal at medium-long range.

RPG

RPG
RPG

Arguably the most fun twist on a standard firearm in the game. The Combine gunship has the ability to shoot down missiles that fly toward it with its guns. This makes killing it very hard without overwhelming firepower. Cue the Rocket Launcher. Unsatisfied with run-of-the-mill heatseeking or lock-on homing devices, the Half-Life 2 RPG Launcher has an undermounted laser pointer the rocket follows around in the sky. Though the practical application of this against the gunships is obvious, using it in regular combat is both hilarious and satisfying in its own right as the rocket makes circles in the sky following a red dot. You rarely ever get ammo for this thing when there isn't a gunship to destroy, so stock up after these battles to maintain your supply.

  • 1 rocket tube (2 in reserve).
  • Accurate at any range with line-of-sight.
  • Ideal against air targets or enemies in open areas.

Gravity Gun

Gravity Gun
Gravity Gun

The Zero-Point Energy Field Manipulator as the diehard scientists call it. The Havok physics engine was put in the game primarily to improve the experience this weapon provides. A left-click will send any object smaller than a car flying away. A right-click will compel objects in the distance toward you until they are tractor beamed into the Gravity Gun's grasp, at which point the object can be set down for stacking with another right-click or sent flying with the left-click. Hitting people with chairs, as it turns out, is very fun and the Gravity Gun's ammo is only limited to the number of movable objects in the area around you, making it useful from the time you get it to the end.

  • No ammo.
  • Short range punting and long range grabbing.
  • Range of grabbed items up to long range depending on angle shot, medium if shot straight forward.

Grenade

Grenade
Grenade

Another victim of the Havok physics engine. One would hope that the grenade would provide a surefire way to clear out a room full of baddies or at least shake them up before you storm in, guns blazing. Unfortunately, upon inspection, the Half-Life 2 grenade is a large cylinder. This means that the grenade's explosion may be nowhere near where you threw the thing in the first place; depending on how it lands, the grenade can roll a considerably long way (or it might not roll at all). Make sure that any grenade you throw explodes before moving into the area--you'll have no good idea where it will explode unless you can see it. The right-click flicks the grenade under-hand so it doesn't go very far, unless of course the grenade lands awkwardly at which point anything can happen.

  • Maximum of 5 in reserve.
  • Completely inaccurate at any range.
  • Ideal if you don't get hit.

Pheropod

Pherapod
Pherapod

After defeating your first Antlion Queen, a Vortigaunt "extracts" these orbs of something from her and gives you an endless supply of them. From this point on, Antlions become your friends as you can manipulate their actions by squeezing or throwing Pheropods. When you squeeze the Pheropod, all Antlions in the area converge on your location. When you throw it, the Antlions move to where it landed and attack any foes in the area or specifically one of them if the Pheropod hits someone. The Antlions themselves are good in melee combat but they are quite fragile. They should be used more as a distraction than as a solution to opposition.

  • Infinite ammo.
  • Can be thrown long distances depending on arc.
  • Ideal for diversionary tactics.

Levels

Very much like in Half-Life's first installment, there are no levels in the traditional sense of the word in this game, only new areas introduced by on-screen titles.

01. Point Insertion
01. Point Insertion
02. A Red Letter Day
02. A Red Letter Day
03. Route Kanal
03. Route Kanal
04. Water Hazard
04. Water Hazard
05. Black Mesa East
05. Black Mesa East
06. We Don't Go to Ravenholm
06. We Don't Go to Ravenholm
07. Highway 17
07. Highway 17
08. Sandtraps
08. Sandtraps
09. Nova Prospekt
09. Nova Prospekt
10. Entanglement
10. Entanglement
11. Anticitizen One
11. Anticitizen One
12. Follow Freeman
12. Follow Freeman
13. Our Benefactors
13. Our Benefactors
14. Dark Energy
14. Dark Energy

Mods

NameGenresTheme
PrecursorActionSci-Fi
MinervaActionSci-Fi
Mistake of PythagorasActionSci-Fi
CalamityActionSci-Fi

Development

The road to release was not an easy or predictable one for Valve. In its five year development, Half-Life 2 went through numerous delays, a massive source code leak, a lawsuit with its publisher Vivendi Universal Games, and had to launch with the unproven and, at the time, unreliable Steam digital distribution system.

The game is estimated to have cost 40 million dollars to produce. As revealed by the coffee table book Half Life 2: Raising the Bar, Half-Life 2 was originally intended to be a much darker, grittier experience where the Combine are more evidently draining the Earth's resources and eliminating the surviving citizen population.

The settings of the game were also to be more diverse, with Nova Prospekt being a short stopping point but growing into the final destination.

Source Engine

For Half-Life 2, Valve developed a new game engine called the Source engine. The source engine includes a heavily modified version of the Havok physics engine that allows for more environmental interactivity during both single-player and online play.

Notable Technology

  • High dynamic range rendering
  • Lag compensating network communications
  • Network-enabled and bandwidth-efficient physics engine
  • Future-proof multiprocessor support
  • Facial animation system
  • Blended skeletal animation system
  • Full-screen motion blur
  • Dynamic lighting and shadowing

Source Code Leak

Half-life 2 was merely a rumor until being officially unveiled at E3 May 2003. The game then received huge amounts of hype and won many awards for best in show. Initially the game had a release date of September 2003, but it missed that date. Leading up to the original September release date, Valve fell into an unexpected media blackout, providing almost no information whatsoever on the progress of the game as it was supposed to be being completed. After the September date had come and gone with no information from Valve, Half-Life 2's complete source code was leaked online along with other private internal Valve documents showing that the game was not yet complete and ready for release. Valve finally broke their silence and admitted that the game would be delayed for a year. This massive leak of private information was due to a major breach of Valve's internal network through a null session connection to Tangis which was hosted in Valve's network and subsequent upload of an ASP shell.

In June 2004, Valve issued a press release stating that the FBI had arrested several people suspected of involvement in the source code leak. Valve claimed the game had been leaked by a German black-hat hacker named Axel Gembe. Gembe later contacted Valve CEO Gabe Newell thinking that Valve wanted to employ him as an in-house security auditor, to which Valve feigned interest to bait him for arrest. He was to be offered a flight to the USA and then immediately arrested on arrival, but the German government learned of the plan and arrested Gembe themselves.

In November of 2006, in Germany, Gembe was sentenced to two years probation because the judge felt Gembe had a difficult childhood and was working on his problems.

Continuing Support

In January of 2012, members of the Steam Community group "A Call for Communication (Half-Life)" organized a massive community playdate called in Half-Life 2 to show their continuing support for Valve and the Half-Life franchise. Scheduled for February 4th, "A Red Letter Day" (an homage to Half-Life 2's second level) was intended to bring the game into the top ten most-played Steam games of the day by garnering as many concurrent players as possible. In total, the event put 13,126 players online at the same time, more than ten times that average for the past year.

Soundtrack

Soundtrack's CD Artwork
Soundtrack's CD Artwork

The original score for Half-Life 2 was composed by Kelly Bailey.

Track No.TitleRunning Time
01Hazardous Environments

01.25

02CP Violation

01.45

03The Innsbruck Experiment

01.07

04Brane Scan

01.41

05Dark Energy

01.33

06Requiem for Ravenholm

00.33

07Pulse Phase

01.10

08Ravenholm Reprise

00.53

09Probably not a Problem

01.26

10Calabi-Yau Model

01.46

11Slow Light

00.45

12Apprehension and Evasion

02.18

13Hunter Down

00.15

14Our Resurrected Teleport

01.12

15Miscount Detected

00.48

16Headhumper

00.08

17Triage at Dawn

00.45

18Combine Harvester

01.25

19Lab Practicum

02.55

20Nova Prospekt

01.58

21Broken Symmetry

01.03

22LG Orbifold

02.52

23Kaon

01.11

24You're Not Supposed to Be Here

02.41

25Supression Field

00.55

26Hard Fought

01.15

27Particle Ghost

01.40

28Shadows Fore and Aft

01.27

29Neutrino Trap

01.35

30Zero Point Energy Field

01.42

31Echoes of a Resonance Cascade

01.38

32Black Mesa Inbound

02.14

33Xen Relay

00.39

34Tracking Device

01.03

35Singularity

01.19

36Dirac Shore

01.27

37Escape Array

01.27

38Negative Pressure

01.58

39Tau-9

02.06

40Something Secret Steers Us

02.02

41Triple Entanglement

01.32

42Biozeminade Fragment

00.32

43Lambda Core

01.44

System Requirements

PC

Minimum

  • Processor: 1.2 GHz
  • RAM Memory: 256 MB
  • GPU: DirectX 7 Capable Graphics Card (64mb or higher)
  • Operating System: Windows 98/2000/ME/XP
  • Misc: Mouse, Keyboard, Internet Connection

Recommended

  • Processor: 2.4 GHz
  • RAM Memory: 512 MB
  • GPU: DirectX 9 Capable Graphics Card (256mb or Higher)
  • Operating System: Windows 98/2000/ME/XP
  • Misc: Mouse, Keyboard, Internet Connection

Mac

Minimum

  • RAM Memory: 1 GB
  • GPU: NVIDIA GeForce 8 or higher, or ATI X1600 or higher
  • Operating System: OS X version Leopard 10.5.8 or higher, Snow Leopard 10.6.3 or higher
  • Misc: Mouse, Keyboard, Internet Connection
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