Wow. Just….wow. I was up untill 3:30am last night playing possibly one of the finest action games of all time. It’s just mind blowingly polished in everything it does, you just know that Valve have tweaked, tested and optimised every possible facet of the experience. It really is getting close to the convergence product of an “interactive movie” that we keep hearing about. There are no cut scenes, a interface that is minimalist to the extreme and a world that is so full of possibilities that it is a joy to play. The story is just brilliant, it picks up from the end of Half-Life 1 and drops you into this Easterm European soviet-chic police state (1984 style) with no explantation of why you are there, how you got there or what you have to do next. It is left to the player to use their imagination to explore and interact with the surroundings and maybe guess at what is going on.
The physics are just plain fun. Barrels, boxes, tables, chairs, radiators, phones; everything can be moved around, smashed, burnt, blown up, thrown, stacked, floated, catapulted…It’s just sublimely fun. And the graphics! Oh man! I thought my PC would struggle (1.4 Athlon, 512 RAM, Gf4) but it’s coping surprisingly well at 1024×768 and rendering the Half-Life 2 world beautifully. Birds fly from rooftops, smoke and mist hangs around creepily and custard yellow paint peels from apartment block walls. Water effects are brilliant and don’t turn my pc to treacle. Reflections, frosted glass, sun streaming in through windows, and sheets of glass breaking gradually all look amazing. If you don’t believe me, take a look at the following screenshots taken whilst playing. I’ll try and get better ones up later but most of the time I’m too engrossed to bother pressing the screenshot key.