Why it's on the list: One of my favourite games of all time, I originally played it on PC - with the Xbox 360 version of The Orange Box's addition to the Xbox One backwards compatibility catalogue, I picked up a copy, because something in me is fundamentally broken. So I played through it for the Achievements!
When I played it: July 2018
How far I got:
- Every Achievement (including some tricky ones)
What I thought:
Nothing about this playthrough changed my mind about this being among my favourite games, although hunting for every last cache for the Achievement sapped a little of the fun out. The non-mouse-and-keyboard console controls are also a little awkward, especially compared to more recent titles like Doom. Example: the clumsy D-pad weapon selection here made me realise just how brilliant the slow-down-time weapon wheel is in Doom, especially on a gamepad.
Half-Life 2 is still Half-Life 2. The progression of building up your arsenal of weapons - from nothing, to just a crowbar, then picking up a pistol, a machine gun, a revolver, a gravity gun, a shotgun, a rocket launcher, etc etc - until in the climax you're given a practically invincible weapon. The result is that you feel more powerful in steady increments - each time you receive a new weapon it feels like a big, satisfying change. It's very cool. Each gun has its own personality, and they all feel very fun to use. This is complemented by the shooting, which feels slightly outdated now - the enemy AI definitely shows its age - but still very solid and satisfying.
The level design is also excellent, in the grand 'go in a big circle to end up a metre from where you started' Half-Life tradition. Some level portions feel almost like miniature self-contained Metroidvanias, which tickles a particular soft spot for me. Although some egregious physics puzzles do break the flow very occasionally (you can't really blame them, I guess - they were showcasing their new physics engine at the time) and a walkthrough was consulted once or twice (even though this is my third playthrough - granted, the last time was several years ago. One of these was to find a battery to open a gate - it was under an upended bathtub. Ah well), for the most part the levels flow in a very intuitive, quite unique, way. I'm not saying anything new here, of course, but it's all stuff I've come to appreciate a lot more now since the first time I played it. Still a brilliant game.