Far More Than An Alien War: The Legacy of Half-Life 2
There’s no lack of games in the industry that have been named great and important to their genre or time period, but there’s more to it than just a really good time. The greatest of the greats have applications that run beyond the boundaries of their own experience, whether it’s for speed running, community building or even creating new projects based on the materials that can be found in those games. In terms of all three, there might not be a modern game that has ever offered more to players, builders and the community as a whole than Half-Life 2. It was on this day in 2004 that Half-Life 2 hit shelves for the first time and made history.
Half-Life 2 was officially discovered to be in development in early 2003 and slated for a September 2003 release. The team at Valve was working on a new engine that would be integral to several Valve projects. The engine, known as Source, was a highly modified version of the engine created by John Carmack to create Quake. Not only did Source make it much easier to piece the world of Half-Life 2 together, but with the Havok physics engine built into it, it became a much more handy way to handle the game’s audio, visual and interactive aspects.
The story takes place many years after the original incident in the original Half-Life where Combine aliens used a tear in dimensions created by an experiment in the research facility to invade Earth, only to be beaten back by one of the scientists, Gordon Freeman. Freeman was placed in stasis for years, only to be awoken and find that the Combine had since invaded in full and enslaved humanity. Siding with a resistance movement, including the plucky and resourceful Alyx Vance, Gordon Freeman takes up arms once again to fight the Combine and its totalitarian hold over the remnants of humanity.
The improvement over what was already a gold standard in first-person shooters was substantial. Half-Life 2 brought numerous and vast locales into the mix, exploring a world outside the claustrophobic halls of Black Mesa that Freeman was mostly confined to in the first game. Moreover, the Source Engine allowed for a brand new level of environmental physics and activity, not to mention some weapons that would take advantage of it. One of the most iconic additions to Freeman’s arsenal in Half-Life 2 was the Gravity Gun, which allowed Freeman to interact with numerous objects in the world and launch them as projectiles at enemies, keep them held up as defensive shields or do some puzzle solving with them that could otherwise not be done. The Gravity Gun served as a fantastic tool not only in game, but a great way of putting the interactivity that Source offered on full display.
Half-Life 2 was a first for a lot of situations in the gaming industry. As Valve wanted to be able to update the game and fine-tune it after release, as well as protect the game from pirating, it was the first single-player video game ever to require installation and registration with Valve’s Steam application to play. The game also offered a vast array of features that could be modded. The Source Engine alone inspired countless projects beyond the experience of Half-Life 2. Perhaps one of the most notable of these would be Garry’s Mod, which allows players to play around with Half-Life 2’s physics system in a sandbox setting, itself having been used for numerous games, video projects and other creative endeavors aside Half-Life 2’s original design.
Half-Life 2 is a great game for its overall visuals, sound, gameplay and story and that’s what many will remember, but it’s only a fraction of Half-Life 2’s total worth. As an iconic and much desired title, Half-Life 2 gave an enormous jumpstart to Steam in forcing players to use it to play the game, helping Valve towards turning Steam into the foremost of video game transaction platforms on any personal computer system. Moreover, intrepid modders still use Half-Life 2 and the numerous spinoffs made from the Source Engine to design creative projects of their own. The video game industry is a massive place full of great titles that come and go, but few will ever have an effect on the modern landscape of gaming as great as Half-Life 2.