Thursday, January 21, 2010

Half-Life 2

Half-Life 2 is a science fiction first-person shooter computer game and the sequel to the highly acclaimed Half-Life. It was developed by Valve Corporation and was released on November 16, 2004, following a protracted five-year, $40 million development cycle during which the game’s source code was leaked to the Internet. The game uses the Source game engine, which includes a heavily modified version of the Havok physics engine and was also the first video game to require online product activation. Originally available only for Windows-based personal computers, the game has since been ported to the Xbox, and was a part of The Orange Box compilation for Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 video game consoles.

Half-Life 2 takes place in a dystopian world in which the events of Half-Life have fully come to bear on human society, which has been enslaved by the extraterrestrial civilization known as the Combine. The game takes place in and around the fictional City 17 and follows the adventures of scientist Gordon Freeman who must fight against increasingly unfavorable odds in order to survive.

The game garnered near-unanimous positive reviews and received critical acclaim, winning over 40 PC Game of the Year awards for 2004. The game has been critically praised for its advances in computer animation, sound, narration, computer graphics, artificial intelligence (AI), and physics simulation. As of December 3, 2008, over 6.5 million copies of Half-Life 2 have been sold at retail. Although Steam sales figures are unknown, their rate surpassed retail in mid-2008 and are significantly more profitable per-unit.

Half-Life 2
One of three covers for Half-Life 2. This cover shows the series' protagonist, Gordon Freeman; the others show Alyx Vance and the G-Man.
Developer(s) Valve Corporation
Publisher(s) Sierra Entertainment (expired)
Valve Corporation
Distributor(s) Electronic Arts (retail)
Steam (online)
Composer(s) Kelly Bailey
Series Half-Life
Engine Source engine
Platform(s) Microsoft Windows, Xbox, Xbox 360, PlayStation 3
Release date(s)
Genre(s) First-person shooter
Mode(s) Single-player, multiplayer
Rating(s) BBFC: 15
PEGI: 16+
Media CD-ROM(5), DVD, download or Blu-Ray
System requirements 1.2 GHz processor, 256 MB RAM, DirectX 6 level graphics card, Internet connection (broadband or better recommended)
Input methods Keyboard, mouse (a joystick is also supported on PC), gamepad

Half-Life 2 plays similarly to its predecessor. The player navigates through a linear set of levels, fighting off transhuman troops known as the Combine as well as hostile alien creatures. Puzzles and sequences involving vehicles are interspersed throughout the game, breaking up moments of combat.

Since Half-Life 2 is a first-person shooter, the gameworld is always presented from Gordon Freeman's perspective. A heads-up display at the bottom of the screen shows the player's health, energy, and ammunition status, while a toggle screen shows available weapons at the top. Health and energy can be replenished by picking up medical supplies and energy cells respectively, or by using wall-mounted charging devices.

The player defeats enemies with an assortment of weapons. The game's available arsenal consists of modern-day projectile weapons, including a ubiquitous pistol, shotgun, and submachine gun, though more elaborate, fictional weapons are available, such as a crossbow that shoots hot metal rods, a pheromone pod that guides certain previously hostile alien creatures, once acquired, and pulse rifle that shoots glowing pulses and a secondary "Dark energy ball," which disintegrates enemies on contact. The Source engine's physics capabilities extend into combat via a special device called the Zero-Point Energy Field Manipulator, or "gravity gun." Using this device, the player can pick up objects and either hurl them at enemies or hold them in place to create a makeshift shield. The gravity gun can also perform a variety of non-combat functions, such as grabbing out-of-reach supplies, forming bridges across gaps, and flipping overturned vehicles.

Many puzzles use the game's physics engine. For example, one puzzle requires the player to either turn a seesaw-like lever into a ramp by placing cinder blocks at one end, or to stack wooden crates to form a crude stairway. Puzzles are frequently solved with the gravity gun. One puzzle has the player clear a highway by using the gravity gun to push numerous abandoned vehicles out of the way.

Another major development from the original Half-Life is the introduction of vehicular sections; while the original featured several sections on trains, the sequel features sections where the player makes use of fully functional vehicles such as cars or boats.

Half-Life 2 was released without a multiplayer component, and was instead packaged with Counter-Strike: Source. A few weeks later, Valve released Half-Life 2: Deathmatch on Steam. The goal of the game is to kill as many other players as possible, using a variety of means, in either free-for-all or team-based matches. A subsequent update to the game added an additional map and three new weapons. The Xbox release of Half-Life 2 contains no multiplayer component, however the re-release of Half-Life 2, packaged as The Orange Box for the PC, PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360, includes the multiplayer game Team Fortress 2.


The original Half-Life takes place at a remote civilian and military laboratory called the Black Mesa Research Facility. During an experiment, researchers at Black Mesa accidentally cause a "resonance cascade" which rips open a portal to an alien world, Xen. Hostile creatures from Xen flood into Black Mesa via the portal and start killing everyone in sight. The player takes on the role of Gordon Freeman, one of the research scientists who had been involved in the accident and who now must escape the facility. Gordon manages to terminate the creature holding the portal open.

At the end of the game, a mysterious figure colloquially known as the G-Man extracts Gordon from Black Mesa and "offers" him employment. Gordon is subsequently put into stasis.

In Half-Life 2, the story resumes an indeterminate number of years after the Black Mesa incident, with the G-Man taking Freeman out of stasis and inserting him into a train en route to City 17. Official sources differ on the actual length of the intermission; a story fragment written by author Marc Laidlaw for the development team puts the intermission at ten years, while Half-Life 2: Episode One's website puts this intermission as "nearly two decades". Twenty years seems more likely, as one of the characters Freeman encounters, Alyx Vance, is seen in a picture as a child at Black Mesa, but appears as a young adult by the time Gordon reappears. This information is not directly relayed to the player; in fact, the friendly characters that Freeman encounters appear unaware of the stasis he was put in and assume that he has full knowledge of everything that has happened since the end of Half-Life. The game is set on Earth, which has been conquered by the extraterrestrial civilization known as the Combine.

The environments in Half-Life 2, in accordance with the game's story, all have a distinct post-apocalyptic theme, yet in design they are varied, and include the Eastern European-styled City 17, the zombie-infested Ravenholm; the coastal Nova Prospekt prison and the massive Combine Citadel. Viktor Antonov, the art director of Half-Life 2, who spent his childhood in Bulgaria, wrote that the developers consciously modeled Half-Life 2's setting on Eastern Europe because they were fascinated by the region's combination of both new and old architecture and desired to infuse City 17 and its environs with the same sense of history.

At the start of the game, the G-Man speaks to Gordon Freeman in a hallucination-like vision as he pulls Gordon out of stasis and places him on a train going to City 17. When the train arrives, Gordon gets off and proceeds through the Combine's security checkpoints where he is detained by a civil protection officer. Once in an interrogation room, the officer reveals himself to be Freeman's former co-worker and colleague, Barney Calhoun, and helps Freeman to get to Dr. Isaac Kleiner's laboratory. After meeting Alyx Vance, Freeman is instructed by Kleiner to step into a makeshift teleporter so that he can be safely extracted to the anti-Combine resistance base Black Mesa East along with Alyx, headed by her father, Dr. Eli Vance. However, Kleiner's pet headcrab Lamarr disrupts the machine, and Freeman finds himself - after briefly appearing in several different locations - just outside Kleiner's lab. With the Combine now alerted to his presence, Freeman works his way through the drained canal system, avoiding enemy forces and using the help of human resistance fighters to safely arrive at Black Mesa East.

Dr. Vance and Dr. Judith Mossman debrief Freeman on events since the incident at Black Mesa. As Alyx is introducing Freeman to DOG, her pet robot, and showing him how to use the new Zero-Point Energy Field Manipulator ("gravity gun"), the lab is attacked and Dr. Vance is captured. Freeman is separated from Alyx, but she explains that he must travel to Nova Prospekt, a former prison, in order to save her father. Along the way, Freeman encounters other allies, including Father Grigori in the zombie-infested town of Ravenholm, and Colonel Odessa Cubbage and his forces. After making his way across an Antlion-infested beach, Freeman reaches Nova Prospekt and begins to search for Dr. Vance. Alyx eventually reaches him and joins in his search. Together, they discover that Dr. Mossman is a spy for the Combine, but before they can stop her, she teleports herself and Dr. Vance back to the Combine headquarters known as the Citadel using the Combine teleporter.

Freeman and Alyx follow, and the facility is destroyed by a teleporter malfunction. They materialize in Kleiner's lab one week later, discovering that their actions in Nova Prospekt have inspired the human resistance to mount a full-scale rebellion, turning City 17 into a battlefield. Alyx helps to assist Dr. Kleiner and civilians to escape the city, while Freeman joins with the human resistance to dispatch the Combine forces. As the resistance gains the upper hand, Alyx is captured by the Combine and taken to the Citadel. Freeman enters the Citadel to rescue Alyx. After fighting through many Combine soldiers with only an upgraded Gravity gun, Freeman eventually reaches Dr. Breen's office, where Dr. Mossman is also waiting. As Alyx and Eli Vance are brought in, Dr. Breen attempts to threaten them and convince Freeman to work for him, but Judith Mossman has a change of heart, and releases the three prisoners. Dr. Breen flees to the Dark Energy Reactor at the top of the Citadel and attempts to teleport away from Earth. Freeman pursues him and attacks the reactor. As the reactor explodes a few yards away from Freeman and Alyx, time stops and the G-Man appears. He comments on Gordon's successful endeavors and then places him back into statis.

Throughout the entirety of Half-Life 2, Gordon never speaks, and the player views the action through his eyes only. There are no cut scenes, nor are there any discontinuities or jumps in time from the player's point of view. Some critics have criticized these design decisions as narrative holdovers from Half-Life, that effectively limit how much of the back-story is explained. Due to the lack of cut scenes, the player never directly sees what happens in Gordon's absence.

The ending of Half-Life 2 is also very similar to that of the original: after completing a difficult task against seemingly overwhelming odds, Gordon is extracted by the G-Man, who congratulates him and informs him that further assignments should follow. The fates of many of the major characters, such as Alyx, Eli, and Judith, go unexplained. Very few of the questions raised by Half-Life are answered, and several new ones are presented. The identity and nature of the G-Man still remains a mystery. A number of these issues are addressed, however, in the sequel games, Episode One and Episode Two.


For Half-Life 2, Valve Corporation developed a new game engine called the Source engine, which handles the game's visual, audio, and artificial intelligence elements. The Source engine comes packaged with a heavily modified version of the Havok physics engine that allows for an extra dimension of interactivity in both single-player and online environments. The engine can be easily upgraded because it is separated in modules. When coupled with Steam, it becomes easy to roll out new features. One such example is high dynamic range rendering, which Valve first demonstrated in a free downloadable level called Lost Coast for owners of Half-Life 2. HDR is now part of all Valve games. Several other games use the Source engine, including Day of Defeat: Source and Counter-Strike: Source, both of which were also developed by Valve. Also using Source is Dark Messiah, and the upcoming game The Crossing, both developed by Arkane Studios.

Integral to Half-Life 2 on the Windows platform is the Steam content delivery system developed by Valve Corporation. All Half-Life 2 players on PC are required to have Steam installed and a valid account in order to play. Steam allows customers to purchase games and other software straight from the developer and have them downloaded directly to their computer as well as receiving "micro updates." These updates also make hacking the game harder to do and has thus far been somewhat successful in staving off cheats and playability for users with unauthorized copies. Steam can also be used for finding and playing multiplayer games through an integrated server browser and friends list, and game data can be backed up with a standard CD or DVD burner. Steam and a customer’s purchased content can be downloaded onto any computer, as long as that account is only logged in at one location at a given time. The usage of Steam has not gone without controversy. Some users have reported numerous problems with Steam, sometimes being serious enough to prevent a reviewer from recommending a given title available on the service. In other cases, review scores have been lowered. Long download times, seemingly unnecessary updates, and verification checks are criticisms leveled by critics of the system’s use for single-player games such as Half-Life 2. Regardless of whether or not a customer intends to use any multiplayer features, the computer on which the game was installed must have Steam and an Internet connection to verify the transaction.

The book, Half-Life 2: Raising the Bar, revealed many of the game’s original settings and action that were cut down or removed from the game. Half-Life 2 was originally intended to be a darker game with grittier artwork, where the Combine were more obviously draining the oceans for minerals and replacing the atmosphere with noxious, murky gases. Nova Prospekt was originally intended to be a small Combine rail depot built on an old prison in the wasteland. Eventually, Nova Prospekt grew from a stopping-off point along the way to the destination itself. Half-Life 2 was also originally intended to be more diverse in settings. The book mentions how originally, the player was to follow a different journey from what is in the final release.

2003 leak
Half-Life 2 was merely a rumor until a strong impression at E3 in May 2003 launched it into high levels of hype where it won several awards for best in show. It had a release date of September 2003, but was delayed. This pushing back of HL2’s release date came in the wake of the cracking of Valve's internal network through a null session connection to Tangis which was hosted in Valve's network and a subsequent upload of an ASP shell, resulting in the leak of the game's source code and many other files including maps, models and a playable early version of Half-Life Source and Counter-Strike Source in early September 2003. On October 2, 2003, Valve CEO Gabe Newell publicly explained in the forums the events that Valve experienced around the time of the leak, and requested users to track down the perpetrators if possible.

In June 2004, Valve Software announced in a press release 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 Newell through e-mail (also providing an unreleased document planning the E3 events). Gembe was led into believing that Valve wanted to employ him as an in-house security auditor. He was to be offered a flight to the USA and was to be arrested on arrival by the FBI. When the German government became aware of the plan, Gembe was arrested in Germany instead, and put on trial for the leak as well as other computer crimes in November 2006, such as the creation of Agobot, a highly successful trojan which harvested users' data.

At the trial in November 2006 in Germany, Gembe was sentenced to two years' probation. In imposing the sentence, the judge took into account such factors as Gembe's difficult childhood and the fact that he was taking steps to improve his situation.

Contract dispute
On September 20, 2004, the gaming public learned through GameSpot that Sierra's parent company, Vivendi Universal Games, was in a legal battle with Valve Software over the distribution of Half-Life 2 to cyber cafés. This is important for the Asian PC gaming market where PC and broadband penetration per capita are much lower (except Hong Kong, Malaysia, Singapore, South Korea, Japan and Taiwan). Therefore, cyber cafés are extremely popular for playing online games for large numbers of people.

According to Vivendi Universal Games, the distribution contract they signed with Valve included cyber cafés. This would mean that only Vivendi Universal Games could distribute Half-Life 2 to cyber cafés—not Valve through the Steam system. On November 29, 2004, Judge Thomas S. Zilly, of U.S. Federal District Court in Seattle, WA, ruled that Vivendi Universal Games and its affiliates, are not authorized to distribute (directly or indirectly) Valve games through cyber cafés to end users for pay-to-play activities pursuant to the parties' current publishing agreement. In addition, Judge Zilly ruled in favor of the Valve motion regarding the contractual limitation of liability, allowing Valve to recover copyright damages for any infringement as allowed by law without regard to the publishing agreement’s limitation of liability clause.

On April 29, 2005, the two parties announced a settlement agreement. Under the agreement, Vivendi Universal Games would cease distributing all retail packaged versions of Valve games by August 31, 2005. Vivendi Universal Games also was to notify distributors and cyber cafés that had been licensed by Vivendi Universal Games that only Valve had the authority to distribute cyber café licenses, and hence their licenses were revoked and switched to Valve's.

All listed tracks were composed by Kelly Bailey. Purchasers of the Gold Package of the game were given (among other things) a CD soundtrack containing nearly all the music from the game, along with three bonus tracks. This CD is available for separate purchase via the Valve online store.

Tracks 16, 18 and 42 are bonus tracks that are exclusive to the CD soundtrack. Tracks 44 to 51 are tracks from the game that did not appear on the soundtrack CD. Many of the tracks were retitled and carried over from the Half-Life soundtrack; The names in parentheses are the original titles. Tracks 34, 41, and 42 are remixes.

Half-Life 2 earned over 40 Game of the Year awards, including Overall Game of the Year at IGN, GameSpot’s Award for Best Shooter, GameSpot’s Reader’s Choice - PC Game of the Year Award, Game of the Year from The Academy of Interactive Arts & Sciences, and "Best Game" with the Game Developers Choice Awards, where it was also given various awards for technology, characters, and writing. Edge magazine awarded Half Life 2 with its top honor of the year with the award for Best Game, as well as awards for Innovation and Visual Design. The game also had a strong showing at the 2004 BAFTA Games Awards, picking up six awards, more than any other game that night, with awards including "Best Game" and "Best Online Game."

Guinness World Records awarded Half-Life 2 the world record for "Highest Rated Shooter by PC Gamer Magazine" in the Guinness World Records: Gamer's Edition 2008. Other records awarded the game in the book include, "Largest Digital Distribution Channel" for Valve's Steam service, "First Game to Feature a Gravity Gun", and "First PC Game to Feature Developer Commentary". In 2009, Game Informer put Half-Life 2 5th on their list of "The Top 200 Games of All Time", saying that "With Half-Life 2, Valve redefined the way first-person shooters were created".

Half-Life 2 was selected by readers of The Guardian as the best game of the decade, with praise given especially to the environment design throughout the game. According to the newspaper, it "pushed the envelope for the genre, and set a new high watermark for FPS narrative". One author commented: "Half Life 2 always felt like the European arthouse answer to the Hollywood bluster of Halo and Call of Duty".

Half-Life 2 won CrispyGamer's 'Game of the Decade' tournament style poll.

System Requirement
Minimum System Configuration
1.2 GHz Processor
DirectX 7 capable graphics card (64 MB or higher)
Windows 2000/XP/ME/98
Internet Connection
CD or DVD rom drive

Preferred System Configuration
2.4 GHz Processor
DirectX 9 capable graphics card
Windows 2000/XP/ME/98
Internet Connection
CD or DVD rom drive (retail version only)

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