Old dogs and new tricks!
Like a true radioactive or biological half-life, these last 3 years have decayed and worn away, yielding a little something special. One of the finest first-person shooters in history has finally made it's way to the consoles.
Sierra Studios' Half-Life, the first-person giant that turned the industry on its head a little over 1085 days ago, attempts to do for PS2 owners what it did for PC aficionados. And aside from looking a little old with some unappealing control and a lame multiplayer game, Half-life is still able to dish out some intense hardcore single-player action while engrossing you in a twisting, conspiracy-driven plot.
The story is very involving. You play the role of Biophysicist Gordon Freeman, conducting experiments at the Black Mesa research facility. The beginning is very cinematic. As the opening credits are rolling you're treated to an interesting tram ride that takes you deep into the bowels of Black Mesa. After donning your hazard suit (more on that later), it's off to the testing lab. Shortly after beginning your first experiment, the whole project blows up in your face (seemingly by accident) and it's game on. Before you know it, you'll be fighting for your life against an array of colorful creatures and seasoned military wetworks crews.
What adds to the suspense and intrigue is Half-Life's deft storytelling. Clues and plot pieces are picked up from overheard conversations, brief interactions with your fellow surviving scientists and certain items that Gordon acquires along the way. You won't find any excessive yammering or long-winded cinemas, leaving plenty of room for the mystery and hard-boiled action for which Half-life is best known.
That hazard suit I mentioned earlier will quickly become your best friend. It basically acts as armor and can be replenished by either finding a cache of items next to fallen comrades or from wall-mounted machines scattered throughout Black Mesa. This makes for some believable item acquisition, as you're not picking up health or ammo from brightly colored floating boxes. Incidentally, ammunition is often found lying with Black Mesa security personnel who have left the land of the living. Gamers who have played Halo will immediately notice similar item procuring methods.
You'll definitely need all of these items in your fight for survival and the truth. You'll spend most of your time dispatching cool and very odd looking creatures. Splice in several intense gunfights with the wetworks crew and you got the makings for some good fragging. A small dose of puzzle-solving is here as well which functions as a bit of a breather between the grueling shoot-outs. But don't worry - they're easy to handle and usually just involve finding your way out of a given area.
The military men exhibit some pretty good AI. They'll dodge, flank, and root you out from just about any hiding place. Not making things any easier is the heavy artillery they carry, which can be collected once you've made them significantly less alive.
If you're worried about your personal armory, worry no more. You'll come across pistols, a shotgun, assault rifles, grenades, crowbars and more instruments of destruction. The explosions that ensue are good and the tracers from gunfire that whiz by your head make for some very intense and cinematic gun battles.
But even with all of these nifty features, the Playstation 2 version is not without its flaws. One of the biggest is the control. Even with the wonderful option of plugging in an USB keyboard and mouse, the control is still incredibly twitchy. Very slight movements can screw up your aim significantly. Luckily, a lock-on button is provided. Once pressed you will remain locked on to that assailant and you can strafe around them with ease until you press the button again to release the lock. But even this too is frustrating. Incorporating the lock-on button just doesn't translate well when in the heat of battle with multiple opponents. After making sweet love to Halo for hours on end, I now know that FPS control on a console can be done without gamers falling down in fits of severe aggravation.
Also, Half-life PS2 doesn't look great. Let's not forget we're looking at a very well blended Quake and Quake II engine that has been chopped, dropped, lowered and totally refined to the best of its ability. Half-life itself is over three years old and the engine it runs on is even older, so it's no wonder the graphics and textures look extremely bland and dated . Even with the new PS2 hi-res upgrade, father time has inevitably brought out those wrinkles.
But I do have to give Valve credit for trying to give console gamers a little more than just the same single-player experience PC gamers enjoyed. Shipping with Half-life PS2 are two multiplayer options. It's just too bad both of them are uninteresting.
Half-life Decay is a two-player co-op game whose story runs concurrently with the normal Half-life plot. In fact, you will see Gordon or places he's been on several occasions. The stars are two female scientists who need to escape Black Mesa, and playing this game two-player co-op is much better than playing alone. The problem with playing it single-player is that the computer will not control the other character. You must switch back and forth carrying both women through the story alone.
What sucks even more is that many of the puzzles in Decay require the efforts of two people. While you've done one series of tasks to open a door, there's always another series of tasks that the other character must do. So you need to flip back and forth between the two ladies to get anything done. Needless to say, it's not too fun unless you've got a buddy.
Your other multiplayer option is with the standard Half-life deathmatch. The problem here is that there are no bots available; it's just you and a buddy running around ten very familiar environments (the ten multiplayer maps from the original PC version), which gets boring quicker than counting sand granules at the beach.
But minus the multiplayer goofiness, the single-player Half-life is a very successful translation onto the PS2. It's got a great story that moves you through the game creatively with ample action to keep the fraggers happy. If you've played the PC version, there is really no reason to check out this latest incarnation, but if you've never experienced the fun Half-life offers, this is your chance. Maybe if we're lucky, we'll also get to see Sierra's upcoming highly anticipated single player Half-life: Counter-Strike Condition Zero on the PS2. Here's hoping.