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Life less ordinary
A classic title for Xboxís final days

Infecting PCs worldwide in 1998, Half-Life was hailed as a "Masterpiece," labeled revolutionary, and pretty much considered the apex of home gaming. When Half-Life 2 crept onto the scene last Thanksgiving, it satisfied hungry fans who were itching for a sequel after six years filled with the sporadic game update and occasional mod.

Continuing in the puzzling but welcome tradition of previous Platform-exclusive titles like the Grand Theft Auto series, Half-Life 2 lands on the Xbox. I can say that itís an utter triumph in these Last Days of the Xbox. It also ranks with the first Knights of the Old Republic and both Halos as The Only Game Youíll Ever Need ó and, along with those titles, will probably illustrate how frustrating it will be to play old favorites on the 360, but thatís a subject for another time.

More than any game Iíve played, Half-Life 2 has a cinematic feel. This is especially apparent in the opening sequences, when all you can do is interact with people in the train station of "City 17" and listen to some old fart on a video screen explain how happy he is to see you. Itís a typical sci-fi dystopian set-up, and it creates a creepy mood, but a strong or even original story has never been what this series was about. Itís always been more "show" and less "tell." It also engages you in puzzles without your knowing it, leaving little clues as to what you should do without blatantly showing you. This creates more-involved game play and makes the results all the more satisfying.

The set pieces are huge, and the environments in which they take place look as if they had some girth; theyíre not arbitrary buildings that appear to advance the plot. This is especially evident in the airboat chase, which may have gone on a tad too long but certainly looked stellar. Thereís a lot happening, both visually and aurally, and you may sometimes be caught up fiddling around with something while youíre supposed to be listening. And though the load times are few and quick, some glitches in the frame rate did pop up. Half-Life 2 boasts of its advanced AI; I didnít notice anything wrong with the monsters that were running around bumping into things, but I didnít see anything spectacular, either.

Fans of the PC version should know that if you played last yearís version, youíve played this one too, as itís the entire single-player campaign from that game. They should also know that thereís no multi-player option, as the game has done away with the Counter-Strike freebie. This type of First-Person Shooter lends itself much better to a joystick; that will be most evident when youíre driving the jeep or working the airboat. You access the Weapon Selection HUD through the D-pad; this is pretty standard, as are the remaining offensive controls. Early on itís made clear that thereís no accessible map ó not to worry, however, because you do have the famous Gravity Gun, which changes everything from rusty band saw blades and radiators into projectile weapons.

If you own an Xbox, youíd be wise to add Half-Life 2 to your library ó who knows whether another "must-have" will be released on this dying console. Plus, itíll look good in your eBay lot when you do decide itís time for an upgrade.


Issue Date: December 2 - 8, 2005
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