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First-person shooter (FPS) games on consoles have a less than stellar history. Sure, there are some favorites like the Halo series, but all too often the experience is lacking in some way. Control issues tend to turn up regularly when playing console versions of PC FPS games, whereby a fairly easy and accurate means of control is replaced with something more convoluted and frustrating. However, Half Life 2 manages to bring all the story and atmosphere from the PC to the console (the Xbox for this particular review) without sacrificing much in gameplay.
It begins with Gordon Freeman, the hero from the original Half Life, being sent to City 17 courtesy of the mysterious G-Man. Soon, by talking to the downtrodden locals, it becomes apparent that something is very wrong in the world. For the first 30 minutes, it's little more than a guided story. You've got no weapons, so you're on the run from the Combine, looking to find some backup and friends to help you out. Eventually, you get to pack a wide variety of weapons, and when you're not using the game's famed gravity gun to throw various objects at zombies or the jackbooted thugs of the Combine, you get to follow quite a cinematic story that just happens to be told from a first person perspective.
In fact, the ability of Half Life 2 to immerse the player in its world is outstanding; I think no other game in the genre has as much story as Half Life 2, let alone one that's as engaging and compelling. Instead of the cut-scenes that are almost standard for any FPS trying to have a story, Half Life 2 manages to communicate directly with the player in the first person. In later levels, the results are particularly dramatic and stunning as it manages to build tension surprisingly well.
Now, in terms of gameplay it wouldn't be fair to call it a perfect translation from PC to console. The driving and boating sequences have auto-aiming involved, which is frustrating when you're just trying to barrel through a section and not shoot everyone that comes across your path. Also, it has a much more complex control system than the standard Xbox Halo setup, which takes some getting used to. Once you're rolling though, it's a lot of fun to have such an array of weapons at your disposal rather than just a couple. While the maps can seem overwhelming to navigate, especially since you can incur extra loading time if you unintentionally go back through a section in the console version, this also adds a degree of realism ― there isn't a perfect path on a lot of maps, just like in any real city or town. Additionally, the physics engine really allows for some cool, interesting puzzles and a lot of fun in general ― there is just something satisfying about throwing a saw blade at multiple zombies.
Graphically, outside of a few frame rate issues (certain areas should have been stripped down a bit for the Xbox version) it's one of the most visually accomplished games produced for the Xbox in the FPS genre. The textures are quite good, as is the design of the maps (and the buildings and objects within them).
Overall, even though it lacks a multi-player element, I will say Half Life 2 is definitely worth picking up, even if you're purely a console gamer. It's got a great story, pretty good graphics and it's challenging to play. I will also note though that if you're up for PC gaming too, get the PC version instead. Like I said, it's not a perfect transition.

by Karl Olson
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