The Half-Life 2 Files, Part 1: Summer in the City

From: Anthony Taylor
To: Eddy Rivas
Subject: Re: Summer in the City

Half of Half-Life? So Quarter-Life? I’m pretty shocked by that admission, but I’m proud of you for admitting. I’ve a confession myself: I played Half-Life on the PS2. I know, horror of horrors, but I’m not a PC gamer and back when the first game came out, I didn’t even have my own PC. But even though I played it in the summer of 2002, it still felt very different from every shooter I had ever played. Though I wasn’t aware of all the innovations that the game had pushed forth, there was always something at the back of my mind that knew this game was unique.

So when Half-Life 2 came around, I did what I always do when it’s on a platform I don’t own: I ignore it. Seriously. I stick my head in the sand and cover my ears because I don’t want to know what I am missing. I almost played it when it came out on Xbox, but decided against and boy am I glad I waited. Because now I have The Orange Box and I get Portal and the two HL episodes as well.

You’re right in that Valve left all these little clues, some very subtle, that tell the story of the world. And that story doesn’t really always involve you. The graffiti seems very precise, instead of the random scrawling seen in so many other games that have settings such as City 17. Even the name, City 17, evokes a cold, inhuman atmosphere, one that almost tells you everything you need to know about the nature of this place just from its name. After all, we humans name things so it means something to us. A number hardly seems warm and fuzzy to me.


I love the interactions with the people you meet as you traverse the city. A JRPG is exactly right and since that is my most played genre, it feels completely natural to me to take my time and talk to everyone. Even though they won’t give me quests like in a JRPG, they fill in the world quite nicely and they don’t all have the same things to say. Little touches like that go a long way to making a player believe in this world. I’m not one for immersion in a game, but I am one for wanting to believe that this place could exist and I believe that about City 17.

As for the chase through the apartments, I was on edge myself. After that creepy incident with the teleportation device (It never goes well in video games), I was expecting to find a gun right away and get to shooting. But, lo and behold, my trusty crowbar. I cheered when Barney (who looks more buff than I remember from the original) dropped it down to me. A couple of practice swipes and I was transported back 9 years to 2002 all over again. The slow burn beginning is something that many games are abandoning, especially since 2005’s God of War. That first level was non-stop, a far cry from the quiet tutorials that had dominated gaming for so long.

I wish more games let you soak in the world and the controls before asking you to become a killing machine. Gordon Freeman is a man of science. Valve correctly lets the player discover parts of the world for ourselves and then events force Gordon (and you) to become a man of action. He is unique in that for all his scientific knowledge, he is just as clueless as to what the hell is going as the player. What I liked about the first game is when the soldiers started invading Black Mesa. It made me feel like things were happening outside the facility, things I wasn’t aware of. That feeling made the contained nature of Half-Life feel more epic than it would have.

To finish this part of it up, the characters were charming enough, but it’s still too early for me to say much about them. Barney’s lines clearly define his character, which is a testament to Valve’s strong writing. I’ve heard so much about Alyx over the years that I’m afraid the hype might be too much to overcome. But I will give her a fair hearing.

I think the controls still feel great, probably because games to this day, notably Bioshock, still keep the feel that Half-Life does. Does it feel that way to you? Or does it feel dated? And what are your thoughts about Gordon being a silent protagonist?


There you have it. What are your thoughts on the HL2 files? What do you recall of the opening level of the game? Feel free to join us as we play through the Canal to Ravenholm, and tune in next week for part 2 of our playthrough!

Written by

I write about samurai girls and space marines. Writer for Smooth Few Films. Rooster Teeth Freelancer. Author of Red vs. Blue, The Ultimate Fan Guide, out NOW!

9 thoughts on “The Half-Life 2 Files, Part 1: Summer in the City”

  1. Wow, awesome guys. I really enjoyed that and it brought back so many memories. It makes me want to replay it again even though Ravenholm freaks the SHIT out of me. It’s still one of the best videogame levels EVER. No question.
    Can’t wait for the next installment. From the sign-off I take it this is to be a weekly thing?

  2. This is wicked… just reading this has brought back so many great memories of HL and HL2 (and all it’s episodes…all 2 of them). I’m definitely excited for the next installment. Great job!

  3. Yup, the goal is to make this a weekly feature, taking us all the way through the end of Episode Two. Would be great fun if everyone joined in, so people could give their own thoughts as we all progressed together.

  4. This is an awesome feature! 😀
    I think it’s really cool to learn what other people think of such a fantastic game. The Half-Life series is by far my favorite, I can’t wait for the next installment, keep it up! 🙂

  5. I loved reading this article mainly because of the wonder you write about which i remember feeling exactly. I only played Half-Life 2 last September when i bought my first personal laptop. Before, i felt as if i would not be missing out on anything by not playing and this was further solidified by not being able to play a ton of games. I am looking forward to reading more of these and hearing your “first time” opinions on the game.

  6. I’ll never forget arriving on the train. In my head Half-Life 2 still has photo-realistic graphics, knowing full-well that the Source engine is quite dated. It’s just a unique monster. I’ll never forget loading my quicksave before the stairs collapse on you after the roof running sequence to try to see if I could hide or escape… So many tries…

    I screamed during the apartment chase. I get VERY tense when I’m playing a game alone.

    This is such a great idea, I’m right along with you guys.

  7. I just finished re-playing Episode 2 last week, so I still have the whole game stuck in my mind. Such a great game from start to finish. One of my favorite parts was that you would always get a new gun right when you started needing one, the complete kick-ass-ness of the Gravity Gun, and how the story develops throughout the game. It’s like the more you play, the further you’re sucked into the world.

    Except sometimes Alyx gets in the way.

  8. It’s in the ranks of Firefly and the Harry Potter books in that I wish I could forget everything I knew about them so I could play/read/watch them for the first time again.

  9. I still get chills whenever I see so much as a screenshot or a picture of one of the characters from HL2.

    The work had a huge effect on my when I played it for the first time, and I echo James in his wish to just forget about it and experience it again for the first time.

    Even though the technology, to contemporary eyes and sensibilities, is a little old now, what Valve have done transcends that through story-telling to every human sense. Just one example: the screenshot of the Combine police and the boiersuit guy in the atmospheric blue alleyway takes me right back into the world of Gordon Freeman. Even such a simple scene is totally evocative, and there’s no mistaking the visual style of the Steam engine.

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