I found my old Playstation 2 copy of Half-Life and, against my better judgement, decided to give it a full run before throwing it into the loft, having last completed it about 5-10 years.
I will give my updated thoughts, after all, nostalgia can be a bit of a bastard with memory:
-Surprisingly, the general audio/visual design still holds up. The Playstation 2 is a little cleaned up compared to both the original and HD versions of the game on PC, but in terms of presentation Half-Life continues to leave an impression. There is atmosphere without question, from the sterile train ride at the beginning to the voidless monologue sequence at the tail-end of the game, what Valve tried – still works. Music is sparse but used to create an immediate impact and the sound design is strong, with quirky, though memorable, voice acting and life-like effects used across the board. The HEV suit’s VO is still kick ass (“USER DEATH IMMINENT”), you gotta love those marine grunts too. Sounds such as water, weapons and interactive objects like switches are exactly as they should be, even with crappy stereo sound on a bog-standard flatscreen TV.
-This game is tough but the pacing is nigh on perfection. I cannot give a best or worst bit about Half-Life because of it. Really. What starts with simple platforming puzzles and the odd headcrab sneak attack in “Anomalous Materials” concludes with death drops in every direction and alien grunts around every corner in “Interloper”. It gets worse too in that bullet fatigue becomes a thing on hard. I am dead serious. Ironically the bigger monsters including the big bad are nowhere near as tough to fight as the human enemies from the third level onwards.
-I managed to completely miss the crossbow when you are expected to reacquire it in the second half of the story. This PS2 video playthrough has me playing nearly all of the story without it.
-Dual Shock 2 support on the Playstation 2 is miserable. Actual movement is slippy thanks to analogue sensitive controls but by sharp contrast the camera controls are sluggish and unresponsive. Clearly Gearbox noticed this, and in response, you have a lock-on feature which you activate on highlighted enemies with the circle button. Sadly the lock-on is proximity dependent, meaning you need to be close to enemies in order for it to work, which got me killed on numerous scenarios during play. Why the developers did not think to implement proper auto-aim or, better yet, fine-tune the controls with the analogue sticks is beyond me.
-The frame-rate can drop below 20FPS at its worst on Playstation 2 which, to return to my earlier point about the port’s controls, can impact input lag quite severely. Again, this is noticeable in the video series I am working on. Aside from that, there is the odd bit of graphical weirdness on Playstation 2 including clipping issues that lead to instant death. I noticed full-on micro-stuttering and game freezing lag a number of times too. Apparently it isn’t much better on the unreleased Dreamcast version either, I will have to find out for myself how true this is one of these days.
-I do have a couple positive remarks to make about the console version of Half-Life: It does allow for full saving (and quick-saving) throughout the experience. You can start and stop wherever you fancy during play, no dumb checkpoints whatsoever. Furthermore, there is a co-op expansion pack called Decay which can be played splitscreen. It kind of blows that Gearbox didn’t put Opposing Force onto the port although you can’t win them all I suppose.
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