Good morning Mr. Freeman...
Half-Life is a seminal first person shooter, and a game that everybody should play, if by some miracle they haven't already done so. The various PC versions can be had for peanuts and run on anything upwards of an original 3dfx Voodoo graphics card, which means that, while the PlayStation 2 version is also excellent, it's probably not worth £40 to Half-Life die-hards. In fact, I can only really recommend it to people who have no PC or want to play Half-Life on a big-screen TV. Let's be frank. When this first landed on my doorstep, I had to motivate myself to play it again. I've been through Half-Life and it was a hell of a ride, but that was more than two years ago. I want something new! In retrospect, I'm glad I dragged myself out of bed one morning and settled down with it though. It's a wonderful game which invented FPS clichés all over the place and featured some really exceptional level design and presentation, however old it is now. Visually the game has always looked good, although the lower resolution and absence of anti-aliasing on the PlayStation 2 does it no favours, and there's no sign of a 60Hz option either. The PC version looks better and lacks the intermittent jerking that accompanies excessive on-screen detail, multiple nasties or big set pieces. By the time you get to the marine insertion forces later on, you find yourself playing at about 25 frames per second more or less constantly. There are some nice new touches that help ease the pain though, such as the health and energy stations, which now have movable handles, and each and every weapon has been spruced up to match those seen in recent PC patches. A lot of the spangly effects, such as the shiny guards' helmets, have been borrowed from the PC version, and the texturing is nicer than I had expected. As a PS2 conversion it's pretty solid, and load times are no more substantial than they were on the PC - about 20 seconds at the start of each enormous chapter, and 3-5 seconds for the small breaks during them.
Looks like you're in the barrel today
Although there is some cheesy menu music at the start, the game has otherwise retained the unnerving soundtrack of the original PC version, which is as modest as ever. The sound effects are also identical, and the voices of the Barneys and scientists have been reproduced without blemish. The interface has been adapted nicely to the PS2 as well. The main menu offers you a choice of Half-Life, Decay, Head-to-Head and Options. Through the latter you can adjust the brightness, volume and control system, although the default settings are fine. You can choose to play the original Half-Life single player campaign in Easy, Normal and Hard modes, each of which does exactly what it says. As far as console first person shooters go, the game features several clever additions. The first of these is a bona fide Quick Save / Load system. Like some of the recent PlayStation role-playing games, Half-Life lets you save your progress to the system memory temporarily, allowing you to pick up and drop off important save points during the game without losing half a minute navigating load screens. If you want to turn off your PS2, you just have to make sure you save the game properly to the memory card.
Another change to the formula is the targeting system. Originally Half-Life demanded that you find whatever you wanted to activate and then press your Use key. Now the Use key (which also doubles up as a walk key in general gameplay) operates whatever the game targets for you. As you approach a door, for instance, two little square brackets appear around the button. In the presence of several buttons you may have to move your view around to seek the right one, but in practice it's a good system, borrowed successfully from games like System Shock 2 on the PC. The control system is actually very good, which surprised me. I found it quite easy to use, with the sensitivity at just the right level. By comparison, Red Faction had me diving in and out of menus adjusting the sensitivity, and I never really got it just right. With Half-Life, the left analogue controls movement (that's forward, backwards and side to side), while the right analogue controls direction, sensibly inverted by default. L1 and L2 handle jumping and crouching, while R1 and R2 handle normal and alternative fire. The D-pad switches weapons, and the four buttons on the right control walking, using objects, your flashlight and targeting. Targeting can be toggled; spot a bad guy, toggle it and your view will centre on him until you disengage the toggle. As far as the actual adventure goes, it's a feature-complete conversion of the original as best I can remember. There may even be a few additions here and there. As I have said, Half-Life is based on an excellent plot with some lovely set-pieces, and even though I had already finished it on the PC, I really enjoyed it on the PS2. Was it worth £40 to play through it again though? Sadly not.
The choice is yours
The real problem for Half-Life on the PS2 is that nothing in the rest of the package really justifies the £40 either. Decay, the PS2 version's coup de grace, is something of a dead duck. It's a split-screen co-operative mode for two players with about ten levels. It's the same sort of quality expansion as Blue Shift, which we enjoyed thoroughly (albeit briefly) a few months ago, but beyond the initial excitement of being able to play co-operative Half-Life, the graphics have been compromised for split-screen play and it's altogether rather samey. Beyond Decay there is a Head-to-Head deathmatch mode, which does the business, but it's not as much fun as playing it on a PC. Actually, that's not much fun either, as vanilla Half-Life deathmatch was always rather boring compared to its own mods such as Counter-Strike, and was surpassed almost instantly. With no online options and no i.Link option that I could find, there won't be much life in it, especially when Red Faction multiplayer is more entertaining and has an original single player game into the bargain. I don't really know how to feel about Half-Life on PS2. I'm grateful to Gearbox for giving me the opportunity (and excuse) to play through it again, but I'm doubtful as to the package's overall worth. It's one of those games that offers a tremendous amount, but makes a poor substitute for £40 in your pocket. Half-Life is a spectacular, rollercoaster ride of an adventure, and it's a piece of gaming history everybody should sink their teeth into at least once. If you haven't taken a bite though, there are cheaper, better-looking PC packages than this. A good game it most certainly is, but do you really want to spend £40 on it?